Sometimes a bad song introduces the world to a great artist and a banner album. Not often, but it happens. As an example Boomers, let’s go back to 1977. Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” is all over the radio. It’s a sappy love song, and it made him a superstar.
In the early 1970’s Joel had some moderate hits with the songs “Piano Man” and the “The Entertainer.” Some FM stations played “Captain Jack,” but that song had a not-so-family-friendly 10 letter word. Joel wasn’t singing everyday love songs, he was telling stories; his songs were like chapters in a book. If he was known at all it was as a minor artist with minor hits.
And then those lovey-dovey lyrics, that “don’t go changin’ to try to please me” croon, hit the airwaves. It was cringeworthy and so different from the Billy Joel I had heard before. But everyone else loved it (it even won a Grammy) and it led people to discover one of my favorite albums, The Stranger. It’s on that LP that the story man found his groove.
“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and “Anthony’s Song.” Mini-epics that told stories of lives we could all relate to. Springsteenian, but ironic and with a twinge of humor. Who didn’t know a couple like Brenda and Eddie, the prom king and queen whose life peaked in high school? Or someone like poor old Anthony, working too hard for the Cadillac and life of his dreams? And there was “Vienna,” which I took as a shout out to my mother’s birthplace, Vienna, Austria.
Nothing rocked more than “Only the Good Die Young,” teenage Billy’s plea to a virginal girlfriend. Unlike young Mr. Joel, in my one experience dating a Catholic schoolgirl it was she who proved to be the more adventurous partner. Listening to “Only the Good Die Young” made me wonder if I was the one headed for an early grave.
“She’s Always a Woman” and “Get it Right the First Time” had their moments as well. And the eerie whistling intro to “The Stranger” let you know that this was a song that could haunt you, and make you think of the masks we put on and take off. A creepier prelude to Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise.”
A few years ago on the way to seeing Billy Joel play at Wrigley Field, I said to Barb “I wonder what kind of an audience he’ll have. Will there be anyone besides us old folk?” Barb looked at me like I was from another planet. And she was right. The sold-out stadium was packed with people of all age groups. He rocked the Friendly Confines, and by the end of the night, we were all friends. There were no strangers among us, just memories of a great night and a great album.
The above is the opinion of the author and not UroPartners, LLC.
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