The Ass End Of The ‘70’s, Volume 1: Billy Joel’s Piano Man
Full disclosure: I actually enjoy me a little BJ from time to time. Oooh, you know what I mean, get your heads out the gutter, sicko’s!
Time can be a double edged sword, especially when it comes to artists and their art. For example, everyone knows that Jackson Pollock was a wife beater and Picasso an asshole, yet their art is universally admired and commands millions. In the world of visual art (I’m generalizing now) it seems that the bigger dick you are (or addict, or whatever) the bigger the demand for you and the shit you make.
With musicians, well it seems that they generally fall into two camps. Camp #1: Put out a string of commercially and critically lauded records the first half of your career, then spend the rest of your life shitting all over your legacy by releasing sub-par pabulum for Disney, or playing the oldies circuit and eventually, on record and live, slowly become a parody of a cover band of that great band you used to be. Camp #2. Release a few albums that sell less than zero copies, break up, take a job teaching music at a secondary school (or, if you prefer, become a heroin addict), have some hot new band mention your decade old album as an influence, receive all sorts of kudos and eventually end up as a guest vocalist on a Damon Albarn project.
Billy Joel falls into camp #1. Sort of. I say ‘sort of’ because I don’t really think the guy has ever gotten any real respect, has he? But, really, if you take a look at some of his ‘70’s recordings, like The Stranger for example, and put them up against something a critically lauded icon like David Bowie released around the same time (like Diamond Dogs, for another example), I mean it’s pretty close!
I think Piano Man is the reason why this bug-eyed pianist has been (sort of) unfairly lumped in with the Jim Croce’s and the James Taylor’s of the world. This album set Joel up to be the world’s most popular wedding singer, and it is a direct rip-off of Elton john’s Tumbleweed Connection album, released 3 years prior to this. All of the Americana and Wild West mythology is regurgitated here, but is more cliché ridden than TC at its worst, not only lyrically, but musically. One listen to the intro of The Ballad of Billy the Kid, with its clip-cloppy rip of Gene Autry’s Happy Trails, is enough to make one stick an ice pick through one’s ears.
The title track is sentimental over emoted rubbish. The rest of the album fares no better, the nadir being the 9 and a half minutes of Captain Jack. To call this track pretentious would be an insult to the word pretentious.
Like I said at the top, I have a soft spot for some of Billy Joel’s work, but given my choice between him and EJ I think you all know who’s corner I’ll be sitting in at the end of the day.