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.
The recent rifts over Billy Joel had me yearning for something that we all could agree on. I stumbled across this series of videos from an episode of Eight Days A Week, a British music talk show. Not only did it offer a well-spoken and coifed Green Gartside, a grey but tactful Nick Lowe, and rock critic/pseudo groupie Janice Long, but the discussion covered such a wide assortment of musicians circa 1984 that it seemed that we all could find something to love.
In part 1, we have the conundrum of a whether a member of Culture Club‘s solo attempt is any good. We move along to some footage of The Clash at Shea Stadium and discussion of the jettison of Mick Jones.
In part 2, we have fun the Liverpudlian way, with Echo and the Bunnymen.
And in part 3, we hear about Pogue Mahone and other pub bands of the time.
Along the way, we are also treated to references to Neil Diamond, Elvis Costello, The Moody Blues, and the latest band to jump the pond, REM.
Takiff’s admission follows in the wake of the super-deluxe reissue of Joel’s Piano Man, featuring a bonus legendary and oft-bootlegged 1972 WMMR live-in-studio broadcast. For many area listeners this historic broadcast gave first airing to songs from Piano Man about a year and a half prior to the album’s 1973 breakthrough release date. A former WMMR DJ, Takiff describes the rush of excitement that swept the Delaware Valley on the night of this broadcast and lasted long into the ’70s, when a Philadelphia teens like a young Mr. Moderator first heard a rebroadcast of Joel’s intimate performance. Takiff describes a “special song”:
That special song was “Captain Jack,” a pungent, pitiless appraisal of wasted suburban youth. As it had at the Point, the tune killed during the Sigma radio concert. “Captain Jack” dares to murmur the word “masturbate,” a sexy shocker I’d never heard uttered in a song before. And then there’s that rousing chorus, “Captain Jack will get you high tonight.”
By the early 1980s, hip Philadelphians would feel a growing sense of shame over their role in feuling the artist’s skyrocketing journey through MOR radio. “We clutched ever so tightly to our similar role in kick-starting the career of Springsteen,” says Joey Sweeney, local tastemaker and editor/founder of the popular, hip lifestyle blog Philebrity. “The Boss maintained a bit of cool cred, whether he was getting all serious with Nebraska, dancing in the dark, or even playing with that thick-thighed guitarist from Lone Justice.”
“I was down with Piano Man and even Streetlight Serenade,” says Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, “but I couldn’t relate to ‘New York State of Mind,’ from Turnstiles. I mean, what kind of ‘Thank you’ was that to the city that first took him to her bosom?”
The Mayor promised to offer a formal apology from the City of Philadelphia for its role in Joel’s continuing pop music presence once today’s Election Day activities have settled down. “Listen,” Mayor Nutter continued, “I’m willing to let bygones be bygones, but I’d rather think of Philadelphia in the early ’70s as the town that first embraced politically minded artists like Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne.”
I know some of you will pick up what I’m about to lay down here: Huey Lewis didn’t suck. In fact, I’d say he was, on the whole, quite good for American popular music, in the same savior-of-AM-radio kind of way that Hall & Oates were. Not sure his hits were quite on the same level, but — come on — does “Heart & Soul” suck? How about “This Is It”? Of course they don’t suck!
In fact, I’d go further to say that HL&tN had a run of pretty darn good singles, many of which did a good job breathing life — perhaps not stylistically “new” life, but real life — into some pretty moldy American music forms. Dude played songs like “This Is It” straight — and that’s why the song doesn’t suck. Compare to “Uptown Girl,” a similar kind of retro-vibed track by Billy Joel. In Joel’s hands, this kind of faux-’50s number really grates. But when Huey gets his hands on the stuff, he doesn’t play-act; he just sings.
I dunno, I guess I’ve entered a phase where some formerly overplayed pop music is starting to come around for me. I’ve come to realize that the reasons why we like songs eventually surpass the reasons why we grew sick of them — and Huey Lewis made some of that kind of music. I’m still not sure I’m ready to download Sports, or whatever that ’80s Everyman album of his was called — but I was sure happy to hear “Heart & Soul” coming through the speakers at the cheese store today.
Here’s to the simple pleasures of life. Here’s to Huey Lewis.