IT'S BETTER THAN DRINKIN' ALONE: The Official ILM Track-by-Track BILLY JOEL Listening Thread

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

Welcome one and all to what is sure to be one of the most popular threads in ILM history, as we take a song-a-day, track-by-track journey through the musical output of the Piano Man himself. A quick glance at Wiki confirms his significance: thirty-three self-penned Top 40 hits, twenty-three Grammy nominations (six wins), an estimated 150 million records sold worldwide, and a position just one slot shy of the Eagles as the sixth-best-selling artist of all time in the USA. If this staggering track record has not always translated into critical cred or hipster kisses, all the more reason to dig deep, listen close, and re-evaluate.

To get things started...

It's July, 1971. Buffeted by the troubles of the times, rock listeners find themselves reaching for the heartfelt, melodic expressions of the singer-songwriter. Perhaps taking note of Carole King's position at the top of the charts, the tiny Family label sees no reason not to take a chance on a demo tape of earnestly-sung, piano-backed ballads by a twenty-two-year-old keyboardist from Long Island. Already the veteran of a few flopped-out rock combos, but stripped of his earlier West-Coast freakout and heavy-metal trappings, William Martin Joel enters the studio to record his solo debut, Cold Spring Harbor.. It hit the streets that November, and we begin our journey with the kickoff track and sole, non-charting single: She's Got A Way.

Note: This recording is from a 1980s remix correcting a legendary mastering goof on the original record: the entire album ran slightly too fast, producing an up-pitched "Chipmunk" effect on Joel's vocals. Chronological purists who want to experience the music as it was originally released should click here.

﴿→ ☺ (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 July 2017 02:27 (eight months ago) Permalink

Wow - I didn't know that She's Got A Way was first-track first-album! I loved this already ... but even more now know it pushed the boat out

it's just so clean & simple & pleasing.

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 02:37 (eight months ago) Permalink

omg @ chipmunk version LOOOOL that is hysterical

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 02:39 (eight months ago) Permalink

Well, to add to the embarrassing recording goofs, I've still got the wrong version up there! Sorry, Billy! The Youtube above is actually the Songs in the Attic live version from ten years later, which did chart. It's sort of hard to pin down these versions but give me a second here.

﴿→ ☺ (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 July 2017 02:57 (eight months ago) Permalink

that Songs in the Attic version is the one i already knew. interesting!

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 02:58 (eight months ago) Permalink

So, the full, pitch-corrected 1983 remix of the album is here; it's also on Spotify. Individual YouTubes are a mishmash, with both the live hit and the original Chipmunk version getting slapped up with the CSH album cover, and a bevy of do-it-yourself corrected versions. But basically this is what we should listen to:

﴿→ ☺ (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 July 2017 03:03 (eight months ago) Permalink

It's very interesting to compare the "corrected original" to the "live hit" versions - the lingering psychedelic "let us be like children together in the garden" tweeness of the earlier recording gets ironed out of it, and he adds a pinch of harder vocal grit to the second pass through "she touches me, I get turned around." Essentially, he brings it much closer to his signature late-70s sound, though he retains the very, very stripped-down arrangement.

To be honest, I've never really strongly connected with this song - good melody, great opening line... without the Chipmunk thing, and with the right promotional backing, you imagine he could have gotten at least a regional hit out of this. But it's one of these "she's great, she's great, she's really great" kind of songs without conflict, narrative or rhythm section... makes it a bit too easy for it to just drift by. I do think I like it better in its original, rather less professional incarnation. Elsewhere, I love Joel's grand-entertainer, crowd-pleaser populism, but on these first couple albums I like also hearing this kid - affectations and fumbles and evident desire to be Paul McCartney and all.

﴿→ ☺ (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 July 2017 03:13 (eight months ago) Permalink

i enjoy the way he over-enunciates as a young man. like someone said to him it's important that we understand all the words

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 03:14 (eight months ago) Permalink


﴿→ ☺ (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 July 2017 03:18 (eight months ago) Permalink

it's probably more proto-air supply than anything tbh

but even in that category it's head and shoulders above. like, compared with the overwrought verging on gross "baby ima want you" syrup that will be pouring into listeners ears in the coming years, it's great

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 03:20 (eight months ago) Permalink

Just based on this song, in a vacuum, I would've expected him to turn into more of a Manilow-type than he ever ended up being.

Ⓓⓡ. (Johnny Fever), Monday, 17 July 2017 04:12 (eight months ago) Permalink

the path of earnest songwriting is fraught with danger

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 04:46 (eight months ago) Permalink

it's funny I haven't heard joel and manilow compared much - sure their careersan attitudes and styles are quite different, but as showtunes holdouts and staples of the adult contemporary charts... idk

﴿→ ☺ (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 July 2017 05:11 (eight months ago) Permalink

joel has way better songwriting (as this thread will hopefully bear out) - it's his abilities as a storyteller that navigated him out of those waters imo

manilow had good hooks but his lyrics are pretty bad, more like long commercial jingles

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 05:30 (eight months ago) Permalink

though i agree with dr c that there's not much to the lyric on "she's got a way," it's A-plus compared to most of what we're going to be listening to over the next week and a half, simply by virtue of billy not trying too hard. he's infatuated with a girl, he says so, he rhymes "about her" with "without her," he tosses in a bridge, he's done. he can do worse, much worse, and he will. and the melody sticks. a telling start to his career: he's a piano man with a gift for a hook and not a lot to say, not yet.

having not heard cold spring harbor in years, i miss the octave vocal leap that ends the song in the songs from the attic version. that was a nice touch.

fact checking cuz, Monday, 17 July 2017 06:12 (eight months ago) Permalink

This recording is from a 1980s remix correcting a legendary mastering goof on the original record

warning: they also re-recorded the backing tracks on a couple songs, without billy's involvement. the relationship between family productions' artie ripp, who signed him and owned these masters, deteriorated fast, and though billy quickly dumped him for columbia, ripp won a lot in the divorce: he owned a piece of billy's next ten (!) albums, and his logo appears on all of them.

fact checking cuz, Monday, 17 July 2017 06:22 (eight months ago) Permalink

christ that's awful, the music industry really is full of absolute bandits.

i love how he put out 'Greatest Hits I And II' as one CD/album, not bothering with the traditional 1 and 2 volumes separated by say half a decade like most folk.

piscesx, Monday, 17 July 2017 10:59 (eight months ago) Permalink

We're going to pretend this never happened?

calstars, Monday, 17 July 2017 11:16 (eight months ago) Permalink

re: Manilow and jingles, I had no idea he actually did some of that! "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there" - wow. Another difference, as Attila reminds us, is that for all his wistful balladeering, Billy wants to ROCK, and to be thought of as a rocker. This too connects him with Lennon and McCartney much more than Manilow or most of the other archetypal singer-songwriters.

I had floated the idea of including Attila and the Hassles in this thread but ppl pointed out that they were distinct "things," and anyway we were looking at a lot of tracks on this thread. But I think ppl should check 'em out - we could do a short pause after CSH and just say "today is Attila Day," rather than going track by track... idk!

﴿→ ☺ (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 July 2017 11:32 (eight months ago) Permalink

I mean I guess people can also just talk about it whenever, also! Just thinking in the spirit of dedicated group experience or w/e.

﴿→ ☺ (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 July 2017 12:01 (eight months ago) Permalink

The ratio of "discussion of Attila as music" to "lol, that cover" is historically quite lopsided. Not that I want to be the person to correct the imbalance - just sayin.

"She's Got a Way" is gr8 btw

didgeridon't (Ye Mad Puffin), Monday, 17 July 2017 12:48 (eight months ago) Permalink

Woah, hadn't realized we had started this!

So, "She's Got a Way." The version I know is the Greatest Hits one, which is the Songs From the Attic one, and this is my first time hearing the CSH version. I've always found it decent but unexceptional, not to mention tonally jarring within the chronological ordering of GH, sandwiched between the more, uh, muscular 80s material.

Listening to the original for the first time, I can see why he went with a later version. The mixing on CSH really is disgusting and I imagine that it will make the next 9 days of this thread something of a slog.

some sad trombone Twilight Zone shit (cryptosicko), Monday, 17 July 2017 13:52 (eight months ago) Permalink

There is a piece from Entertainment Weekly from around the time of River of Dreams where Billy offered brief commentary on all of his albums. I tried to dig it up, but I couldn't find it. Also, EW's website is the worst.

Basically, as I recall, Billy dismisses the record due to the mastering error, claiming that he can't ever listen to it. Having my first taste of it just now, I can see why.

some sad trombone Twilight Zone shit (cryptosicko), Monday, 17 July 2017 13:58 (eight months ago) Permalink

Tuneful prettiness. Not bad.

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 17 July 2017 13:59 (eight months ago) Permalink

affectations and fumbles and evident desire to be Paul McCartney and all

Listening to the Chipmunk version you linked above (only being familiar with the GH version before) and given the year, it strikes me that this is definitely his attempt at re-writing "Maybe I'm Amazed."

Old Lynch's Sex Paragraph (Phil D.), Monday, 17 July 2017 14:06 (eight months ago) Permalink

CSH is canon, but I can't help but always thinking of Piano Man as his first record.

Similar to Bowie.

pplains, Monday, 17 July 2017 14:18 (eight months ago) Permalink

(Just thought I'd beat the rest of you to writing out that last sentence.)

pplains, Monday, 17 July 2017 14:18 (eight months ago) Permalink

(see also: warren zevon)

fact checking cuz, Monday, 17 July 2017 14:25 (eight months ago) Permalink


pplains, Monday, 17 July 2017 14:41 (eight months ago) Permalink

I know singers have been tweaking lyrics to suit their gender/orientation for decades, but shifting it from first-person to third-person changes the context too much.

pplains, Monday, 17 July 2017 14:42 (eight months ago) Permalink


didgeridon't (Ye Mad Puffin), Monday, 17 July 2017 14:57 (eight months ago) Permalink

The song's vagueness--he likes this woman, but can't quite isolate her particular qualities--nicely mirrors my own ambiguous feelings towards it.

some sad trombone Twilight Zone shit (cryptosicko), Monday, 17 July 2017 16:24 (eight months ago) Permalink

It's a vague sentiment, sure, but it's light-years better than "Always a Woman," in which the message is "she's a heinous bitch but I like her anyway."

didgeridon't (Ye Mad Puffin), Monday, 17 July 2017 16:40 (eight months ago) Permalink

i like this, nice little song

love the cover, i love how period it looks, like it could be some long forgotten "lost classic" reissued by Light in the Attic

though I'm pretty impressed, for a first song on a first album this feels very much like a "Billy Joel" song, like he's got his aesthetic and identity right out of the gate, like Black Sabbath or something

Universal LULU Nation (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Monday, 17 July 2017 16:41 (eight months ago) Permalink

new goal of this listening thread: to pinpoint the moment he loses his hopeful high voice

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 16:45 (eight months ago) Permalink

The vagueness also makes it one of VERY FEW love songs that a father could plausibly dedicate to a daughter and have it come off in a not-totally-creepy way.

This may venture into uber-maudlin TMI territory, but: the line "she's got a smile that heals me" does in fact make me think of my daughter. I know it's corny as hell but there it is.

didgeridon't (Ye Mad Puffin), Monday, 17 July 2017 16:48 (eight months ago) Permalink

no that's otm

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 16:51 (eight months ago) Permalink

and lovely <3

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 16:51 (eight months ago) Permalink

for a first song on a first album this feels very much like a "Billy Joel" song, like he's got his aesthetic and identity right out of the gate, like Black Sabbath or something

haha. but i'm not sure he truly finds his "billy joel" voice until track 3 on this album.

his hopeful high voice

sounds like he's channelling paul mccartney via emitt rhodes, who at this particular point in time was making better billy joel records than billy joel was.

fact checking cuz, Monday, 17 July 2017 16:53 (eight months ago) Permalink


Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 16:54 (eight months ago) Permalink

I don't know if its the pitch issue, but his voice sounds more shaky than I expected. Starting from "Piano Man" on, his voice has a confidence that he never loses - I just figured he always had it. Interesting to hear, actually

Vinnie, Monday, 17 July 2017 17:03 (eight months ago) Permalink

i think he's trying to go for lilting & comes off as slightly petrified haha

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 17:10 (eight months ago) Permalink

yeah track three is KEY to joel's entire steez going forward, looking forward to that.

agreed about trying to sound lilting. ATTILA reminds us that he did already know how to sing in a more forceful and confident manner, so this here is as much a "poetic" affectation as his bellows over there are an attempt to find his "hard rock" voice.

"maybe i'm amazed" is a very apt comparison - and it, too, wasn't a hit until a live album years later! I picture joel watching it rise on the charts in 1976, clenching his fists, blood boiling at the CSH screwups all over again, and swearing that if HE ever gets big enough to merit a live album, he knows just what the single will be and won't THAT show 'em all? "your song" also probably had to be on somebody's mind, the label's if not the artist's.

﴿→ ☺ (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 July 2017 17:34 (eight months ago) Permalink

like he's got his aesthetic and identity right out of the gate, like Black Sabbath or something running down the road, trying to loosen its load....

pplains, Monday, 17 July 2017 17:41 (eight months ago) Permalink

i'm guessing this song's about the other member of attila's wife (later to be his own).

i'd always understood that the "mastering error" is because they wanted to cram too many minutes of music onto the album.

Thus Sang Freud, Monday, 17 July 2017 17:46 (eight months ago) Permalink

so many wives...

Yoni Loves Chocha (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 17 July 2017 17:59 (eight months ago) Permalink

like he's got his aesthetic and identity right out of the gate, like Black Sabbath or something running down the road, trying to loosen its load....

― pplains, Monday, July 17, 2017 12:41 PM (two hours ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

you know...for some reason it never occurred to me till this very second that the protagonist of "Take it Easy" was shitting his pants

Universal LULU Nation (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Monday, 17 July 2017 19:50 (eight months ago) Permalink

i'd lump the eagles in with billy as a band who didn't achieve their full aesthetic and identity until track three of their debut album. chug all night y'all.

fact checking cuz, Monday, 17 July 2017 20:03 (eight months ago) Permalink

i'd always understood that the "mastering error" is because they wanted to cram too many minutes of music onto the album

I hadn't heard that specifically about CSH. But I have heard that "Silver Springs" was kept off Rumours partly because the resulting length would have mean that they could just BARELY fit it in only by narrowing the grooves and unacceptably compromising the bass response.

Tangent: Interesting to think about the degree to which actual physical limitations were relevant - all of this in living memory. Les Paul was faking multitracking by ping-ponging, then the Beatles were on four tracks, then eight, then DSotM, then Steely Dan's automated mixes, then ProTools... all of this has happened within the lifespan of specific known humans. The time from the Wright brother's first flight to walking on muthaflippin moon? Many of us have grandparents who lived through both.

didgeridon't (Ye Mad Puffin), Monday, 17 July 2017 20:32 (eight months ago) Permalink

agreed about trying to sound lilting. ATTILA reminds us that he did already know how to sing in a more forceful and confident manner, so this here is as much a "poetic" affectation as his bellows over there are an attempt to find his "hard rock" voice.

Ah gotcha. I ain't heard CSH yet, so I sure as hell ain't heard Attila yet

Vinnie, Tuesday, 18 July 2017 01:52 (eight months ago) Permalink

I could complain about this, but I just looked at the track listing for the tribute album and saw that Bono does "Hallelujah," so mostly I'm grateful to be listening to anything else.


billy's mannered vocal on this one is making me a little ill.

is he the token jew on this leonard cohen tribute album?

fact checking cuz, Wednesday, 20 December 2017 04:36 (two months ago) Permalink

I lacked the patience to listen all the way through but arrangement- and vocal-wise this is a dead ringer for "Everybody Has a Dream", right?

attention vampire (MatthewK), Wednesday, 20 December 2017 06:11 (two months ago) Permalink

this isn't great as an active listen but a whole album of it might be fine as nice evening music. cements my sense that a line of "american songbook" type albums might have been an okay direction for him to go in the late 90s. before doing this whole project i would have told you that would have been a disaster, but that was before RoD and the other 90s recordings convinced me hadn't lost his ear entirely. plus if he was picking odd things like 90s leonard cohen album tracks and the next couple of covers, that's way more interesting to me than hearing him run through "blowin' in the wind" or other covers that folk/rock/soul song-interpreters of the '60s and '70s would have on their records .

the pleather of pleather paul (Doctor Casino), Wednesday, 20 December 2017 14:24 (two months ago) Permalink

The somewhat anticlimactic Greatest Hits Volume III dropped in August of 1997, twelve years after the blockbuster I & II. Despite featuring a number of decent-sized hits, the set has only been certified single platinum; perhaps most of the target audience already owned Storm Front and/or An Innocent Man and therefore found most of the tracklist redundant, or perhaps Joel's 1983-1993 output simply wasn't the soundtrack of as many people's lives as the 1973-1983 period. In an apparent effort to sweeten the pot, it does contain three songs that would be "new" to most fans (counting the previously-issued "Light As The Breeze"): all covers, despite what I may have erroneously said somewhere upthread.

1. "Keeping the Faith"
2. "An Innocent Man"
3. "A Matter of Trust"
4. "Baby Grand"
5. "This Is the Time"
6. "Leningrad"
7. "We Didn't Start the Fire"
8. "I Go to Extremes"
9. "And So It Goes"
10. "The Downeaster 'Alexa'"
11. "Shameless"
12. "All About Soul" (Remix)
13. "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)"
14. "The River of Dreams"
15. "To Make You Feel My Love" (Bob Dylan)
16. "Hey Girl" (Gerry Goffin, Carole King)
17. "Light as the Breeze" (Leonard Cohen)

Available but left off are "Modern Woman," "Leave A Tender Moment Alone," "That's Not Her Style," the non-US "No Man's Land," the soundtrack single "All Shook Up," and of course any of the items left off the first set... which might have added a "oldies but goodies" angle despite being sonically incongruous.

Lead single To Make You Feel My Love is a slightly retitled cover of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love," which - in an odd twist - had not actually been released yet. Dylan's version debuted on Time Out of Mind (late September 1997). Billy's peaked at #50 on the Hot 100 (just above a rising "6 Underground" and beneath a sinking "Alone" by the Bee Gees); #9 on Adult Contemporary.

the pleather of pleather paul (Doctor Casino), Thursday, 21 December 2017 16:06 (two months ago) Permalink

This could have been a passable movie soundtrack ballad, but Billy chooses to sing it in a strained Dylan-esque croak for reasons I can't fathom. No matter what you think of the song itself, Adele's later version captures the spirit of the thing much more effectively.

iCloudius (cryptosicko), Thursday, 21 December 2017 16:11 (two months ago) Permalink

yeah it's not super exciting and the faux-90s-dylan arrangement just makes it sound like a Wallflowers track. i still think it's neat that he seemingly toyed with sliding into being an interpreter of contemporary material. the whole "covering super-recent album tracks" thing is such a throwback to another age in pop-rock. like now that billy's mostly done writing songs he's shifting into the other side of the role he originally thought he'd have, of being just another gigging 70s songwriter who puts out albums mainly in hope that someone more famous picks them up to cover.

the pleather of pleather paul (Doctor Casino), Thursday, 21 December 2017 16:15 (two months ago) Permalink

this is another one of those songs where billy's vocal tone changes from line to line, moment to moment, and it's just kind of annoying. but listening to the first verse, before the band kicks in and the voice gets away from him, i can hear how he might have turned this into a pretty good billy joel ballad, if he could just accept that he is, in fact, billy joel. i mean, you're billy joel, bitch. you don't have to meet that song on its own terms, or on some weird '90s wallflowers terms. make the song come to you. (see: contemporaneous johnny cash.)

fact checking cuz, Thursday, 21 December 2017 17:48 (two months ago) Permalink

Never liked this version, the voice is too much. Sounds like Billy is trying to do Dylan, but in a really overdone way. Never had the desire to hear the Dylan original, but I'd imagine I prefer it. Adele's version is certainly better

Vinnie, Friday, 22 December 2017 13:36 (two months ago) Permalink

My loathing for this inexplicably popular Dylan track iswell-documented -- is its anonymity its virtue? "To Make You Feel My Love" defeated Bryan Ferry, it defeats Billy Joel.

morning wood truancy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 22 December 2017 13:43 (two months ago) Permalink

Another vote for Adele's version here. Not least because a song about romantic persistence sounds better coming from a woman right now for obv reasons.

I recently played guitar accompaniment for a young female singer in a casual party gig. We covered this, and she was definitely looking to Adele rather than Bob or Bill (though she knew its provenance).

Gunther Gleiben (Ye Mad Puffin), Friday, 22 December 2017 14:59 (two months ago) Permalink

Hey Girl, the other new track here, is a vintage Goffin/King number. Oft-covered, it's appeared in at least two hit versions: Freddie Scott's 1963 rendition (#10 on the Hot 100, his biggest hit on that chart) and Donny Osmond's 1971 attempt (which got to #9). Billy's was not so lucky; denied a physical single release in the US, it was ineligible for the Hot 100, though it made it to #13 on Adult Contemporary airplay. The European maxi-single (which seems not to have charted anywhere at all) features live versions of some Joel classics followed by the alarmingly-titled "Hey Girl (With Lounge Rap)." I have not been able to track that one down, but I wish you luck.

For further listening, Wiki also points us to King's own 1980 rendition, a 1966 take by the Righteous Brothers, a 1969 version by the psych-era Temptations, and a 2004 duet by Ray Charles and Michael McDonald, among others.

Newb Sybok (Doctor Casino), Friday, 22 December 2017 17:29 (two months ago) Permalink

Hey Bill, just a tip, wearing dark glasses won't convince anyone you're blind, kthxbye

Gunther Gleiben (Ye Mad Puffin), Friday, 22 December 2017 18:03 (two months ago) Permalink

Don't want to listen to a million cover versions to compare but Billy's version is the best of the three covers on GHIII. He sounds way more comfortable on this. It's pretty slight and perfunctory though. I also have some embarrassing memories of a high school crush tied to this song, which makes me extra not want to listen to it

Vinnie, Saturday, 23 December 2017 01:23 (two months ago) Permalink

Wait -- how would you have heard this in high school??

morning wood truancy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 23 December 2017 01:37 (two months ago) Permalink


fact checking cuz, Saturday, 23 December 2017 02:28 (two months ago) Permalink

This song is 20 years old now, so certainly lots of people could have heard this in high school (or earlier). If you're surprised that a high school student WOULD listen to an unpopular, past-peak Billy Joel cover... well I was that uncool kid who grew up solely listening to 80's pop rather than the grunge music my friends were listening to, and I bought GHIII as soon as it was released

Vinnie, Saturday, 23 December 2017 06:52 (two months ago) Permalink

For our last post for a few days, the chronology has worked out eerily well, wishing us all A Rosie Christmas. Released in 1999, at the height of The Rosie O'Donnell Show's popularity, it featured the eponymous comedian performing duets of familiar Christmas classics with a range of musical guests (including the ticklish muppet Elmo, also at the peak of his fame, and fading star Angelica Pickles, from The Rugrats). The 2000 sequel, Another Rosie Christmas, punts the daytime kids' TV characters but somehow ends up with Smash Mouth doing "Nuttin' For Christmas," and country child act Billy Gilman doing a timely new composition called "I'm Gonna Email Santa" - surely a bad trade.

Billy joins Rosie on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," one of those seemingly eternal classics I was recently startled to realize had an actual origin when I watched Meet Me In St. Louis the other night; along with "The Trolley Song," it was written for the 1944 film by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. (See Judy Garland's film performance of it here - wowie.) While I will always be partial to the Percy Faith rendition highlighted on our family Christmas album of choice, Billy seems to make a go of it. Recalling that he approached "She's Right On Time" as some version of a Christmas song, it's interesting to note that he's kept this seeming one-off in his repertoire; YouTube features a number of recent live cuts, typically from December-time Madison Square Garden shows.

Newb Sybok (Doctor Casino), Saturday, 23 December 2017 15:05 (two months ago) Permalink

As a St. Louisan, I saw the movie at least once a year growing up. And I fucking cry at this scene! Every. fucking. time.

Still among my top two or three Christmas songs. I've even recorded a version of it myself.

Billy sounds like he's trying to croon in an unBillyish manner here; not quite sure whether he's trying for Bennett or Crosby or Mathis or what. Anyway, not Billy. Like with the Dylan cover, he's not at his best when aping another singer's stylez. Except Ray Charles. I don't mind as much when he's trying to sound like Ray.

Gunther Gleiben (Ye Mad Puffin), Sunday, 24 December 2017 17:06 (two months ago) Permalink

Jumping around here, but related to that ^^, part of what makes "Light as the Breeze" one of the better Cohen covers I've heard is that he isn't aping Leonard but putting his own SNL-band-outro butter on it.

... (Eazy), Sunday, 24 December 2017 17:14 (two months ago) Permalink

Given his pastichey instincts, it might have been fun to put all these artists' names in a hat and force him to do the covers in random styles, to get away from any "obvious" ways of doing the song. But by this point his range of choices is much smaller than it was on Glass Houses or Innocent Man - he can do whatever style he feels like, so long as it's something that he doesn't feel embarrassed to be attempting at 47, which means we're going to generally be in AC/lounge act territory.

Newb Sybok (Doctor Casino), Sunday, 24 December 2017 17:21 (two months ago) Permalink

Pressure just came on the mix. Can we just end this thread so the humans can survive

calstars, Sunday, 24 December 2017 23:28 (two months ago) Permalink

When “only the good die young” comes on in the bar, only the schmalziest of motherfuckers order their drinks. The rest wait for fucking bad company

calstars, Wednesday, 27 December 2017 01:52 (two months ago) Permalink

Where Were You On Our Wedding Day? is another cover turning our ear back to the early days of rock. The 1959 original is by Lloyd Price, best known for "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and a hit version of "Stagger Lee." In an unprecedented development, Billy's rendition is actually shorter than Price's. It was his contribution to the soundtrack album for the 1999 Roberts-Gere comedy Runaway Bride. The lineup is somewhat odd for a compilation like this; Hall & Oates and the Dixie Chicks get two songs each (including an established hit and a new song), and current stars mix with old fuddy-duddies and Miles Davis. I'm going to guess that the liner notes assert some kind of "something old, something new" theme, since it would have been easy enough to cobble together a list of wedding-oriented songs for a slate of covers by artists hitting the right demographics. Maybe "Maneater" is used for a comical beat in the film?

If you're keeping track, wedding-wise Joel was at this point in between his divorce from Christie Brinkley and his 2004 marriage to the then-23-year-old Katie Lee Joel, best known as the uncompelling host of the first season of Bravo's Top Chef. On their wedding day, they were at Billy's house in Oyster Bay, with Alexa Ray (five years the bride's junior) as maid-of-honor. Wikipedia does not make clear where they were in 2009 when they announced their separation, but Billy's 2015 marriage to Alexis Roderick (then 33) also took place at his Long Island home, with Andrew Cuomo officiating. They have two children; the youngest arrived this October 22nd, when we were discussing... "An Innocent Man."

Newb Sybok (Doctor Casino), Wednesday, 27 December 2017 15:00 (two months ago) Permalink

billy has an obvious love for, and feel for, this era. and yet his vocal on this is pretty much replacement-level wedding band singer (which maybe is fitting for the movie?). the sax solo is a note-for-note copy of the original, which is great.

excellent wedding reporting, doctor c!

fact checking cuz, Wednesday, 27 December 2017 19:34 (two months ago) Permalink

Decent enough pastiche.

Lloyd Price rules, btw. "Stagger Lee" obvs, but check out "Just Because" if you dig this kind of thing (in its non-ersatz form).

iCloudius (cryptosicko), Wednesday, 27 December 2017 20:13 (two months ago) Permalink

yeah the vocal here is a real shame. reinforces my sense that he should have done more of this when he was younger, and that a medley of covers in a new-wave take on 50s rock style would have been a great finisher to Glass Houses.

Newb Sybok (Doctor Casino), Wednesday, 27 December 2017 20:17 (two months ago) Permalink

three weeks pass...

tune-yards is having a heart attack-ack-ack!

fact checking cuz, Friday, 19 January 2018 03:10 (one month ago) Permalink

... and clearly, I've been working too hard to get this thread back on track-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack! next entry coming monday.

Righteous wax chaperone, rotating Wingdings (Doctor Casino), Friday, 19 January 2018 12:46 (one month ago) Permalink

four weeks pass...

My pick for worst.

morning wood truancy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 16 February 2018 04:10 (one month ago) Permalink

I can't really argue - though I still find "Modern Woman" more interesting than anybody else itt. Maybe having been oblivious to that era of pop at the time, it sounds fresher and more interesting to me than it actually is.

Meantime... I got sort of bogged down contemplating how to tackle the 2001 classical album, Fantasies and Delusions, afraid that a track-by-track treatment of instrumental music would leave us with little to discuss. In hindsight if I'd just done it like that we'd be well past it by now. I'll double back and do it in a bit but given my energy level and to-do list today, let's skip past for a moment and admire two duets with the legendary Tony Bennett:

Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues was a 2001 release featuring Bennett, as you'd expect, teaming up with a range of contemporary and slightly-less-contemporary artists including Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, etc. Produced by none other than Phil Ramone, it includes Joel and Tony turning in a rendition of one of Billy's theme tunes, New York State of Mind. Supposedly, it was released as a single (maybe promo-only); it did not chart. To my ears, it ain't bad.

Duets: An American Classic, again helmed by Ramone, carried on a similar idea while reaching for the "great American songbook" format of Rod Stewart's unexpected hit series of such albums. If it didn't match Rod's numbers, it still did well, debuting at #3 on the Billboard album chart and ultimately going platinum. This time around, partners included Paul McCartney, John Legend, Stevie again, the Dixie Chicks, etc. In a cute reversal, Billy joins for one of Tony's signature tunes, The Good Life, originally written by Sacha Distel and James Reardon for the forgotten French-Italian anthology film The Seven Deadly Sins, and a hit for Tony first in 1963.

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 18 February 2018 18:46 (one month ago) Permalink

I am so heartily sick of Tony Bennett that I can't even listen to that second one, sorry.

They've done NYSOM a bunch live. That's all the Joel-Bennett I can stomach (indeed, slightly more).

persona non gratin (Ye Mad Puffin), Sunday, 18 February 2018 19:14 (one month ago) Permalink

Did a furious four hour binge through Billy Joel's golden era on Sunday, taking me up to the end of An Innocent Man. Given that I literally just knew the classic tape version of the Greatest Hits initially (and later, the CD version additions), it was super enlightening, and massive thanks to all the regular contributors to the thread. It's fucking brilliant. I was following it initially then said I'd get back to it at later date but apparently that took me six months.

Conclusions on BJ:

So many fade-outs. So many woah woah owoahowahs. So many side-B turkeys! But at the same time, when he gets it right it's spellbinding. Was totally clueless about the content and context of the individual albums too, so discovering An Innocent Man was a bit of a joy. It actually has two tunes – An Innocent Man and Keeping The Faith – that in particular it was amazing to discover. I liked the idea that he might have just retired after that!

Also, I'm not entirely surprised that it didn't come up, but We Didn't Start A Fire was converted into a football song for the Republic of Ireland ahead of the World Cup in Italy in 1990, titled We're Gonna Start A Fire, where the rapid fire spitting out of nouns was obviously suited to creating an amazing nostalgia fest.

I present it here for your delectation now.

in twelve parts (lamonti), Tuesday, 20 February 2018 07:36 (three weeks ago) Permalink

i envy your four-hour first-time binge!

Doctor Casino, Wednesday, 21 February 2018 06:40 (three weeks ago) Permalink

Your childhood memories of each song were central to my enjoyment actually, because so much of my Billy Joel time derives from car drives with the two-volume Greatest Hits on cassette as a kid (along with the Red and Blue albums, but of course). On the chorus of Goodnight Saigon the tape actually wore out so you could hear Anthony's Song backwards.

in twelve parts (lamonti), Wednesday, 21 February 2018 14:45 (three weeks ago) Permalink

aww thanks. and wow that sounds amazing... all washed into the helicopter noise.

Doctor Casino, Wednesday, 21 February 2018 15:18 (three weeks ago) Permalink

i realize you said the chorus but I'm picturing the big helicopter sequence

Doctor Casino, Wednesday, 21 February 2018 15:18 (three weeks ago) Permalink

in the wild: "keeping the faith" playing on fox & friends coming out of a commercial and leading into a mention of billy graham's death. (no, i am not a regular fox & friends watcher. i assume billy isn't either.)

fact checking cuz, Thursday, 22 February 2018 10:04 (three weeks ago) Permalink

On the chorus of Goodnight Saigon the tape actually wore out so you could hear Anthony's Song backwards.

As if Anthony thought he was getting out of the daily grind...and then got drafted!

... (Eazy), Thursday, 22 February 2018 17:05 (three weeks ago) Permalink

Ha! Fuckin hate that Anto.

in twelve parts (lamonti), Friday, 23 February 2018 11:57 (three weeks ago) Permalink

One other conclusion from the BJ binge: he wrote a middle eight on every tune. Very disciplined.

in twelve parts (lamonti), Friday, 23 February 2018 11:58 (three weeks ago) Permalink

OLD MAN: Hold on, are you trying to say that I requested a song without giving you the name or melody? That I just expected you to guess, like a mind reader or something? That never happened, that’s slander! And who the hell calls it a tonic and gin?

Squeaky Fromage (VegemiteGrrl), Friday, 2 March 2018 17:18 (two weeks ago) Permalink

oops i didn’t fcc had already posted it
sorry :(

Squeaky Fromage (VegemiteGrrl), Friday, 2 March 2018 17:19 (two weeks ago) Permalink

Feelin’ that A minor pentatonic

zalstarz (calstars), Sunday, 11 March 2018 22:22 (one week ago) Permalink

Truly any caption would work

zalstarz (calstars), Sunday, 11 March 2018 22:23 (one week ago) Permalink

Oh wait big B’s not actually playing any note at all there

zalstarz (calstars), Sunday, 11 March 2018 22:25 (one week ago) Permalink

Tony Soprano subs for Silvio Dante in the E Street Band

startled macropod (MatthewK), Sunday, 11 March 2018 22:41 (one week ago) Permalink

Billy has always been shameless so this photo shouldn’t shock me but it does anyway. Jilly Boel

zalstarz (calstars), Sunday, 11 March 2018 23:01 (one week ago) Permalink

You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.