Thursday, August 27, 2015

10 Underrated Billy Joel Songs


I worked with a guy who hated Billy Joel, all because of the song "Piano Man." While I can't say I blame him for loathing one of the most overplayed songs heard on mainstream oldies radio stations and in dive bars, I think it would be unfair to dislike every song in an artist's musical catalog because of one unwanted tune. I'm not exactly the biggest Billy Joel fan either, but there's no denying that the guy is a prolific songwriter. With Joel's U.S. tour still going strong through the end of the year, I felt like listing ten of his more underrated (in my opinion) songs. I have no idea how many of these are among his stage playlist, but they definitely don't seem to get played enough on radio stations. Have no fear: there's no "Uptown Girl" or "Just the Way You Are" listed here. Go Retro knows better than that!


"The Stranger" (1977)



It's a little sad to think about people hiding their true self in a relationship, but the takeaway for me from this song is, "Don't be afraid to try again. Everyone goes south every now and then." 

"Honesty" (1978)



As someone who values open communication and being honest, this song -- sort of in the same vein as "The Stranger" -- hits close to my heart at times and sadly, more often than I'd like it to as I've gotten older. I had forgotten about it until it popped up in the Jennifer Aniston film Cake. It's heartbreakingly sad but also heartbreakingly beautiful. 

"Allentown" (1982)



"Allentown" to me isn't just an homage to the failed steel industry of Bethlehem and Allentown, PA but is about Detroit, Baltimore, and any American city or town that was affected by the shuttering of a manufacturing company or industry, resulting in a loss of jobs. 

The "Allentown" music video is considered to be one of the gayest ever made, with guys taking showers and operating machinery. I actually think Joel could have gotten away with denying it is, until the guy in his tighty whities starts twirling a sparkler around. 

"Pressure" (1982)



I always thought of this song when I was crunching for an exam or completing a school report up against the clock. 

"The Longest Time" (1983)



One of my nieces had the album An Innocent Man and would play it non-stop while she and my sister were living with my parents and me for a while. She loved the song "Tell Her About It", but just about every track on the 1983 release is a winner, due to the doo-wop and Motown influences from Joel's childhood. I could easily pull several songs from it for an underrated list, but "The Longest Time" is one of my favorite Billy Joel songs -- it nails all of those topsy-turvy feelings of falling in love, punctuated by those perfect backing 1950s-esque harmonies. 

"An Innocent Man" (1983)



The title track from the same album...I just think it's a beautiful song and definitely underplayed. 

"You're Only Human (Second Wind)" (1985)



Wow -- I hadn't heard this one in literally decades, and I rediscovered it on a day when I kind of needed to hear it. Joel wrote it with young people in mind, particularly those dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide. He feared his original version was too depressing, so he rewrote it with a more upbeat sound and optimistic lyrics. All of the royalties from the song were donated to the National Committee for Suicide Prevention. 

"A Matter of Trust" (1986)



Billy Joel puts on an impromptu concert in a city neighborhood and everyone is digging it except for the cranky lady on the fire escape yelling "SHUDDAP!" 

"Modern Women" (1986)



Great little rocker used in the film Ruthless People featuring that forgotten required studio instrument of the '80s, the saxophone. 

"I Go To Extremes" (1989)



An apology to Joel's wife at the time, Christie Brinkley, for his sometimes erratic behavior. They got a divorce five years later. Guess she couldn't take the extremes any longer.

What underrated Billy Joel songs would be on your list?

2 comments:

  1. "Miami 2017" is the kind of song you only hear on AOR radio. Don't think it was ever released as a single, but you wanna talk underrated, that's a big one.

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  2. Oh man, I wish I'd seen this last month. Billy Joel is one of my favorite artists - part of that is the Long Island thing, part of that is that I was aged 6-12 during his absolute peak as a recording artist (so it was a big influence as I was getting into popular music). I own a lot of his albums on either CD or cassette (HA) and one of the few actual 45s I own is one of his songs.

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