Billy Joel knows it's best to quit while you're ahead.
Or at least, that's the motivation behind his not releasing an album in over two decades. His last studio LP, Fantasies & Delusions, arrived in 2001, a collection of classical compositions that debuted at No. 1 on Billboard′s Top Classical Albums chart. Eight years prior to that, Joel released River of Dreams, which would wind up being his final rock album.
And that's pretty much all fans have gotten from Joel in roughly 30 years, save for two non-album singles, "All My Life" and "Christmas in Fallujah," both released in 2007.
"I'm not crazy about going into a recording studio and doing that kind of life again," he explained to The New Yorker in 2014, "or taking on another project where there's other people involved — arrangers and orchestrators and conductors and producers. I don't want to deal with it. ... You have to have a certain amount of ambition to want to do all that. And I look back at the guy who was the recording artist, this Billy Joel guy, and I think, who the fuck was that guy? He was very ambitious, very driven, and I don't feel like that anymore."
Even back in 1993, Joel made it clear that making new music did not bring him the kind of joy it once did.
"It's agony," he told the Los Angeles Times then, speaking to the process of songwriting. "It's hell. I get cranky and moody. I get in this strange state. I even dream a lot of the music. I wake up and recall bits and pieces of stuff. That triggers other ideas. I slowly put it all together. It's like pulling teeth."
"Some people think it's because I'm lazy or I'm just being contrary," he continued to The New Yorker. "But, no, I think it's just — I've had my say. If I put out an album now, it would probably sell pretty well, because of who I am, but that's no reason to do it. I'd want it to be good."
Time has not changed Joel's mind.
"I didn't make that decision based on whether it was right or wrong," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2023. "It just felt like it was time for me to stop writing songs. I didn't have the same motivation anymore. You need inspiration to create good new music, and if you don't have it, don't bother. Get off the treadmill, for Christ's sake."
In January 2024, some cryptic artwork on Joel's social media led some fans to speculate on possible new music. A month prior to that, the singer appeared on his newly launched TikTok account and noted that "we got a little something we’re working on you might hear some time."
Regardless, not making albums hardly means Joel has retired from his career. He continues to perform live, and for the last decade has been playing to thousands at his famous Madison Square Garden residency in New York City. By the time the residency ends in July 2024, Joel will have played 150 shows at the lauded venue.