Monday, February 4, 2008

No. 352: 52nd Street

Band: Billy Joel
Album: 53nd Street
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Billy Joel's sixth record is his most rock-oriented. It's still "what theater people think [of] punk rock," for the most part. His class struggle anthem "Big Shot" is the closest he ever came to actual rock and roll and it's pretty well-constructed.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: We're still looking at Billy Joel here. This is Meat Loaf without the orchestration, Elton John with a terrible blue collar streak, a lounge singer with a chip on his shoulder.
Best song: "Big Shot." Obviously.
Worst song: "Rosalinda's Eyes" is awful.
Is it awesome?: Nope.


Edit: Someone (I'd name this person but s/he commented anonymously) has corrected several of my misperceived notions about Mr. Joel. I was not familiar with his life story as a down-and-out piano player, nor his father's time in Cuba, nor his seemingly lyrical theme of independence. It doesn't change my feeling on the album (and, Anonymous, I know that Meat Loaf never wrote his songs and that Elton John never wrote his lyrics. The comparison wasn't in songwriting skill relative to those guys, but the whole package relative to those guys.), but I feel I've let my Billy Joel-loving readers down. Whoever you are.

Like a good journalist, I offer this edit as a correction of sorts. I will leave up my erroneous post, but direct you to the comments section to see what I got wrong.

I was derelict in doing research on this album, probably because I hate it. Not to make excuses, but, this is a breakneck pace and I am a little rushed. I work full-time and go to graduate school part-time. This project is merely a hobby and I often don't do as much research as I should.

I invite anyone to comment and correct any errors in fact or pieces of information I've left out. Obviously, all the opinions are solely my opinions and I invite readers to give their own opinions. Even if they start with "You are a moron."

Finally, I invite the anonymous commentor to check my piece on "The Stranger" to check anything I got wrong.


As the phrase goes, Billy Joel's best album is like calling someone the tallest dwarf. It's still a dwarf and this album is still barely listenable.

Billy Joel is the lounge singer in Tom Waits' "The Heart of Saturday Night," basically. He's the singer with huge dreams and a smile. He considers himself better than what he is. There's a certain sadness in that and certainly a fair amount of anger in the execution, as evidenced by this album's highlight, "Big Shot." Joel's sneer about the class system (that the song's character is addressing himself is certainly lost on most listeners and one of Joel's more clever writing tricks) is certainly a reaction to his success, but also a fit of anger from his years of being the lowly "Piano Man."

Nevertheless, the rest of the writing is stinky. "Find my Cuban skies?" Really? Billy Joel is calling someone "Senorita?" Come on, now. "My Life" is another of Joel's entertainment stereotype character studies (this time being a failed standup comedian) and the comparison makes to Steely Dan is wildly overstated. Steely Dan is good, Billy Joel is not.

Billy Joel remains the theater kid's version of rock and roll. It's overly pronounced and dramatic. It's false, in a lot of way's and this album shows that falseness.


Anonymous said...

You are a moron. Billy Joel is a man who has lived the life, and has the chops to write about it better than most of the incompetent 'rock stars' who can't string more than three chords into a cohesive progression. Your personal opinion means nothing to anyone other than you. Get a real job.

R.J. said...

Just to clarify: I have a job (I work for a news magazine in Washington, DC). How on earth would I get paid for this? There are no ads on the site, no registration and no subscription fees. It's free.

Also, I take no offense at the idea that no one cares about my opinion. I know this.

I would suggest you read my explanation of this project. I believe the word "masturbation" is used, because this whole thing is only to stroke my own ego.

I do appreciate your readership and please, continue to read the site.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that you know nothing about Billy Joel based on your posts. There are so many incorrect statements - not opinions- in your review that anyone familiar with the man's music can see that you obviously don't know what you're talking about. False? Admitting that you don't like someone and then trying to rationalize that their music must be disingenuous and bad because YOU don't like it is the height of arrogance and narcissism. All music is subjective. Masturbation indeed! That must be your favorite kind of sex since you're having it with someone you're obviously infatuated with.

kellydwyer said...

Holy crap, people have Billy Joel Google alerts!

Ross, meet the man who has the other half of your amulet:

R.J. said...

OK, Anonymous, please let me know what I have gotten wrong in matters of fact (not opinion) and I'll be glad to fix them. I do not claim to be an expert and I hope to have commentors (such as yourself) correct me on anything I may get wrong. There have been instances of this (KD has been good about correcting me, as has Padraig, two excellent commentors) and I'd love to hear what I've gotten wrong about Mr. Joel.

padraig said...

I feel obligated to back RJ up on this one - Billy Joel's music totally, totally sucks. you know what else sucks? douchebag internet commenters who sling vitriol from behind the veil of anonymity. not that it's not all well and fine for ya to like Billy Joel or whoever else I consider to be garbage, but be fucking civil about it for chrissakes. I'm sure ol' BJ could care less - dude's a gazillionaire or whatever.

Anonymous said...

1. '52nd Street' is not Joel's most rock oriented album. 'Glass Houses' rocks much harder, as does 'Storm Front'. '52nd Street' is generally acknowledged to be his nod to the Jazz world. 2. Billy Joel is not a 'theatre person'. He's been playing in Rock and Roll bands since the age of 15. 3.'Big Shot' is not about a 'class action struggle'. It's a morning-after spat between a husband and wife. He's written many other Rock and Roll songs besides 'Big Shot'. Try 'You May Be Right', or 'All For Leyna', or 'Sleeping With The Television On' for starters. 4."He considers himself to better than he is". How do you know what Joel considers himself to be? Are you privy to his inner thoughts? Billy Joel has always been self-deprecating and humble about his talent and his accomplishments in his public statements. 5."His years of being the lowly piano man" Hogwash! He played in a piano bar for 6 months when he was down and out so he could pay his rent. This is pure dime-store psychology on your part. And the only anger he has expressed over the years is at incompetent, sloppy, and lazy critics who don't do their job. 6."I can always find my Cuban skies' - "really? He even says senorita -come on now!" Did you know that Joel's father spent his adolescence in Cuba, and that 'Rosalinda's Eyes' was meant to be a song he wished his father had written to his mother before they got divorced? No, you didn't, did you? So before you decide that a songwriter doesn't have the right to imagine, or wish, or dream in other places, and in other languages, do a little research first. And if you don't play the game - don't try to make the rules. 7.'My Life' is not an "entertainment stereotype character study about a failed comedian". It's about declaring one's independence. If that is truly your summation of this song then you really have been terribly blinded { and deafened } by your preconceptions about Billy Joel. 8. Meat Loaf never wrote a note of music in his life and Elton John never wrote a lyric in his. Those comparisons are cheap, easy, and not applicable. 9. The rest of your post is purely your opinion, to which you are entitled, as is Mr. Padraig. Please remember that opinion does not make fact. And I'm sure you're familiar with the phrase 'Opinions are like rectums - everyone's got one, and everyone's stinks.'

R.J. said...

I stand corrected, on several fronts. I did not know any of those stories. I will direct readers to your comment.

kellydwyer said...

They're just doing it all for Leyna, RJ.