Billy Joel scored his first #1 hit 40 years ago this weekend

This Sunday, July 19, marks the 40th anniversary of a big milestone in Billy Joel‘s career: His first-ever number-one hit — “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” In keeping with Joel’s rebellious nature, the song was his answer to the music press, who’d been less than kind to him.

In his new memoir, former Joel drummer Liberty DeVitto says the Piano Man wrote the song after DeVitto asked him about the bad reviews he’d get from time to time.

“If we played two nights in the same place, the newspaper article, the review would come out after the first night and sometimes it was a terrible review,” DeVitto tells ABC Audio. “Now, Billy didn’t mind a musical terrible review…But when they attacked his personal life, like, ‘He’s getting fat,’ Billy did not like that.”

Joel’s response, DeVitto explains, was to “review the reviewer.”

“He would…bring the newspaper up [onstage], read the article, and then just start to tear apart the reviewer,” the drummer laughs. “And the crowd would go nuts. So that’s why ‘It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me’ was so deep — like, it doesn’t matter what anybody calls it, if you like it, it’s still rock ‘n’ roll to you, y’know? It’s that kind of song.”

While the song seems to dismiss the latest trends in music — with Billy sneering, “Next phase/new wave/dance craze/anyways, it’s still rock and roll to me” — the album that featured the single, Glass Houses, was partially influenced by those very trends.

“It was during the punk time, The Police days, those days,” DeVitto notes. “So I think it fits really well.” 

Joel went on to score two more number-ones — “Tell Her About It” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” — before giving up recording pop albums in 1993.

By Andrea Dresdale
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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