brent johnson digs up a lost treasure from Billy Joel on the Piano Man’s birthday …
Billy Joel turns 63 today — which means it’s time for my annual installment of “Why Billy Joel is underrated.”
For all the album sales and sold-old stadium shows in his career, the Piano Man often gets a raw deal. For critics, his songs are too slick and show-tuney. For hipsters, he’s not nearly as cool as Lou Reed or any member of Guided By Voices.
But my good friend Andrew Lord Chandler once said something that sums up Billy Joel’s genius: He’s like the cool dad on your street.
In his younger days, he wore sport jackets and ties with sneakers. He was self-depricating but New York cocky. He jumped around stage with swagger, leaping off the hood of his baby grand. And the sweetness of his melodies obscured one of his best qualities: that at heart, his lyrics were really punk rock. Take away the backing vocals and clarinet, and ‘My Life’ is almost a Clash song.
Joel also wasn’t afraid to snap back at his detractors. When rock writers at the height of late-’70s punk and new wave called him soft, he released an album full of punk- and new wave-lite tunes called Glass Houses. To this day, it’s his best record — smart-ass but always tuneful. And if I had to pick the second side of any record to listen to the rest of my life, this would be it.
Still, the album’s best track actually closes out Side One: a blast of staccato rock about teenage lust and unrequited love called ‘All For Leyna.’ It was never a single, but it would have been a hit. Just listen to that stabbing piano intro and that uber-catchy falsetto chorus. It also features one of the best synthesizer solos in the world.
In. The. World.
It’s almost a shame to see what Billy has become: a man who hasn’t released a rock album in nearly 20 years, choosing instead to play tired versions of his greatest hits on stage.
But happy birthday, Mr. Joel. You’ll always be the reason I fell in love with music.