I’ve had more than one person confront me on my deep loathing of Billy Joel since the publication of The Big Rewind and a series of tweets decrying the fact that “Only The Good Die Young” is a serious neg and terrible song in it’s own right. But I value you, dear readers, and so I feel that it’s time to come clean with this black mark on my soul.
You want to know why I hate Billy Joel? Because I used to fucking love Billy Joel.
Billy Joel was my first concert, the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, 1998. I went with my boyfriend Aaron and his dad, because I was 15 at the time. It was a great show. He’s phenomenal live, with an energy that just can’t be captured in the studio. I was heartbroken when I had to miss him in Albany because our school’s production of Anything Goes was that weekend (don’t worry, Aaron went without me!)
But as I got more into artists like Tom Waits and The Smiths, I began to realize what a fucking cornball Billy Joel was. And as developed a deeper appreciation for the lyrical wordplay and the musical genius of Warren Zevon and Steely Dan, I started to see that Billy Joel was a hack, a rip-off artist of the highest caliber. It’s one thing to pay homage to someone who inspired you–it’s another thing to water down their songs to make them palatable for khaki-wearing middle managers to listen to on their way to Lowes to look at, (but not buy!) doorknobs for home improvement projects they will never actually get around to doing.
Songs like “I Go To Extremes,” and “Prelude/Angry Young Man” that once seemed deep and evocative of what I was feeling as a frustrated teenager suddenly sounded heavy-handed and whiny. And how was I supposed to take a lyric like “It’s a bad waste, a sad case, a rat race/It’s breaking me” from “Running On Ice” seriously when it was being sung by Billy Joel, who banged supermodels and had a yacht? His “poor me, I’m just a normal guy like you, workin’ for a living and barely making my rent” shtick was as transparent as a Macy’s Christmas windowpane, especially when my world was now filled with the sounds of “Heart Attack and Vine” and “Sentimental Hygiene,” songs that has the same world-is-a-mess sentiment as “Running On Ice,” yet didn’t feel like something out of a sophomore poetry class.
(And don’t get me started on “Piano Man.” I’ve always hated “Piano Man.” “Piano Man” is the worst fucking song in the whole universe, worse than “Margaritaville,” worse than “Firework,” worse than “Achy Breaky Heart.” The fact that radio stations are allowed to play “Piano Man” has got to be violating some sort of convention against torture, and I have been known to put down items I intend to purchase and walk out of a store because “Piano Man” comes over the loudspeaker.)
But then, as the final nail in the coffin, Aaron and I broke up, and I broke up with Billy Joel too. Our song was “And So It Goes,” off of Storm Front (sample lyric: “And so it goes/and so it goes/and so will you soon/I suppose.”) so in retrospect, he probably should have seen that coming.
Billy Joel knows how to craft a hook and he’s a competent lyricist. I’ll go to bat for “Allentown” any day of the week. I still think the live version of “Summer Highland Falls” is raw and beautiful. And I’ll bet that I could still sing any Billy Joel song that came on the radio without missing a single lyric. I don’t want to hate Billy Joel, he never did anything to me personally, but the more I hear him, the more annoying he gets.
If you love Billy Joel, awesome. I mean that. His music meant a lot to me for a time, and I’m sure it means a lot to you too. But if you put on “Piano Man,” you can’t be surprised when I walk out of your living room and never speak to you again. You’ve been warned.