Last weekend, Billy Joel played his first concert of 2022 at Hollywood, Florida's Hard Rock Hotel and Casino; he's scheduled to resume his long-running residency at New York City's Madison Square Garden on February 12 after a brief postponement due to the Omicron variant. The piano man is celebrating his 50th year as a solo artist with a variety of projects including the recent release of The Vinyl Collection Vol. 1 which reissued albums from his first decade. Over in Japan, the end of 2021 saw a new 2CD/DVD collection from Sony. Japanese Singles Collection: Greatest Hits follows previous releases in the series from artists such as Air Supply, Kenny Loggins, Boz Scaggs, and REO Speedwagon. The format and design are very similar for each title. The CDs (Blu-spec 2 discs, playable on all CD players) contain 39 A-sides as originally released in Japan plus a DVD of music videos - in Joel's case, 42 videos and over three hours' worth.
Part of the fun of these sets is tracking the differences between the artist's U.S. and Japan release trajectories. Whereas Joel's solo career kicked off in America with "She's Got a Way," his first single release in Japan was "Piano Man." That anthem opens the first disc of this collection. While it was released in 1973 in the U.S., the Japanese single didn't arrive until 1975. Billy didn't see another Japanese 45 until "Just the Way You Are," one of three A-sides pulled from the singer-songwriter's 1977 Phil Ramone-produced, Grammy-winning breakthrough The Stranger. The others were the title track and "She's Always a Woman," leaving U.S. A-sides "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" and "Only the Good Die Young" out in the cold (and absent from this collection). Stranger follow-up 52nd Street fared a bit better, mirroring the U.S. single releases of "My Life," "Honesty," and "Big Shot." The Righteous Brothers-inspired "Until the Night" was selected as a fourth A-side in Japan.
Joel tapped into the new wave sound for 1980's Glass Houses, represented on the Japanese Singles Collection with another four songs: "You May Be Right," "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," "Don't Ask Me Why," and one released as a B-side in America, "All for Leyna." As in the U.S., the Phil Spector homage "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" was selected for a Japanese A-side off the live album Songs in the Attic but the live "She's Got a Way" was overlooked in favor of the lesser-known "Los Angelenos." Joel has long cited 1982's The Nylon Curtain as among his proudest accomplishments, and the same, diverse trio of tunes was chosen for A-side release in both the U.S. and Japan: "Pressure," "Allentown," and "Goodnight Saigon."
1983's An Innocent Man was another triumph and remains Joel's longest-charting studio album behind The Stranger, with 111 weeks on the Billboard 200. The album paid tribute to the artists and sounds that influenced Joel in his youth. Reflecting the artist's ascension to international superstar status, a whopping seven singles were released in the U.S., all of which were also issued in Japan. Three went to the U.S. top ten: "Tell Her About It" (No. 1), "Uptown Girl" (No. 3), and the title track (No. 10). Joel cited Motown, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, and Ben E. King and The Drifters as inspirations for those three songs. Also released on 45 were the doo-wop homage "The Longest Time" (No. 14), "Keeping the Faith" (No. 18), the Beethoven-based "This Night," and Burt Bacharach-meets-Smokey Robinson mélange "Leave a Tender Moment Alone" (No. 27). Joel based the latter, featuring the harmonica of Toots Thielemans, on the rhythm of such Bacharach songs as "What the World Needs Now Is Love." While "Keeping the Faith" was issued in Japan (as well as at home) in a longer "Special Mix" with overdubs, the original LP version is heard here.
Columbia (in the U.S.) and Sony (in Japan) largely continued to mirror each other's releases for Joel with his subsequent albums although his cover of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" from the 1987 live album Kohuept was U.S.-only. Japanese Singles Collection features two singles from Greatest Hits Vols. 1 & 2 ("You're Only Human (Second Wind)" and "The Night Is Still Young"), three from The Bridge ("Modern Woman," "A Matter of Trust," and "This Is the Time") and "Back in the U.S.S.R." from Kohuept. Joel parted ways with longtime producer Ramone for 1989's Storm Front, producing it instead with Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones. Five songs hit the Hot 100 in the U.S., all five of which were singles in Japan, too: "We Didn't Start the Fire" (No. 1), "I Go to Extremes" (No. 6), "And So It Goes" (No. 37), "The Downeaster Alexa" (No. 57), and "That's Not Her Style" (No. 77). As of "We Didn't Start the Fire," Joel's singles were issued on CD rather than vinyl in Japan.
Billy Joel's twelfth and final studio album to date, 1993's River of Dreams, was helmed with guitarist Danny Kortchmar and yielded another major U.S. hit with the title track (No. 3 Pop/No. 1 AC) as well as "All About Soul" (No. 29 Pop). The third and final single, concluding the CD portion of Japanese Singles Collection, is the tender "Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)."
The DVD may be the definitive survey of Joel's music videos, with 42 clips including a number of songs not otherwise on the collection: "James," "Sometimes a Fantasy," "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," "She's Right on Time," "Leningrad," "To Make You Feel My Love," "Hey Girl," and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant." However, the DVD is NTSC Region 2, so viewers in the U.S. will need a region-free DVD player or software to watch.
While the booklet does not indicate mix or edit variations (kudos to the compilers of the recent Chicago collection in a related series from Warner Japan for doing this), a number of the tracks on the CDs do indeed appear to be unique single mixes and/or edits, among them "Piano Man," "The Stranger," "Just the Way You Are," "My Life," "Big Shot," "Until the Night," "Pressure," "Goodnight Saigon," "The Night Is Still Young," "We Didn't Start the Fire," and "All About Soul" (the latter of which is an edit, not the extended single remix version).
Billy Joel's Japanese Singles Collection is packaged in a "fatboy" jewel case with two thick booklets. The first, in color, has beautiful full-page replicas of each single's original picture sleeve on 52 glossy pages. The second, in black-and-white, offers liner notes in Japanese plus lyrics in both Japanese and English over a total of 78 pages. Michiko Suzue has remastered at Sony Music Studios in Japan.
This collection offers an alternative history of Billy Joel through many of his most popular and enduring classics. It's available now as 2 Blu-spec CDs/1 DVD from Sony Music Japan at the links below.
All single releases on CBS/Sony Japan unless otherwise indicated.
- Piano Man (SOPB-342, 1975)
- Just the Way You Are (06SP 210, 1978)
- The Stranger (06SP 228, 1978)
- She's Always a Woman (06SP 248, 1978)
- My Life (06SP 271, 1978)
- Honesty (06SP 302, 1979)
- Big Shot (06SP 320, 1979)
- Until the Night (06SP 420, 1979)
- You May Be Right (06SP 460, 1980)
- It's Still Rock and Roll to Me (06SP 484, 1980)
- Don't Ask Me Why (07SP 500, 1980)
- All for Leyna (07SP 527, 1980)
- Say Goodbye to Hollywood (07SP 564, 1981)
- Los Angelenos (07SP 593, 1981)
- Pressure (07SP 650, 1982)
- Allentown (07SP 674, 1982)
- Goodnight Saigon (07SP 692, 1983)
- Tell Her About It (07SP 720, 1983)
- This Night (07SP 722, 1983)
- Uptown Girl (07SP 761, 1984)
- An Innocent Man (07SP 774, 1984)
- The Longest Time (07SP 794, 1984)
- Leave a Tender Moment Alone (07SP 814, 1984)
- Keeping the Faith (07SP 867, 1985)
- You're Only Human (Second Wind) (07SP 905, 1985)
- The Night Is Still Young (07SP 926, 1985)
- Modern Woman (Epic (Japan) 075P 424, 1986)
- A Matter of Trust (07SP 970, 1986)
- This Is the Time (07SP 983, 1986)
- Baby Grand (featuring Ray Charles) (07SP 1003, 1987)
- Back in the U.S.S.R. (04SP 1065, 1987)
- We Didn't Start the Fire (CSDS 8106, 1989)
- I Go to Extremes (CSDS 8116, 1990)
- The Downeaster "Alexa" (CSDS 8141, 1990)
- That's Not Her Style (CSDS 8159, 1990)
- And So It Goes (CSDS 8175, 1990)
- The River of Dreams (SRDS 8258, 1993)
- All About Soul (SRDS 8268, 1993)
- Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) (SRDS 8272, 1993)
- Piano Man
- Just the Way You Are (Live at Carnegie Hall, 1977)
- The Stranger (Live at Carnegie Hall, 1977)
- She's Always a Woman (Live on The Old Grey Whistle Test, 1978)
- My Life
- Big Shot
- Until the Night (Live from Long Island, 1982)
- You May Be Right
- It's Still Rock and Roll to Me
- All for Leyna
- Sometimes a Fantasy
- Say Goodbye to Hollywood (Live at Sparks, 1981)
- Los Angelenos (Live at Sparks, 1981)
- Goodnight Saigon (Live from Long Island, 1982)
- She's Right on Time
- Tell Her About It
- Uptown Girl
- An Innocent Man (Live in Russia, 1987)
- The Longest Time
- Leave a Tender Moment Alone (Live at Wembley Arena, 1984)
- Keeping the Faith
- You're Only Human (Second Wind)
- The Night Is Still Young
- A Matter of Trust
- Baby Grand (featuring Ray Charles)
- Back in the U.S.S.R. (Live in Russia, 1987)
- We DIdn't Start the Fire
- I Go to Extremes
- The Downeaster "Alexa"
- That's Not Her Style (Live at Yankee Stadium, 1990)
- And So It Goes
- The River of Dreams
- All About Soul
- Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)
- To Make You Feel My Love
- Hey Girl
- Scenes from an Italian Restaurant