Thursday, July 19, 2007
No. 67: The Stranger
Band: Billy Joel
Album: The Stranger
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Like it or not, Billy Joel's a fantastically popular singer. His records are played at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and various other celebrations. "The Stranger" (not associated with the Camus novel of the same name, sadly) has some of Joel's edgiest ("Only The Good Die Young," "Movin' Out") and most sentimental material ("Just The Way You Are").
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I mean, it's Billy Joel. He's just a combination of a bad lounge singer, a bad Broadway composer and a Long Island knockoff of Elton John.
Best song: I'll be honest, I really don't like Billy Joel, as I find his over-the-top arrangements to sound too much like showtunes. This is pretty evident in the album's best song, "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)." Lyrically, it's delightfully anti-bourgeois, but, musically, it sounds like something to be performed on Broadway, which it was.
Worst song: Everybody hates "Everybody Has a Dream."
Is it awesome?: I'd say no.
I really don't like Billy Joel. He doesn't occupy the same hatred space as the Eagles or U2. He isn't overrated but still not terrible like Springsteen. He's just, I don't know.
Have you ever been to an actual "rock opera" (not a concept album that tells a story, but an actual opera using rock music in an actual theater) or rock and roll musical? They're usually written by playwrights and composers, not rock musicians. They're theater people, not rock music people.
You know the type of show I'm talking about. "Rocky Horror Picture Show." "Hair." "Rent." "Jesus Christ Superstar." The music isn't really rock and roll, it's just an song from a play with a distorted guitar. It's worst when they try to make it "edgy" or "punk." Basically, it translates to what theater people think punk rock is (which it isn't). It's packaging a subculture in a way that's palpable to people who don't want to actually listen to the real thing.
This is exactly why these songs are never released as singles. Real music buyers won't deal with that bullshit.
I don't like showtunes because of this perceived inauthenticity on my part. I make no bones about it; I am a pretentious fuck. Showtunes are anything but pretentious, they're just obnoxious and a false version of rock and roll (in the case of rock musicals).
Billy Joel makes showtunes. This is his best record and it's still almost entirely showtunes. "Movin Out (Anthony's Song)" is a cool anti-bourgeois lyrical jaunt, but one that's set against a silly saxophone and a piano showtune thing (still, it remains a good song). "Only The Good Die Young" is a fun anti-Catholic song, but along with it comes the ridiculous instrumentation.
I imagine these songs could be good when they're arranged differently, but this is the record we have. It's not great.
(I'll say this for Billy Joel, though: He isn't taken as seriously as U2 or the Eagles. No one says Joel makes the records that define their lives. That's a plus, being that his music isn't great.)