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 Allmusic.com 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.