When asked about his favorite songwriters of the late ’80s, Billy Joel didn’t hesitate to mention two names that stood out from the rest: Sting and Elvis Costello. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1986, Joel expressed his admiration for these musicians, praising their talent for composing and their significant influence on his own perspective on songwriting.
Joel, a renowned singer-songwriter himself, acknowledged that while there had been many great rockers throughout the decades, it was Sting and Costello who had managed to establish themselves as prolific and exceptional songwriters during the mid-to-late ’80s. According to Joel, these two figures had a profound impact on him and his approach to writing and arranging original tunes.
When the interviewer brought up the topic of new music and contemporary singers, Joel didn’t hesitate to express his appreciation for Sting and his talent for composing. He quickly followed that by acknowledging Elvis Costello’s prowess in songwriting. Joel went on to call them the finest songwriters of their generation, emphasizing how they had influenced his own musical perspective.
Joel specifically highlighted Costello’s skills in crafting lyrics, recognizing him as one of the greatest lyricists of the time. On the other hand, he praised Sting for his musical abilities, stating that the British rocker brought a jazz consciousness to his compositions. For Joel, these two artists had different strengths in songwriting and composing, which contributed to their status as influential musicians.
“Yeah, [I like] Sting, definitely. I think the two greatest songwriters right now are Elvis Costello and Sting. Elvis Costello specifically for lyrics, and Sting specifically for music. Those two guys have definitely had an impact on me and how I perceive the writing I’m doing. Sting brought a jazz consciousness out.”
The impact of Sting and Costello on Billy Joel’s own writing process cannot be understated. Their arrangements and lyrics left a lasting impression on him, shaping the way he approached his craft. By acknowledging their talent and their influence, Joel paid tribute to these remarkable songwriters who had left an indelible mark on the music scene of the late ’80s.
As the ’90s unfolded, it would be interesting to see how Billy Joel’s musical journey continued to evolve and whether new songwriters would join his list of favorites. Nevertheless, his admiration for Sting and Elvis Costello serves as a testament to their exceptional artistry and the lasting impact they had on one of the greats in the music industry.