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Billy Joel's fourth album, released in 1976. Billy decides to stop being a sensitive California songwriter, and returns to his roots as a sensitive yet obnoxious New Yorker. The cover photo, shot in the subway, and the opening track, Say Goodbye to Hollywood, serve notice that Billy's wannabe-Jackson Browne days are over.
The record, like most of his others, is a little schizophrenic in the way it balances Billy's schmaltzy balladeering pretensions with his rock-credibility pretensions. Nevertheless, it's a pleasant experience, with only two weak tracks out of eight, and most of his best rock songs collected in one place.
It opens with the aforementioned Say Goodbye to Hollywood. The drumline, courtesy of the excellent Liberty DeVitto, shamelessly rips off the Ronettes' Be My Baby, but this has a much grittier edge than his later oldies ripoff project, An Innocent Man. The second track is the ballad Summer, Highland Falls, which is pretentious yet endearing. The lyrics prove that Billy has, indeed, read the dictionary, and possibly a thesaurus as well: "We are forced to recognize our inhumanities / Our reason co-exists with our insanity."
I think it's a love song, but it may be his audition for post-structural philosophy. Skip the next track. It's purely awful. Billy Joel, steel drums, and a fake reggae accent. Stick a fork in it.
By the way, it's called All You Wanna Do Is Dance, just so you know to avoid it. Don Henley wrote a different song with a similar title, and no reggae, and it sucked similarly.
Track #4 is the album's inescapable standard, New York State of Mind. This is the original, and much superior, recording. It's one of Billy's all-time bests, and shows off his piano playing quite nicely-- as does much of this record; he never played this much piano on an album again. Of course, it's a little sentimental. Most people's conception of New York is a little closer to Shattered by the Rolling Stones....
Side two is the "rock" side, though it opens with James, a forgettable ballad, played on electric piano-- mistake-- that might be too sappy and inconsequential for even a dentist's office. Do not fear. Billy has saved the best for last.
The concluding three-song suite is a winner by anyone's standards. It opens with Angry Young Man, which combines one of Billy's best lyrics with a stunning rock instrumental called Prelude that bookends it. Kind of like he heard Elton John's Funeral for a Friend and thought he'd do old Elty one better. Then the ballad I've Loved These Days, which is sort of his ode to the excess and ennui of the 1970's, and proves you can say "cocaine" in a song, and if it sounds schmaltzy enough, no one will notice.
The record closes with the apocalyptic fantasy Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway). This one has taken on sort of a prophetic cast, given recent events, and it's become a bit harder to listen to as a result. The version here is also a little sluggish compared to the live take on Songs in the Attic, but the piano playing is better. And Billy does sneak in some sarcastic humor-- after the destruction of New York, the Mafia take over Mexico! Well, I guess they had to go somewhere...
This record is an excellent pickup for the novice or casual fan of Mr. Joel, and anyone who dismisses him as a lightweight creator of fluff might think twice after hearing it.
1. Say Goodbye to Hollywood
2. Summer, Highland Falls
3. All You Wanna Do is Dance
4. New York State of Mind
6. Prelude / Angry Young Man
7. I've Loved These Days
8. Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)