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Joel wrote this song about his first wife, Elizabeth. He gave it to her as a birthday present. After 9 years of marriage, Joel divorced Elizabeth in 1982. His next wife was model Christie Brinkley, and that marriage also ended in divorce.
This won Grammys for Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year in 1978. It was a breakthrough hit for Joel, whose biggest hit to this point was "Piano Man
," which reached #25 in the US. This was also his first chart entry in the UK.
Joel told USA Today
July 9, 2008: "I was absolutely surprised it won a Grammy. It wasn't even Rock 'n' Roll, it was like a standard with a little bit of R&B in it. It reminded me of an old Stevie Wonder recording." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
After Joel recorded this, he didn't think much of it, considering it a "gloppy ballad" that would only get played at weddings. He credits his producer, Phil Ramone, with convincing him that it was a great song. Ramone brought Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow into the recording studio to hear the song, and of course they loved it, which was good enough for Billy. On Australian TV in 2006, Joel confirmed: "We almost didn't put it on an album. We were sitting around listening to it going naaah, that's a chick song."
Phil Woods, who is a prominent Jazz player, played the alto saxophone for this song. (thanks, Alex - Grand Blanc, MI)
Barry White's cover version hit #12 in England. The song was also covered by Frank Sinatra and Isaac Hayes, whose version is in 6/8 time with a long introductory rap.
Joel performed this on Saturday Night Live in 1977, 3 months before it was released.
This was the first single off The Stranger.
On a July 16, 2006 blog for the Australian newspaper The Herald Sun, Joel said that he dreamt the melody and chord progression and wrote the lyrics over a few days after the dream re-occurred to him. He added that the drum pattern was suggested by his producer at the time, Phil Ramone. (thanks, Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England)
Joel expanded to USA Today: "I dreamt the melody, not the words. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and going, 'This is a great idea for a song.' A couple of weeks later, I'm in a business meeting, and the dream reoccurs to me right at that moment because my mind had drifted off from hearing numbers and legal jargon. And I said, 'I have to go!' I got home and I ended up writing it all in one sitting, pretty much. It took me maybe two or three hours to write the lyrics."
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