Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published May 9th 2019
Billy Joel is timeless
It seems people like to read about stuff from the past as much as they like to read about modern stuff. My classic album reviews seem to be popular. In that vein, I've looked at The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Meat Loaf; however, all of those are from the 1970s. Now I reckon it's time to go into the 1980s.
From 1983, we have Billy Joel's An Innocent Man.
I've not talked about Billy Joel that often, but he is an artist whose work I generally really enjoy. This album, though, is one of the finest of his oeuvre. It is often not talked about these days – mind you, it seems Billy Joel is not often talked about in general – and that is a shame. There is something of the 1960s and 1950s about this album's musical styles, which makes it a little more timeless than many other albums of the 80s. It is an homage to the songs of Joel's youth, and it works magnificently. There is also the strong song-writing of Joel, who wrote all of the songs on the album (with one exception, where he took a co-writing credit). His lyrics have genuine meaning and speak to themes that most people can relate to, at least from one time of their lives.
In 1984 this album was a constant rotation with me, and in 1985 I used the title track as a sort of self-motivator, a mantra almost, to give me the courage to talk to girls I liked, especially Sandi. I didn't get any deeper meaning from them (I was only 14/15), but they were enough for me, and there are songs here that still bring back memories of those middle teenaged years when I was such an idiot. In fact, a good friend of mine (thanks, Brett) used to tease me with 'Uptown Girl' when Mel and I were such close friends (in 1988). The situation was so similar it was scary, although we remained friends, neither of us wanting to go to the next level of relationship.
Again, this is an album I bought on vinyl, and then on CD when my finances improved when I was a working person. It was the first Billy Joel album I bought and inspired me to get most of the rest of his collected output. Fortunately, I used to have a friend named Leanne who was quite the fan, and it was through her I managed to get copies of a lot of his earlier stuff. But, to me, nothing came close to this album for wall-to-wall goodness by Billy Joel.
Side One (yes, I am going to stick with "sides") starts with 'Easy Money', which was used as the theme tune for a Rodney Dangerfield movie (one I was not particularly fond of). It has quite the James Brown feel about it, with the horn section giving punctuation, and the little "hrm" sounds Joel makes. A really feel-good way to start the album.
The title track is next. This is one of my very favourite Billy Joel songs, definitely in my top five (my favourite, for those playing at home, is 'The Night Is Still Young' from Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2), and the one, as I mentioned, I used as a sort of gee-up song. This one has a Ben E. King, 'Stand By Me' vibe to it, but I don't care. The lyrics are amazing: "I know you're only protecting yourself / I know you're thinking of some-one else / Some-one who hurt you, but I'm not above / Making up for the love / You've been denying you could ever feel…" This is a song of hope and redemption and love. And his delivery is so good. It is not perfect, but that only makes it feel more real and heart-felt. Such an awesome song.
'The Longest Time' is an a cappella song, like the doo-wop songs of the late 1950s. I have mentioned before how much I like a cappella singing, and this track is certainly a fine one in that musical genre. I used to sing the bass parts while another mate sang the lyrics and yet another sang the harmonies. We were terrible, by the way, but it didn't matter. This song made us feel so happy and good while we were "performing" it.
I've discussed 'This Night' before, and it is the only song Joel shares a co-write credit with – with Ludwig van Beethoven, as the chorus is his 'Sonata Pathétique'. This is another of my very favourite Joel songs, and I like the way the doo-wop verses really rise into the classically inspired chorus. It is like something out of the early 1960s. It is a gorgeous song. The lyrics are a standard love song, but that does not matter. The song is fantastic, especially that chorus.
We end side one with 'Tell Her About It', one of the better charting songs from the album. This has a real Motown feel about it, and is such a fun song. I even bought the 12-inch remix, which I subsequently wore out. This song still fills me with such a sense of joy when I listen to it. In fact, the aforementioned mate Brett played it to me when I had a bad relationship fall apart in late 1985, early 1986. I think he even did the dance steps from the video clip, and maybe sang along (he ended up being lead singer in a pub rock band, so he was no slouch in the vocal department). I needed it; it worked.
Side two opens with 'Uptown Girl' with the now iconic video clip featuring Joel's future second wife Christie Brinkley. As I've already mentioned, some 5 years after I bought the album, this song was used to describe my friendship with Mel. Again, it is something I'm guessing a number of people can probably relate to. When we saw Billy Joel and Elton John live, Elton John performed it (as Billy Joel wouldn't, having recently divorced Brinkley), and his version was just as good. It is a song that lends itself to anybody with a good voice and good piano skills. Simple.
'Careless Talk' is next, another song with that early 1960s feel about it. The lyrics always depressed me for some reason – a guy complaining that his girl listens to gossip – but they still ring so true today, especially in this age of social media. Again, we have the backing singers doing some fine harmonising, and the smooth horn section gives it that feel of the earlier time.
'Christie Lee' is next, a real boogie woogie style song-story. I love the piano playing in this, and the raw sound to Joel's voice. The story is a little simple, but it's another fun song. And the sax – that instrument in every second 1980s song, it seemed – here is used perfectly, fitting and suiting the style completely. This song is an over-looked one from his body of work, and I prefer it to many of his more lauded pieces.
'Leave A Tender Moment Alone' is the next track, a ballad built on that 1960s style again, punctuated with some beautiful harmonica playing. As a teenager I found it a little dull, but as an older (much older) man, I can really appreciate it: the music, Joel's voice, the meaning behind the lyrics. This is such a beautiful song.
And the album closes with 'Keeping The Faith', with a style somewhere between 1960s and 1980s (and I don't mean 1970s…). This is a song I didn't understand as a kid, but as an adult… wow. Listening to it for this, I found myself nodding to everything he sang (replace "music" with "writing", and the theme of the song is me… sad, I know; how? you might ask – I kept the faith with the pulp fiction writers my grandmother introduced me to, and more than 60 sales later, I'm doing okay with that). Yes, I like this song as well. A lot.
This is one of those very rare albums where there is not a bad song on it. I know I've said that about all the classic albums I've reviewed, but that is why I am reviewing these first – there is not a bad track there. And, yes, I will very soon run out of classic albums where I like all the tracks. But, for an album released in the 1980s, this one still stands the test of time, and is well worth another listen… or a first listen if you've yet to have the pleasure.
This album is brilliant.
Billy Joel in 2009.
So, there we have it, my fourth classic album review. And, as usual, any comments, questions, etc. are always gratefully received.