Thursday, February 16, 2012

Billy Joel - "Greatest Hits Volume I & II"

After the massive success of 1983's "An Innocent Man" album Billy Joel took a breather by releasing his first (and as the title suggests second) greatest hits compilation. Released in 1985 as a double album package (you couldn't buy just one volume they came as a set) does its job of being a very good example of Joel's career up to that point. By 1985 Joel had amassed a massive amount of hits as well as good songs and fan favorites that were not released as singles. So it is obvious that no double disc compilation could collect them all so it is refreshing that the songs present are so well chosen.

Volume 1 (also disc 1) covers the years 1973-1977. Ignoring his botched independent first album "Cold Spring Harbor" (which was released in 1971 at the wrong speed making all the songs too fast. Later Columbia records re-released the album with the problems fixed in 1983) and starting with "Piano Man" and running through his first smash hit songs from "The Stranger" album. Though not all of the songs on this volume were actually big hits they were his charting singles (save "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" which is a Joel and fan favorite that became very popular in his live shows) from the period and were popular on radio and eventually became very popular after Joel became a superstar.

Volume 2 (also disc 2) covers his superstar years 1978-1985 starting with songs from the album "52nd Street" through 1983's "An Innocent Man." All the songs here are smash hit singles and there is at least one song from all five albums he released during this period. The compilation ends with two new songs, only available on this album, both of which became hits as well. "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" is a fun catchy life affirming pop song and "The Night is Still Young" is a haunting powerhouse even though it is really just a great melody and chorus (it is still one of my favorite Joel songs).

While some may gripe that three BIG hits were left off, "Honesty," "Keeping the Faith" and "An Innocent Man," this double disc compilation does exactly what it sets out to do in being a excellent gathering of his biggest hits and a perfect example of why Billy Joel is one of the biggest superstars of the 1970s and 1980s.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Billy Joel - "An Innocent Man"

Billy Joel had been riding high as a music superstar since 1977's "The Stranger" and he had at least two hit singles every other year with a new hit album. Released just a year after the incredibly ambitious, critically praised, but low selling (by Joel standards) "The Nylon Curtain" this album "An Innocent Man" released in 1983 is one of Joel's biggest hits, second only to "The Stranger."
1983 was a year of mega albums, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and The Police's "Synchronicity" were just two other smash hits released that year. Billy Joel's "An Innocent Man" was no exception seven of the album's ten tracks were hit singles and this album bumped Joel into the 80s music superstar ranks along with Phil Collins and The Police.

Like his previous albums he finds his inspiration from other artists but Joel never ceases to make them his own and superproducer Phil Ramone makes sure everything is pure pop. And somehow even though everythign is decidedly retro it never ceases to have a 1980s feel and I mean that in a good way.
What is most interesting about this album is that it is a homage to the music of Joel's youth, focusing on styles of late 1950s and early 1960s Doo-Wop and R&B. "Easy Money" is a Wilson Pickett soul rocker, the title track is inspired by "Stand By Me," "The Longest Time" is straight 1950s acapella gold, "Tell her About it" is Motown pop, "Uptown Girl" is a Four Seasons popper and "Christie Lee" is pure Little Richard complete with Wooohooo's. "This Night" and "Leave a tender Moment Alone" are pure Joel love ballads and the album closing "Keeping the Faith" is a toe tapping gospel inspired number.
Aside from a great batch of songs, also helping the album sales were the retro style music videos that played on the then very popular MTV. The videos looked like mini musicals with "The Longest Time" having Joel and company dressed up like singing janitors at a high school and "Uptown Girl" featured him as a mechanic with a garage full of dancers and a supermodel as his customer. That supermodel was played by Christy Brinkley, at the time the most famous model in the world, and whom Joel was dating and would marry in 1985. Many of the songs on the album were inspired by her and proves the time honored theory (along with Eric Clapton's Layla album) that if you are a musician and you write a hit album about a woman she will fall in love with you.
On the down side once Joel and Brinkley divorced in 1994 he abandoned most of the songs from this album. This album also sadly marks an end to Joel's album excellence after a string of strong albums, this is his last to be fully formed. He would continue to write excellent hit songs but his albums would consist largely of filler after this. "An Innocent Man" is one of Billy Joel's finest albums and one of the pop classics from 1983, that has sadly become a little overlooked in his catalogue.