Friday, January 11, 2013

Artists I Just Don't Get: Billy Joel (1983 to 1993)

Billy Joel
Long Island's favorite son, Billy Joel, is the artist I examine for today's version of 'Artists I Just Don't Get'. This is the last entry for the 'Artists I Just Don't Get' series. I've received some positive feedback that this series has been fun, but some readers have requested that I develop some new articles. Your wish has been granted.

The final post was going to be dedicated to Patti Smith, and I developed a good article. Sadly, it was deleted, so I decided to finish with Billy Joel because I too had been working on this article and I do not have an entire day to dedicate to rewriting the Patti Smith article. You've escaped this time, Smith, but you are not out of my sight.

Yesterday, I focused upon the post Pump era Aerosmith, and today I am going to focus upon Billy Joel's career from An Innocent Man (1983) to River of Dreams (1993). I just don't get this Billy Joel era because I believe that a talented singer-songwriter went from producing great songs to producing songs that were nothing more than three or four minute commercial jingles. 

Haters are gonna hate on Billy Joel because he writes sappy love songs or tries to be a Bruce Spingsteen Lite when it comes to politics. The truth is that Billy Joel has some good material to his name, but his catalog is far from perfect. I do have respect for Billy Joel. His career from The Stranger (1977) to The Nylon Curtain (1982) is pretty damn good. Those five years were the apex of his career, and from there it all came crashing down as a landslide of mediocrity.

Dude, there is no difference between good Billy Joel and bad Billy Joel.

I respectfully disagree. We all have our musical guilty pleasures, and this is one of my many guilty pleasures. If you want me to pick a good Billy Joel song then my choice is 'My Life' from the 1978 album 52nd Street. Remember when this was the theme song to the Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari cross-dressing comedy, Bosom Buddies?

Where did you go, Peter Scolari? Here is a cool moment where Billy Joel sings a version of 'Just The Way You Are' to Oscar the Grouch.

Now, let me really get to the point of good Billy Joel music. When he's good, he's good. Joel has a good pop mind and at times he can surprise listeners with a great tune. A good example of when Joel gets it right is 'Allentown' from Nylon Curtain. The song is about the demise of a blue-collar city.  

I don't think that was a convincing argument.

Fair enough. Let's examine the bad. In my opinion, it began with the 1983 album An Innocent Man. It was a throwback album of sorts where Joel explored his rock and roll roots. The songs on the album were influenced by late 50's and early 60's rock and roll. Sounds like a good plan, but this fan is not impressed. I liked the songs on the album when I was a kid, but as I got older I began to loathe the songs more and more. Let's look at the main offender, which is 'Uptown Girl'.

It may be a fun little number with a cute video, but it is a bad song. Did Billy Joel write a pop tune or is it a jingle for women's shoes? Seriously.

An Innocent Man ushered in an era of really bad Billy Joel songs. Perhaps the worst of the worst was 'River of Dreams' from River of Dreams. This wanna-be R&B inspired pop tune fails to be a killer pop and instead sounds like something you'd hear on a commercial for Carnival cruises or for Folgers coffee. Take a listen below and see if you agree.

Yeah, that song was pretty bad.

As a fan, I am frustrated with his catalog. Billy Joel is an artist that can produce some pop gems and also has the ability to produce the fast food version of pop music. Artists have the tendency to mature or regress during their careers and Joel definitely regressed staring with An Innocent Man.

TonyDoug Wright is The Lost Soul of Rock and Roll and is also the head writer and owner of Champion City Comics. Follow him @TonyDougWright on Twitter.

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