Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Deep Cuts Part One: Billy Joel

As I mentioned many times before, I am a fan of everybody's punching bag, Billy Joel, though I am not a fan of his most popular songs. Those I find most odious are "It's Still Rock & Roll To Me," "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant," "Captain Jack," "We Didn't Start The Fire,"and "Big Shot." I never hated "Piano Man," but time, and the unintentional witnessing of a few too many bar singalongs, have pushed me over the edge, and now I run screaming the second I hear that harmonica intro, or see anyone over 60 ordering a Long Island Iced Tea. I do not hate "Pressure" or "Just The Way You Are," though it'd be no skin off of my ashtabula if I never hear them again. That leaves about 140 songs.

Our friend Steve Simels said something like, "Why is being our generation's Irving Berlin something to scoff at?" (Forgive me, Steve, if that is not the exact quote.)

Billy Joel isn't the only artist whose deeper album tracks do more for me than his hits, but today, he is the subject.

I'd like to offer a Top 10 of my favorite Billy Joel deep cuts, hoping that a) you might not have heard them before and b) be willing to give them a spin if you are a detractor. There is no obligation. I will still love these songs no matter what you do. I've given you a head start with these four videos. If you are a fan and would like to offer some of your favorite Billy Joel deep cuts, please do.

From A to Z:

All For Leyna
Famous Last Words
I've Loved These Days
State Of Grace
Summer, Highland Falls
Through The Long Night
Two Thousand Years
Until The Night


Rodger Stroup said...

Great choices for your 10 Billy Joel songs. Like a lot of artists, many of his songs have had the joy sucked out of them due to overplay. "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" has always been a clunker to me.

I would add these four to your list:
All About Soul
Easy Money
Miami 2017
She's Right on Time

Todd said...

"Say Goodbve to Hollywood" is the one I would add.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I admire your bravery. I got through one minute and 41 seconds of "Until The Night", which is a lot longer than my standard 30 seconds. I appreciated some production details along the way, but ultimately "It's Still Billy Joel To Me".

Sal Nunziato said...

"I admire your bravery."

Oy vey.


I have a tonne of life regrets one of which is I missed all sorts of music because I such a clueless little snob.

Now I'm trying to open my eyes and ears. Billy Joel ... bring it on!

Thanks Sal

Anonymous said...

Hello All...no, please remain seated,

Great topic. I would add "Vienna", but it's a small quibble.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sal:

Like you, I unashamedly enjoy Billy Joel's recordings, although I must admit I've never listened to his instrumental music because I tend to focus on lyrics... I applaud your inclusion of "Until The Night" a classic. My personal favorite deep cut is "Stiletto" off of 52nd Street.

Anyone who knocks BJ (even his initials are delightful!) can--in the words of my hero--Jerry Lee Lewis: "Bark my hole."

Rock on!

cmealha said...

Love Billy Joel. Knocking him just became one of those things that happen to talented performers. Somebody decided it's time to deride Billy Joel and we're off to the races. Maybe his monthly MSG residency is the catalyst. There's just so many great songs. His songbook should be the envy of songwriters everywhere.

Sal Nunziato said...

"Maybe his monthly MSG residency is the catalyst."

Actually, I feel those shows are turning some people around. I know more than a few people who were never fans, went to the show as if they were seeing Broadway or going to dinner--you know, a night out because it's there...and came out fans.

The derision has been going on for awhile.

Shriner said...

My interest in Billy Joel doesn't go much beyond the "Glass Houses" album, The Ballad of Billy The Kid", "Goodnight Saigon" and "Allentown". "Piano Man" (the album) got a lot of spins around the house, but I never warmed up to it as a whole.

I think his Greatest Hits 2-disc comp is quite listenable. I rarely reach for it, but if it got played, I didn't tell anybody to turn it off. But I never felt the need to dig any further than that.

Maybe it's because I'm from the mid-West? Who knows...

Anonymous said...

I, o'course, cannot speak for anybody else but myself, but it wasn't BJ's popularity that made him unpalatable to me. Partly, it was my somewhat aversion to radio rock at the time I was introduced to him -- and stuff like his (not just the hits, but the production, arrangements, vibe) still sets me off easily. The bigger thing for me, tho, is a sense, wrong or right, that BJ wasn't a pop/rock artist so much as someone playing a pop/rock artist. While I love and admire artists who pull from various sources and make something their own, BJ always seemed to me to be a king of pastiche. "Here's Billy the leather-jacketed punk". "Here's Billy the working class hero". "Here's Billy the down-n-out lounge performer". In listening to the vids you posted as a sample, I hear in 'Laura' "Here's Billy the Beatle". And in those pastiches, I didn't hear anything that compelled me; in fact, I'd find myself irritated. The intentionally imitative album ('An Innocent Man') didn't seem so much an anomaly to me as an overt acknowledgement of BJ's purpose. But, likes, loves & hates can't always be explained, and I do have one song by BJ, which I do like for its big sound and big emotional core.
C in California

Sal Nunziato said...

"While I love and admire artists who pull from various sources and make something their own, BJ always seemed to me to be a king of pastiche. "Here's Billy the leather-jacketed punk". "Here's Billy the working class hero". "Here's Billy the down-n-out lounge performer". In listening to the vids you posted as a sample, I hear in 'Laura' "Here's Billy the Beatle"

Isn't this every great songwriter? Do you think Cole Porter was bouncing around on a pony when he wrote Don't Fence Me In? Or shooting junk when he wrote I've Got You Under My Skin? Or a teenage girl when he wrote My Heart Belongs To Daddy? Maybe if MTV was around in 1935, we would have seen Cole Porter in a cowboy hat and spokes and people would have hated him instead of loved him. Just a thought.

What about Bruce Springsteen and Little Steven? The entire album "The River" sounds like every 45 they listened to in the 60's. Whereas you might you be hearing "Billy The Beatle" in "Laura," I LOVE "Laura" because it's a great song AND sounds like The Beatles. XTC fans LOVE when Andy Partridge sounds like The Beatles. Squeeze fans LOVE when they sound like The Beatles. Billy Joel does what he does very well, and yet, the derision seems to come out in droves.

Michael Giltz said...

I have many theories as to why BJ gets derision from critics, fewer as to why he gets derision from hardcore music fans who rush to extol the Carpenters and ABBA (genius) and the Partridge Family (ok, just some singles) and the Monkees and Journey and Neil Diamond (who has been praised repeatedly for decades as an artist people derided and yet not us -- everyone has never stopped saying he's cool) and countless other acts. I have my political theory but I think musically it's the same reason Joel's songs have not become standards for other singers or jazz acts. They're just pretty damn basic meat and potatoes rock/pop. What else can it be? The shows where he delivers the songs exactly as they sound on the album? (No acoustic versions, no revamps, no radical rearrangements for him.) James Taylor is heaven on earth with his pop hits and Joel just gets ignored. Hilariously, here's he's ignored by people who proudly say they've never listened to more than a few songs or a few seconds of a few songs. As Sal said to me about Bowie and Tin Machine -- shouldn't you actually listen to the damn thing before dismissing it? Once, twice, three times? At least all the way through. If you want to listen to an album all the way through, I'd say Turnstiles or An Innocent Man. When it comes to a deep cut songlist, before I looked at Sal's choices I thought, only ten? And then I thought "Summer Highland Falls" and "Through The Long Night" and "Travelin' Prayer" which you'll love if you hear Dolly Parton's terrific bluegrass cover and then fall off your seat when you realize it's Billy Joel. I have a fondness for "Zanzibar" because it's also the name of the oldest gay bar in Cannes (or perhaps all of France), located in the port of Cannes. (Tell 'em Michael sent you but keep your back to the wall.) Tough bar. Also, "Where's The Orchestra" from the more flawed then I remembered Nylon Curtain is a lovely album closer (and it's in my key). I assume "Leave A Tender Moment Alone" isn't a deep cut being one of his 30 or so big hits but it's a key track on his best (and last good) album "An Innocent Man." And yeah Ray Charles blows him out of the water, but "Baby Grand" is one of those so obvious odes to a piano but no one else wrote it, did they? like "Where's The orchestra," the song "And So It Goes" from Storm Front is another lovely album closer. When the guy's not acting like a big shot, he can be quite vulnerable in a moving way. A blue collar guy should be right up rock's alley but that's part of his "problem" too; Joel's not quite liberal enough in a liberal way to be embraced I think. And almost no one has had the grace to hang it up when they decided they had run out of things to say at the peak of commercial success like he did. That alone makes him pretty unique and admirable in my book. But yeah, listen to this mix and the eight or so tracks I mentioned or one of the two albums I think stand out. THEN you can mock him. But no one should dismiss an act they've never bothered to sit down and actually give a serious listen to.

Anonymous said...

Well, I did anticipate a reaction like yours, Sal, wherein one can lay on others the same charges I laid on BJ; I actually thought of Springsteen as I wrote my attempt to elucidate my misgivings toward BJ. Like someone else wrote in one of these comments months ago (Shriner, maybe), I favor Springsteen's output from the late 70s/early 80s era, with my interest starting with 'Darkness' and pretty much dissipating after 'BITUSA' (I have songs from before -- including 1973 demos of songs that apparently never made it to record -- and songs/albums from after that stretch of time, however). The vast majority of my Springsteen stuff is or was, until recently, unavailable commercially, as it was demos and early run-throughs of the ‘Nebraska’ and ‘BITUSA’ albums. As I noted in my BJ comment above, commercial rock arrangements/production/vibes can grate on me from about 1974 onwards, and Springsteen is no exception. But those raw demos sound REALLY good to me! But those first few Springsteen albums just don’t speak to me, seeming too self-consciously boho and/or overwrought for my tastes (a few songs off ‘Born To Run’ excepted).
I expected others might have trouble with my characterizing BJ as a pastiche artist because of the varying versions of himself he projected over the years, and it’s a valid criticism, I suppose; songwriters good and bad have created characters for their songs, and BJ is no exception. I guess the difference, for me, is that, for whatever reason that I may not be able to articulate beyond what I wrote in my earlier comment, it just seems forced to me when I hear BJ do it (as it seemed forced to me when Springsteen did it in his first couple albums, and Tom Waits does it, and zillions of ‘country’ artists do it in theirs, and metal artists in theirs, etc etc).
As to M. Giltz speaking of Abba and the Carpenters – I STILL don’t get what’s supposedly cool about them. It’s undeniably competent pop, but they leave me as cold as BJ.
C in California

Shriner said...

Not to digress (but, clearly I am): What's cool about The Carpenters? Karen Carpenter's voice is as close as to what I would imagine an angel's voice sounds like. And Richard's arrangements are stellar -- the unexpected major 7th in Ticket To Ride is one of those musical moments that stops you in your tracks.

And, to me, no Billy Joel song comes close to the magic of "The Name of The Game" by Abba. Well, few songs by *any* band are as cool as "The Name of The Game"

But, again, neither group takes anything away from Billy Joel. And the more I think about it, the more I also like "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", too...

Anonymous said...

well, next to Dan Fogelberg and Barbara Streisand albums, Billy Joel dominates the resale bins, so he must not be doing too bad.

Anonymous said...

Ok... Ok... I'll listen if you can explain the line to me from the song "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me" that goes "Are you gonna cruise the miracle mile" if the guy is so great couldn't he have found a better rhyme to the previous line in the song? "Can't You Tell That It's Out Of Style" I know that my little slight quibble will be slammed by all of the BJ followers who think that I'm nitpicking but I've heard all of the albums everyone here has mentioned (believe me I know I'm in a minority here but,that's also the reason I've heard all of his albums because so many I know consider him to be such a great artist) Never got it never will

A walk in the woods said...

Finally, a Burning Wood focus on Billy Joel! I'm diggin' it... will comment more once I listen to the mix and digest your thoughts. I'm a fan from way back.

p.s. trying to ignore the diss of "Italian Restaurant" though ha ha

A guy called Tak said...

I stopped listening to BJ after 'Glass Houses', 'Turnstiles'is his pinnacle of his long time carrier.'Summer, Highland Falls'and 'Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)' are ones I don't get tired of listening.
Jennifer Warnes covered 'And So It Goes', I didn't know it was his song until I read the song credit.Her rendition made me cry...that said something about his songwriting ability.

Michael Giltz said...

Now Dan Fogelberg is weak! As for "cruise the miracle mile," not sure what's wrong with that. You know, in Europe you'd walk around the town square, promenading to see and be seen. Then kids in the 1950s would ride up and down the strip. In the 1970s you cruised the miracle mile, the shopping district where bunches of other kids hung out, kind of like hanging out in the mall, but a la the suburbs and in your car. most people bring up "Piano Man" and wonder what the heck a real estate novelist might be. (It was a guy in real estate who always came to the bar and claimed to be working on a novel.)

Anonymous said...

Oh shit...thanks Michael for clearing that up...In the seventies we just called it "cruising" or "looking for girls" or "Hit the Bob's Big Boy" all this time I was on the "Miracle Mile" and didn't know there was a specific term for it. God now I love him.

Sal Nunziato said...

There's no snark like anonymous snark, I always say.

Unknown said...

I don't get the haters of Billy Joel; if you don't like it, just don't listen to it. Many of his songs have been overplayed, but none sound that offensive. They're just good pop songs, with some better than others. I think some folks think that if you love Led Zeppelin, then it just isn't "cool" to listen to any pop music by an artist such as Joel, or the Bee Gees. But if you do that, you'll be shutting out a lot of great music.
Myself, I've been a fan since the first time I heard "Piano Man". Sure, I have certainly heard it a few too many times in the ensuing forty years, but it's a standard. I love Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I've heard "Sweet Home Alabama" far too many times, and I was born and raised there!
My love for Billy Joel was cemented, however, when I was just eighteen and I met a lovely sixteen-year old girl, who happened to be Catholic, and I had an 8-track copy of "The Stranger". It was an excellent piece of "Date Music", with "Only The Good Die Young" being one of her favorites. And after she took Billy's sage advice in the tune, it quickly became one of my favorites! Talk about the "good old days"...lol...

A walk in the woods said...

Fave Billy Joel deep cuts:

Ain't No Crime
Ballad of Billy The Kid
Easy Money
Get It Right The First Time
Half A Mile Away
Last Of The Big-Time Spenders
The Night Is Still Young
Rosalinda's Eyes
She's Right On Time
Worse Comes To Worst

Anonymous said...

I love Burning Wood. I check it basically every day, if I can. Even on weekends when I know you're unlikely to have posted, but comments may have continued to pile up.

I've noticed, BBJ, you seem to really like leading off with a buzzkill comment. It happened here and again today on the Rickie Lee post. I'm always amazed in general how on a blog primarily about the love of music, people feel so oddly driven to chime in with their "Todd and Billy Joel etc suck!" thing. It adds nothing. We all know that there are people who dislike every artist, but why do people feel the need to make sure a discussion of an artist includes their righteously hipper than thou note to exclude them from the list of admirers.

I don't like Coldplay, or Huey Lewis, or the Cure but if you did a post about how you find things about them you appreciate I'd never be driven to make sure the online chat included my "no" vote.
There's gotta be a term for that phenomenon, the deep need to make sure people know you don't like the thing others are enjoying.

It's a short road to the siren call of snarkiness. It's a tone people are so quick to adopt and they seem so proud of themselves, as if they invented it. You're witty, Sal. Snarky is different. You love things passionately. The snarky people are only there to place themsleves above things others love.

David C.

Zippy said...

I just wanted to agree with David C.
A great song is a great song, no matter how uncool the public at large thinks the artist is in that week's environment. Billy Joel, Queen, etc have gone in and out of fashion, but as Sal once said, if you think a simple classic pop single is too easy, or a lazy cop-out, or trite, please sit down and try to write one.
We'll wait.....
Even if Sal were to shock us and do a post about the genius of Kiki Dee, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, or Chris Gaines, or whoever there's no need for the rest of us to chime in just to tell everyone else we're too cool to dig those artists.
That part is implied in the original post.
Sal often starts a post by saying something like "many people may perfectly reasonably not appreciate (Artist Name), but here's some reasons why I do..." making it all more useless for readers to chime in with snark about said artist.
I know it's a discussion forum, but when you do this, you offer nothing to the discussion.