Saturday, May 5, 2012

Billy Joel

Growing up in high school in the late 70's you couldn't escape it without hearing a Billy Joel song or two or three at any given hour.  In some ways, he replaced Elton John around 1977 in terms of top ten songs and albums.  But in the course of my life, Billy Joel was the least favorite of the late 70s.

Maybe it was that New York smugness that didn't appeal to me back then.  Or perhaps the all time annoying Piano Man, his 1973 hit which introduced us to Joel and if it wasn't bad enough, we had to hear it every single night at DeSoda's right around closing time or any selected bar.  For 30 years after that, I never cared much for Joel although I do admit he has always had a gift for melody and at one time boasted a great band backing him up, Liberty DeVito drove the band till a severe falling out ended his tenture in the band.

I still will not listen to Piano Man the song but I'm sure the album has other notables. However, Streetlife Serenade had the wonderful failed hit with The Entertainer and I found a pawnshop copy of the CD and it remains a underrated album.  I also got a kick out of the instrumentals on that album too Root Beer Rag, Mexican Connection.  Turnstiles, didn't do much for me sorry to say, Say Goodbye To Hollywood a classic but the rest just fell flat.  Some call Turnstiles Billy's best but I just don't hear it myself.

The Stranger was Joel's beginning, the title track with the moody beginning, Scene From An Italian Restaurant are the standouts.  Didn't care for Just The Way You Are in my youth but I have learn to appreciate it more but I enjoy She's Always A Woman more.  Of course there's Only The Good Die Young.  The Stranger, not as flawed as Turnstiles is a good period piece.

Billy began to experiment more and adding more rock and roll to 52nd Street, getting into punk rock with Big Shot which can sound a bit goofy.   He had a big hit with My Life (overplayed on classic rock radio or KDAT) but my faves remain the title track, Zanzibar, Stiletto  and to a lesser extent Rosalinda's Eyes.

When Joel decided to go all out rock and roll he made his finest album with Glass Houses an album that steeped itself into new wave with It's Still Rock And Roll To Me or Sometimes A Fantasy (for some reason the long version of that song with Joel rocking out even more so only got to see a DJ copy only release, I haven't seen it availble on any other best ofs although I could be wrong).  The overplayed You May Be Right is straight ahead rock too but Joel returned to the ballads with All For Lenya but he never rocked harder on Closer To The Borderline to which KRNA actually played one night, back then they did do album cuts and not focus sorely on the hits.

Upon closer inspection or hearing Songs From The Attic was Billy's live album but instead of playing the classics and Piano Man, he went for the more obscure with She's Got A Way or Say Goodbye To Hollywood and fan faves such as Captain Jack and I Loved These Days.

But after that, I never paid much attention to his music although The Nylon Curtain had Allentown, Pressure and Goodnight Saigon on it and many folks consider that to be his best. An Innocent Man shows Billy's love of Doo wop and it shows with the Four Seasons tribute Uptown Girl or the Dion soundalike of The Longest Time. Or even apeing Springsteen on Christie Lee. Sure Billy may have ripped off  Frankie Valli or Little Anthony or to me The Tymes, An Innocent Man may just be his most fun record.  Storm Front I really never paid much attention to, Mick Jones from Foreigner had a hand on the album and Joel got raked over the coals over the name chucking of We Didn't Start The Fire.  But a second listen on Storm Front shows that Joel altered his singing and most of the time it comes very strained and out of character. I can take Billy Joel the crooner but Billy Joel the screamer, no way.  The Bridge had a nice duet with Ray Charles on Baby Grand, and his final studio album 1993's River Of  Dreams better known for his ex wife's album cover than songs.

For me Greatest Hits 1 and 2 remain the best way to hear Joel if you want to hear the hits.  For myself Glass Houses is the one that I turn to, with 52nd Street and The Stranger and Streetlite Serenade in that order.  The more adventurous can seek out The Nylon Curtain and An Innocent Man.

Cold Spring Harbor (Family 1971) NR
Piano Man (Columbia 1973) C
Streetlife Serenade (Columbia 1974) B
Turnstyles (Columbia 1976) C+
The Stranger (Columbia 1977) B
52nd Street (Columbia 1978) B+
Glass Houses (Columbia 1980) B+
Songs In The Attic (Columbia 1981) B
The Nylon Curtain (Columbia 1982) B+
An Innocent Man (Columbia 1983) B-
The Bridge (Columbia 1986) B
Storm Front (Columbia 1989) C+
River Of Time (Columbia 1993) C
Billy Joel's Greatest Hits 1 and 2 (Columbia 1986) B+
Billy Joel's Greatest Hits 3 (Columbia 1996) B-
Fantasies & Delusions-Composed By Billy Joel, Performed by Richard  Joo (Sony Classical 2001) B-