In defense of Billy Joel

Both his greatest and worst hits belong to everyone now, as iconic and critic-proof as the Eiffel Tower, and there's a good chance, anyway, that your reason for dismissing Billy Joel is somebody's favorite song. "Uptown Girl" was such a plain and wonderful bit of acting--nearly surpassing its Four Seasons inspiration--that I can't believe critics took it as a character flaw made manifest. Tell it to the exultant lesbian who won an otherwise all-male drag-queen contest a few years ago in Eau Claire by lip-synching the '83 tune in greaser gear. Writer Chuck Klosterman has more recently attempted to liberate Joel from contemporary standards of cool, but I seem to remember the piano player's '70s albums being wrapped up in my own Midwestern childhood image of New York City, the state of mind quoted by Nas in which couples fight because that's romance, and where giving attitude is merely sociable. Smeared as defensive at the time, "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" was a fighter's homage to the new wave, complete with ska bridge, while "Allentown" was more sympathetic and place-specific than "Pink Houses," never mind its Broadway-style video. The entire back catalog, in fact, seems gentler in retrospect, with even the don't-blame-the-boomers rap of "We Didn't Start the Fire" sounding almost reasonable now that another generation is fucking things up. As a melodicist, Joel towers above us, and now he's back-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack (playing the Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday). Hope he sticks around for a while.

[Note: Edited later to reflect the fact that I fell in love with the Four Seasons after Rhino issued that boxed set in '07.]

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