1978, Music

52nd Street (1978) by Billy Joel

Full disclosure: I do not like Billy Joel. This is the third record of his I’ve listened to in the last year or so and I have liked exactly zero of them. Moreover, I don’t think I get Billy Joel. At all. I listen to this record and I don’t understand how there are 4/5 and 8/10 reviews from when it was released. Did they listen to this record? I don’t understand.

Joel has a decent sense of melody but it seems to come and go. This record is not his strongest set of melodies; I’d say both records of his I’ve listened to this one had stronger earworms. The biggest hits here are songs that I’m surprised were hits, given how they lack really strong hooks. (“My Life” I have heard before and I still am kind of blown away it went to #3. It’s not that catchy. That’s not to say it wasn’t necessarily a better song than the songs that did better than it, but that, as near-chart toppers go, it’s not much of an earworm.)

I also don’t love Joel’s lyrics. I find them quite self-serving generally. Joel doesn’t so much confess as tell you why he’s right. I have never met the man but I suspect he is not very humble.

The real problem I have, though, is Joel’s arrangements. Joel is clearly a talented pianist – I have heard him play lots of different things – and he’s clearly got a strong sense of musicality. And yet his songs are always these toothless, soft things that won’t offend your mother. (This is particularly weird given Joel’s lyrics.) Worse, he recorded at a time when everyone in the music industry though this kind of sound was great, so they aided and abetted him. Occasionally hints of interesting music pop up here and there, but they are quickly replaced by safer sounds, because the records need to sell.

This is not a great set of songs but, on the whole, I’d say it’s actually better than The Stranger if only because the lows are far from as low as the two terrible songs on that record. (The highs aren’t as high either, but this record does not contain one of the worst hit songs of the 1970s, so I have to commend it for that.)


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