Friday, January 20, 2012

The Ghost of Rock and Roll Past: Billy Joel

Billy Joel is one of the most polarizing figures in modern pop music. Hipsters think he's lame, squares think he's a one-man Beatles. A large segment of people older than 35 have at one time in their lives owned the double-disc 1985 best-of, while most people younger than that know him as that one-hit wonder ("Piano Man") who's always getting DUIs and ending up in the tabloids. 99.9 percent of his fanbase is white, but black people love him too because he's a vehicle for making fun of white people.

This polarization hinges on one year, 1986, and one album, coincidentally called "The Bridge."

Barry, as we'd like to remember him.
Because of that breaking off point, and that deflating, morbidly mediocre album, Joel should be the Barry Bonds of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - everything he did up until that point (Bonds' career as a Pirate) definitely merits induction, but everything he did that year and after (Bonds' years as a Giant, a juicer, a woman abuser and a big-time asshole) should have kept him out, or at least get him booted (hmm ... another "Kicked Out" post is in motion).

BUT - let's just say Joel quits during that mysterious three-year gap between 1983's slammer-packed "An Innocent Man" and "The Bridge." He goes on an acid-dropping binge with Howard Jones and ends up like Brian Wilson, sparking the "Billy Joel Is A Genius Who Is Ahead of His Time" campaign.

Or - and this is totally macabre and in no way is meant to insinuate that I want Billy Joel dead - what if Joel went down in a plane crash after "Innocent Man" comes out and the videos for "Uptown Girl" and "Tell Her About It" and "The Longest Time" turn him into one of the world's biggest pop stars. Given that scenario, he becomes a modern-day Buddy Holly, right? His pre-death catalog instantly becomes spotless, and then the big "Greatest Hits Vols. 1-2" - the one every non-cool college freshman had from 1985 up through somewhere in the late 1990s - comes out, and it's easily the top-selling album of all time at that point.

If you're 35+, white and say you never owned this, you're lying.
Most of all, "The Bridge," with the putrid "A Matter of Trust," and the awful video that showcases the talents and mannerisms of jerk-off drummer Liberty DeVitto, and the embarrassing sap-fest "This Is The Time," never happens. Neither does the sickeningly corporate "Storm Front," with the pithy "End of The World As We Know It" rip "We Didn't Start The Fire" and the super-indulgent "Downeaster 'Alexa'" (why the f*cking quotes within quotes? WHAT?), where Joel all of the sudden decides he wants to be the Gorton's Fisherman. Neither does - holy Lord help me - "River of Dreams," which sounds like the bathrooms at the Wells Fargo Center during Wing Bowl and appeared to be his attempt to put out something whiter than Genesis' "I Can't Dance." I dare say he succeeded.

Bill is Hall-worthy just for pulling this off.
If we could just go back to July of 1986 - take Doc's DeLorean, summon the Ghost of Christmas Past, whatever - and stop the release of "The Bridge" and somehow end Joel's career, we would remember The Piano Man differently.

This would have been the guy who wrote "Allentown," which would be considered the folk-pop equivalent of Bruce's "Atlantic City" instead of over-scrutinized because Joel wrote it about another Pennsylvania town (Some well-researched background here). He would be the slick-ass motherf*cker who got down on "Tell Her About It" (my sister always thought Joel was black. That's how cool he SOUNDED). "Pressure" would be perceived as a psych-rock classic. "Goodnight Saigon" would be on the top shelf of Vietnam vet odes with "Born In The U.S.A." "Songs In The Attic" would be "Sgt. Pepper's," "Piano Man" would be "Like A Rolling Stone," Christie Brinkley would be Yoko Ono ... maybe I'm getting a little out of hand, but you see where I'm going here.

Instead of all of that, Joel's record will be scarred by stuff like this. And this. And this. And, well, this:

1 comment:

  1. You, sir, are a philistine.
    You obviously wouldn't recognize great music if it bit you in the ass.