Today (August 28th) marks the 25th anniversary of Billy Joel's last studio album — River Of Dreams — topping the Billboard 200 album charts. River Of Dreams, the “Piano Man's” 12th album, was released on August 10th, 1993 and spent three weeks at Number One — between August 28th and September 17th — when it was knocked out of the top spot by Garth Brooks' In Pieces. River Of Dreams' cover was painted by Billy's then wife, Christie Brinkley and snagged Rolling Stone's “Top Picks” award for “Best Album Cover Of The Year.” To date, the album has sold over five million copies in the U.S. alone.
For River Of Dreams — despite the success of his teamup with Foreigner's Mick Jones, who was behind the boards for 1989's Storm Front — Billy tapped veteran guitarist/producer Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, best known for his guitar work for the likes of James Taylor, Carole King, Crosby & Nash, Jackson Browne, and Linda Ronstadt, among many others. At that point, Kortchmar was particularly hot following his co-production and songwriting duties on Don Henley's 1984 set Building The Perfect Beast and its 1989 followup, The End Of The Innocence.
River Of Dreams, which was Billy's last work completed during his marriage to Brinkley, touched upon their relationship on “Blonde Over Blue,” their pending split on his song for their daughter Alexa, “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel),” and his contempt for his former brother-in-law and crooked ex-manager Frank Weber on “The Great Wall Of China.”
The album spawned four singles, the Top Three “The River Of Dreams”; “All About Soul,” which hit Number 29; “No Man's Land,” which peaked at Number 18 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart; and “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel), which reached Number 18 on Billboard's Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks list.
River Of Dreams was nominated for four Grammys the following year, including the coveted Album Of The Year, with the title track garnering noms for Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year, and Best Pop Vocal Performance. Ultimately, Billy went home empty handed that year.
With decades now between Billy Joel and his last rock songs, we asked him why he's traded rock music for mostly unheard classical compositions: “The reason I stopped writing pop songs, and songs in general, is because I felt constrained by song form. There's an orthodoxy to pop; you're writing inside of a box. Y'know, it can't be too long, you have to repeat the verse over and over, you gotta have a hook, you gotta have lyrics in it, you gotta have rock n' roll instrumentation, you gotta have bass, drums, guitar, there has to be a voice taking the lead. Then I thought to myself, 'Well, why? Why? Who says I have to do this?'” and recorded one “pop” song, the big band-inspired one-off single, “All My Life,” which was released in 2007 and produced by the late-Phil Ramone.