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Billy Joel Shows Alec Baldwin How Different His Greatest Hits Could Have Sounded In New Interview

Alec Baldwin / Billy Joel
Steven Henry, Getty Images

In a fantastically entertaining and revealing hour-long interview on WNYC’s ‘Here’s the Thing,’ a candid Billy Joel tells — and more importantly, shows — Alec Baldwin just how radically different some of his best-known songs could have sounded if not for the intervention of producer Phil Ramone.

The big-screen and ’30 Rock’ star turned podcaster spends much of the show taking the Piano Man chronologically through his career, talking about the personal and career changes that inspired and affected each of Joel’s albums.

At about 42 minutes in, the impact producer Ramone had on hit records ranging from 1977′s ‘The Stranger’ to 1986′s ‘The Bridge’ is discussed. “When he was a kid, he was a child prodigy on the violin. He knew music… he had years and years in the trenches,” Joel explains. “Paul Simon used him as an engineer, and I said, ‘I wanna work with this guy, because he looks like he knows what he’s doing, he knows how to get good sound.’”

Obviously, the combination clicked. “When he came in — boom! We knew we had a professional guy, it was like working with another great musician. He knows how to play the studio like we know how to play our instruments,” Joel declares. “Everything changed, the band just rose to the occasion.”

Sitting at the piano, he then goes on to explain exactly how Ramone re-worked some songs, playing and beat-boxing to demonstrate the alternate (and ultimately rejected) original rhythms. “When we did ‘Just the Way You Are’ originally, the drummer was playing it like a cha-cha. Phil told him, play a backwards samba — and it worked!”

It turns out the world has drummer Liberty DeVitto to thank for saving us from a reggae version of one of Joel’s biggest hits. “I came up with the idea of playing ‘Only the Good Die Young’ as a reggae (and this performance, at 44:00 in, you absolutely must hear.) Liberty throws the sticks at me, (saying) ‘The closest you’ve been to Jamaica is Queens, what are you doing? I’m not playing this!’ So Phil came up with this shuffle against straight fours.”

The entire podcast can be heard below. With all due respect to whatever plans you, your boss or your family had in mind for the next hour of your day, we highly suggest you listen to this instead. Then track down the time Joel brought his piano into the Howard Stern show for an equally entertaining, music-assisted interview.

Listen to Alec Baldwin Interview Billy Joel on ‘Here’s the Thing’

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