Apr 082009

I envy one person in this photo...

What Else Do I Have To Say?

A week or two ago, several Townspeople owned up to having seen Billy Joel in concert. In the spirit of those courageous admissions, I ask you: what is the least objectionable Billy Joel song? Please factor in lyrics, intent, unwarranted adoption of tough-guy persona, overall delivery, potential drunken singalongs, and that smug face of his if there was a video that went with it.

For some of you, this may translate as “most favorite of Billy Joel’s many hit songs” and to you, I say I’ll see you in hell thank you for sharing; this is a friendly, supportive environment.


  60 Responses to “Least Objectionable Billy Joel Song or New Shortest Post Ever”

  1. Mr. Moderator

    This one’s easy for me: “Uptown Girl.” Try as I did when it came out, I’ve got no beef with it and even like it. I like the Four Seasons a lot, and this is a solid pastiche of their sound. There’s nothing like a Billy Joel song that doesn’t allow him room to sound like Billy Joel. The song also shares a lot of the same qualities that I find admirable in the dreaded Beach Boys number, “Kokomo.”

  2. Hank Fan

    I liked the way they used the song “Rosalinda’s Eyes” in Freaks and Geeks. A great show written about kids just my age from my home state of Michigan. The appeal was mostly nostalgic (for being a dumb kid in 19080), but compared to most Billy Joel pieces, its relative unobjectionable.

  3. Alexmagic and I discussed this topic a few weeks ago, and I believe I ultimately put forth “My Life.” Similar to hank fan, my appreciation of this song is completely, nostalgically related to a TV show: Bosom Buddies of course. In fact, if given the choice between the Joel original and the sound-alike version that ran over the credits, I’d go with the latter.

  4. BigSteve

    I nominate whatever that classical thing he wrote was called. Because I’m least likely to ever have to hear it.

  5. saturnismine

    “she’s always a woman” always worked for me.

    so does the torch song: “shes’ got a way.”

    they’re the only ones…

  6. “Don’t Ask Me Why.” I’m always a sucker for a bossa nova beat.

  7. hrrundivbakshi

    The one BJ number I actually *enjoy*: “Allentown.” No smug Philly/Pennsylvania insider know-it-all-ism please; the song is just a well-constructed slab of power pop, period.

    “No, they didn’t tell us what was reeeeeal… iron and coke, chromium steeeel…”

  8. hrrundivbakshi


    What can I say? Mod’s got his “Kokomo,” I’ve got “Allentown.”

  9. dbuskirk

    I remember buying THE STRANGER with my paper route money from the drug store as a thirteen year-old and just adoring every song. It was so urban, so grown-up, so …catchy (those darn Columbia pressings, I can still remember where it skipped on “Movin’ Out”). I similarly dug 52nd STREET (“Half A Mile Away” was about sneaking out of the house), skipped GLASS HOUSES (his punk reaction record) and was back on board his AN INNOCENT MAN (I had a weakness for “Leave A Tender Moment Alone” with Toots Thielemans).

    Those records were perfect for your awkward early teens, but they’re embarrassing to hear today, basically because Joel is as dorky as an awkward early teen.

    There’s something that keeps them from being dismissible trash though, perhaps his ear for a melody. I often find much of the Springsteen stuff from that era equally as annoying though, what’s worse, having a “wife and kid in Baltimore JACK!” or “You had to be a big shot, didn’t cha”?

  10. I’ll bite. You May Be Right, I May be Crazy is a guilty pleasure. I like the guitar riff, energetic drumming, and faux Jagger vocals he does towards the end.

  11. diskojoe

    I have to go dittos w/Mr. Mod and say “Uptown Girl”, the best 4 Seasons song the 4 Seasons never did.

  12. still rock and roll to me
    the stranger
    tell her about it
    uptown girl
    movin out
    wonder woman-with Atilla
    easy money-from the film of the same name
    you may be right, i may be crazy
    i love you just the way you are
    my life-tom hanks version

    i believe all the above songs are really good.

    the songs of his i hate however, are plentiful, and i hate them as much as any of you do

    some of these are:
    the piano man
    brender and eddie
    an innocent man
    captain jack
    big man on mulberry st
    we didnt start the fire

  13. I honestly don’t know. I can’t say that I HATE Billy Joel. I did see him with Sir Elton a few years back and enjoyed it well enough. Having said that, I own not one single Joel record. Some of that stuff just bores me a little, but I might explore The Stranger or 52nd Street just to do it. I think I saw the reissues at my local shop for about 7.99. I do like “My Life” the best as far as his songs go.

    On a side note, I recently read Jerry Schilling’s Elvis book. Jerry did some time with an up and coming Joel and was on tour with him when Big E died. He shared how supportive Joel was during this hard time for Jerry. I don’t know a whole lot about Billy Joel, but that did endear him to me a little. He just seemed like a decent guy. Then again, Jerry could have just been paying lip service to a huge star…


  14. 2000 Man

    I’m going with BigSteve and that classical thing. It doesn’t bother me because I’ve never heard it and I think I never will. He probably doesn’t sing on it, so it’s got that going for it, too. If I ever hear it, I’m sure I’ll have just one more Billy Hole song to object to.

  15. Only the Good Die Young.

    There I said it, although, strangely, I don’t feel any better having gotten that off my chest.

  16. underthefloat

    I have not heard the album “Piano Man” in years but looking over the songs I’d vote for “Your My Home”.

    dbuskirk–I like your take on Billy’s songs having a dorky teen years feel (not in a good way).

    Tangent: For dorky teen years done intentionally, with humor and in a good way–see Jilted John’s disc.

  17. Lotta dorky teen hangups ’round these parts. I’ll say “The Stranger” but there are a ton of other BJ songs that I could pick too. Dude’s an amazing songwriter and performer and his songs are totally unique. I used to not like him so much because my dad loved him, but I’m over that. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures…at least not in music! 🙂

  18. dbuskirk

    Here’s the Billy Joel show I’d like to be at, the one he did with Elton the night before he admitted himself into rehab. From the NYTimes Monday, March 18, 2002.

    I can’t imagine who messed up he must have been that the writer would have gone out on a limb to make the potentially liable charge….

    “When Mr. Joel emerged for his set, there was sympathy as well as adulation: the audience had been warned that he had a cold. But Mr. Joel seemed to have ingested something quite a bit stronger than cough syrup. He sang for a while, and then he gave a rambling speech in which he praised the audience, mocked the Liberty Bell (for being cracked) and listed sites from American military history. ”Corregidor!” he bellowed, as the applause started to ebb. ”Midway! Guadalcanal!”

    At times Mr. Joel’s condition made his songs more effective. When he slumped forward on his bench and slurred, ”Don’t, don’t, don’t try to save me,” he sounded truly hopeless. As he wailed he banged on his keys almost at random.

    ”Bennie and the Jets” had been planned as a piano duel, but this version was positively avant-garde, with Sir Elton hammering the chords and Mr. Joel producing a cacophonous soundscape. (When it was over, Sir Elton mouthed, ”Thank God.”)”

  19. Share the hate! Alex, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this post. I’ve been wanting to insult Billy Joel more thoroughly for years.

    But full disclosure: I too was just young enough to like THE STRANGER when it first came out. “Only The Good Die Young” and the slightly gothic tinge of “The Stranger” were songs I loved for about a year.

    Once I heard “Piano Man” though, which I believe was from an earlier album, yes?, I hated that guy forevermore.

  20. Growing up in the Philly burbs, Billy Joel is just always there. He’s omnipresent in a way even Springsteen isn’t. Maybe it’s because when I was in high school, Bruce was at his lowest ebb commercially, but it seems like Joel filled that gap for a lot of people.

    It took me a while to realize how weird this was. I think it helped make me a proud music snob. I’m all for the unifying power of music, but how could you listen to that damn Greatest Hits double album on your own, and then go to parties and listen to it yet again? If I’m going to listen to something borderline ad nauseum, it’s because I’m one of the only persons I know who listens to it. One of the reasons I listened to a lot of Pulp or Elvis Costello in college was because they provided me with sounds that I could not get anywhere else.

  21. BigSteve

    I think ‘the entertainer’ will back me up on this, if he’s around, but if you ever find yourself in a piano bar, and you want to guy at the piano to hate you, request Piano Man.

  22. dbuskirk

    Joel gets overlooked as a mimic. Besides the Springsteen thing, I always thought “Piano Man” was Joel doing Harry Chapin, even back then.

  23. mockcarr

    Eh, I guess Sleeping With The Television On.

  24. Growing up in the Philly burbs, Billy Joel is just always there. He’s omnipresent in a way even Springsteen isn’t.

    Amen to that, and it’s not just that area. I have never myself owned or even put on a Billy Joel album or single in my life, but last year I saw him play for three hours and heard exactly two songs I didn’t know. THAT’s airplay.

    (Townsman hrrundi came up for a visit and we rendezvoused at the show, but traffic delayed him – that’s his story, anyway – and limited him to just the encores. Then two nights later we saw Van Halen! Quelle weekend!)

    Anyway, to answer the question, “Allentown” and/or “Uptown Girl,” the latter if you press me to just pick one.

  25. alexmagic

    Karma in action: I went out to get lunch at one of those deli/grocery store places in Center City today and “My Life” was playing on the radio.

    Re: “Uptown Girl”, I was always struck by the line “they’ll say I’m not so tough, just because, I’m in love with an Uptown Girl.” Oh, I don’t know, guy. I’m thinking being in love with an uptown girl isn’t going to crack the top ten reasons they’ll say you’re not so tough.

    Re: “The Stranger” – I’m actually OK with that “don’t be afraid blah blah blah blah, you should know blah blah” part (I don’t remember the lyrics there; this may be why I’m OK with that part), but the whole whistling intro and outro and the fact that it breaks the five minute mark are dealbreakers. This would probably make my top two (which is to say, only two) least objectionable Billy Joel songs list, if I had to choose, I guess.

    Oats brought up the non-Joel version of “My Life” from Bosom Buddies, and Kilroy says it’s Tom Hanks singing. Wikipedia also claims this, but with no attribution. Is this actually true? I’d like to be able to definitively say that Tom Hanks is a better singer than Billy Joel.

    Great 48 proposes “Don’t Ask Me Why”, which was my eventual, grudging choice after several drinks when this first came up. It’s relatively short and painless, and I distinctly remember once being in a supermarket when that started playing and thinking “I’m not sure I know what the difference between genoa and hard salami is, I really hope this guy doesn’t ask me which one I want.” But then seconds later, I remember thinking “Do I actually not hate this song? I think maybe I don’t! Maybe.”

    I went with the genoa, by the way. Sounded classier.

  26. I had the “Chu Bops” version of Glass Houses. That was some sweet gum.

  27. pudman13

    I find the guy fascinating, and have made the effort to check out evey one of the pre-fame LPs. While there’s not one I would stand up for from start to finish, nor one without a few moments that make me cringe, I like a lot of what’s on them, and to be honest, I also like a lot of the hits. His lyricism is missing a certain kind of subtlety that appeals to me, but in some cases (“Captain Jack,” “The Entertainer,” “Piano Man,” “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”) I think it works gloriously. I won’t try to claim that my love of “Captain Jack” is much more than a guilty pleasure (and some oddly placed nostalgia), but I definitely am willing to stand up for “Piano Man” as a really clever short story kind of song, with memorable characters, a workable metaphor and plenty of melody. I’m a fan of the early 70s singer/songwriter story song, and I’m not ashamed to stand up for “Cat’s In The Cradle,” Year of The Cat,” or a dozen more like them.

    As to “least objectionable,” in the sense of something that people who, unlike me, can’t find it in them to sometimes appreciate his kind of excess, wouldn’t it be one of his lighter love songs, something like “You’re My Home?”

  28. pudman13

    Let me also point out that my appreciation for Billy Joel has increased dramatically as I’ve gotten older and stopped considering myself hip because I like music that nobody else does (and since the AM-popular music since his heyday has gotten progressively less appealing.) I’ve learned to appreciate the Carpenters and ELO too.

  29. This “Tom Hanks singing the theme” thing pops up in a couple places on the internet. You can check out the opening credits on YouTube; there’s nothing in that guy’s vocal tone that screams “Tom Hanks” to me. Did he ever sing in a film, or maybe an SNL sketch?

    Sadly, snopes.com does not weigh in on this rumor.

  30. saturnismine

    on the subject of billy joel as a mimic, i chose “she’s always a woman” mainly because it feels like a beatles song to me (right down to the ‘yesterday’-ish “mmm” stuff between each verse).

    in fact, if it was written by anyone, EVEN BILLY FREAKING JOEL, i’d like that song. in other words, it’s a billy joel song that doesn’t feel like a billy joel song. therefore, it’s his least objectionable to me.

  31. alexmagic

    there’s nothing in that guy’s vocal tone that screams “Tom Hanks” to me. Did he ever sing in a film, or maybe an SNL sketch?

    I only know Hanks’ hip-hop work.

  32. I’m a huge fan, so I will go the other way

    These songs could go away and never come back

    1. We Didn’t Start The fire (although I may name my band “Space Monkey Mafia”)
    2. That’s Not Her Style / All About soul / Uptown Girl / Christy Lee — (I’ll write my own songs about Christy Brinkley thank you)
    3. Just The Way You Are
    4. James
    6. All You Wanna Do Is Dance
    7. Only Human (Second Wind)

    BEST? The Songs In The Attic live LP from 1981 — every song is great. Also Laura from Nylon Curtain and All For Leyna from Glass Houses.

  33. BigSteve

    I am amazed and appalled by the Joelophilia expressed here. It just goes to show that it’s really hard to badmouth anyone around these parts without someone stepping up to defend them.

    Maybe we should have a thread where we collectively try to come up with someone, anyone, that we can all agree to hate unequivocally.

  34. It took me a while to find a song that’s free of cheesy glee-club harmonies, yowza cornball theatrics, and lyrical inanities:

    Still rock n’ roll to me

  35. Excellent idea, BigSteve.

    I’ll suggest John Cougar Mellencamp

  36. BigSteve – maybe “Bread”?

    I would love to see a band do a photo shoot that would be the “interior view” of the Glass Houses cover. That is, maybe the band is seated on a mod couch, in front of a huge plate glass window. Outside is a Billy Joel lookalike, wearing a leather jacket, about to throw a rock through the window.

  37. Big Steve says: “Maybe we should have a thread where we collectively try to come up with someone, anyone, that we can all agree to hate unequivocally.”

    I say:
    We did a while back. The band was Styx. I was accused a ruining a perfectly good pile-on by saying that if I had a gun to my head, I might be able to make it all the way through Blue Collar Man.

    I, too, am amazed by the outpouring of love for Billy Joel.

    Pudman, nice try, but my dislike of Billy Joel has nothing to do wanting to be hip or caring about what others think. Also, most of the time when I’m listening to music, it’s on my iPod, so no one can hear what I’m listening to (even if it’s Gypsies Tramps and Thieves 5 or 6 times in a row, as has occasionally happened in the past.)

    I am starting to appreciate the Year of the Cat due to the guitar bit that’s panned to the right side of the mix.

    Cat’s in the Cradle? Yikes!

  38. pudman13

    cdm, my point isn’t that people choose not to “like” something because it isn’t hip, but moreso that when I was spending a lot of time seeking out obscurities, mainstream stuff kind of went in one ear and out the other. It’s not so much “trying to be hip” as it is just not paying attention to certain things.

  39. I see. Sort of revisiting stuff that you were previously taking for granted?

    If so, that concept makes sense to me (just not the Billy Joel part of it).

  40. BigSteve

    Are you sure no one defended Styx? I definitely don’t hate Mellencamp, and I’m pretty sure Bread has already gotten a critical upgrade.

  41. I can’t find the thread but I think Fritz started it as a healing exercise in which we would grow closer together by finding something we could hate on in common.

    While I certainly wasn’t defending Styx, my level disgust for them was apparently insufficient and I was deemed to be a spoil sport by the unruly mob.

  42. I think I love/hate Styx

    I like Mellencamp as much as Billy Joel (and maybe for the same reasons)..hmmm (grew up listening to them might be part of it)

    Eagles are easier to Hate…Boston? Pearl Jam, Doobie Brothers

  43. if anyone finds out it’s NOT Tom Hanks, please don’t post it…too painful.

    I like Hurt’s so Good, so Mellencamp’s out.

    I like Too Much Time on My Hands, so Styx is out.

    also, i really like Don’t Ask Me Why, and really hate Down Easter Alexa.

    also, I nominate Peter Scolari and Jazzy Jeff for membership in T.A.G.S-The Art Garfunkel Society.

    and finally, I propose Kenny Loggins as Rock Town Hall Scapegoate.

  44. alexmagic

    In the dual interests of healing and science that are always at the heart of any RTH undertaking, I’d be curious to hear from the Joel fans on a specific subject.

    What was it like when he put out “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, and it was on the radio and the video was on TV constantly? How did you react to that, how does something like that make you feel? I’m assuming it had to be traumatic, but I can’t really wrap my head around what that must have been like. The best comparison I’ve been able to come up with would be what it must have been like to grow up a huge OJ Simpson fan – the kind with a lot of memorabilia and all the Naked Guns on laserdisc – when the whole murder trial went down.

    In both cases, a beloved idol suddenly seems to commit an unspeakable act, it’s on TV all the time and in the end, a nation is shocked when they never have to pay the price for their alleged crimes. Only Billy Joel was caught on tape, and his transgression was like, a hundred times worse.

  45. dbuskirk

    I worked engineering a children’s call-in talk show where they would vote on top song of the day. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” topped the challengers for what seemed like an eternity.

    And we all suspected the children of thalidomide were under-represented, what with their difficulty dialing…

    I guess this song was Billy’s nod to the popularization of rap. I would love to have been there while he wrote this one, it is something special.

  46. Mr. Moderator

    I thought “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was Joel’s take on REM, and I thought it served all you REM fans right!

    Alexmagic, “the dual interests of science and healing” may have to be worked into our next motto/t-shirt.

  47. for what seemed like an eternity.

    I’ve been commenting on student creative writing rough drafts all day, so excuse me. But I do believe this phrase, and its always slight variations (“hours” etc) is the single most common cliche in writing narrative–it may be more common than references to dancing in rock and roll. Seriously. Notice the supposedly powerful suspense it implies.

    No criticism of the source of the comment, just a fact.

    Been a long day around here…

  48. dbuskirk

    MWall, it seems like eons since you’ve pulled out your red pen on me.

    I don’t care what you say any more, this is MY LIFE. Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.

  49. alexmagic

    I’m loving buskirk’s idea of “We Didn’t Start The Fire” being Joel’s response to rap. I can just picture him sitting down at his Casio and saying “These kids are loving this rap music, wait til’ they hear what ol’ BJ can do! Gonna knock their socks off!” And then emerging from a locked room a few hours later, confused and disheveled, with that song to show for his effort.

    Reminds me of when Robert Duvall made a movie where he played James Earl Jones’ half-brother, and gave an interview where he said that he hoped the movie would help with “the whole race thing.”

    Now I really wish there was a Billy Joel song where he did some human beatboxing. That would improve “River of Dreams”, wouldn’t it?

  50. This thread gives yet another example of what makes RTH a cut above the competition. Where else will you find a blog with a post making light of the murder of two people, followed up by a post making fun of thalidomide children?

    Mr. Mod, there’s gotta be a monthly award lurking here somewhere…

  51. I remember seeing a Billy Joel interview when “Fire” came out. It was inspired by rap. In fact, it started out as one, he said. And then he rapped a little bit of the lyrics. And then, even though I was only 12, I died a little inside.

  52. alexmagic

    Al, if it helps at all, I honestly did wonder if I’d gone too far after making the OJ/BJ comparison immediately after I submitted that comment.

    After a night of uneasy sleep mulling it over, I’ve decided that, yeah, I maybe crossed the line there. With that it mind, I’d like to take a moment here to apologize to The Juice for comparing him to “We Didn’t Start The Fire”-era Billy Joel.

  53. A couple of things:

    1. We Didn’t Start the Fire Seemed to me like he was trying to write his own version of It’s The End Of The World As We Know It. Since Mr. Buskirk first brought up the idea of Billy Joel as a mimic, I wonder why he didn’t see this as an obvious knock off.

    2. Can we please agree to stop referring to Billy Joel as “BJ”? Those initials have a very good connotation in my mind and I don’t want to be reminded of one thing that I despise whenever I’m thinking about another thing that I hold so dear to my heart.

  54. dbuskirk

    Maybe we should look at “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” as REM tentative outreach to the world of hip-hop, until the gathered the wisdom to master the form with KRS-1 on “Radio Song”, hip-hop’s definitive moment.

  55. hrrundivbakshi


    Which songs is a bigger corn-studded steamer: Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” or REM’s “Radio Song,” featuring KRS One, the 80s answer to Wyclef Jean?

  56. did REM really come out first? my memory has it the other way around, maybe 84 for joel. i remember when it was out, though, and it played more as a document for the ascendant yuppie/boomer culture. there were criticisms about responsibility and pithiness, but nothing like the sense we all have of it now.

    what’s that one joel song that’s all paranoid? “pressure,” isn’t it? i like(d) that one. “she’s got a way” is a guilty pleasure. also “the longest time,” but both of these lighthearted affairs have served more as gateways to styles than as gateways to billy joel.

  57. okay, i’m way off. 87 for REM, 89 for joel.

  58. jeangray

    I’m going to have to vote for it being an R.E.M. “End of the World” ripoff. Mr. Joel heard that song, and decided to write his own version. That was my first thought when I heard that song. I don’ hear any Hip/Hop in that song. I don’ like that song.

    One Billy song I do like is “Sometimes a Fantasy.” It’s Billy does the Cars.

    Wow! I never truely realized just how much of a mimic he was before reading this thread.

  59. saturnismine

    i always thought of REM’s “End of the World” song as a take on Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, not hip hop.

  60. i always thought of end of the world & we didn’t start the fire as ripoffs of life is a rock (but the radio rolled me).


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