Saturday, November 5, 2022

CD Odyssey Disc 1597: Billy Joel

I try to avoid Greatest Hits packages. I’d rather have the immersive album experience, laid out the way the artist intended. For this next artist I have one of his studio albums, but he’s such a hit machine that having all those in one place is one of those things that was just too convenient to pass up. As Jello Biafra would say, “give me convenience or give me death!

Disc 1597 is…. Greatest Hits Vol 1 & 2

Artist: Billy Joel

Year of Release: 1985, but featuring music from 1973-1985

What’s up with the Cover?  Billy attempts to look wistful and artsy, which is hard to pull off while wearing that atrocious mid-eighties blazer.

How I Came To Know It: Like most people my age, I grew up with Billy Joel on the radio, on records at home and also played at the more sedate and civilized parties (more on that later). All of these songs were already familiar when I bought the record.

How It Stacks Up: Greatest Hits are compilation albums, and they don’t stack up.

Ratings: No ratings provided for greatest hits records. You’ll just have to read the text if you want to learn more.

As longtime readers will know I take great joy in slagging Duran Duran, on account of how much they suck. Recently a coworker asked, “You are not saying Duran Duran is worse than Billy Joel, are you?” Turns out, he hated Billy Joel a lot.

It is a hard thing to hate Billy Joel. He sits at this nexus point of rock, doo-wop, pop, and easy listening that gives him appeal to everyone from the metal heads to the soccer moms. Maybe that’s what to hate about him, but I think you have to strain pretty hard to not tap your toes to some of these tunes.

Because say what you will about Joel, the man could write a melody. No matter what the last song was when I shut the car off this week, it ear-wormed straight into my head. Even the ones I liked less would stick and I’d be humming them all the way up the elevator.

The other great thing about Joel is his voice is solid, with a great tone, but he doesn’t range through multiple octaves, making these songs particularly easy to sing along to. Everyone knows them, too, so if you’re near someone else when such a mood hits you, they are likely to join the chorus. Not always though – more on that later.

Also, Joel never lost the ability to write, making a greatest hits package spanning 12 years of his career relatively free of filler. 1973’s “Piano Man” remains as fresh and engaging today, after hundreds of listens, as the first time I heard it, and while the last song on the record – “The Night is Still Young” – isn’t my favourite, it is solid. Yes, that mid-eighties production is painful, but what the hell. I even like Joels foray into full on fifties a capella with “For the Longest Time.”

One of my disappointments with this package is it doesn’t include the doo-wop throwback classic “Keeping the Faith”. It even had a fun dance number video, which you can still watch here if you are so inclined. It’s more annoying when songs like “Captain Jack” and “Pressure” made the cut.

Another annoyance is Joel’s late seventies obsession with the saxophone. It works on songs from “The Stranger” (which I won’t discuss further, since I’ll save that for the review) but by “Glass Houses” he needs to tone that fucking saxophone a lot. Still lots of classic tunes on that record, but a little saxophone goes a long way.

“Glass Houses” always makes me think of a birthday party I attended when I was 11. At the time I was obsessed with two things. The first was Joel’s song “You May Be Right”, which I felt spoke to my quirky, weird, do-it-my-own-way approach to life. The second was a girl in my class named Sherry. 

How I pined for Sherry, so much so that when “You May Be Right” came on at the party I did what one does with Billy Joel – I sang along, serenading Sherry in front of all and sundry. I fully expected she would be impressed with my derring-do and romantic notions. Instead, exasperated with the unwanted attention, she chased me around the room with her high heel shoe. It ended with me apologizing and learning a valuable lesson around the boundaries of unrequited love. Also there was cake, so not a total loss of an afternoon.

I have explored Billy Joel’s full discography in the past, but other than “The Stranger” I never got inspired. I did buy “Storm Front” but that record was such a maudlin mess I parted with it shortly after I reviewed it. For those who dislike Joel, you may enjoy reading me hating on that record back at Disc 916.

However, I so thoroughly enjoyed the music on this record, and the memories it evoked (even ones where I narrowly escaped impalement) I may just give his other classic studio records another shot.

Best tracks: Piano Man, The Stranger, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, Moving Out (Anthony’s Song), Only the Good Die Young, You May Be Right, It’s Still Rock and Roll, Allentown, The Longest Time

1 comment:

Gord Webster said...

Funny timing! I went to see a live classing rock cover band on Friday and they played a couple songs from Glass Houses and I realized I didn't have it in my collection. I had it on vinyl when I was a kid but never picked it up on CD or digitally. Had to rectify that.