The Worst Pop Singer Ever
Why, exactly, is Billy Joel so bad?
By Ron Rosenbaum
Saw this on the Slate a week or so ago. good analysis, and something I've been asking myself my whole life. Ron Rossenbaum does a song by song breakdown from a greatest hits record as well. Below an excerpt; click on title of this post for entire story.sj
...I'm reluctant to pick on Billy Joel. He's been subject to withering contempt from hipster types for so long that it no longer seems worth the time. Still, the mystery persists: How can he be so bad and yet so popular for so long? He's still there. You can't defend yourself with anti-B.J. shields around your brain. He still takes up the space, takes up A&R advances that would otherwise support a score of unrecognized but genuinely talented artists, singers, and songwriters, with his loathsomely insipid simulacrum of rock.
..there's always the chance we'll see another of those "career re-evaluation" essays that places like the New York Times Sunday "Arts & Leisure" section are fond of running about the Barry Manilows of the world. The kind of piece in which we'd discover that Billy's actually "gritty," "unfairly marginalized" by hipsters; that his work is profoundly expressive of late-20th-century alienation ("Captain Jack"); that his hackneyed, misogynist hymns to love are actually filled with sophisticated erotic angst; that his "distillations of disillusion," to use the patois of such pieces, over the artist's role ("Piano Man," "The Entertainer," "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," etc.) are in fact "preternaturally self-conscious," not just shallow, Holden Caulfield-esque denunciations of "phonies," but mentionable in the same breath as works by great artists.
...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 so, risking humiliation and embarrassment, I ventured to the Barnes & Noble music section and bought a four-disc set of B.J.'s "Greatest Hits," one of which was a full disc of his musings about art and music. I must admit that I also bought a copy of an album I already had—Return of the Grievous Angel, covers of Gram Parsons songs by the likes of the Cowboy Junkies and Gillian Welch, whose "Hickory Wind" is just ravishing—so the cashier might think the B.J. box was merely a gift, maybe for someone with no musical taste. Yes, reader. I couldn't bear the sneer, even for your benefit.
...let's go through the "greatest hits" chronologically and see how this "contempt thesis" works out.
First let's take "Piano Man." You can hear Joel's contempt, both for the losers at the bar he's left behind in his stellar schlock stardom and for the "entertainer-loser" (the proto-B.J.) who plays for them. Even the self-contempt he imputes to the "piano man" rings false.
"Captain Jack": Loser dresses up in poseur clothes and...
(click on title of this post for the breakdown)
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