In spite of his domination of the country charts over the past two decades, Garth Brooks has consistently worn his Seventies rock influences on his sleeve. Whether covering Aerosmith’s “The Fever” or paying homage to “American Pie” writer Don McLean onstage at Central Park in 1997, Brooks has made no secret of his devotion to the singers and songwriters whose music shaped that decade and has continued to influence yet another generation of musicians.
One of the acts who would play an integral role in Brooks earning a chart-topping hit was New Yorker Billy Joel. Calling it “the longest shot we took with a song,” Brooks included “Shameless,” a track from the Piano Man’s 1989 Storm Front album, on his 1991 LP, Ropin’ the Wind. Released as the second single from that album, it was the first of three Number One country singles from the disc, which would go on to sell more than 15 million copies worldwide. Brooks’ “Shameless” cover, a Number One in Canada as well, also made a dent on the charts in the U.K. and Holland.
In July 2008, a decade after they shared the Central Park stage, Brooks and Joel teamed again for a performance of “Shameless” at historic Shea Stadium, the home of baseball’s New York Mets in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens. The two concerts Joel gave at Shea, with a combined attendance of 110,000, were the last event staged at the iconic ballpark. A year later, the stadium was demolished to make way for more parking at the Mets’ current home, Citi Field. Other guests of Joel’s during the concerts included John Mayer, Roger Daltrey, Steven Tyler, Tony Bennett, John Mellencamp and Paul McCartney, who first played Shea Stadium with his band, the Beatles, in 1965.
Since Brooks’ rendition of “Shameless” raised country fans’ awareness of Billy Joel and his music, one would hope the man who penned the song has since expanded his own view of country music beyond this cringe-worthy assessment of it captured during a 1995 event in Germany. Asked by an audience member about Brooks’ recording of the song, Joel noted that when he first wrote “Shameless” he could hear Jimi Hendrix (who often chewed gum while he sang) singing it. Yet, as a native New Yorker, the singer also admitted he was mostly unfamiliar with “country-western” music — a point he went on to prove in the clip by continually referring to it by that outdated term. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then proceeded to poke fun at the genre with a made-up song that begins with the lyrics, “Well, I went into town the other night to see if I could start a fight. . .” (And, no, it doesn’t get any cleverer than that.) Thankfully, Joel’s financial success with Brooks’ version of “Shameless” wasn’t enough to encourage him to pursue a “country-western” career.