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March 25, 2015

More on Billy Joel's songs

Regarding a recent post on the "Ranking All 121 Billy Joel Songs," longtime reader Michael Greenspan offers the following comments:

Eight Tracks by Billy Joel That Vulture Underrated

Many thanks to Craig for this chance to praise a few tracks by one of my favorite artists.

What prompted this post is an article that Craig linked, in which Christopher Bonanos at Vulture ranked 121 tracks by Billy Joel—virtually Joel's entire catalog of original solo material.

I'm limiting myself to discussing eight tracks, each meeting three criteria:

Not a hit
Bonanos ranked below the top 50
Belongs in the top 50

Bonanos generally uses the term "song" rather than "track," but "track" is more accurate. A song is chords, melody, lyrics and feel ("Mambo, 135 bpm"). A track is the recording of the song.

"Where's the Orchestra?" from The Nylon Curtain

(Bonanos ranks it #53: "a little low-energy, but" with "interesting lyrics.")

Very pretty song, closer to musical theater than to pop. Inventive chord progression, complex melody. Among rock songwriters, only Joel and Paul McCartney have composed music this lovely in this way.

There's no percussion and no guitars. More than usual, Joel's voice is the focus, and he gives a terrific understated performance.

The lyrics are more cryptic than in almost any other song of Joel’s. I think he’s using theater as a metaphor for life: the narrator, initially bewildered by the show he’s watching, grows gradually wiser. The final verse is especially good:

And after the closing lines
And after the curtain calls
The curtain falls
On empty chairs
Where’s the orchestra?

If you listen to it, notice how gracefully he rhymes "calls"/"falls" and "chairs"/"Where’s." Another skill rare in rock.

As Bonanos notes, the melody of “Allentown” appears toward the end, a touch I find haunting; not sure why. 

"Souvenir" from Streetlife Serenade

(Bonanos ranks it #63: "Nice little prelude to ... something.")

Another lovely song, this one just piano and vocal. Pace Bonanos, it sounds like an epilogue rather than a prelude; Joel used to close concerts with it. (He’d then advise the crowd, "Don’t take any sh-t from anybody.")

The chord progression shows Joel’s classical influences, with the melody flowing easily above it. He makes that kind of writing seem effortless, and it really, really isn’t.

The lyrics are less strong; I wish he’d saved "away" for the final line—it's in "File away"—and “But that’s the price you pay” sounds fine but doesn’t make sense. (Pay for what?)

Still, a good song, effectively wistful.

A subtle pleasure in "Souvenir" is that the lyrics and melody line up exactly. By which I mean that the first and sixth lines ("A picture postcard," "And your mementos"), sung over the same melody, have the same stresses and number of syllables; similarly for the second and seventh lines, the third and eighth, and the fourth and ninth. (The fifth and tenth lines follow different bits of melody.) That level of craft has almost vanished from rock, and Joel achieved it often.  

Continue reading "More on Billy Joel's songs" »

March 20, 2015

"6 Hit Songs You Won't Believe Are Insulting Celebrities"

I didn't know "Like a Rolling Stone" was about Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick.

(Though there are at least a few who dispute this. And the timing seems a little off, but I think people are upset with this interpretation because with it, the lyrics are not as grand.)

"Are These the 10 Most Talented Women in Rock ‘n’ Roll History?"

Grace Slick should have been included and, of course, Joni Mitchell, but it's a good start.

March 13, 2015

"Bang Your Drum"

By Dead Man Fall.

"Like a Lead Balloon"

"As anyone who’s struggled to start a band, get shows, record music, and become a certified rock star knows, coming up with a name is half the challenge."

"The Complete Works: Ranking All 121 Billy Joel Songs"

I'd vote for "Only the Good Die Young" for #1 instead of #2. And I'd put "Leave a Tender Moment Alone" higher.

March 12, 2015

"Four Things Conservatives Can Get Out Of Hip-Hop"

It's a nice try, but I'm not buying it.

If there’s good music out there, you should want to be hearing it. If you don’t have an innate taste for this music, make a small effort anyway. Be open-minded and intentionally seek out the very best. Tons of people love this particular kind of art. If you’re a remotely curious person, you should want to know why.

And if that art also has the potential to challenge and deepen your worldview? Well, then it’s all the more imperative that conservatives give hip-hop a shot.

March 05, 2015

Make your own "long, strange trip" joke

"Grateful Dead Original Members to Perform Together Again One Last Time".

"Where The Money Goes- How Music Sales Profits Are Divided"

Touring is where the money is at: artists supposedly get about 60% of the ticket price.

March 04, 2015

"15 Predictions for Tech and Design in 2015"

Great things could well be coming.

Sing along with Ol' Blue Eyes: "The Best is Yet To Come".

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