It was August 2, 1994. Billy Joel and Elton John were in Pittsburgh for a concert at Three Rivers Stadium, a concert that had been sold out almost as long as tickets had been on sale. At the last minute, they opened up some seating behind the stage. We drove in early looking to scalp a couple of tickets, but when push came to shove we settled for the newly released seats; turned out to be not such a bad deal. The seats were fairly close to the stage. Joel and John, when they were seated at the piano were always in profile, and when they were up on their feet, they always made some effort to play to those of us sitting behind. It was a great concert, one of the best.
Three Rivers Stadium is gone now. Elton John is touring with Leon Russell. And Billy Joel is set to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release Cold Spring Harbor, his first solo album, in 2011. In conjunction with that anniversary, Columbia/Legacy is releasing a nineteen-track collection of the Piano Man’s best, The Hits.
Looking back at Joel’s playlist for that ’94 concert, it isn’t strange that almost all of the songs he played that night are featured on this new album. This was, after all, the zenith of the singer’s career. Indeed, “The River of Dreams,” the latest song on the album, dates from 1993.
The Hits begins with “Everybody Loves You Now” from his first album. “Piano Man” and “The Entertainer” follow. The mellow “New York State of Mind,” from 1976’s Turnstiles, is followed by two from 1977’s The Stranger, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” and his anthem, “Only the Good Die Young.” “My Life” and “Big Shot” close out the songs from the seventies.
Two classic rockers from Glass Houses, “You May Be Right” and the infectious “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me,” start the new decade, followed by a live performance of “Say Goodbye to Hollywood.” Then there are the more socially conscious songs like “Allentown,” “Pressure,” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” “The Longest Time,” “Tell Her About It,” “A Matter of Trust,” and “I Go to Extremes” round out the album.
Nineteen, of course, is no magic number. And yet while Billy Joel fans are bound to find some of their personal favorites missing from this collection, it is hard to quarrel with the songs that are included. One disc, though, just isn’t enough to hold everything that ought to be there. What about “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant?” or “Prelude: Angry Young Man?” or “She’s Got a Way?” or “Captain Jack” or… Well, you get the idea. What we really need is another disc.
Overall, though, The Hits is a collection that not only highlights Joel’s career but one that also tries to pay attention to all of his different voices. From the mellow, jazz piano man to the swinging pop rocker, Joel is here in all his incarnations. And so while Three Rivers Stadium may be gone, Billy Joel’s music isn’t going anywhere. It’s here to stay.