-->
Music

Billy Joel: The Hits

After listening to The Hits, you’ll either get really depressed about American masculinity, or you’ll admire the naked hustle of our sixth-biggest recording artist.


Billy Joel

The Hits

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2010-11-09
UK Release Date: 2010-11-16
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Billy Joel’s songs remain inescapable, at least at the grocery store, so count your blessings. They could be a whole lot blander. The guy’s two basic modes are bathetic and jerky. He’s eager to please and ready to fight. Some songs, like “Piano Man”, mix up the bathos with the jerkiness. Some, like “Allentown”, avoid both completely. If you’re forced to choose between the two, Joel’s obnoxious songs are way more interesting than his sappy songs.

So give Columbia Records credit. When forced to choose 19 songs for Joel’s first career-spanning single-CD compilation, The Hits, they went with the big shots. At nearly every opportunity, this album goes for the sarcastic jugular, neglecting the melodic salves that often charted higher. (Although, this being Billy Joel, even the sarcastic melodies are pretty great.) Joel’s 1971 debut, Cold Spring Harbor, is represented not by the ballad “She’s Got a Way”, but by the obscure Bronx cheer “Everybody Loves You Now”. (Best line: “Keep your eyes ahead and don’t look down / And lock yourself inside your sacred wall”.)

Likewise, The Hits omits “She’s Always a Woman” and “Just the Way You Are” from Joel’s existential screed The Stranger, opting instead for the anti-Catholic “Only the Good Die Young” and the anti-”ack”-word “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”. (Of the hard-working Sgt. O’Leary, Anthony says, “If he can’t drive with a broken back / At least he can polish the fenders”. It’s a perfect line of spiteful illogic.) 52nd Street is here not for “Honesty”, but for “My Life” and “Big Shot”, home of the world-historic “Dom Perignon in your hand and the spoon up your nose”. According to this compilation, the Top 10 hits “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” and “An Innocent Man” don’t exist. That’s a world I wanna live in.

The Hits makes a convincing case for Joel as an ace stylistic shapeshifter, even adjusting his voice as he dabbles, the old Beatles trick. The throaty emoter of “New York State of Mind” is barely present in the Joe Jackson clone that whips out “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”. True, Joel’s genre exercises sometimes miss their mark. In “A Matter of Trust”, Joel’s “hard rock” band just kind of sits there, and his sweet doo-wop entry “The Longest Time” has always seemed marred by its anachronistic “I want you so bad”. But still -- how many singers would attempt both those songs, let alone write them? Try to reconcile the one-man choir of “Time” with the blowhard who bellows, “I know you’re an emotional girl!” in “A Matter of Trust”. You’ll either get really depressed about American masculinity, or you’ll admire the naked hustle of our sixth-biggest recording artist. When it comes to entertaining us, he’s shameless.

Of course, there are songs that don’t invite any shame at all. “Allentown” is sharp social commentary, with a melody as complex as its lyrical dilemmas and working-in-a-coalmine grunts borrowed from Lee Dorsey. “Pressure” is a war between Man and Synth, unresolved despite Joel’s anguished screams. And for all you yaks talkin’ smack like “Lists aren’t songs”, just TRY writing a catchy tune that rhymes “Pasternak” with “Kerouac”. If you grew up with “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, you know that hearing any of its historical name-drops is like turning over the Queen of Diamonds in The Manchurian Candidate. Only instead of assassinating people, you’re compelled to finish singing the song, regardless of whom you might annoy. In the most recent DSM-IV, this is called the Harry Truman Doris Day Trigger.

Look, in our digital world there’s little reason to buy somebody else’s compilation of Billy Joel songs, especially one that doesn’t include “It’s All About Soul” or the early-hip-hop fave “Stiletto”. Maybe you need a boss’s gift or something. Yet it’s refreshing that, on the eve of a highfalutin’ 40th-anniversary reissue campaign, Columbia chose to emphasize Joel’s impolite side.

8
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image