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March 4, 2020 52 mins

Elton and Billy’s parallel careers intersected with a long-running duets tour, but things went south after Billy abruptly backed out in 2010. Elton publicly blamed Billy’s alcoholism and criticized his lack of recent musical output. An irate Billy fired back by saying Elton’s latest albums were lackluster and dragged down his legacy. The public sniping ultimately died down but their feud highlighted the two paths available to Artists of a Certain Age: fall back on past glories or valiantly press on at the risk of artistic misfires. In other words, is it better to burn out or fade away?

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Revels as a production of I Heart Radio. Hey everyone,
welcome to Rivals, the show about music rivalries and beeps
and feuds and long simmering tensions between pop musicians. I'm Steve,

(00:25):
I'm Jordan's and in today's episode, two piano man enter
and one piano man leaves is rocket Man versus piano Man,
The Kings of Keys, the Ivory Princes. There we go,
ladies and gentlemen, without further Ado Elton, Hercules, John and

(00:45):
William Martin. Joel, I cannot wait. I'm so excited. I'm
looking forward to this one forever. There's so much excitement
coming off of you. This this is like Christmas Morning
for Jordan's. You've been You've been waiting for this one
for I want to say years. I feel like, long
before I ever knew you, you were wanting to talk

(01:06):
about this on a podcast. Oh my god, before I
knew what a podcast was, before podcasts existed. I just
wanted to sit in my room with headphones on into
a microphone by myself and just talk about these two
piano man. I am. I am sub pumped. See I
I feel some melancholy going into this episode. I have
to admit, because really I love I love them both.

(01:27):
I love Billy Joel, I love Elton John. I've been
listening to these two men I feel like my entire life.
And you know, for a long time these two were bros.
You know, they were tight, they were touring together, and
then there was this split that occurred. And you know
it's like Cane enable, you know, I you know, warring brothers.

(01:50):
And it makes me sad, makes me a little said
that we have to delve into this, uh, even though
there are so many great details to discuss, some maody
great details. And they're both so their fuses are both
so short. I mean, Elton especially has had fuges with everybody.
I mean, my God, Madonna, Keith Richards, it just I mean,

(02:12):
he keeps gost goes on and on and on, Michael Jackson.
Elton was like the Liam Gallagher of his day, and
and he he might still out Liam Gallagher. Liam Gallagher
just in terms of just trash talking, oh people that
he doesn't like, and also trash talk and his friends talk,
trash talking people that he ostensibly likes. That's what sets

(02:32):
out in the part. Like a lot of these rivalries,
it's like people trash talking like I don't like that guy.
I don't like that guy's music. I don't like that
woman's music. Elton is like, I like you, but I'm
still gonna talk smack about you, which is, you know,
in its own way, kind of refreshing too. Oh it's beautiful.
You just zero it out, like, Okay, this is just
Elton being Elton, no matter who it is, it's just
what he does. He can't help himself. Okay, let's dive

(02:54):
into this battle now. Okay, I feel like you and I,
you know, we grew up with both of these people,
so we feel like we know their stories back and forth.
We know their catalogs upside and down. But just on
the off chance that there's someone out there who doesn't
know about these two guys, let's give the rundown on

(03:15):
their background before we get into the rivalry part. Steve
and I thought you'd never asked. I was born to
do this, all right. Let's look at the stats. Elton
came onto the scene first. He's a few years older.
He's born Reginald Dwight, the least rock and roll name
in history, in nine seven in the London suburb of
Pinner and he was something of a child prodigy. He
was classically trained at the Royal Academy of Music. That

(03:37):
he loved rock and roll, and he grew up in
school making money, you know, or in pocket money, playing
piano and pubs. And then he graduated to a sort
of a semi pro band called blues Oology, and they
released some not very good, not very bad mid sixties
kind of R and B singles, almost like Animals Georgie
fam and the Blue Flames kind of stuff in the

(03:59):
mid sixties. But they really made their name backing visiting
soul acts from the US, like big names like the
Easley Brothers, Patti Labell, Billy Stewart. But he didn't want
to spend the rest of his life backing touring musicians,
so he applied to work as a songwriter and he
was given at Randoms was nineteen sixty seven. The guy
who went to see just took one of you know,

(04:21):
a huge stack of envelopes off his desk, and in
those that envelope were lyrics by Bernie Taupin and just
by just one of those great universal hand of faith.
Exactly right. It's just this fifty interceedings, fifty year partnership
with some of the best songs in Rocks right and
the rock Gods smiled them that day in nineteen sixty seven.
So they started writing songs together, sold a few, didn't

(04:45):
really do anything, kind of realized, all right, the best
people to do our songs are us. Redge as he
was known at the time, realized that Redge wasn't gonna
cut it for a name, so he looked to his
Bluesology bandmates, looked at Elton d And the sax player,
and long John Baldrey, the singer took Elton, took John,
put him together. Elton John Boom. Elton John was born. Um. Now, like, okay,

(05:10):
I didn't see Rocketman yet. I haven't seen that movie.
In the movie, don't they don't they say that like
he took the name from John Lennon in the movie.
I don't. There's some so I It's been a while
since I've seen it, but I'm pretty sure in the
movie they still have it as a long John Baldwy as.
Long John was medium sized star in the UK, and
he was out in the late sixties and a time

(05:32):
when that, you know, it really wasn't very common, and
he was a big a big influence on album, A
very big early influence who kind of you know, taught
him to listen to the voice inside of him about
in regard to his sexuality, So he he was very important.
I just want to say, like, I haven't seen Rocketman
because I'm not gonna see Rocketman until there's a Billy
Joel by Opie, just because I love both of these guys.

(05:54):
There needs to be a quality between the two piano men. Uh,
that's a tangent. We need to go into it yet.
I mean Bernie Tuppen and Ellen John they're writing songs
together and like their first hit is your Song right
in the seventy Yeah, they put out the first album
eunt and put out album called Empty Sky in nineteen
sixty nine. Didn't do anything interesting album but still flopped.

(06:14):
But yeah, their first big hit your song, uh self
titled second album, and it was a medium sized hit.
It kind of I think it was top ten, but
nothing huge. And then they put out two more albums
which were kind of Western tinge singer songwriter Laurel Canyon
adjacent type stuff. You have a Tumbleweed Connection my favorite

(06:35):
album of his, and then you had a mad Man
Across the Water, which has stuff like Tiny Dancer and
the title track and raise Your Face and these kind
of weird story songs. But then two Honky Chatau comes
out changes everything. First of seven number one albums in
a six years span, which is just nuts, their number

(06:56):
one albums, and they're also like pretty much all great.
You know, you mentioned tub Week Connection being one of
your favorites. I love that record. I love Goodbye Yellow Brick,
the double record from seventy three Funeral for a Friend.
You know, you've got the title track, You've got deep
cuts like I've seen that movie too. That's a great song.
And from then on, I mean, he's like a huge

(07:19):
star for a while, and there's like dips and valleys
in his career. You know, he goes into the late
seventies and he's basically like doing cocaine for breakfast at
that point, so he's not in very good shape. But
he comes back in the eighties and he has another
sort of renaissance in his career. He's putting out songs
like I'm Still Standing and I guess that's why they
call it the Blues and all those kind of songs.
And he gets in the nineties he's doing the Lion King,

(07:42):
you know, and he's still having hits. It just has
this incredible career like where you feel like Elton goes
away and then he comes back. He goes away and
he comes back and just kind of ends up having
hits like in almost every decade of like the last
fifty years. I mean, he goes away and he comes back,
but when he comes back it's in such a huge way.
I mean, you know, first you got the seventies, it

(08:02):
was something like I think it was of every album
sold that year all had his name on it, which
is crazy. Was the first artist to have an album
debut at number one Captain Fantastic, and then next year
his next album, Rock of the Westies, he did it again,
just broke the record twice in a row. And then
nineties he comes back after basically coming out of rehab

(08:25):
in the early nineties. In his music before that, really,
I mean it was not good. He disavowed most of
his albums, stuff like six is Leather Jackets, which peaked
at nineties six on Billboard, which is crazy to think
of him having an album that low. But then you've
got you know, Candle in the Win nineties seven, which
is second only The White Christmas for the best selling
single ever. I mean, it's just I love that you

(08:48):
found a way to work leather jackets into the Wait,
how far, how far we we got? We gotta work.
We gotta work leather jackets into the bio. I mean,
to those of you playing me, John really is like
among the I mean, we're talking about how successful he was,
but really it is like in the very sort of
highest echelon of like pop stars, is what Elton John

(09:11):
is in terms of just the body of work and
how much success he's had. Like in two thou thirteen,
Billboard ranked him the most successful male solo artist in
Billboard history. You know, that's better than Michael Jackson, better
than Elvis Presley. And in the overall sort of spectrum
of artists, he was right behind the Beatles and Madonna.
So that sort of by itself, it's, you know, just

(09:35):
put the mic down at that point, dropped the mic.
Elton John, huge star, huge star, absolutely and then and
that brings us, of course to Billy Joel, also Billy
Joe Star Love Billy Joel raised in the Big Star,
raised in the Levitt Town prefab tract houses of Hicksville,
Long Island. You don't get any more American than that.

(09:56):
Um His uh single mom made him take piano lessons,
and pretty soon he was also taken boxing lessons to
fend off the boys who thought that piano lessons were persists,
which is at parts a little different than Elton. Uh.
He played in a couple local bands in a Long
Island called the Hassles. They had a record deal actually,
and they're they're pretty good too. It's kind of kind

(10:16):
of like Bluesology. They have a very similar early kind
of post Mersey B, R and B type career going.
Um cut his first solo disc, Cold Spring Harbor Great music,
kind of a disaster from start to finish though. It
was mastered at the wrong speed, so he sounded like
a chipmunk. And even worse, he signed this like really

(10:39):
terrible deal where he just signed away the rights to
basically everything he owned. Ever, it was just really really awful. Uh.
So he ended up basically getting into a fight with
the label owner because of the whole mastering snap Foo.
So he moved to l A to kind of hunker
down and hide out, and he got some tentative interest
in Columbia, and he was kind of waiting for Columbia

(11:01):
to their lawyers to get him out of this bad deal.
And to kill time and to earn some money, he
took a job at a place called the Executive Room,
which despite its name, was not very executive as a
sleazy piano bar. And that was really what inspired Piano Man.
I mean, the whole song is and now you know,
I was just gonna like do my Paul Harvey impression

(11:21):
there and say, and now you know the rest of
the story. Billy Joe played in a piano bar. And
of course we know the song Piano Man, and I
assume that, uh, you know, real estate novelists were hanging
out in this executive room, and uh Davy who worked
in the Navy, like all these characters that we know

(11:42):
from that song, I presumably they were hanging on this
piano bar. And he writes that song and it becomes
his first big FM radio hit. I think Captain Jack
is on that record as well, or at least around
that same time. So he has those hits, and then
he puts out some records after that too that I
think are pretty good turn styles. Best record from that time,

(12:02):
he's amazing. Turn Style is amazing, picked at like one
six even though it had New York State of Mind,
Miami Seen, Angry young Man, Summer Highland Falls, but it
absolutely tanked and Columbia was about to drop him. And
the nine The Stranger, which is Billies might drop moment.
I mean that's ten times platinum, four top twenty five singles.

(12:24):
It's basically a greatest hits album. I mean, let's go
in order, moving out the Stranger, just the way you are,
scenes of an Italian restaurant Vienna, only the good die Young,
She's always a woman. Those are the first seven tracks
on the album. I mean, it's it's it's insane. And
what's interesting to me about Billy Joel at this time
is The Stranger. It kicks off Billy's imperial period. We're

(12:46):
really like for the next you could argue up through
River of Dreams in ninety four that he had this
commercial dominants like this seventeen year run, but certainly like
into the mid eighties where he's making these records that
for Billy Joel hands are like the prime era Billy
Joel records. It's also this period where Elton John is
not doing that well, you know, so it's like one

(13:09):
piano man falters and then Billy kind of steps in
and now he's going to beat the piano man in
charge from like seventy seven to eight six or so.
So you have the Strangers, a big hit, you have
fifty Street comes after that, you have glass Houses and
the Nylon Curtain and in I said, man, all these records,

(13:31):
there's like multiple hit singles off of every record. The
catch though, for Billy and this is true more for
him than for Elton John, because I think Elton John
always got pretty good reviews during his career. Billy Joel
is not getting good reviews. The critics are beating up
on Billy. And I just want to quote my favorite
review of a Billy Joel record, written by Robert Chrisco

(13:54):
of the album Straight and the review and you know
there's other parts of the review, this is the most
pertinent part of the review. It's one word yuck. That
is Robert Christco's review Straight From, which I think is
actually really great record. I love Straight. It's Billy Joel
Steely Dan record. You know he's holding Zanzibar like jazzy

(14:17):
kind of rock big shots on that record. Rosalinda's Eyes,
great deep cut by Billy Joel. He's having this great
commercial success, but he's being pummeled by the critics. And
Billy being a reactive guy, he has big years. He
hears every negative thing written about him. He takes to
actually ripping up negative reviews on stage when he plays

(14:39):
his shows, which is it's in its own pretty rock
and roll. But I think it's fair to say that
this emboldened his critics. It did not chasen them. I'm
sure that critics when they saw Billy Joel doing this,
they didn't think, oh my god, he's tearing up our reviews.
We need to review his albums more positively. I feel
like I probably had the opposite effect for music critics

(15:01):
of the time. So Elton John's doing his thing over here,
Billy's doing his thing over here. They formally come together.
I believe it's in for the face to face tour,
and it's this tour where we have one very melodic
piano man over here from England and we have another
very melodic piano man from Long Island over here. Let's

(15:24):
put them on the same stage and dueling pianos and
have them play each other songs and make a jillion dollars.
And that's basically what they did for like a long time, intermittently,
for what I mean fifteen years something like that, fifteen
sixteen years. And really that is kind of what sows
the seeds for their rivalry. Okay, so they're touring together,

(15:46):
they're making oodles of money. You don't have to have
a new album to tour. If it's a lean here
for Billy or it's a lean here for Elton, it's like,
we can still tour and like millions of baby boomers
are going to eat this up every year. We're gonna
just be rolling in cash like pigs and slop basically,
And who would ever want this to end? Who would
ever want this? Then? Why? Why should we ever stop? Well,

(16:08):
unfortunately it does stop. In two thousand ten, Billy Joel
ends up pulling out of a bunch of summer dates.
It's not quite clear why he's doing this, but for Elton,
Elton has thoughts. Elton has thoughts. For Elton, basically, it's
because Billy is a big booze hound and he's blaming
his drinking basically for them not being able to tour together.
And not only is he thinking this privately? He ends

(16:30):
up going to the media and telling them this specifically.
There's an interview in two thousand eleven with Rolling Stone,
the year after their final face to face tour and
Elton John He tells Rolling Stones Austin Scags that at
the end of the day, he's coasting, referring to Billy,
Joel Billy, can't you write another song? It's either fear
or laziness. It upsets me. Billy's a conundrum. We've had

(16:54):
so many canceled tours because of illnesses and various other things.
Comma alcohol is him. And then he proceeds to say
that when Billy goes to rehab that he doesn't do
it the way that Elton went to rehab. He paints
this picture that Elton went to some kind of like
boot camp rehab where you know, people are really tough

(17:14):
on him and they sort of scared him straight and
it forced him to stop drinking and using drugs, whereas
Billy is, you know, going to these sort of country
club rehab places, and Elton called it rehab light rehab light. Yeah.
I think Alton talks about how he's cleaning toilets and
stuff and you know, Billy, I guess is you know,
just lounging in a lazy boy chair or something and

(17:35):
you know, not doing like the real work that you
need to do and rehab. And you know, Billy he
reads this interview and publicly he sort of laughs at Off.
He's like, oh, that's my buddy Elton. He says a
lot of things doesn't matter. Privately, However, Billy's pissed, Like
what did Billy say? Billy, Like what scorched earth? He

(17:56):
sent him this irate note? What gives you the impendent
moral certainty and authority to justify the public humiliation of anyone?
We are done? Which is my god, the omnipotent moral
certainty and authority, which, by the way, you know, Billy
wrote his own lyrics. He's got a way with words.

(18:19):
Elton didn't write his own lyrics, So, yeah, you called Bernie,
and Bernie could have like maybe come up with some
more colorful language. You know. Elton just went straight for
the you know, juncularly drink too much. Billy's busting out
the omniptenent moral certainty and authority. He's the he's the
scrabble champion between the two. Yeah, exactly, so we have

(18:41):
bad blood here in two thousand ten, and for the
rest of the two thousand tens, basically Billy and Elton
are sort of talking to each other through the press.
Like in two thousand eleven, Elton John goes on the
Today Show and he reveals that Billy Joel is furious,
you know, and he says that you know, Billy want
it basically wants to punch me in the ace over
what I've said. And then Billy writes into Rolling Stone

(19:05):
and he says, I don't hate Elton John, I don't
want to punch him in the face. And he says, Elton,
you know my number, give me a call, and this
becomes sort of recurring thing for Billy Joel. And I
will say in Billy's defense that, like, I think he
sort of felt like, dude, if you think I have
a drinking problem, talk to me directly, don't go don't
go to the press. And now you're still going to

(19:25):
the press, like, you know my number, give me a call.
But apparently Elton never calls Billy Joel because this continues
to go back and forth publicly. It's a man who
who probably seems to have trouble expressing, you know, intimacy
and feelings, saying call me basically, it's just sad. I mean,
you're right. Years later, he keeps saying numbers the same,

(19:48):
call me. It's it's really kind of tragic when you
put it that way. Yeah, we're gonna take a short
break for a word from our sponsor, but we'll be
back soon with more rivals. So in twelve, Belton's on

(20:10):
the Today Show again and he says, you know, I'm
sorry that I made Billy Joel upset. You know, he's
the kindest, sweetest man in the most talented songwriter and
a great, great artist. And uh, he says, you know,
let's have lunch, and I'm sorry I've set him. But
apparently there's no lunch because in the next year, Billy
Joel does an interview with The New York Times magazine
where he makes a crack about Elton John having mom hair,

(20:37):
because he says, because because the context is that he
says that Elton John is like my mom, you know,
and he has mom hair, uh, which I which is
probably not actually his real hair. I don't think I
think that was absolutely not, which is a very it's
a funny way because they both are losing their hair.
One just went with it and the other God, my
mom hair wig. But you know, it's weird because as

(20:59):
this goes on, you know, because there's a there's an
incident at the Songwriter's Hall of Fame and in where
Elton John makes a reference to their feud, and then
Billy Joel goes up on stage later that night and
he again says, hey, Elton, give me a call. You know,
if you have an issue, call me. Do not talk
to me publicly again, dude, I've said this many times publicly,

(21:21):
do you just give me a call. But apparently there's
no phone call because they still continue to talk to
each other through the press many many times and many
times many times. And it's interesting because, like by En,
there's another interview Billy Joel gets asked about this again
in Rolling Stone, you know, Rolling Stone asked him do

(21:42):
you hope to sing with Elton John again before the
end of his farewell tour. Billy Joel says, I would
if he asked me to again with the sub tweet
to give me a call, and still isn't calling him.
It's kind of sad at this point, you know, we
worked together for sixteen years. Those were good shows. I
thought they were good. They were a good you. I
would work with him again absolutely. That's in May and

(22:04):
the Fall of Elton John releases his memoir Me Which
did you read that? By the way, I didn't see
the movie, but I did read his book. I did.
I I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It was
a great book, wildly entertaining. While the entertaining very He's
a great rock on tour, you know, It's very warm
and witty book. I thought it was interesting that Billy

(22:26):
Joel I believe, shows up on one page and Elton
John's book. It's page eight five, by the way, if
you want to skip ahead to it when you get
the book. And it's not to talk about how great
it was the tour with Billy. I mean, he compliments
him on his songwriting. He actually compares him to Lou
Read as a songwriter, which I thought was a very interesting.

(22:48):
It's like no music critic has ever made that connection
between Billy Joel and Lou Read. Uh just writing about
him and sort of like being like a an East
Coast New York centric typewriter, but the gist of what
he says about Billy Joel is just to reiterate this
thing about the tour and about how Billy Joel was
drinking all the time. There's a story in the book,

(23:09):
I think, where he talks about Billy Joel actually falling
asleep on stage because he was so drunk. And that's it.
That's it about Billy Joel in the book. So as
far as we know, that's where it lands. It's like,
it seems like these guys are reconciling. And then Elton
John writes his memoir doesn't talk about Billy Joel really
at all, except to take one more shot about the

(23:32):
Space to Face tour. But there's another thing that I
haven't really talked about yet with these two where they
were kind of giving each other a little bit of crap,
and it had to do with their respective artistic output
in their in their twilight years basically, And this is
a recurring part in interviews that they gave while they
were futing, at least on Billy's party. He mentions this

(23:53):
again and again and again in his own defense. Well,
and like in that initial Rolling Stone interview that kind
of kicked all of this off, like back in you know,
Elton John was doing little digs at Billy Joel, saying
like given in a song in years. And I'm sure
that you have opinions about this because you were talking
about leather jackets before Dalton John. I'm sure you have

(24:13):
opinions about late period Billy Joel, because Billy Joel basically
stopped making music in ninety four, right right? It was
The Bridge and then River of dream I mean, I
honestly I checked out kind of after an Innocent Man
and what was that four? And then he had two
albums after that, I'm and then was it the Bridge?
And I can't remember the other one? There was one

(24:35):
other one. There's storm Front and Always and then the
River of Dreams when we didn't start the fire, we
didn't start the fires on storm Front like huge defining hit.
Someone might someone might say his schlocky a song I
have a weak spot for we didn't start the fire.
But you know it's not Vienna, it's not suns from
Italian restaurant. You know, it's not it's not the Grade

(24:58):
A you know, uh steak tartar of Billy Joel's catalog
towards the end, but then he gets in the River
of Dreams in four and that's his last pop record
that he's made to date, and then after that he's
just basically just doing greatest hits tours for the next
thirty years. And this is the funny thing about River

(25:19):
of Dreams is that it feels significant to me. It
feels better to me than is prior to albums that
you know, the bridge and storefront, And I don't know
if that's real or I don't know if that's just
in my mind thinking, you know, almost like that's his
double fantasy record. I'm oh, he's back. Okay, he did
he that's him putting putting the cherry on on his

(25:39):
artistic gap. But he said what he wanted to say,
and then he decided he want to do something else.
I I don't know if if he had had a
bunch more albums after that, I have no idea how
I feel about River Dreams at all. I have no
idea if it would just be like you know, Paul
McCartney's Off the Ground, which I think I've played. Maybe
I was gonna say, I feel like I know the
answer to this question, and as you would not like

(26:00):
it as much as you do now, I think that's
probably her dreams. It's a fine record, but you know
it is it feels better than it is because that
was like the last Billy Joel music, which I think
is like the interesting thing about Billy Joel in a
way because the fact that he stopped is like raised
the estimation of his music were even like music critics

(26:21):
now we'll write nice things about Billy Joel and like
almost like wishing that he would like write another pop song,
like music critics who would never give him the time
of day, like when he was making an album every
other year. You know, the fact that he stopped now
it's like we need more Billy Joel. You know, it's
like why can't we have more Billy Joel albums? And

(26:41):
you know that was like what Elton John was doing
in the early two thousand tents. He was kind of
digging into Billy Joel saying like why aren't you making
new music? You just start of resting on your laurels,
And then Billy Joel shoots back saying basically, well you
should make less records, Like why are you still making
so many ms at this point in your life when

(27:02):
really like no one cares, like no one, no one
wants to hear, you know, Made in England or Songs
from the West Coast or I'm trying to think of
other Elton John albums, like from the last twenty years,
like Peach Tree Road, Peach Tree Road, you know. Yeah,
so the one with Leon Russell, Union, the Union, you know,

(27:23):
like whatever they might be. But like that becomes sort
of the crux of this thing, along with you know,
Elton being mad that Billy, you know, backed out of
these face to face tour shows. It becomes this argument
about like what is the right thing for a legacy
artist to do late in their career. Should they continue
to be creative or should they just say I'm out
of songs, I'm going to stop, you know. And that

(27:45):
seems to be sort of like the deeper part of
this rivalry, you know, that conversation. No, I agree, And
I it's funny because I came to Billy sort of
when he was it was a terrible way to put
up but sort of a spent fours like I came
to him. So I feel like there was the really
really um famous article about him, I Chuck Clustroom and

(28:06):
the uh I think it was two thousand one which
was basically sort of a whole reappraisal of Billy Joel
that I, in my opinion, at least with people in
my age group, is in the book Sex, Drugs and
Cocoa Puffs kind of painted him as this semi tragic,
almost like rock and roll Howard Hughes kind of thing

(28:27):
out on Long Island and his Zanna Do mansion alone,
and it really, in my opinion at least, kind of
revitalized him as this figure that wasn't just this almost
oppressive pop machine all through of the late seventies and
early eighties, but this kind of I won't say mad genius,
but um gave him a little more mystique and kind

(28:50):
of in a lot of ways, and my opinion, gave
him the credit that he uh felt denied for so
many years. I think it's absolutely right. I think that
story in particular really drove it home because you know,
there was something about Billy Joel in the eighties, and
I'm old enough to remember, like when Billy Joel really
was this sort of inescapable figure that you know, you

(29:12):
you you would turn on MTV or VH one and
you would see the video for Uptown Girl, like every
fifteen minutes. And you know, he was kind of a
dorky pop star. You know, there wasn't anything cool about
Billy Joel. He was associated with making this sort of
middle of the road pop music that like your parents liked,
and uh when he went away and like you said,

(29:36):
he became this sort of like you know Howard, he
was a rock and roll figure. It did give him
sort of a romantic tragic quality that he never had
when he was like accessible. You know, it's like, oh, like,
now you're this, you know, guy that has been divorced
a couple of times. You you have some you know,
some substance abuse issues. Maybe it's it's it's weird to

(30:01):
say that that made him cool, but in a way
it did. And it was like, I wonder at some
point he realized that about himself, you know, maybe along
with not feeling like he had anything left to do
as a pop artist, because really, I mean, he wasn't
going to write another song that had the impact of
Piano Man or just the Way You Are or all

(30:23):
those great ballots that he wrote. It's like he did that.
It's like all you can do is kind of do
it again. If you're an artist at that stature, which
is a heartbreaking thing to admit, but it's also in
all the profiles you read of him recently. He's still
writing every day, which to me is someone who loves
that whole you know, great unreleased albums, Brian Wilson's smile

(30:43):
Basement tapes type stuff that's so fast. I mean, I mean,
do I think he's sitting on a bunch of you know,
New York state of minds? No, but I still am
so endlessly fascinated by what he's doing out there. See,
but by not releasing it, though the album in your
mind is gonna be way better than probably the album
that actually exists, you know, And just to have the

(31:06):
sort of idea of like a lost Billy Joel record,
which again, like in the seventies and eighties would have
been totally ridiculous, like, oh, like we're going to romanticize
unreleased Billy Joel records. Like the music critics of that
time would have just scott at that idea, because again,
like he was the Lost James Blunt album, he was
putting out albums like all the time, Like I mean,

(31:26):
from again, that's sort of like Imperial Billy Joel period
from like The Stranger through like Innocent Man. It's really
like a record every year almost or like a record
every other year, and again records that are producing multiple
hit singles. So as soon as like one single kind
of has its day, there's like another Billy Joel hit

(31:47):
like ready to kind of take over. And I think
that coupled with the nostalgia that like a lot of
people of my generation and probably even younger than me
half her Billy Joel, this idea that he was like
the soundtrack of your youth, it kind of all that
also gives another layer of like affection for him, where

(32:10):
now you can put a Billy Joel song in a
movie like Uncut Gems, you know, which used the Stranger
title track, you know, and it's like, wow, Billy Joel.
Not only is it like comfort food for a lot
of people, musical comfort food, it is now even kind
of hip, you know, like in this very hip crime movie.

(32:31):
You know, we're gonna put this song in in a
way that like, you know, Quentin Tarantino would have used
like some obscure like l Green song or something as
a needle drop in another generation, and now we're going
to use Billy Joel as like the cool needle drop
in this kind of movie. It's crazy. I will say, however,

(32:52):
on the other side of the coin that Elton John,
you know, who has continued to put out new albums.
I don't think that that has hurt his legacy one iota.
I think that when people talk about Elton John, they
remember his great hits of the seventies, eighties and into
the nineties. And if he puts a Peach Tree Road

(33:15):
or the Union and people sort of shrug their shoulders. Actually,
I just thought of another Elton John the career album,
The Diving Board. You know the Diving Board, which has
a guy on a diving board on the cover. You know,
great metaphor there um anyway, you know, in a way,
I think people kind of appreciate it, like, oh, Elton

(33:36):
John still doing his thing. He's not resting on his
laurels like there. There's something sort of like admirable about
that as an idea. But the actual music, I don't
think it matters to people, and it doesn't hurt the
other records. Um, it's kind of kept him out in
the public eye in a way that you know, Billy

(33:57):
Joel isn't and I think that's been good for him,
but it's it's sort of like an all positive and
no negative thing for him. So like both of these
guys have kind of done the right thing for themselves.
Yeah exactly. Yeah. Um, So we have these two piano men.
You know, they're they're feuding. They were friends, they're feuding.
Let's make a case for each of them here. What

(34:19):
would be your pro case for Elton John? And by
the way, I feel like this is tougher for you
because I'm getting strong Billy Joel vibes from you. I
feel like you are more of a Billy Joel guy.
Am I wrong? I? You know, I my favorite Elton
John songs rank higher for me than any of Billy Joel's.
But I think I love a greater selection of Billy's

(34:40):
if that makes sense. And my parents wedding song was
your song. So I think I have to give him
the edge because I might not be here. We're not
for for sir Elton. So, so is that the crust
of your case then? That like he made he made
your right yeah back to the future style, like if
he hadn't done your song? Now, I, um, I you know,

(35:02):
I'm I'm not sure who I would choose. I mean Elton,
aside from all the commercial stats that we mentioned earlier,
I mean, My God was at fifty top four, more
than fifty top forty hits, seven consecutive number one albums, uh,
fifty eight Billboard Top forty singles, twenty seven top ten singles.

(35:23):
I mean The Candle, the written remake, which is I
think sold thirty three million copies worldwide to date. It's
just it's not so there's that. I also think that
Elton is a better musician, and I think Billy's actually
admitted this. He said that, you know, yeah, Elton could
play circles around me. I've got a I've got a
weak left hand. But Elton, Elton's the Eltons, the true

(35:44):
pro and I I kind of agree that as a
as a musician, as pianist, I think it's better pianist.
I think it is better stagecraft. And even before all
the feather boas and stuff, all the way back to
his first uh you know, the famous shows at the
Troubadour nineteen seventy that kind of launched him as an
act in uh, the United States, he didn't have any
boas or crazy glasses or anything, like that, but he

(36:07):
was still doing Jerry Lewis flips on the piano and
handstands and stuff, and he knew how to put on
a show. And I think that was from the days
when he was in Bluesology and backing all these great
American soul acts, and he learned a lot from them.
He learned tons of stagecraft. Yeah, I mean, I think yeah,
and I agree with that. I mean, I think that
he probably is a better musician and a better reformer.
I would say Elton John, just to reiterate what you said,

(36:30):
I mean, he's just had the longer, more varied, and
more enduring career as a recording artist, you know. And
that's no slight to Billy Joel, because as we said before,
Elton John, with the exception of the Beatles and Madonna,
is like the most successful artists that there is ever
in pop music. I would say that for me, like
the best Elton John albums are probably better than the

(36:53):
best Billy Joel records, like I think Tumbleweed Connection and
Madman Across the Water and especial really good Bye Yellow
Brick Road for me being like kind of the pinnacle
of Elton John's career artistically, I think that they're better
albums than the best Billy Joel albums. However, and this
is where I'm this is, this is where I'm gonna

(37:13):
pivot to the pro Billy Joel side. I was listening
to The Stranger, like before getting on this podcast with you,
actually listened to it with my wife because my wife
is a total Billy Joel head. And if you're gonna
party with my wife, the Stranger is the number one
party album of all time. And we got together, we

(37:36):
had some drinks, we were blasting The Stranger, and we
just like rocked out to Billy Joel The Stranger. And
I feel like the biggest baby boomer in the world
saying this. I'm not a baby boomer by the way,
I'm a gen xer, but like to say that you
rock out to The Stranger, like you could not have
a more okay boomer moment than that. But um, as

(37:57):
much as I could be, like, you know, I think
artistically Tumble We Connection has like better songwriting. I think
in terms of like proximity to my heart, The Stranger
holds a very special place for me, as does fifty
two Street and Glass Houses. Those three albums in particular,
I think I have such a sentimental value to me.

(38:18):
And I also say, and we've we've alluded to this already,
that Billy Joel to me is a more interesting character.
Uh and and and maybe that's something that's evolved later
on in his career that's sort of pop star and hiding.
You know, the guy who was the biggest thing in
the world and then maybe his personal issues took him
out of the game, but he can still deliver on stage,

(38:40):
and he still has this great catalog. It's a very
intriguing pop kind of persona that he's developed later on
in his career. And there's always that promise that maybe
he has some real bangers in his coppers that he's
going to release some day and he's going to take
over the world again. I don't actually think that's gonna happen.

(39:00):
I don't intellectually think that Billy Joel can do that,
But there's a romantic part of me that holds onto
the idea of like the long lost Billy Joel album
coming out and it's like the reincarnation of the Stranger
and he's gonna come back and it's going to be
like his time out of mind or something. Uh, that's
a very intriguing thing. And I actually don't think that's

(39:22):
gonna happen. I don't think he's going to put that
out because I think he's happy he's doing what he's doing,
and I think he knows he's got a good thing.
He's kind of like cooler than he's ever been in
his career at this point, So like, why ruin it
by putting on a new album that may only disappoint people?
What's your pro Billy Joel Case, I agree with that.

(39:45):
I also think that his songs feel more personal to
me because, as you said earlier, he writes his own lyrics,
and there's something about that, you know, the idea of
the writer going off alone to the piano and pouring
out their feelings. And he and he's known as a
very romantic guy. I mean, there's the famous story of
very early in his career he uh had an affair

(40:07):
with his best friend in bandmate's wife and when it
all kind of self destructed and blew up in his face,
he went off and drank furniture polish and try to
kill himself because he was so heartbroken about the thing.
And there's something very vulnerable about that and very human
about that, and you just feel like he's a very
easily hurt guy in these songs, or how he how

(40:29):
he deals with everything that's on side of him. I mean,
do I know him personally, No, but there's an element
of I wish you did. By the way, when she said,
oh yeah, Billy Joel. By the way, he's sleeping on
my couch right Oh yeah, he's best friends. He's on
my couch watching like you know, Hitler's henchmen right now
making a model of the uss Arizona. I feel like
it's a big history nerve. I don't know what I'm

(40:50):
basing that on, but but yeah, there's something about there's
something that feels more personal and more I guess because
more personal, more universal to his songs. And that's not
taking any from the Elton's amazing stuff, but just something
about the working method of Bernie basically like fasting and
faxing him over poems and then Elton sitting down and
there's something kind of I'm not gonna say it's not

(41:12):
incredibly inspired and genius, but there's something workmanlike about that
which takes a little bit out of it for me.
Um that maybe that's why I give Billie's songs slightly
more of an edge, at least in the emotional department. Um.
I also think, you know, at the other end of
the spectrum, I think he's got a better voice. I
think he's got a much more adaptable voice. Alton sounds

(41:35):
like Alton kind of on whatever he's singing, but Billy,
I think it's much more adaptable, kind of like Paul McCartney.
You can sing Ray Charles Blues stuff for high pitched
falsetto Frankie Valley stuff like Uptown Girl. I just think
he's got an amazing voice. Yeah, he's really underrated as
a singer, I think. I mean, I'm always knocked out
when I hear you may be right. And I remember

(41:56):
at some point I realized that he was like totally
aping mc jagger that song, you know, like that's like
that's his attempt at writing a Rolling Stone song. And
I was like, he did he did that really well,
you know, like there's something about Billy and I think
people knocked him for this, But in the end, I
think it's an attribute that he was such a good
mimic of different pop styles and that he could write

(42:18):
in any kind of style and do it really incredibly.
You know, Like one of my favorite Billy Joel songs
is scenes from an Italian Restaurant. He's talked about how
his goal with that song was basically like I wanted
to do my version of Side two of Abbey Road.
So I'm gonna do a bunch of little song pieces.
I'm gonna piece them into this suite. And you know,
as much as I love Side two of Abbey Road,

(42:40):
in a way, Billy kind of bested the Beatles and
that he was able to make this swite and have
a coherent story go through each part of that song
where it really kind of pays off and you feel like, wow,
this is like almost like a little movie that I've
watched listening to this track, and you know, going back
to your point to about how Billy Joel feels more personal,

(43:02):
you know, he's the guy that wants Elton to call him.
It's like, just give me a call, let's talk about this,
you know, and Elton is the guy who doesn't call.
Elton is the guy who's gonna almost goes to the
Today Show, who goes to Today's Show and kind of
treats this as like a performative show business type thing,
like I'm talking to my friend Billy because I'm concerned

(43:22):
about his issues, but I'm doing it in a public way,
and it's kind of an extension of you know, whatever
it is, you know, I'm putting out into the world.
And and Billy doesn't do that. It's not a performative
thing for him. It's like, I'm actually hurt by what
you're doing. I'm I am legitimately angry about it, and
I would rather just talk about it and to me

(43:44):
in a way that kind of sums up their personalities.
And you know, I love Elton John, but there's something
kind of more real about Billy in that respect. So
I mean, I think it was the closer of the
Chuck Clusterman essay, or he says, I look at Billy, Joel,
I see as me, and uh yeah, I mean in

(44:07):
a lot of ways, I think I see I don't
want to speak for everybody, but I see a lot
of myself in him when he's sad, when he's completely
stupidly in love. I mean, I think all the songs
that he did on On an Innocent Man all tributes
to music from his childhood because he said he was
just in love with Christie Brinkley and felt like a
kid again. You know, stuff like that he when he

(44:28):
when he's in love, he lets you know it. When
he's sad, he lets you know it. And there's something
really really great about that. Yeah, there's something. There's something
Billy Joel that like, even when he was super successful,
he still felt like a loser to some degree, like
he kind of projected loserdom and you know, and I
think that maybe for critics or for people who don't
like Billy Joel, that makes him maybe seem pathetic or

(44:52):
makes him easier to dislike. Whereas if you love Billy Joel,
it's what connects you to him, because it's like, even
if he's like a millionaire and he's married to Christie
Brinkley and he's having tons of hit songs, it's like
he's still kind of a loser. But it's like I
feel like a loser, you know. It's like he's like me,
I connect with, you know, whatever angst he has that

(45:14):
he can't get rid of. And it's again one of
those things where you look at Elton John, We'll call you.
This is the only way I know to communicate with you,
Jordan Is through this public forum of podcast. Okay, we're
gonna take a quick break and then get back to
more Billy versus Elton. Well, let's bring these two back together.

(45:49):
Let's reconcile these guys. You know, they're they're arguing about
the face to face tour. They're snapping each other in
the press. Alden has taken one more shot at him
in his book. But we ultimately want these guys to
be to be friends again. So like, what what is
the case for bringing them together. I always loved them both.
I always kind of saw them as two sides of

(46:09):
the same character. Kind of Billy Joel was Clark Kent
to Elton John's Superman. They were both like that, these
super awkward kids who wanted to play rock and rock
and roll. And Elton made himself and he literally named
himself Elton Hercules John. He made himself the superhero character
despite being just the nerdiest nerve. I mean, if you've
got a Google childhood picktures Melton John, I mean, just

(46:30):
super nerd. But he just reinvented himself and it was
inspiring to anyone who can you know, you can be
whoever you want to be, and Billy sort of took
the opposite approach and just showed up looking like one
of the roadies. And he doesn't give a ship, and
he still kicks ass at Madison Square Garden more than
any other artist, married a supermodel, and just basically this

(46:52):
whole ethos as fuck you, this is who I am,
which is very rock and roll. So Elton kind of
created himself and succeeded, whereas Billy succeeded kind of in
spite of himself. And they're both inspiring in the same way.
And they have like a really weird if you actually
look point by point their career trajectories in their past,
it's almost like the like villain origin stories in all

(47:16):
the superhero movies, Like they were like brothers at one
point who are then separated than somebody was doctor evil
Man and somebody was you know, the other guy. It's like,
you know, I mean, they both were raised without father figures,
in working class, suburban kind of waste lands. They both
were in these mid sixties beat groups that kind of
had middle local success. They both were really unlucky in

(47:38):
love early in life and had these kind of tragic
comics suicide attempts. Elton put his head in an oven,
but opened every window in the kitchen. He he was
a cry for help. He wanted, he wanted to be
found and stopped, and Billy drank furniture polished around the
same age as I think they're both around twenty we
even get furniture polished. I don't even know they're they

(48:00):
don't don't tell that anymore. It's like I can't polish
any of my furniture in my house. I mean, probably
after Billy Joel talked about it too many times, exactly
the Billy Joel rule. We gotta get rid of the
furniture polished so aspiring singer songwriters don't off themselves. Yeah,
I mean, I mean their first solo album, Interesting Ignored
broke through with treakily tracks on disc number two. Your

(48:23):
song and piano Man would kind of define that. Billy
Joel awards leather Jacket on the cover of Glasshouses. Elton
John has an album called Leather Jackets. You Gotta bring
the Leather Jackets back? Yeah, I mean, you know you
you mentioned the superhero thing. Like the thing I thought
about was like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, like
they like like like just archetypical partners, you know, like

(48:44):
two guys that you know, like like like Sun Dance
is the taciturn one who never talks, and I guess
he'd be more like the Billy Jewel I guess. And
then you know, and and Butch Cassidy is like the grinning, outgoing,
swaggering one, and he'd be like Elton John. You know.
But it's like these two guys they belong together. You

(49:05):
just feel like they work so well together on that tour,
the face to face tour, and and like you said,
there's so many parallels in their career. It's like, just
get over it, guys. Elton, pick up the phone. Billy
has been begging you for so many years, reconcile, do
one more tour together. Guys, life is too short. We're

(49:27):
begging you here, me and Jordan's here on the Rivals podcast,
make it happen. Do you think we can do it?
You think we can bring these guys together. I think
if anyone can, we can, we can do it. Well.
On that note, I think we need to say goodbye.
I know we could talk another like five hours about
all the parallels between these two guys. But before we

(49:49):
do the one last thing, the Billy Joel biopic, who
would play him? My bets on Paul Giamat, Oh my god,
Well Gati would be like late per read Billy Joel,
like you know when he's in the mansion talking to
cluster Man. I guess that could be like the framing
device that like some journalists is talking to Billy Joel.

(50:11):
And then Joel said, well, that reminds me of a song.
It's been the longest time since I've thought about this stuff.
And then they flashed to like a younger Billy Joel
got who would that be? Well, you know who they
would cast probably well, no, I was gonna say, they
would get like like who some dude that plays piano

(50:32):
right now? Like, uh, is there like any like young
piano playing They get like Charlie Pooth or something, and uh,
someone like that. Or maybe they they'd get like some
some shoe polish and put it like an edge Sheeran's
hair and had that cheering to do, like a long
Island accent. You know they're gonna get some cheeseball modern

(50:52):
day pop start to play Billy Joel. Um. You know
it would have been cool like in another era, like
if they had made a Billy Joel by a pick
in the eighties, they have like Ralph Macchio play Joel,
or some tough Italian dude you know, or have like
a young Nicholas Cage play Billie Joel, like in the eighties.
I think that would have been good. But you know,

(51:13):
we missed that. We missed that boat. So now we're
stuck with Charlie Pooth playing uh Billie Joel. It's gonna
be terrible, but but I would see it the day
it came out in theaters, and then I can finacy
Rocketman because there'd be the the equitable distribution of biopics
between piano man. So I said at the beginning that
two piano man would enter, one would leave. But let's

(51:36):
say they both leave together, arm in arm into the sunset,
face to face. All right, Man, always a pleasure talk
with you. Jordan's so much fun st And I'm excited
to talk about another rivalry next week, all right, look
forward to it. M Rivals is a production of I

(52:02):
Heart Radio. The executive producers are Shawn Tytone and Noel Brown.
The supervising producers are Taylor Chacogne and Tristan McNeil. I'm
Jordan Run Talk. I'm Stephen Hyden. If you like what
you heard, please subscribe to leave us a review. For
more podcasts for my heart Radio, visit the I heart
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