Social Impact

Pop Icons with Mass Appeal

Both Billy Joel and Elton John rose to fame in the 1970s as piano-playing singer-songwriters who went on to become two of the best-selling musicians of all time. Their widespread popularity and catchy piano melodies appeal to audiences across generations and cultures, from Baby Boomers who grew up with their music to Millennials streaming their hits today. The piano talents of these two artists have brought joy to millions globally.

Influencing Aspiring Musicians

As household names, Billy Joel and Elton John inspire legions of amateur piano players who admire their skills and classic tunes. Aspiring musicians take their songs to practice rooms and piano bars, with many no doubt honing skills on the great pianists' repertoire. Their lasting cultural imprint will continue impacting budding players for decades to come through musical mentorship.

Connecting Through Nostalgia

Billy Joel and Elton John's piano ballads offer shared musical touchstones that connect people through nostalgia. Their melodies bring back memories and induce emotions associated with meaningful life moments. Singing along unites audiences during concerts and provides a sense of community. Such nostalgic piano pop acts as a social adhesive.

Historical Context

Singers Who Play, Not Pianists

While incredibly talented pianists, it helps to view both musicians in their accurate historical context. Unlike classical virtuosos, they are singers and composers first who accompany themselves on piano, not purely pianists presenting solo instrumental work. They use piano to support their songs rather than as the main focus.

Pop Songwriting Tradition

They follow a legacy of pianistic singer-songwriters like Carole King, Randy Newman, Phil Collins and countless jazz vocalists accompanying themselves on piano during intimate club sets. Their skills serve melodic pop songcraft, not classical pianism - an important distinction when comparing talents.

Larger-Than-Life Personas

Also central to their history are the outsized rock star personas and flamboyance defining their legacy as much as piano playing. Concerts rely as much on pageantry and showmanship as technical skills. Unlike recital pianists, their stardom stems from vocal and pop culture fame more than pure piano ability removed from singing.

Economic Impact

Lucrative Record Sales and Touring Revenue

Thanks to their pop stardom and piano talents combined, Billy Joel and Elton John have earned astronomical fortunes from album sales, publishing royalties, and blockbuster tours filling stadiums around the world. Their success has funded lavish lifestyles and made them two of the most financially successful musicians ever through their business-savvy solo careers.

Expensive Concert Tickets

Decades since releasing their biggest hits, diehard fans today still pay hundreds of dollars to see these icons live largely thanks to the familiar piano melodies that make up their beloved song catalog. Piano abilities helped drive record sales, which allows their touring tickets to remain premium priced based on continued demand.

Supporting the Piano Industry

As two of the most famous contemporary pianists, Billy Joel and Elton John have likely given the piano industry and market a boost by inspiring fans to purchase their own instruments and take up lessons themselves. Their cultural influence may drive more sales and strengthen the piano business.

Practical Appeal

Joel's Instructional Value

While maybe less of a pure virtuoso, the simplicity and clarity of many Billy Joel piano parts offers instructional value for less advanced players learning. The accessible arrangements help build skills through practice. Elton's orchestrated pop complexity poses more challenges to replicate.

Relatable Everyman Image

Billy Joel also benefits from an endearing, working-class image that makes him feel relatable and approachable to amateur players. His unpretentious interview persona makes his piano skills feel attainable, unlike Elton's lavish pop superstardom. Many feel they could imagine playing like Billy one day.

Intricate Arrangements in Elton's Favor

However, Elton John undeniably displays more diverse technical mastery and intricacy in his piano playing across various styles. His intricate arrangements and classically-influenced passages evidence greater expertise that can inspire advanced learners toward higher skills ceilings. His supernova stage persona however can feel unattainable.

Cultural Legacy

Elton's Flair and Showmanship

While Billy Joel has his own iconic hits, Elton John's huge glasses, sequin jumpsuits, and sparkling onstage energy have made him arguably the bigger overall cultural icon. His musical output expands across film soundtracks, Broadway, and collaboration with numerous artists over decades. The force of his persona is undeniable.

Billy's Working Class Authenticity

Yet Billy Joel's unvarnished image continues endearing him to fans worldwide as well. His lyrics about blue-collar characters connect with audiences' daily lives more than Elton's glitz. Songs like "Piano Man" and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" feel relatable. His sincerity endures past trends.

Intertwined with Pop History

Ultimately both musicians have composed instantly recognizable melodies that will live forever in pop culture. Their catalogs each contain numerous piano-driven classics known worldwide. As cultural icons they remain impossible to untangle from the pop landscape and piano's important role in it.

Spiritual Songwriting

Joel's "River of Dreams"

Billy Joel's hit single "River of Dreams" contains religious imagery and spiritual romanticism that resonates with listeners through gospel-style piano accompaniment. The song contemplates faith, morality, and purpose. Piano cues the reverence in his philosophical lyrics.

Elton's Religious Roots

While less devotional in content, some of Elton John's piano ballads actually found inspiration in his early classical training for church choir as a child. The gospel influencemanifests at times in soulful piano lines and vocal delivery, as on "Border Song." His piano talents took root serving church music.

Pensive Songs Transcend

Neither are devout faith icons, but at moments their thoughtful piano melodies and introspective lyrics touch on purpose in life, meaning, and existential yearning in ways that offer listeners spiritual contemplation elevated above standard pop fare. Their gift for poignant storytelling shines through.

Educational Value

Advantages of Simpler Songs

Pedagogically, Billy Joel's less virtuosic piano repertoire actually provides strong learning material for novices developing skills. Practicing accessible, familiar pop songs teaches basic accompanying, tempo, dynamics, and technique effectively. Students stay engaged with music they know.

Applying Theory to Pop

Both artists exemplify how piano theory can bring nuance and interest to pop compositions. Their lessons in chord progressions, key changes, harmonic flavors and piano orchestration within a radio-friendly format gives students diverse arranging tools that broaden horizons.

Importance of Songwriting Craft

Above all, the two musicians demonstrate how impactful songwriting holds equal importance to performing. Honing sharable melodies and harmonies using piano ultimately serves expression. Their pianism supports songcraft, not the reverse. This instructs composers in training.

A Personal Take

Joel Resonates More as Piano Inspiration

For me personally, while Elton John clearly demonstrates more mastery and vision musically, Billy Joel resonates as a greater source of inspiration as a piano student. His charming accessibility as both a performer and musician makes his gift feel within closer reach. Elton feels more supernova - untouchable.

Relatability Aids Learning

Trying to replicate Elton's sophisticated compositions generally proves discouraging for someone at my amateur skill level. But playing a familiar Billy Joel progression reinforces that simple piano parts can sound great supporting a heartfelt vocal. His piano embellishes songs, not the reverse. That focus helps my own development.

Lasting Value Over Flash

I respect Elton John's undeniable piano accomplishments. But the kind of pianist I aspire to become sits behind a well-worn upright singing earnestly, not a rhinestone-bedazzled grand. For my money, Billy Joel's pianism exudes more wisdom and substance. His restrained style delivers lasting value over flashy playing.

In the end, both musicians offer merits to celebrate. But their differing approaches lead this pianist to gain more inspiration from Billy Joel's humility at the keys. His enduring music echoes my own journey better than Elton's bombast. Joel makes piano mastery feel within sight for anyone with dedication to the craft.

Harlan Kilstein began playing piano during covid with no piano background at all. He taught himself how to play learning what to do and what not to do.
Today he's an advanced intermediate player and can help you grow in your skills because he learned all this on his own.