Billy Joel married the supermodel Christie Brinkley less than two years after this song was released, but he wasn't even dating her when he started writing the song - he was actually dating another supermodel: Elle McPherson. Asked about his relationship with Elle on The Howard Stern Show in 2010, Joel explained: "We dated on and off. We weren't like engaged or anything. We just kind of dated. She was 19."
Joel went on to explain that he and Elle parted ways when she went off to Europe, which is around the time he started dating Brinkley. He reworked the lyrics, and by the time he finished the song, it was about Brinkley.
On Australian TV in 2006, Joel said: "The song was originally called 'Uptown Girls' not 'Uptown Girl.' I know its associated with Christie but when I started to write that song I had recently divorced prior to meeting her, all the sudden I'm a rock star and divorced. All these women were going to go out with me."
As he explained to Howard Stern, Billy Joel was on vacation in the Caribbean when he was playing the piano, looked up, and saw Elle McPherson, Christie Brinkley and Whitney Houston (who was more a model than a musician at that point) standing over his piano in wonderment watching him play. Joel thanked his creator for his good fortune, and began dating Elle. His first attempt at the song had the lyrics, "Uptown girls, I've been around the world." The music was more of a classical piece when it started.
Joel is from Long Island, New York, and always considered himself a working-class, regular guy. This song reflects his surprise at his ability to attract such beautiful, glamorous women. In a 1987 interview with Q magazine, Joel said: "The fact that I can attract such a beautiful woman as Christie should give hope to every ugly guy in the world!"
The whole album, especially this song, was a musical tribute to '60s pop music. Specifically, this one is done in the style of The Four Seasons, with Joel trying to sound like Frankie Valli
. He had their song "Rag Doll
" in mind both musically and lyrically; on that track Valli sings about a poor girl that he loves anyway. In fact, he loves her "just the way she is
Christie Brinkley was in the video, playing the Uptown Girl. Joel portrayed a mechanic working on her car. The clip was directed by Jay Dubin, who also helmed Joel's videos for "Tell Her About It
" and "The Longest Time
Brinkley and Joel remained married for nine years. She drew the cover art for his 1993 album River of Dreams. They eventually separated due to Joel's busy schedule.
This was Joel's only #1 single in the UK. It's also one of his best-selling in the US.
In an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer decides to hang out with the band of hippies his mother was once part of in the 1960s, Homer breaks into singing a fragment of this song at one point. (thanks, Vincent - Fayetteville, AR)
In 2001 the Irish boy band Westlife covered "Uptown Girl," topping the UK charts for a week. It was recorded as the official song for the 2001 BBC Comic Relief charity appeal. Screenwriter Richard Curtis, one of the founders of the Comic Relief campaign, knew supermodel Claudia Schiffer's agent and obtained her cooperation to be the Uptown Girl in the video, which mimicked Billy Joel's original that featured his model wife Christie Brinkley. In addition to Schiffer and Westife themselves, the video also featured the actors Tim McInnery, James Wilby, Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Bathurst and Crispin Bonham Carter as a chorus of city workers.
The owner of the Rolls Royce in this video tried to pull a fast one on Jay Dubin's team. The director said in our interview
: "The guy who owned the car was a little crazy. His radiator went out. His radiator had a leak in it and he was trying to shake us down. He said he needed a new radiator, and a Rolls Royce radiator was $2,000. So I remember my guy, Bruce, that handled that went up to him and said, 'Hey, no problem at all. I'll give you $2,000, but before I give you money, you've got to take the old radiator out of the car and give it to me.' And he goes, 'What do you mean?' Bruce said, 'I'm buying a $2,000 radiator for you, I'm taking the old one.' And suddenly the problem with the car went away."