A Six-Pack of Billy Joel

There is sometimes an odd synchronicity amongst bloggers. One time, blogger Runaway American Dream and I wrote about the long-gone (if not entirely forgotten) T. Rex on the same day. Recently I started dwelling on the idea of doing a Billy Joel six-pack and lo and behold, Aphoristic Album Reviews* did an evaluation of his albums. That is way too ambitious for me so I will instead lay down a few tunes of Joel’s that I dig.)

I’ve always liked Billy and in looking through his tunes, I found a good 25 or so I really liked. (That said, I could really live without ever hearing either “Piano Man” or “Just The Way You Are” ever again.)

First up, “The Stranger.” In listening to these tracks again,  I realized how much I like Joel’s piano playing. (And he is a terrific lyricist.) The intro (and outro) to this song is one of my favorite pieces of music ever.

I get this movie in my head, film-noirish: Guy leaves a cheap bar at 2 o’clock in the morning. It’s raining. He takes a drag of a cigarette. On the corner is a woman who’d been flirting with him at the bar. She smiles; he grins. Maybe he’s married, maybe not. He throws his cigarette on the littered ground, stubs it out, looks at her for a moment ruefully, turns his collar up. And walks in the other direction.

Spotify link

No real secret what this song’s about. One of Billy’s darker tunes:

So you go to the village in your tie-dyed jeans 
And you stare at the junkies and the closet queens 
It’s like some pornographic magazine 
And you smile

Captain Jack will get you high tonight 
And take you to your special island 
Captain Jack will get you by tonight 
Just a little push, and you’ll be smilin’

Spotify link

I think maybe Springsteen gets more respect for his songwriting overall than Billy. Listen carefully to “An Innocent Man.” I don’t know where or how he ever heard it but my old man loved this tune:

Spotify link

I love this tune,”River of Dreams,”  love its funkiness and that chorus that sings with him:

Spotify link

Billy is an old-school tunesmith. By that I mean he is more in the style of the old Brill Building songwriters. Born earlier, he would almost surely have been working in a cubicle cheek-by-jowl with the likes of Carole King.

And he is of an age to have sung and appreciated doo-wop. In “The Longest Time,” he does his best streetcorner singing. All the voices are Billy (except there’s also a bass as I’m guessing he can’t hit those notes. And a barely perceptible snare drum played with brushes.)

Spotify link

Where else could we end this tunefest but with a song by the man from Long Island (lawn guyland) celebrating his home.

It was so easy living day by day
Out of touch with the rhythm and blues
But now I need a little give and take
The New York Times, the Daily News
Who, oh, oh whoa

It comes down to reality, and it’s fine with me cause I’ve let it slide
I don’t care if it’s Chinatown or on Riverside
I don’t have any reasons
I left them all behind
I’m in a New York state of mind

Spotify link

Wikipedia: Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999),[7] and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2006). In 2001, Joel received the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2013, Joel received the Kennedy Center Honors, the nation’s highest honor for influencing American culture through the arts.

*Aphoristic tells me Billy says his five favorite songs that he’s written are, And So It Goes, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, Vienna, You May Be Right, and She’s Right on Time. Billy, stick to songwriting. We will tell you what your best songs are. 😀  Although those are pretty damn good.

 

21 thoughts on “A Six-Pack of Billy Joel

    1. Funny. And we’d all be right. But just for clarification, when I do six-packs – including this one – they are NOT necessarily my top six favorite songs of a given artist. They’re six songs I put together that I think flow well and maybe tell different sides of an artist. I could easily have picked six completely different ones (Vienna, Scenes, Tell Her About It, Only the Good Die Young, You May Be Right, A Matter of Trust) and been just as happy. In fact it’s likely I’ll either do a Joel bio one day or do another six-pack on him. The guy’s flat-out great, no two ways about it. I’m considering going to NYC sometime and seeing him. A friend did and said it was a great show.

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  1. Nice six-pack, Jim – frankly, I wouldn’t have thought you dig Billy Joel! I also like the guy and 100% agree he is an ace pop rock pianist. I think he is definitely up there with Elton John.

    I’m more drawn to Joel’s older material. While it may have been a bit overexposed, I actually still like listening to “Piano Man,” which to me like “The Stranger” has this cinematic quality to me. You really can picture this bar and all these characters Joel sings about. I think the lyrics are brilliant.

    If I had only Joel tune I could select, it would be “New York State of Mind.” I just love the music in this song.

    Some of my other favorite tracks are “Allentown” and “Good Night Saigon,” which are both from the excellent “The Nylon Curtain” album, and “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” from “Glass Houses.” I also like “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” another tune from “The Stranger.”

    BTW, Joel is also a great live performer. I saw him in Madison Square in the early 2000s. That was prior to his current residency there. If you think about it, it’s quite amazing that an artist, who hasn’t released any new pop music since 1993’s “River Of Dreams,” is still selling out one show at the Garden after the after. I believe he’s already past 50 gigs there. I’m weighing to see him again, possibly together with my son, who also likes his music.

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    1. Yeah, it’s also easy for us bloggers to stereotype each other into say blues or jazz, etc. But like Billy I have a very strong old school streak. You may recall my Indispensable 150. I lived in that pop/rock world for many a year and in some ways still do. As to Billy, he also comes to Fenway a lot. My biggest problem is I hate paying the top dollar any more.

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  2. I threw some comments on Aphoristic’e site. I listened to the Piano Man album a while a go and was surprised how much I still liked it. ‘Captain Jack’ was the hook for CB. Billy went onto make lots of $$$ which is good. My tastes drifted away but no denying he could play the piano and entertain. He learned his chops somewhere. Funny guy. I do dig ‘NY State of Mind’.

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    1. I’ve always liked Billy but like you, drifted away. So it was somewhat of a pleasant surprise for me to realize how many songs I dug. It was a pleasant trip down memory lane. I’m gonna put a bunch of ’em on a Spotify list and play them for the better half. I think she’ll be surprised to find out how many she knows.

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      1. I seen him way back and he was good. I remember he always had this joke that people used to yell out to play his ‘Taxi’ song. They were mixing him up with Harry Chapin. He was real cool about it. You said the magic word “pop”. I can’t help liking some of it but not a whole lot. Bands like that …you know they come from down south and have that slide guy, well they kinda bent my head. Something ..Brothers.

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  3. I hated Joel, then I loved him. then I hated him and now I really quite like him again. It was ’round the time of 52nd Street and Glass Houses that I really loved him but he’s had a pretty amazing career when you sum it all up.

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    1. It’s funny but I thought I knew most of his besr songs. But between here and Aphoristic site, I must have heard about at least six or so more. Don’t know All About Soul. Will check out. Thanks.

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