Thursday, March 22, 2012

Billy Joel - "Greatest Hits Vol. III"

Released in 1997 four years after Billy Joel retired from Pop music. There had been a number of trials and tribulations between this Release and his previous hits collection released in 1985.

Between 1985 and '97 Joel had toured the USSR (1987), a great honor considering no American musician had been allowed to perform there during the cold war, which was documented on video and on album ("Kohuept"). He had two legal battles one with his manager who had stolen a large amount of Joel's money and his lawyer who had done similar things. He retired from music in 1993 and divorced wife of ten years Christie Brinkley in 1996. Also during this period he released only three new studio albums "The Bridge," "Storm Front" and "River of Dreams" all of which produced a number of hit singles and were big selling albums. Joel was also trying to recoup his stolen money so he toured extensively through the 1989-1994 era.

SO now we come to Greatest Hits III which by and large is a very well done hits compilation on par with his two previous comps. There are two big hits (which have actually been forgotten by most people and is possibly why they are not here) left off the disc, "Modern Woman" and "Big Man on Mulberry Street," but other than that this is a solid collection and a great document of the last part of Joel's recoding career.

The disc starts with two big hits that were left off his previous collection "An Innocent Man" and "Keeping the Faith" then flows into his late 80s and early 90s hits. These songs are very different from all his previous work as they are more slickly designed to be pop hits (the albums often contained a half hits and other half forgettable filler). But what is included here is excellent if slightly darker than his early work but great tracks one and all from "A Matter of Trust" to "River of Dreams" all his best latter work is here.

This compilation ends with three new recordings to entice big fans, all are covers however by Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Goffin and King respectively. All three are preformed in sleepy slow versions and only Joel's rendition of Dylan's "To Make you Feel My Love" sticks in the memory. But these three tracks are not on par with the rest of the hits and Joel seems to have halfheartedly thrown them on at the record company's request. Also as is par with Joel albums the booklet is just the song lyrics nothing more.

Other than that this is a great compilation especially since Billy Joel's albums from this period were often half hits and half forgettable this is a really necessary collection for fans and novices.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Billy Joel - "River of Dreams"

The first CD I ever owned and Billy Joel's last pop album of new material.  After his massive 1980s success Joel had been riding high on "An Innocent Man" and "The Bridge" when he found that his manager, since the beginning of his career, had embezzled nearly all of Joel's millions (Joel would eventually gave some of it back after a long legal battle).

For much of the late 80s and early 90s Joel had to tour excessively and also churn out hits singles to try and regain some money. Thus many of his post "Innocent Man" albums were comprised of a couple winning songs with a lot of filler that Joel seemed not to care about.

By 1993 Joel was fed up and told everyone when the album "River of Dreams" was released that it would be his last album and to date 2012 he has yet to release any new original material (he did compose a new classical album though in the late 1990s).

When I first heard this album in 1993 I thought it was spectacular and one of the best things I had ever heard but as I grew older and went through Joel's back catalogue I found it to be his most labored and produced album to date, also none of the joy he had in his music (that appears on "Innocent Man," "52nd Street," "Turnstiles" etc.) is largely absent though it does appear occasionally, particularly on the title track.

Since Joel planned this as his last album there is a heavy reflective quality in the lyrics and songs which gives a very somber tone. The last track is called "Famous Last Words" and ends the album and Joel's recording career with a chorus that sings "These are the last words I have to say."

While the songs sound good it is slightly sad that Joel chose to end his recording career with such a dark album and only four or five really great songs the rest sound good but are largely somber filler. On the up side the album was a smash hit with the excellent gospel infused title track becoming a giant hit that everyone was singing at the time. Other than that there is the sweet song to his daughter "Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)," "The Great Wall of China" (obviously directed at his thieving manager) and "All about Soul." Also there is excellent artwork by the then Mrs. Joel Christie Brinkley.

This is not his best album but it contains one of his greatest songs and it will always have a special place in my collection as the first album I ever owned.