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Billy Joel Reveals He Nearly Refused to Record the Song That Saved His Career

Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Tribeca Film FestivalLegendary music producer Phil Ramone passed away on Saturday, and now one of his most famous collaborators, Billy Joel, has penned a lengthy piece for Rolling Stone explaining just how much Ramone contributed to his music and his success.  Case in point -- it was Ramone who convinced th Piano Man to record the song that saved his career: "Just the Way You Are."

As Joel recalls, when he wrote "Just the Way You Are," he thought it was a "gloppy ballad."  "I didn't believe in it," he writes, saying that Ramone "had to talk me into putting [it] on the album." 

First, Ramone convinced Billy to change the rhythm and tempo of the song, and then he brought in a well-known jazz saxophonist to play the track's famous solo.  But Joel still wasn't convinced: He just didn't like the song.  So, he recalls, Ramone brought in the big guns.

"One day we were in the studio and [Ramone] goes out and comes back in with Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow," Billy writes.  "He goes, 'I'm gonna play you a song.'...and he knew that they were gonna like the song, before they even heard it.  It's a girls song.  They heard the song, and Linda Ronstadt goes, 'Are you crazy?  That's a great song!'...I was like, 'Really?'"

Joel adds, "And Linda Ronstadt was pretty cute.  I said, 'Oh Linda Ronstadt likes it?  Okay!'"

"Just the Way You Are" restarted Billy's career, which had by then pretty much stalled.  It became his first top 10 hit and his first gold single, and eventually won Grammys for Record and Song of the Year.

Joel also recalls that Ramone was the one who told him to whistle in the beginning of the song "The Stranger," and the one who convinced him to turn "Only the Good Die Young" from a reggae song into a rock song.  No wonder Billy put Ramone on the back cover of The Stranger album -- he's the one wearing the Yankees shirt.

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