Wednesday, April 17, 2013

BEFORE WE ALL LIVED HERE IN FLORIDA:  A very nice Billy Joel career reevaluation by Grantland's Steven Hyden, in the wake of Joel's rather stellar 12.12.12 concert performance, in which Hyden argues that Joel's decision to stop recording new music in 1993 has only helped his reputation:
For two decades, Joel's discography has remained essentially unchanged; what's different is the context in which that music is now heard. When Billy Joel was Public Enemy No. 1 among rock critics, he suffered in comparison to Springsteen in part because the artists were likened on Springsteen's terms.... Twenty years ago, Springsteen and Joel represented opposing sides in a debate — "authenticity" vs. "artifice" — that formed the crux of nearly every conversation about popular music. Today, this dialogue has been marginalized to the point of virtual silence. Hating Billy Joel is no longer a meaningful act; at best, it suggests that you're the sort of person who's actively annoyed by things that most people tend to like or at least tolerate. But it doesn't register as an aesthetic choice in a larger cultural argument, because most people have long since checked out of the discussion. And this has helped how Billy Joel's music is perceived. Joel's strengths — his accessibility, his knack for romantic balladry, his understated versatility in adapting to different songwriting and production styles — are no longer held against him. As far as Billy Joel's legacy is concerned, staying put has been the next best thing to dying.
Related: Vulture's list of twenty great forgotten Billy Joel songs.


  1. It has been kind of interesting watching people come back to Joel.

  2. "you're the sort of person who's actively annoyed by things that most people tend to like or at least tolerate"

    I'll own that, often enough, and yet I don't really mind Billy Joel so long as I can avoid him when I'm not in the mood. There was a time when that was harder to do, of course.

  3. isaac_spaceman10:14 AM

    That's a weird position for a critic to take - "criticism of popular old things just makes the critic look bad." I'll go ahead and argue the obvious point that you can have a critical discussion about any piece of art, no matter how old or how popular. Despite how I sometimes seem, I am not actually "the sort of person who's actively annoyed by things that most people tend to like or at least tolerate." I watched and enjoyed Friends. I have an iPhone and an iPad. I shop at Banana Republic. I find Billy Joel to be usually bad, sometimes crossing into unredeemable schmaltz. It's not like that is an invalid aesthetic decision. It's like saying "oh, McMansions are the most popular style of house and their basic format hasn't changed for 20 years; therefore, criticism of them from an architectural standpoint is invalid and gratuitously contrarian.

  4. I grew up on Long Island, where loving Billy Joel was practically in the genes. It wasn't until I went to college in upstate New York that I learned that there was active Billy Joel hatred out there. Regardless, I have stuck to my Billy Joel fandom with a passion. My go-to CD when I'm in the car is "Songs in the Attic." I really like his first-person
    story songs (Goodnight Saigon; Allentown; Downeaster Alexa) and how he uses Beethoven for the chorus of “This Night.” My wedding song was "You're My Home." And I’m really glad that two of my favorites, “All for Leyna” and “Christie Lee,” made it onto the Vulture list. His songs are fun, catchy, and often beautiful and moving. He plays with different musical styles, from doo-wop to gospel. I never understood the hate.

  5. StvMg2:37 PM

    I was just about to mention that I thought You're My Home should have been included on the Vulture list.

  6. lisased12:50 PM

    I can highly recommend Alec Baldwin's "Here's the Thing" podcast interview with Joel. They break down songs and break out impressions -- highly entertaining.