Old School Americana & Nostalgia


Billy Joel Recalls His Most Embarrassing Live Performance

Billy Joel Recalls His Most Embarrassing Live Performance

Billy Joel once proved that even musical superstars have humiliating live performances, even in their prime.

The Uptown Girl singer recalled an experience that he’ll never live down while talking to Bob Costas in 1993. It took place in 1980, and he shared that he was in an experimental phase at that time. He was preparing to perform in France just after the release of his album Glass House. And, for whatever reason, he got the idea to sing You Were the One in French while there—despite not knowing the language. So, he hired someone to translate the lyrics, and he got to work.

During the interview, per The Things, Billy Joel admitted that he had been in love with the French language. He appreciated the buttery rhythm of the syllables, and he worked countless hours to perfect his performance. He was excited to show off his hard work, and he was certain that he perfectly memorized the lyrics and nailed the annunciation. Joel was so certain that he believed his fans could think he was a fluent speaker. 

Billy Joel’s Crowd First French Crowd Was Not Impressed 

Then, on April 15, 1980, he stood in front of a crowd at the Rex Club in Paris and sang You Were the One, which translated to “C’Etait Toi.” He recalled the place going silent—but not in awe. 

Billy Joel said the situation felt comparable to a scene in the 1967 hit The Producers where Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock intentionally set themselves up to perform a musical failure. 

“What’s he singing… Polish?” he joked with Costas. 

In the end, Billy Joel learned a hard lesson: “You don’t mess with their language in their country.”

The singer went on to perform at more venues while in France, but he removed C’Etait To from his set. The snafu may have affected the reception of Glass House, which is home to You Were the One. While it topped the Billboard charts in the US and reached the Top 5 in several other countries, it only reached No. 21 in France.