Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Our National Pastime

Hating on Billy Joel.
All this came to a head in my freshman year of high school when I discovered Elvis Costello, who, a friend informed me, "writes songs about why people like Billy Joel are just so bad." I didn't want to believe it; surely, I told myself, it was possible to be a fan of Costello and Joel, both of whom, after all, had a way with a tune. Later that year, I went to my first Costello concert. Midway through the show, Costello sat down at an electric piano and began playing a series of cheesy cocktail-jazz chords. "I'd like to sing a Billy Joel song for you now," he said dryly, as laughter rippled through the audience. "It's called 'Just the Way You Are.' " When I returned home that night, all the Joel albums got stuck away in the back of a closet.


Ouch.

I admit I did have a brief Joel phase, when I had a pointless crush on a lovely young man who played piano at a bar (of course). But I outgrew it, even without the snark of Elvis Costello.

Now Linda Ronstadt: her I'll go to the mat for.

18 comments:

cthulhu said...

Put 52nd Street up against other stuff from 1978 (Darkness on the Edge of Town, anybody?) and it holds up - especially the jazzier numbers ("Zanzibar") and the Righteous Brothers tribute "Until the Night". And Joel knew how to put on a helluva a concert back then. But the rest of it has to get chalked up to the bad taste of my youth. I got sick of Joel for good when the excreble An Innocent Man came out in 1983, and, except for converting 52nd Street to CD, haven't touched any of his stuff since...

Jim said...

My first wife LOVED Billy Joel, but I think it was only because she felt like she had to be enthusiastic about some kind of music. I always kind of hated the sensibility behind the songs. When she would sing at me, "I love you just the way you are," I took it as an insult.

I saw Billy Joel with her at some point kind of toward the end of things, and I have to admit HE F---ing ROCKED. Which made me hate him a little more. What a waste of talent.

steve simels said...

I have never owned a Billy Joel album and have no plans to in the future. That said, I think on balance he's an estimable pop craftsman whose songs rarely make me want to change the station when they come on the radio unbidden.

I would also add that there are a couple of songs on his "new wave" album (what was it -- Glass Houses? I forget) that are flat out great. Specifically, "All for Leyna," which is as brilliantly written a study of sexual obsession as anybody in rock has ever managed, and the infernally catchy and clever "Sleeping With the Television On."

I believe history will vindicate my judgements in this matter...
:-)

NYMary said...

I did like Glass Houses at the time, steve. Yes, it was the power-poppy one.

I think the intense hatred many have for him is a result of (1) overload, and 92) specifically, drunken fratboy overload of the 1980s. Watching drunk boys drape their arms around each other at a party and howl "We'll all go down together" is one of those things they were supposed to save for hell and forgot.

Also, Thers tells me that, as bad as it was up here, gong to Stonybrook in the 80s was incomparably worse for Joel overload.

steve simels said...

Watching drunk boys drape their arms around each other at a party and howl "We'll all go down together"

Yuck.

Thinking about that may be the first time I've ever been grateful for a generation gap.
:-)

Douglas Watts said...

It's a Bill Joel BadSymposium !!!

Bill Joel: White Rapper.

The Awfulness of Billy Joel.

Finger sandwiches !!!

Mike said...

He had a three album stretch -- the aforementioned 52nd Street, Glass Houses, and the live Songs From The Attic -- that I looooved back in the day. My excuse is that I was all of 11-13 when I was listening to those, but I can probably still get pretty close to the same kick now as I did then.

Noam Sane said...

I remember some Clinton rally or something, back when, where they were playing the Billy Joel album with 'Captain Jack' on it and we had to endure several days of Republican outrage about a song with the word "masturbate" in it.

Another memory is reading an article about some shows he did in Russia. He apparently kicked over his piano bench (oooh!) and, when asked about it, remarked that rock & roll is a dirty business or some such. And I remember thinking "how would he know?"

It's also pretty hilarious that Christie Brinkley's brother fleeced him blind.

Not a fan, but "Just The Way" is a nice song with great chord changes, referenced by FOW in "Peace and Love" - good enough for me.

He's pretty much gone away now. Fortunately, John Mayer has arrived to suck in his place.

steve simels said...

I should add that he wrote the absolutely great "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," thus providing Ronnie Spector a last deserved moment of glory.

And thus deserves respect from mere mortals like us.

Just saying.

dcBill said...

GWU circa the 80s was Joel hell. All the kids from Lawn Guyland and Joisey went on and on about BJ and NYC. I'd talk about Razz and Tommy Keene but they wouldn't pay attention.

NYMary said...

dcBill,
My college was heavily populated by Long Islanders as well, which may explain some of my recoil.

Dave said...

Billy Joel's crime is that he has never been cool. There are worse crimes.

MBowen said...

Ditto with the LawnGuyland college student experience here. I agree with Steve about "Sleeping With The Television On", but other than that, there's nothing in his oeuvre that is at all interesting. Combine that with the dumbass NY-suburban macho know-nothingism and you end up with someone vaguely but consistently repellent.

Anonymous said...

Billy Joel music works great on a Bar Mitzvah video tape where you have pictures of the bar mitzvah boy growing up!!! Otherwise...


Return of the Plumber

Hey pre 1960 Bill Joel would have been writings songs for the great american songbook or broadway and would not have touched Rock & Roll with a 10 foot pole.

Alex said...

Back in the day, I couldn't stand Billy Joel (maybe because his music seemed to be forced down everyone's throat so much). But I heard a few of his songs on XM radio the other day and was amazed by how well they sounded 30 years later... and meanwhile Elvis Costello himself is edging closer to cocktail jazz all the time! :)

TJWood said...

Noam Sane said...

It's also pretty hilarious that Christie Brinkley's brother fleeced him blind


Actually, that would be Frank Weber, the brother of Joel's first wife, Elizabeth, that embezzled a fortune from him. Elizabeth was also Joel's manager during the time they were married.

As long as I signed in, I'll throw in my two cents: There are some Joel songs that rank among my least favorite of any songwriters (start with "You're Only Human" and "We Didn't Start The Fire"), on the other hand there's "Zanzibar" (52nd Street), "Vienna" (The Stranger), some tracks from The Nylon Curtain, those that Steve mentioned...overall "estimable pop craftsman" covers it pretty well.

TMink said...

I have always liked Billy Joel, but I wish his records were better recorded. After digital, they have this dry, brittle sound, even on the vinyl.

My first college girlfriend, the exotic Mary from Syosset (I was from Chattanooga, Tennessee, anything above Kentucky was exotic to me at the time) loved Billy Joel and introduced me to him. He got a little insufferable there at the end, but I can honestly say that too much success and adulation would fuck me up too. 8)

Trey

Steve Simels said...

Trey:

My first college girlfriend was the exotic Joy from Syossett.

Of course, that was a few years before you were there....