This is hardly a bold opinion to toss out there, but Billy Joel’s a hack. He threw stylistic poo at the wall for a while with the Hassles and Attila, then finally hit with his solo balladeer persona, so he went and rode that for as long as he could. Nothing necessarily wrong there, fellow strivers, just saying we might as well be frank about the fact that most of his career consisted of sub-Wings rips or, to be more generous, sub-versions of McCartney’s neverending string of Big Piano Songs (“Lady Madonna,” “Hey Jude,” “Let it Be,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” etc.). Again: In spite of the obvious hackery, nothing particularly awful about that, I reckon. So it’s with some appreciable amount of non-backhandedness that I praise “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” for breaking out of that mold by instead ripping off Elvis Costello for a snappy, relatively hard-edged, nasty-voiced popper that digs its heels in against new-wave fashion while, uh, sounding really new-wavey. And whatever the obvious self-contradictions present, it’s a fun song! Bitter, but FUN! Outta touch, but FUN! FUN, I say! Fuh-fuh-FUN! And FUN is what we need in these weird times, yeh? YEH!
Then there’s “Through the Long Night” on the B-side, where BillyBoy reverts to form, the track sounding as it does shockingly like something off of London Town, both musically and vocally. And yet I actually have to give the guy credit for again approximating tasteful, hyper-melodic McCartneyisms better than anyone else in the worldiverse…it is a REAL SKILL to be able to ape that rather special form so successfully. Begrudgingly I do applaud you, William Joel!
Also, I might as well mention that, for reasons we don’t need to get into, Billy Joel used to call my apartment on an irregular basis when I was a senior in college (wasn’t looking to talk to me, sadly). Think I’m japing? Nope. Strange but true, as they say.