5Qs: Ode to Billy Joel

This thread is inspired by this Atlantic Monthly (which I would think Mitchell would enjoy, if not Don as well).

1. Favorite Billy Joel album
2. Favorite Billy Joel song
3. Bill Joel Song(s) you hate
4. Best memory/anecdote involving Billy Joel
5. The musician that accompanied your life (especially childhood and teen years) better than Bill Joel.

Bonus questions (for discussion):

Where does Billy Joel rank among other rock/pop musicians?
What is your opinion about Joel as to whether he is a serious (versus strictly commercial) artist?

30 Responses to “5Qs: Ode to Billy Joel”


  1. Mitchell

    I’m going to edit this just a bit because the way his name is written here is kind of dissonant.

    Favorite Billy Joel album: Turnstiles (1976) with Streetlife Serenade (1974) second. Piano Man, An Innocent Man, and Songs in the Attic probably round out my top five, but not in that order.

    Favorite Billy Joel song:
    So we’ll argue and we’ll compromise
    And realize that nothing’s ever changed
    For all our mutual experience
    Our separate conclusions are the same

    Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity
    A reason coexists with our insanity
    Though we choose between reality and madness
    Its either sadness or euphoria

    “Summer, Highland Falls” from Turnstiles. He sings (and plays?) it better today than he did 40 years ago.

    Billy Joel Song(s) you hate: I don’t think I’ve ever hated a Billy Joel song, but I’m not really fond of “This is the Time.” Sorry, Reid and Don. I also don’t care much for “Baby Grand,” which was well intentioned but isn’t as interesting as it should be, given its performers.

    Best memory/anecdote involving Billy Joel. Seeing him in concert at Aloha Stadium on his way back from the concert in the Soviet Union that the Концерт album is from was pretty great, even though we were sitting way, way, way back. I mean, the music was great but I can only barely say I saw him live. It swore me off stadium concerts, something I’ve held to.

    The summer I worked at a Boy Scout camp, we used to hang out late at night and sing songs, and someone started singing “Goodnight, Saigon,” and many of us joined in. I don’t know why; maybe it was the weird camaraderie that comes from a bunch of young men working together all summer or maybe there was something vaguely homoerotic about it, but it was kind of a special, bonding moment.

    The musician that accompanied your life (especially childhood and teen years) better than Billy Joel: Billy Joel is way up there, because I bought his Piano Man album early in ninth grade, and since I loved it so much, I bought several more of his albums throughout high school. I spent more money on Billy Joel music than on anyone else’s, so the answer is probably nobody. The second-placers were probably Styx and Amy Grant.

    Bonus questions (for discussion):

    Where does Billy Joel rank among other rock/pop musicians?
    For accessibility and nearly universal likeableness, he’s after the Beatles but ahead of everyone else. But I thought you don’t consider him a rock musician.

    What is your opinion about Joel’s being a serious (versus strictly commercial) artist?
    Anyone who questions his seriousness as an artist should see the Inside the Actor’s Studio episode that features him.

  2. Mitchell

    Oh, one more anecdote. My first paying job was at Aiea Library in ninth grade. I mostly put books on shelves and did “shelf reading,” which is just going down the shelves and making sure every book on them is in its correct place. Aiea made the switch to the barcodes on books and library cards that year, so we shut the library down for two or three weeks. Our spring break was part of those two or three weeks, so they let me come to work earlier than usual, and I got to wear shorts and slippers. Since all my work was by myself during the closure, they let me also listen to music on my Walkman. I played An Innocent Man a hundred times during those weeks. Whenever one of those songs comes on, I’m reminded of that job.

  3. Reid

    I going to withhold reading your posts until I answer the questions myself.

    1. Favorite Bill Joel album

    I haven’t listened to most of his albums in their entirety to say, actually (so maybe this wasn’t a great question). The first album that does come to mind is The Stranger.

    2. Favorite Billy Joel song

    First song that comes to mind: “Just the Way You Are”

    3. Bill Joel Song(s) you hate

    Hmm, I don’t know if I hate any of his songs, but I believe there are a few I don’t really care for.

    4. Best memory/anecdote involving Bill Joel

    Probably singing Bill Joel songs with Mitchell in White Lightning.

    5. The musician that accompanied your life (especially childhood and teen years) better than Bill Joel.

    Hall and Oates

    Bonus questions (for discussion):

    Where does Bill Joel rank among other rock/pop musicians?

    I’m not sure how to answer this. If we’re looking at all the rock/pop musicians, I would guess he’s in the middle of the pack somewhere. If you just look at the 70s and 80s, he’s gotta move up that list.

    I think the one thing going against this is the nature of his music–specifically, I think his music had a retro quality. Bruno Mars might be a really good comparison, not that their music sounds alike, but Mars’s music seems like a potpourri of older musical styles. And the music is quite good. I feel similar about Bill Joel. In a way, when evaluating the music/musician, compared to other musicians, I think this sort of hurts them.

    What is your opinion about Joel as to whether he is a serious (versus strictly commercial) artist?

    I’d have to go back and listen to the music again, something I haven’t done in a long time. What would be difficult is separating out the nostalgia. (Actually, I suspect that won’t be a big factor.) I might do this and report back later.

  4. Reid

    I’m going to edit this just a bit because the way his name is written here is kind of dissonant.

    Oops. Sorry about that. I made the change.

    but I’m not really fond of “This is the Time.” Sorry, Reid and Don.

    Wait, did Don and I really like that song? I can’t remember. I actually think that might make my hate list.

    The summer I worked at a Boy Scout camp, we used to hang out late at night and sing songs, and someone started singing “Goodnight, Saigon,” …

    A good song for the context. It would be a good choice if you were doing a movie about that situation.

    The second-placers were probably Styx and Amy Grant.

    Styx is not a surprise. I wouldn’t have guessed Amy Grant, but the choice makes sense. (Do you still listen and enjoy Styx? That leads to another question–and I would pose this to anyone else, as well: are there favorite groups that you don’t really listen to much? For example, Kalapana and C&K might make the list for me, not that they’re favorites, but I still have some affinity or connection to them, but I don’t really listen to them much. Or maybe a group like Little River Band. I still kinda like them, but I don’t feel a strong desire to listen to them.)

    For accessibility and nearly universal likeableness, he’s after the Beatles but ahead of everyone else.

    That’s a little surprising, although I’m not sure I could think of someone else that I would choose instead.

    But I thought you don’t consider him a rock musician.

    Well, I used “rock/pop.”

    Anyone who questions his seriousness as an artist should see the Inside the Actor’s Studio episode that features him.

    I was thinking about evaluating the quality of his music. Or does that interview settle the matter?

  5. Mitchell

    I have vivid (too vivid, if you ask me) memories of you and Don singing “This is the Time” at カラオケ. Plus, wasn’t your senior yearbook adspace emblazoned with that title?

    I dust Styx off once or twice a year and love it. Someday, Tommy Shaw and James Young are going to make up with Dennis DeYoung, and then I may once again be able to listen to them without annoyance, but for now they exist mostly as very pleasant memories of my years growing up. And even then, it’s going to be bittersweet since John Panozzo died and they all should have mended fences before that ever happened. Irritating.

    It shouldn’t surprise you at all that you don’t listen much to C&K and Kalapana, though they may be favorites. First, neither group has released much music since the days when you did listen to them. Second, you listen to very little new music, so it’s unlikely new musicians have slid into their slots as favorites. So what you really have is this list of favorites that exists mostly in the past. I suspect lots of people our age are the same way.

    I admit I find this mildly disappointing, but then there’s so much music out there now and there are so many ways to discover it that I suspect most of us don’t have the passion or desire to seek it. When we were young, most of us just flipped the radio on.

    Although man, even if you take new music out of the equation, there’s so much older stuff out there by musicians we already like that most of us have never explored. Every time I make efforts to fill in some of those gaps in my knowledge and experience, I discover more gaps. It’s both pleasing and frustrating. I’m going to die before I get to listen to everything I want to, even if I stop listening to new music.

    Was there really a time when you considered LRB one of your favorite groups?

    I think Billy Joel’s music had a retro quality in the second part of the 80s, but in the 70s it was pretty 70s-sounding. But also, he’s a real musician and he loved Elvis and the Beatles, so of course they influence a lot of his sound. “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” (probably in my top 5 Billy Joel songs) doesn’t sound at all retro to me, and neither do “Big Shot,” or most of the songs on Glass Houses.

    I think I took the “serious” part of “serious artist” to mean the musician’s approach and attitude to his music, not “serious” as quality of music. But shoot, even then I would dispute any claim that he’s just a strictly commercial artist isn’t paying attention. While everything on an album like An Innocent Man is radio friendly, the songs on The Nylon Curtain were probably played on radio only on the strength of Joel’s credibility and standing as a musician people wanted to hear.

    Whether anyone would agree or not that it’s a great song, he would have to admit that at the very least, he’s a heck of a piano player, much better than he needs to be for commercial success. Some of that has to lift him above “merely commercial” status as a maker of music.

    I am aware, as is pointed out in the article you linked, that the critics haven’t been kind to him. The Rolling Stone has famously never given his albums better than 3 of 5 stars (or something like that). Jami and I used to go through this Rolling Stone anthology of the magazine’s reviews and be baffled by the low ratings. She was my partner in Springsteen-and-Joel fandom, and even though Springsteen was her favorite, she used to laugh at how RS always fell over itself to give everything Springsteen ever did 5 stars. Honestly, I don’t get why such esteemed critics could never appreciate Joel.

    Oh hey. Another Billy Joel memory-anecdote. That one makes me sad.

  6. Mitchell

    Also, I think you were pushing for “This is the Time” to be our class song.

  7. Reid

    I have vivid (too vivid, if you ask me) memories of you and Don singing “This is the Time” at カラオケ. Plus, wasn’t your senior yearbook adspace emblazoned with that title?

    Yeah, but we sing a lot of songs–and that doesn’t necessarily mean we like them. But I can’t remember doing that, so maybe I actually liked the song. Also, I don’t remember if I included that song in my adspace, but if I really liked that song then, I don’t really care for it now.

    First, neither group has released much music since the days when you did listen to them.

    I don’t really why this would lead to listening to them less. I still listen to EWF, Steely Dan, Hall and Oates, Basia.

    Second, you listen to very little new music, so it’s unlikely new musicians have slid into their slots as favorites.

    Right, but I’m not exactly sure why I’m not so interested in listening to them. (This is true for Billy Joel’s music.)

    So what you really have is this list of favorites that exists mostly in the past. I suspect lots of people our age are the same way.

    I admit I find this mildly disappointing,…

    I actually seek out new music, but not so much in the pop/rock vein. For some reason, I find looking for new music in jazz, for example, somewhat easier. One way I’ve come across newer pop/rock musicians is through Live from Daryl’s House. But if it wasn’t for that show, I probably never would have discovered some of those musicians. Maybe the larger reason I don’t seek out new pop/rock musicians is that I’m not as interested in those genres. Then again, I’d love to find musicians that I would enjoy as much as EWF.

    Was there really a time when you considered LRB one of your favorite groups?

    I think so. I don’t know if I ever said they’re one of my favorite groups, but I liked a lot of their songs. I still do. It’s weird how I don’t really have that much interest in listening to them, compared to someone like Daryl Hall. I guess that goes to show how much I like Hall. (I don’t think the situation with LRB is simply a matter of mood, too. Or, the times when I’m in the mood for their music is pretty rare–compared to Hall and Oates, et al.)

    I think Billy Joel’s music had a retro quality in the second part of the 80s, but in the 70s it was pretty 70s-sounding. But also, he’s a real musician and he loved Elvis and the Beatles, so of course they influence a lot of his sound. “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” (probably in my top 5 Billy Joel songs) doesn’t sound at all retro to me, and neither do “Big Shot,” or most of the songs on Glass Houses.

    I should go back and listen to those songs before I comment…I don’t know if his music is retro, maybe “neo”–as in neo rock n’ roll.

    But shoot, even then I would dispute any claim that he’s just a strictly commercial artist isn’t paying attention. While everything on an album like An Innocent Man is radio friendly, the songs on The Nylon Curtain were probably played on radio only on the strength of Joel’s credibility and standing as a musician people wanted to hear.

    Perhaps his music doesn’t fit the criteria that I weigh more heavily when assessing music in a more intersubjective sense. Also, I should say again that I’m saying this largely on my memory of his songs. I need to listen carefully to many of them again before I really say anything more.

    (On another note, was it true that many critics didn’t like Rush? That surprises me a little, because my impression was that many people respected them for their musicianship, at least. So I would think this, alone, would at least prevent negative criticism.)

  8. Reid

    Some things occurred to me:

    1. I really like Daryl Hall’s voice. I like Billy Joel’s voice, but much, much less. The fact that I can sing along with Billy Joel’s music–and enjoy this, because I’m satisfied with my singing of his songs–I think that’s a big reason I like him. But I don’t think I’m crazy about the songs (composition) or the playing of instruments (both him and his band–but this is something I would need to go back and check).

    2. I realized that I like Live at Daryl’s House because a) the music is live; b) Hall will do variations on song, almost like jazz musicians doing different renditions of jazz standards; c) his bands are tight. I think if Bill Joel had a similar show, with the same sort of features, I might enjoy this. (Actually, this probably applies to a lot of musicians.)

    On side note, I think it would be interesting to discuss musicians you grew up with that you still enjoy listening to and/or think highly of, and musicians you don’t feel this way about–while providing reasons why.

  9. Mitchell

    My favorite music is classic rock, and while I continue to enjoy exploring those gaps in my knowledge, since it’s old music, it doesn’t fill a certain need I have for at least some kind of finger on the pulse of what’s new. This means that while it’s definitely my favorite music, I don’t listen to it nearly as much as I listen to other stuff. “Hotel California” is one of my favorite songs of all time, but I could honestly go a year without hearing it once and it would be fine. It’s kind of in me already, like Andy Dufresne listening to that opera while he was locked up in solitary. It doesn’t mean I like “Hotel California” any less. It only means that my need to hear it has mostly been sated. This is what I think I was trying to get at when I suggested that the music of C&K and Kalapana is old (and therefore not something you need to hear) and that not listening to as much new music makes it unlikely that either band will slide out of your list of favorite groups.

    Billy Joel (is Bill something new? I don’t think I’ve seen that. Or are you just abbreviating for brevity’s sake?)’s classic live band was super tight, but he’s turned the personnel over a lot since it was at its peak familiarity. Notably, his drummer, Liberty Devitto, was fired from the group and he’d been Joel’s longest collaborator. Joel used to say that in concert, if he was unsure of the lyrics for whatever song he was singing, he’d glance back at Devitto, because the drummer was always singing along with him. Except on “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which Devitto said Joel was on his own for.

    I think it also might be worth examining what makes a band a favorite for you. Is it just really liking a meaningful number of its songs? Is it REALLY liking a number of its songs? Is it songwriting talent, skill at playing its instruments, themes, personalities, or some concept of who the band is and what it stands for?

  10. Don

    I had a hard time answering some of the questions, which is why I didn’t post anything. The only album I bought from Billy Joel is Innocent Man (other than the Greatest Hits), so I guess it has to be my favorite. In terms of songs, I liked “Innocent Man”, “Shameless”, and “New York State of Mind” best, but maybe I’m missing some in there. I hated “Easy Money” (but I’m not sure that song was “released”), and I don’t really care for “Pressure”.

    Man I don’t remember singing “This is the Time” either, nor do I remember liking it a whole lot. I do like “Baby Grand”, though.

    Re Hall and Oates:
    I like their earlier stuff, but they are a group with some bad songs: “Adult Education”, “One on One”, “I Can’t Go For That” to name a few.

    I think Billy Joel’s music had a retro quality in the second part of the 80s, but in the 70s it was pretty 70s-sounding.

    This was my initial reaction as well.

  11. Reid

    I think I understand your classic rock example–and it makes more sense if you have a strong preference/desire to hear what’s new. Still, I would personally question whether that style was a favorite if I rarely listened to that style and/or had little interest in listening to it, except on some rare occasion.

    To me, your example makes more sense if you’re talking about favorite musicians or movies, versus a favorite genre/style. I don’t really have a desire to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, but I consider it a favorite film.

    (is Bill something new? I don’t think I’ve seen that. Or are you just abbreviating for brevity’s sake?)

    It’s unintentional! I think I’m just not hitting the “y” key cleanly, or, in my haste, I’m subconsciously not hitting the “y” key. Weird.

    Billy Joel’s…classic live band was super tight,…

    You could be right. I’d have to go back and listen to form my own opinion. The other issue might be live versus studio performances. I’m not sure I’d say that the Hall and Oates rhythm section was super tight, based on studio albums. Their ability and tightness seem more apparent on his live show. This might also just be my preference for live performances versus studio performances.

    I think it also might be worth examining what makes a band a favorite for you. Is it just really liking a meaningful number of its songs? Is it REALLY liking a number of its songs? Is it songwriting talent, skill at playing its instruments, themes, personalities, or some concept of who the band is and what it stands for?

    Good questions. Off the top of my head, I’d say one criterion is really liking a number of the songs. But this leads to what makes me really like those songs. Again, off the top of my head, for music with vocals, the timbre and singing style of the lead vocalist is really important. This isn’t a good or bad issue, similar to the way an ice cream flavor is neither good or bad. Then there’s the music itself. My favorite rock/pop tends to have R&B/funk/jazz characteristics. Along these lines, I tend to like music where the bass has an interesting and kind of groove-oriented role in the music. Finally, I’d just say that the meaning of the lyrics isn’t that important, and I prefer (intentionally) silly/superficial lyrics to lyrics that are serious and in earnest.

    What about you?

  12. Reid

    Don,

    I liked “Innocent Man”, “Shameless”, and “New York State of Mind” best, but maybe I’m missing some in there. I hated “Easy Money” (but I’m not sure that song was “released”), and I don’t really care for “Pressure”.

    I don’t think I care for “Innocent Man” so much. I don’t remember “Shameless” or “Easy Money” at all, not the titles, anyway. “Pressure” is OK. It’s not a song I would turn to, but it’s sort of fun to sing.

    Re Hall and Oates:
    I like their earlier stuff, but they are a group with some bad songs: “Adult Education”, “One on One”, “I Can’t Go For That” to name a few.

    “Adult Education” seems kinda dumb, especially lyrically, but musically I think it’s better than you would think. (I liked the version with Johnnyswim and Daryl Hall.) I like “One on One” and you’re killing me by calling “I Can’t Go For That” a bad song. I think that’s one of their best songs!

  13. Don

    … you’re killing me by calling “I Can’t Go For That” a bad song. I think that’s one of their best songs!

    Ooops. Haha. “I can’t go for that, no can do” just kills me.

  14. Reid

    That specific line? Isn’t that the line that Mitchell hates as well? Dang, you guys are thinking a like. Scary.

  15. Don

    That specific line? Isn’t that the line that Mitchell hates as well? Dang, you guys are thinking a like. Scary.

    Yes it could be we are thinking alike (Actually I think we have similar taste on a lot of stuff, except good football teams). Or that line could be clearly ridiculous to the majority. I think the later is more likely.

  16. Reid

    Or that line could be clearly ridiculous to the majority. I think the later is more likely.

    Huh. I must be totally clueless about this. It doesn’t seem ridiculous at all–or at least not something that stands out compared to pop song lyrics in general.

  17. Mitchell

    What about you?

    I’ve noticed trends as I’ve thought about this, but I can’t tell what’s cause and what’s effect.

    My favorite musicans — bands or solo artists — all play instruments, most of them very well. The one exception is Steve Taylor, who may play an instrument but I’ve never seen it. He does write all of his songs, though, and his excellent songwriting is the reason I’m such a fan.

    So, a person who just sings songs written by other people but doesn’t play instruments doesn’t interest me much, but I don’t know if I just don’t like those musicians as much or if there’s something about songwriting and instrument-playing that are requisite, you know?

    Also, the musicians I like best have great songs that weren’t hits, and they have solid albums. In the cases of my favorite musicians, I think they all have at least one or two great — not just solid — albums.

    And I know this isn’t a requirement, but the musicians I like best mostly take admirable positions on stuff, beyond their music. It doesn’t have to be something political (as with Bruce Cockburn) or religious (as with the Choir). It can be something simple, like don’t be a butthole. I grew up listening to top 40 radio and didn’t really know music could be more than just something fun to listen to. Up until eighth grade, my favorite bands were Styx (based on only three songs), Air Supply, and the Bee Gees.

    Then I started listening to the rock station and saw how much more it could be. It could be great instrument playing (Jimi and Clapton), it could be poetic lyrics (Springsteen), it could be songs written to highlight each musician’s contribution to an overall song while creating something together unlike anything else (Rush), or it could be a really good message (Dylan).

    There’s nothing wrong with just fun to listen to. But musicians who are only that don’t seem to be among my favorites.

  18. Reid

    Interesting comments.

    I’ve noticed trends as I’ve thought about this, but I can’t tell what’s cause and what’s effect.

    For clarity, are you think of the way extra-musical elements may affect the music itself or the way the music itself may cause you to like the extra-musical elements? It sounds like this is what you mean. If so, I understand where you’re coming from.

    I find this interesting because this idea really isn’t/wasn’t in the forefront of my mind when it comes thinking about my favorite musicians….I guess there is one exception, and that has to do with the reputation and status of the musician(s). Specifically, I’m thinking of whether the musicians are known to be sophisticated and hip, especially among people I respect. This definitely influenced who I chose as my favorite musicians. I think this is less of a factor now, but I can’t say it doesn’t influence my choices at all.

    In reading your post, did you basically think of all your favorite musicians, list attributes of them, and then identify the attributes that seemed to apply across the board? If so, it’s sort of an interesting approach, one that I didn’t (don’t) really use. I tend to think of music that I like, specifically the qualities of the music that I’m drawn to, at the same time I’m thinking about musicians that are my favorites; if that makes any sense.

    Then I started listening to the rock station and saw how much more it could be. It could be great instrument playing (Jimi and Clapton), it could be poetic lyrics (Springsteen), it could be songs written to highlight each musician’s contribution to an overall song while creating something together unlike anything else (Rush), or it could be a really good message (Dylan).

    That’s an interesting insight into your development of your musical tastes. (Don, if you’re reading this, do you have any similar type of description of how your preferences in music changed over time?)

    I don’t think I ever had the epiphany you describe. I just liked what I liked, and my tastes broaden because I was drawn to music that was considered sophisticated–like jazz and classical music. But jazz appealed to beyond just it’s social and cultural status, classical music to a lesser extent. I think I also started realizing that music–the instrumental part of music–appealed to me more than the lyrical side–sounds more than meaning.

    This is a cool discussion.

  19. Reid

    From Slate: The Awlfulness of Billy Joel, Explained. Man, this guy, Ron Rosenbaum, hates Billy Joel. Even if I end up thinking Billy Joel isn’t a great artist, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to conclude he’s a terrible artist–particularly a terrible pop musician. In fact, off the top of my head, I’d say he’ll at least end up a good one (at least). But a terrible pop/rock musician? That seems excessive to me. Rosenbaum, in the article, attempts to explain why that is:

    Therefore, I decided to make a serious effort to identify the consistent qualities across Joel’s “body of work” (it almost hurts to write that) that make it so meretricious, so fraudulent, so pitifully bad….

    …And I think I’ve done it! I think I’ve identified the qualities in B.J.’s work that distinguish his badness from other kinds of badness: It exhibits unearned contempt. Both a self-righteous contempt for others and the self-approbation and self-congratulation that is contempt’s backside, so to speak. Most frequently a contempt for the supposed phoniness or inauthenticity of other people as opposed to the rock-solid authenticity of our B.J.

    Rosenbaum’s opinion seems almost entirely based on Joel’s lyrics. As you guys know, I don’t put a lot of stock on the lyrics, particularly the meaning of the lyrics (with the possible exception of lyrics that are overly earnest). So I’m interested in your opinion, especially Mitchell’s, as lyrics seem really important to him. (I’m actually not entirely sure where Don stands on this.) Mitchell, I’m interested in hearing what you think of this person’s critique. At first blush, I’m inclined to disagree that Joel’s lyrics are filled with contempt.

    Edit: Rosenbaum is from Long Island, like Joel. Is he mad and envious because he wanted to be a musician, too? That’s completely speculative, but I don’t get why he’s so angry. (Maybe, Mitchell can help.) I get the feeling that someday someone from Hawai’i could write something similar about Bruno Mars.

  20. Mitchell

    For clarity, are you think of the way extra-musical elements may affect the music itself or the way the music itself may cause you to like the extra-musical elements? It sounds like this is what you mean. If so, I understand where you’re coming from.

    Yeah, I’m not sure if the formation of my musical preferences comes from extra-musical elements or if my musical preferences shaped my preference for extra-musical elements. Do I like poetic lyrics because I like Bruce Springsteen, or do I like Bruce Springsteen because I like poetic lyrics?

    Contempt seems like a weird thing to tag Billy Joel with. He’s got a certain venemous, angry young man quality about him, but rock and roll is largely about anger and rebellion anyway. Songs like “Great Suburban Showdown” and “The Entertainer” are certainly kind of bitter. It’s what makes them good. And there’s a note in “Just the Way You Are” that he says everyone plays wrong, and it ruins the song for him. It’s a bright, resolving note that Joel doesn’t play; he leaves the phrase unresolved and it sounds a lot better. So there’s some disdain for people who don’t get that aspect of the song.

    But whatever. Anyone that popular is going draw ire.

    More about favorites: if a musician is a singles-driven success, I’m generally unlikely to be drawn in. I kinda touched on this when I said I have to like a whole album. If musicians release albums, some of them are just releasing groups of songs they happened to complete at the same time. But others — the ones I like — are trying to create something, tying album art, lyrical content, and musical ideas together to make a whole thing. I can think of only one band I consider a favorite (the Eagles) whom I’ve never listened to (and liked) a whole album from. I’m just not as interested in pop music, I suppose, which is singles-oriented.

  21. Reid

    Do I like poetic lyrics because I like Bruce Springsteen, or do I like Bruce Springsteen because I like poetic lyrics?

    Not to be annoying, but I don’t think this is a good example–to me, poetic lyrics is not extra-musical (although I could see how some would view it this way). I wouldn’t really count the meaning of lyrics extra-musical as well. By extra-musical, I guess I mean something like outside of the art. If I like jazz because I like how it would make me appear to others–that would be an extra-musical factor. See what I mean?

    Contempt seems like a weird thing to tag Billy Joel with. He’s got a certain venemous, angry young man quality about him, but rock and roll is largely about anger and rebellion anyway.

    Rosenbaum seems to think the contempt is hollow, phony, even. As I mentioned, I wouldn’t use “contempt” to describe his lyrics or the attitude behind his lyrics. I can buy the description that he has an “angry young man” vibe, but I don’t really think it’s overly earnest. I could be wrong about that. To some degree, he does seem to want to take on serious subject matter, and even if the results aren’t profound, I don’t really find them offensive or laughable. (But maybe this goes back to my indifference to lyrics.)

    But whatever. Anyone that popular is going draw ire.

    Yeah, but I don’t really get the level of ire directed at Joel. I mean, I guess if you think he’s a phony, unoriginal, poseur–I guess that makes some sense. You could say something similar about Lenny Kravitz or Bruno Mars, I guess (although maybe they don’t deal with serious subjects?). Like them, I think Joel makes quality pop music. Joel might be the greatest creator of singable songs as well.

    But others — the ones I like — are trying to create something, tying album art, lyrical content, and musical ideas together to make a whole thing.

    I think I understand. You like music where all the parts come together to fit into a larger whole. I like this aspect, too, but I also like jazz a lot–and, in my view, there are many really good jazz musicians who don’t really assemble songs, into albums, in this way.

  22. Mitchell

    Not annoying. I chose that because it came easily, but the same thought applies to the other stuff. Conservationist. Activist. Missionary. That kind of thing.

  23. Reid

    Got it.

  24. Mitchell

    I forgot to answer the Rush question. Yes, I’ve been aware for decades that the critics tend to shun Rush. But it makes sense — you don’t like bands who sing overly serious lyrics. A lot of rock critics don’t like bands who play overly serious music. It’s show-offy, it’s pretentious, and even though the mainstream rock stations played their music, it’s the nerdy rock fans who are characterized as their fans. Look at who liked them among our classmates. You didn’t see any of us at a Janet Jackson concert.

    I used to work with a guy who was once in a moderately successful (by college radio standards) band on Beggars Banquet Records. When he found out I loved Rush, he was surprised and appalled. “You like the Police!” he said. “Rush is the anti-Police! How can you be a fan of both?”

    I get it.

  25. Reid

    A lot of rock critics don’t like bands who play overly serious music.

    Do critics also have the same degree of disdain for groups like Yes? What about Pink Floyd (although I’m not sure they’d qualify)? In general, do rock critics dislike/disdain prog rock? If that’s true, I had no idea this was the case. I assumed rock critics liked many of these groups.

    You didn’t see any of us at a Janet Jackson concert.

    But isn’t that more of a rock versus R&B sort of thing? I think what you’re saying would be more compelling if you replaced Janet with U2 or Def Leppard.

    When he found out I loved Rush, he was surprised and appalled. “You like the Police!” he said. “Rush is the anti-Police! How can you be a fan of both?”

    I don’t get this. In the Rush documentary I saw, I would have loved to have seen them feature critics or musicians who didn’t like Rush, giving their reasons why. The doc was made by fans, so that’s an unrealistic expectation, but I was just curious to hear from others. I can think of reasons, but I didn’t think critics or other musicians would feel this way. (Do you know of musicians who don’t like Rush?)

  26. Mitchell

    Do critics also have the same degree of disdain for groups like Yes?

    Yes. And progressive rock in general. There’s an all-over-the-place opinion piece called “It’s time for prog fans to forgive Rolling Stone magazine” that documents some of the history.

    RS gave Signals and Exit…Stage Left two stars each. In its review for Signals (the best Rush album ever), it said, “By and large, the songs on Signals are tuneful and unencumbered by the sort of gratuitous flash that made previous albums seem like clearinghouses for worn-out art-rock licks.” That’s pretty much what all the reviews sound like, although I think RS gave Moving Pictures four stars. I was unable to find that review online.

    You don’t get why my friend considers Rush the anti-Police? Or you don’t get why that’s hateable?

  27. Reid

    Yes. And progressive rock in general.

    Huh. But this isn’t true with rock musicians, is it? From the rock fans I knew, I never felt like there was a divide between prog rock and other forms of rock–specifically not a disdain for prog rock from rock fans.

    This is what surprise me about the comment from your friend who liked The Police. I didn’t take his comment to mean that Rush is “anti-Police” in terms of the music. I’m a bit surprised that a guy who really liked The Police would hate Rush. In general, if someone was really into rock–particularly if they were really into the music–I’d be surprised if they had a hatred for Rush or any other type of prog rock. I could see teenage fans of Motley Crue hating prog rock, I guess….Well, I guess I could see fans of Punk/Post-Punk/Grunge hating Prog Rock, too.

  28. Mitchell

    That’s right, and to fans of the Police, the Police are a punk band, or a very punky kind of new wave. Which makes Rush the anti-Police.

  29. Mitchell

    I think you missed my point about the Janet Jackson concerts. I wasn’t making a statement about the kinds of music; I was saying look specifically at who in our class were Rush fans. Bunch of nerds. The cool people went to Janet Jackson (and U2 woulda worked too). The nerds went to Rush.

  30. Reid

    That’s right, and to fans of the Police, the Police are a punk band, or a very punky kind of new wave. Which makes Rush the anti-Police.

    Which makes me think I haven’t listened to enough of their music or my sense of Punk is way off.

    I did miss your point, but I got it now.

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