Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published November 19th 2020
Billy Joel examined
Something different, suggested by a Youtuber who reads me. He thinks that my likes are very different to most who write/vlog about popular culture online, and he thinks my take could be interesting. So he suggested I take something I like and rank all they have done.
I am going to try that. But here are my rules. I need to like (or at least not hate) everything by an artist, every film in a series, every book. I do not want to be negative, so if I say something is my least favourite, it still means I like it, or at the worst, think it is meh. And there has to be at least five items for me to rank, to make it worthwhile.
I hope that makes sense.
I was going to start with The Beatles. But… I am struggling to rank them. What's better than what? It's tough!
And so I went to an artist who has officially retired from making new music, and whose albums I like. All of them. And so I am going to rank every Billy Joel studio album.
Billy Joel, for those who are unaware, is a piano player and singer and songwriter who sound-tracked a lot of the 1970s and 1980s. Singer-songwriters were common in the 70s, but the fact he maintained a strong career for so long says a lot about his talent. I do like all of his studio albums; I also have most of his official live releases, and they're good as well.
So… Billy Joel! I'll start at the one I like least and finish with the one I like most (which regular readers are probably already ready for).
Cold Spring Harbor (1971) Joel's first album was originally intended to be a group of demos for other people to sing, but somehow it was released. Joel himself is not a fan, but it is not terrible. The songs are well-written and the piano playing is still really good. Key track: 'She's Got A Way'
Streetlife Serenade (1974) This album feels a little downbeat to me. You cannot fault the music, but the lyrics make it seem like Billy Joel is down. There are also too many tracks that feel like filler. However, it does have some really good slower songs and the piano playing is as beautiful as ever. Key track: 'The Entertainer'
Storm Front (1989) While this album has some great highlights, including one of my very favourite Billy Joel tracks, there is a real lot of filler between the good stuff. I don't know what it was – maybe he was trying to be like the other artists of the time and not being Billy Joel enough. Still, the good songs are excellent.
Key track: 'We Didn't Start The Fire'
River Of Dreams (1993)
Joel's last studio album (several live albums have been released since) has some really good tracks, with not as many filler tracks. But the highlights are not as high. Does that make sense? The filler is better quality filler. I think that explains it. And, listening to it with the value of hindsight, I get the impression that Joel knew it was going to be his last. This was his fond farewell.
Key track: 'River Of Dreams'
52nd Street (1978)
Much like the last one, the highlights are incredible, but the filler is still there. There is not as much, granted, but it is still there. There is a different sound about the album, however, which makes it stand out. I do find some of the slower tracks too slow, though. Having said that, I have a friend who considers this Joel's best album. An easy album to listen to.
Key track: 'Big Shot'
The Bridge (1986)
I rate this one equal with the previous one, with the exception that I remember this one being released (and listening to it with K. that first time) and so it is a little more personal to me. So, yes, some filler, but the highlights are really good, and it is another easy listen. What more is there to say?
Key track: 'A Matter Of Trust'
Piano Man (1973)
Joel's second album gave him his knick-name, and with good reason. The difference between this and the first album is huge. He really hit his straps early. Not just piano balladry, but a real variation in style makes this feel different from others of the time, and I can really understand that he stood out in a good way. There are a lot of really strong tracks on this one.
Key track: 'Piano Man'
Glass Houses (1980)
The first Billy Joel album I heard in its entirety because a friend got it for Christmas in 1980. Looking back, this is a bit more rock than previous albums, and maybe that's why I really like it. Again, not a dud track, the filler tracks are very listenable, and the good songs are great. And there are some really good songs here.
Key Track: 'Sometimes A Fantasy'
The Nylon Curtain (1982)
Even more good songs, including some of the first Joel songs I went out of my way to listen to. This album has so many different styles that it makes listening to it something very hard to do passively. This was the first Joel album I bought brand new, and it has another of my very favourite Joel tracks on it. Almost forgotten now, a truly good album.
Key track: 'Pressure'
The Stranger (1977)
Six out of this album's nine tracks are legitimately good or better tracks; the other three tracks are also fine and worth listening to. It is an album where you will not skip a single song. Looking back and having spent a whole day listening to all these albums, in chronological order, this album is where Joel comes to the fore as a songwriter and composer. It is really, really good.
Key track: 'Only The Good Die Young'
An Innocent Man (1983)
Yes, of course, this is my favourite Billy Joel album. Every song is great; there is not a single track I do not like. This album was written as an homage to the music of Joel's youth, and it works for me so very well. The songs are great, the singing is great, the music is great. One of my favourite albums.
Key tracks: 'An Innocent Man' and 'Uptown Girl'
So… there you are. All of Billy Joel's studio albums ranked. All are worth catching. But if you want to just pick a few, the top 3 are what I recommend you listen to. Joel was a magnificent songwriter, a really good singer and an incredible piano player (and catch the live performances to really get a feel for that). I miss having new Billy Joel albums to listen to every couple of years.
What did you think? I'll do The Beatles one, and a movie one, and then we'll see what the response has been like as to where I go from there. Hope you enjoyed it.