Mar 212016

Every once in a while some old song comes across the public airwaves and I’m perplexed by what anyone found appealing about it then or now. Recently Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” was playing over a store’s speakers, and I tried to imagine what it would feel like to experience any sort of enjoyment while listening to the song. I was stumped. There are so many things I hate about the song: the oompah rhythms; Joel’s hectoring, faux-tough guy tone; the sax hook; the time when he sings beeeeg shot; and so forth. It was like trying to imagine any kind of positive physical sensation while sticking hot pokers in my eyes.

Someone out there must have experienced a positive reaction to Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” at some time. Blame it on youth. Blame it on sneaking wine at the Bar Mitzvah. Blame it on whatever, but please explain what it feels like to have enjoyed sticking hot pokers in your eyes. Thank you.


  10 Responses to “Please Explain: The Appeal of Billy Joel’s “Big Shot””

  1. tonyola

    I agree that this is a song which I never need to hear again. But why was it popular? First of all, this song peaked at Billboard #14 in March 1979, which isn’t exactly a vintage time in music.

    Second, I attribute this song’s popularity to what I’ll call the “You’re So Vain” syndrome: Just who is this song about? Some say that Billy was putting down Bianca Jagger, though in interviews he never really comes clean with that supposition.

  2. misterioso

    Obviously you people are forgetting that several years after it charted, BJ singlehandedly ended the Cold War when he played this in Moscow. Or maybe you likedthe Soviet Union? Is that it?

  3. I wish I could explain — because I bought this. 52nd Street, which I plunked down paper route money for, sucked. Even a teenybopper could see this song was a poseur piece of crap.

    I see he’s doing more Madison Square Garden shows this year so folks can hear the same 20 or so songs. Suckers . . . just like me in 1979!

  4. BigSteve

    Isn’t Joel’s singing on this song the very definition of vocal mugging?

  5. Andyr called me yesterday to ask whether he should be put up on Rock Crimes charges for this one.

  6. misterioso

    The only thing more smugly annoying than the sound of his voice on this is seeing him in the video. Someone should slap around his band, too.

  7. BabaOLewie

    There’s a funny book by a guy named Joe Queenan called Red Lobster, White trash and the Blue Lagoon: Joe Queenan’s America, in which he goes on at length about Billy Joel being the Olive Garden of rock (and extolling Elvis Costello as his antithesis). The book in general is pretty funny but the part trashing Billy Joel is what stayed with me. I happen to think that some of his music is fine, that a few songs like Just the Way You Are are really pretty good, and that his place in our culture is not nearly as horrific as Queenan thinks. Big Shot is certainly in the significant portion of his music that is so bland and cloying — and falsely “rocking” — that it deserves the mocking. But I also can easily see why a 12 year old trying to find his or her way into some appreciation of popular music would enjoy the “catchiness” of the song. Some teenyboppers would see the song for the crap it is. But for many it takes some time to develop some sense of taste. And some never get there (or ever want to, really). Weirdly, they are playing BJ’s “Goodnight Saigon” right now on the really good former college radio station in Philly, WXPN, as part of some sort of Vietnam anniversary thing. Also a bad song, particularly in its weak attempt to take on a serious subject. But not unlistenable.

  8. Did you mean “on the formerly really good college radio station in Philly, WXPN”?

  9. BabaOLewie

    Not sure I was listening when it was actually good, geo, but I generally like the mix of music they play now, with the exception that they overplay their “cool” songs of the moment — Iggy Pop’s new song “Gardenia” being a prime example right now. It’s certainly not the atrocity that commercial stations like WMMR became. And other than the streaming station Radio Paradise, I can’t say I really know of any other “good” radio stations.

  10. I’ve not heard this before – I just took a listen. It’s a bit grim. What strikes me is there is one of two ways you can go with songs about arseholes – you can go down the route of pointing it out – like here – or say on the effortlessly greater You’re So Vain or you go down the route of it being about you (wether in character or not) – so like Big Time by Peter Gabriel (which certainly doesn’t hold back) or a personal favourite of mine – though I suspect not for many – Knocked it Off by B A Robertson – for which see here:

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