Billy Joel

2020 Aborted Concert Reviews

This is the time of year I usually review the concerts I attended over the past twelve months. I don’t see why this year should be any different.

Except for the fact that every concert on the face of the earth was canceled in 2020. Along with the movies and holidays and amusement parks. We literally had Disneyland booked for about five days after it shit down. You didn’t get that post, so I might as well tell you about a couple of great concerts that almost happened.

Billy Joel. This one wasn’t as imminent as Disneyland, but tickets were bought, timeshare was booked, and flights were very seriously vetted.

My daughter’s favorite musician is Billy Joel. Her favorite days of the year, in no particular order, are 1) her birthday, 2) Christmas, and 3) the day Billy Joel Radio returns to SiriusXM. It makes her so much fun to hang out with amongst all her other first-grade companions.

The temporary SiriusXM station was the first one we could play in the car to break the monotony of those Fisher Price CDs that formed the soundtrack to her third year on the planet. Which was far more exciting for Mom and Dad than it was for Daughter. Compared to “Wheels on the Bus” for the hundredth time, even “When in Rome” shines.

I don’t have anything against “When in Rome.” It’s Billy Joel who hates it. He claims he throws a couple shitty songs on each album because he’s tapped out after ten or eleven new songs, but the record labels require thirteen. If you wanna have a hit, you gotta make it fit.

Then again, Billy Joel also thinks “Piano Man” is just a silly limerick, so what does he know? (Even if he’s right)

Daughter’s favorite song is “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” but not for any nascent desire to warp forward twelve years so she can leave her own Mama Leoni peace-out note for her parents. Nope, she likes the motorcycle sound in the final chorus. Right after one of the final “I’m movin’ outs,” there’s a few revs and then a squeal for emphasis. So maybe she hasn’t made it far from “Wheels on the Bus,” after all.

I think it was the variety that her young ears and mind enjoyed the most. Billy Joel’s got a great catalog if you aren’t in the mood to listen to one style. If we tell Alexa to play Mumford and Sons or Jimmy Buffett or even the Beatles, artists she knows plenty of songs from, it starts to get redundant a lot sooner than if we tell her to play some Billy. 

Yes, she knows a few modern songs, too, but with no school this year, she’s still stuck in 2019. Aren’t we all? Still, the songs that really get the “Ooo, I know this one” going are “Piano Man” and “You May Be Right” and “Only the Good Die Young.” Good thing I’m not raising her Catholic.

So we figured what better first concert for her than Billy Joel? If we wait too long, we might be waiting too long, if you know what I mean. The same could be said for Jimmy Buffett, but a) it doesn’t look like Jimmy Buffett’s going to stop touring anytime soon, and b) we might get arrested when half of her blood is second-hand ganja. Maybe when she’s a teenager I’ll make her my designated driver to a Mumford concert. Is sixteen too young to have the super important “British and Aussies don’t consider cunt offensive” talk? Because last time I saw Mumford, that word came out a lot. So it’s either when she listens to Mumford or watches “The Boys.”

The added benefit of taking her to see Billy Joel was the locale. He doesn’t really tour anymore, maxing out at one big stadiums every month or so. This year, the plan was Notre Dame, Detroit, and Fenway Park, none of which are within a couple time zones of us West Coasters. I know he had a really lousy experience when he lived in LA, but c’mon Billy, that was fifty years ago.

Other than that, he has a “residency” at Madison Square Gardens. I put that word in quotes because most of the residencies I know of are in Vegas, where you play every fucking night and twice on Saturday. His residency at MSG is one show a month. Sounds more like a “recurring guest star” than anything involving the word “reside.”

When we came back from New York a couple years ago, Daughter was enamored with New York, commenting every time it popped up on anything. That’s waned a bit, but she’s still fascinated by the Statue of Liberty, something we intentionally avoided when it was just the two of us. We opted for the 9/11 museum instead, since I wouldn’t call it the most kid friendly spot in New York. 

So let’s see, daughter’s “favorite” musician (one I haven’t seen live since 1993, and who Wife has never seen) playing in New York. Add in some timeshare points that were going to expire and our Summer Vacation was set. We had tickets right behind the stage which, if nothing’s changed since 1993, is a great place to see Billy Joel, as he puts synthesizers on the back and plays a few songs to the nosebleeds.

Of course, assuming everything works the same as it did in 1993 isn’t always a sure bet. Just ask my back.

I still don’t know what’s happening with those expiring timeshare points. Back in April or May, they sent us a notice about extending all deadlines by three months to account for that “short” shutdown. Haven’t heard anything since said shutdown is at LEAST into “medium” length, right? 

So yeah, in some alternate universe, that July 25 concert was great! Daughter loved “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Theme)” and sang along heartily to “Piano Man” when he magically returned to the stage AFTER the concert was over ONLY because our raucous applause convinced his stone-cold, New York heart that he just couldn’t finish yet.

When she’s a teenager, I’ll explain the whole pre-planned encore thing. 

Vampire Weekend. 

Earlier this year I made a list of my ten definitive albums. Not necessarily the best albums, not the dreaded desert island discs, but the albums that best defined my musical development. In the “also deserving recognition” addendum, I mentioned my newest find, Vampire Weekend. They were kinda disqualified from the album list based on the fact that I didn’t actually own any of their albums. Hard to call it one of my definitive records, or even one of my favorite bands, if I’ve never given them a penny of my money. Unless they get ad money from YouTube.

Note: Wife bought me some of their CDs for Christmas, so I suppose I can call myself a fan now. 

Regardless, bands don’t make shit off of albums anymore, which makes 2020 a particularly brutal year for recording artists. The father of my daughter’s best friend is in a band and they are reeling this year. Their European tour was canceled. He went to Nashville for two months where the band could quarantine and record a new album. I commented that at least they would have some income. He only laughed, and it wasn’t a funny kind of laugh.

What did elicit a funny laugh, at least from me, was when Daughter was on Zoom with her bestie. They play Roblox and Animal Crossing and other various games while talking on a computer screen to each other. It’s the 2020 equivalent of that quaint, outdated “going over to a friend’s house.” During one of their conversations, Daughter referenced holding a guitar, then said, in that six-year-old way, “You might not know how to hold a guitar, but my Daddy has one.” 

That’s right. Explaining to the daughter of the bass player in a band with multiple top-20 hits and a Grammy that HER Daddy owns an acoustic guitar he hasn’t played regularly since college. Maybe I can talk to her daddy about the complexities of the A-chord.

Anyway, Vampire Weekend is one of my new faves. It turns out they’ve been around for more than a decade, with four albums, but I’m in my mid-forties and can’t be bothered with this newfangled shit. Like Douglas Adams said about technology, any music that comes out after you’re thirty years old is devil-spawned racket that wouldn’t know  talent if it bit them in the ass. But when it’s a pandemic year and I can listen to music for the eight hours a day I’m usually in front of and amongst students, I might discover some music this side of the Foo Fighters.

I actually heard Vampire Weekend before everything shut down. After hearing “This Life” on the radio a few times, I had to track down who they were and the name of the song so I could play it for Wife. Better to frontload the spouse with the fact that the song currently stuck in my head has the refrain “You’ve been cheating on, cheating on me; I’ve been cheating on, cheating on you.” That’s not a phrase you want to absentmindedly be muttering to yourself without forewarning.

And of course, once I’ve played that song on YouTube, I get suggested toward their back catalog. Uplifting, catchy guitar riffs, bouncy tempo. Pretty sure I remember hearing some of those early songs a decade ago, most prominently “A-Punk,” but they didn’t distinguish themselves from a bevvy of bands like the Lumineers or Of Mice and Men.

Their lyrics are great, too. Intellectual, extended metaphors, not the normal rhyming riff-raff. One would thing I’d be predisposed to disapprove of them, starting off one of their hits with the line, “Who gives a fuck about the oxford comma?” How dare they! You know who gives a fuck about the oxford comma? Me! You know who else? Adolf Hitler, my grandfather and the man who invented internet pornography.

“This Life” wasn’t actually the first single off of their newest album. First came “Harmony Hall,” which, despite being released in 2019, contains quite possibly the definitive lyric for 2020 – “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.” I hear ya, Ezra. 

So once I find a new band, and knowing that I gotta see them live to support them, I checked out their tour schedule. And what’s this? They’re going to be in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans? During my school district’s Fall Break? People with a fancy vocabulary like Vampire Weekend might call that serendipity. 

Doubt I would’ve taken Wife to this one, seeing as October is the start of her busy season at work and New Orleans isn’t as high on her list as it is on mine. Definitely not taking Daughter to NOLA until I’ve practiced that whole “cunt” speech more. In April, when we were told “three weeks to flatten the curve,” I broached the subject with a couple fellow teachers, since they’d also be off that week. Their responses ranged from “Who the fuck are Vampire Weekend?” to… “Who the fuck are Vampire Weekend?”

So I countered with hand grenades, the wondrous grain alcohol & melon concoction from the Tropical Isle on Bourbon Street. They grew intrigued. So maybe I would’ve had two people accompany me on the trip but still gone to the concert alone. 

The band canceled their May and June dates. Then July and August. I stopped checking. For all I know, Vampire Weekend ended up playing a wonderful show to a sold-out crowd, tens of thousands of fans crooning about oxford commas and cheating on, cheating on you.

Although Vampire Weekend are younger than me. Do kids still sing along at concerts? I’ve been told I can use my cellphone instead of a lighter on ballads these days. 

While I’m at it, can we do something about that 8:00 p.m. start time? That’s usually my bed time.

But it wasn’t all cancellations and catshit. I actually managed to see some concerts in 2020! If you can’t get both “live and in person,” you might as well settle for one. Again, one featured artists I saw when I was a much younger man, and another from a band I’m new to. Check out my virtual concert reviews.

My Top Ten Albums

I usually try to avoid whatever pointless social media challenge is trending. You know the ones. Post your favorite elbow pictures. Or random movie quotes. Or thirty days of humblebrags posed as “things I’m thankful for” but are really “reasons I think I’m better than you.”

You know those ones?

But Wife tagged me in one and it was about music, and y’know, it’s not like I have other things to occupy my time with here in the 2020 hellscape. So I guess I can cut and paste some album covers. 

If you’ve been of Facebook recently, you’ve probably seen the one I’m talking about. There are actually two of them, one about movies and one about albums. But I’m not big on movies, so I decided to only play the album one.

You’re supposed to pick ten albums that, I don’t know, are good? That define you? That were important? That you got laid to? Maybe that’s another reason to not do the movie thing. Nobody wants to know which scene we got our freak on to in Jurassic Park

(Nature finds a way…)

But here’s the kicker. You’re not allowed to say jack shit about the album itself or why you chose it. What the fuck? That’s like having a therapist say, “So your father abandoned you? Don’t tell me any more. That’s plenty.”

It’s the teenage girl or the male pick-up asshat version. Stay mysterious. Don’t let them see the real you. Just put some albums out there that you think there will be consensus on. Don’t tell anybody what makes you click, just do it for the likes. But if my favorite album is the audiobook of “Mein Kampf,” read by the author, shouldn’t that come with a little explanation?

So whatever, I played their stupid game. And now I’m here to expand upon it. 

A couple of explanations. First, you can call me grandpa, but to me an album is an entity created by the artist and should be listened to in order. One song leads into the next. So unlike virtually all of my friends, even my wife who challenged me to do this, I refused to put any greatest hits compilations on my list. Those are horseshit, and are only used as a cop-out way of saying “I like this artist.” Don’t fall for it! If you really liked that artist, you’d try to appreciate why they made a certain album the way I did. eg Let it Be was created by non-musician Phil Spector, and should not be confused with a Beatles album, even if it’s got some of the greatest Beatles songs.

I did almost put a live album on my list, but Wife said live albums are effectively greatest hits albums. I disagree because, again, the artist is making choices over what order the songs go during a concert. For instance, Paul McCartney sings “Jet” second in both Wings Over America and, fifteen years later, Tripping the Live Fantastic.  And I think he did it one other time. He REALLY likes that as a “sit the fuck back down” song. However, the live album I was going to use was 24 Nights, which was recorded over, you guessed it, 24 nights. So fine, if it’s not the actual lineup from the actual concert, then maybe I shouldn’t use it.

Secondly, these aren’t supposed to be the greatest albums of all time. Nor are these the dreaded “Desert Island Discs,” meaning the ten I would want if stranded somewhere. Let’s be honest, Desert Island Discs SHOULD be greatest hits. More bang for the buck. This list isn’t even my ten favorite albums, because then I’d probably just throw in four Beatles, three Mumford & Sons, and “24 Nights” and be done with it. It’s supposed to be the formative albums of your life, whatever the hell that means. I was using it, as with my weenie friends who used greatest hits albums, as representative albums of various genres and artists. 1. Abbey Road. The ultimate no-brainer that is anything but a no-brainer. If an album is an intentional conglomeration of songs in a specific order, then there is no better barometer of this than an album whose entire second side is one long medley of songs that flow together. Although the same could be said for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Blub Band and maybe even Magical Mystery Tour. Hell, Revolver is a damned fine album, too. In fact, I’ve probably listened to Revolver more often than Abbey Road. Pretty much any list of definitive albums, either in my life or in the world, should have a steady stream of Beatles. Hell, even their earlier shit was pretty avant garde for the time. But yeah, as far as albums go, ya gotta pick Abbey Road. Have I mentioned we named my daughter Abby Rose?

2. Travelers & Thieves. From one of the most well-known albums of all-time to one you’ve probably gotta google. I’ll save you the effort – Travelers & Thieves is Blues Traveler’s second studio album. And if you bought it back in the early 1990s, like I did, it came with an extra live disc, “On Tour Forever,” which only has four songs because Blues Traveler tend to play 20 minute long songs. I once went to a festival where they were playing with Allman Brothers and Phish. I don’t quite remember which of the three bands was playing when some hippie dude came up to me and said, “I hope these shrooms last as long as that last guitar solo,” but you get the point.

If you’re not a Blues Traveler fan, you haven’t heard any of the songs from Travelers & Thieves. Their two big hits, “But Anyway” and “”Run-Around,” come from their first and fourth albums respectively. Travelers & Thieves might not even be my favorite of theirs. Although, let’s be honest, second albums are often the best. If I were to rank the best Blues Traveler albums, I’d probably pick Bridge, their sixth album and the first one after their bassist died. While they aren’t as good of a band without Bobby Sheehan, a fact I’ve mentioned in one of my concert write-ups, there was something cathartic about that album.

But this list isn’t the best albums. This list is the albums that defined my music tastes. And when eighteen-year-old me heard the introductory track, a building crescendo reminiscent of “A Day in the Life,” delivering the listener into the driving bass line (we miss you, Bobby) of the first real song, I was hooked. I was running down to The Wherehouse to buy myself a copy of this godsend before I even made it to the first John Popper harmonica solo.

3. Babel. As with Travelers & Thieves, my first reaction when I heard Mumford & Sons was, “Holy shit! You can do that with music?” I suppose I had a similar reaction to Abbey Road, although I was probably too young to articulate it as such. 

Unlike Blues Traveler, I first heard Mumford on the radio. I don’t know how much “I Will Wait” appeared on my radar. I think I enjoyed it, but it didn’t do much to separate itself from a lot of the other songs coming out in that era. If you made me separate Mumford from, say, Of Monsters and Men or The Lumineers or Vampire Weekend in 2011, I don’t know if I could’ve done it. 

But the first time I heard “Little Lion Man,” the Lumineers had to step aside. It also helped to separate “I Will Wait” from the other songs of the previous few years. I did something crazy, something I hadn’t done in years. I went out and bought two albums. As in the physical CDs. Fortunately my car at the time still had a player.

And if you think about it, Babel is even more impressive than Travelers & Thieves because of my age when I encountered them. Eighteen-year-olds are supposed to find new bands, new genres of music. There’s a reason it’s called “College Music.” You’re not supposed to find new bands in your mid-thirties. You shouldn’t be wowed by what the kids are doing with their musical instruments these days. By God, if it didn’t exist when I was twenty, then it’s just noise. What? Bands have webpages now? Whatever happened to sending out a Christmas 45?

That’s it for the Big Three. I mentioned it on Facebook, and I’ll mention it here. Everything from here on is nitpicking and hair-splitting. Album number four might as well be album number fifteen. But the big three are on an island by themselves.

4. Pay Attention. I never really got into the brief ska phase in the 1990s, but Mighty Mighty Bosstones is good enough to be mainstream. I could also throw Reel Big Fish in to that regard. But I don’t see myself ever owning any Reel Big Fish beyond their greatest hits. Whereas I own three Bosstones albums.

Truthfully, it was kind of a toss-up between Let’s Face It and Pay Attention. The former has “The Impression That I Get” and “Rascal King” on it, which are their better-known singles. But I’ve listened to Pay Attention far more often. It’s got a greater variety of songs, many of which wouldn’t work as singles, but are as invigorating as hell. “High School Dance,” for instance, is written from a school shooter’s perspective, so maybe it hasn’t aged well. 

On one of those other Facebook games many a year ago, we had to write down ten bands and make people guess the one we HADN’T seen in concert. Nobody guessed mine. Everyone guessed Sarah McLachlan. Nope, seen her three times. Even my wife responded with, “You haven’t seen Mighty Mighty Bosstones? You listen to them all the time.” I should probably get on that if concerts ever come back.

5. Altered Beast. Matthew Sweet had three solid albums in a row and then a whole lotta nothing. Or maybe I just graduated from college so I can’t “get” his later music. Anyway, solid album. It also is distinct in that the album came out in four different colors. Same cover, just different colors. I had purple, in case you’re wondering.

I’ve also discovered that creating a Matthew Sweet channel on Pandora is the best way to drill down into the music I listened to in college. I can’t think of any other band or musician that isolates a certain sound and a certain time period. It’ll give you some Lemonheads, some Gin Blossoms, Dinosaur Jr. If you ever watched “Alternative Nation” with Kennedy on MTV, trust me on this one. Pandora’ll play shit you haven’t thought about in twenty-five years.

6. An Innocent Man. This is the first one I posted that received arguments back. And then, I don’t know, am I supposed to engage in said argument or does the “without comment” instruction extend beyond the initial posting of picture? Anyway, many of my friends were incensed at this particular iteration of Billy Joel. What about The Stranger? To say nothing of Glass Houses. Or Storm Front… Or… Or…

Says a shit-ton about Billy Joel, huh? The album with “Tell Her About It,” “Uptown Girl,” and “Keeping the Faith” gets poo-pooed as hardly deserving to be in his top five. 

Sure, I could’ve picked any of those others, but An Innocent Man was the first CD I ever bought, not to be confused with Hall & Oates’ Private Eyes, which was the first album I ever saved up my allowance to “buy.” I bought An Innocent Man with my own money, almost as an afterthought. My sister’s friend needed bail money, so he sold me a used (or maybe stolen) CD player for $80, which was a hell of a deal in 1989. Then I realized I had no CDs, without which said CD Player wasn’t so great of a deal. So I went to the Wherehouse after school to pick one out. I wanted one with a lot of songs I like. Couldn’t have a repeat of that mistake I made when I was eight years old and only liked one other song on Private Eyes. What a waste of weeks of allowance!

So yeah, I stand by An Innocent Man as my Billy Joel album of choice. Besides, The Stranger and Glass Houses don’t have any songs co-written by Beethoven, do they?

7. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. I needed a Clapton representation, but it’s tough to pick one. The problem with Clapton is most of his iconic songs are on different albums. If you want, say, “Tears in Heaven,” it’s a throw-in at the end of a movie soundtrack. Although that movie soundtrack, all by Clapton, is one of the greatest acoustic guitar albums of all time, even if it was hard as hell to find. I can’t tell you how many times the local CD bar thought I was asking for the new Rush album, not the soundtrack for the movie “Rush.”

So let’s see. Timepieces is way too early in his career to be a proper greatest hits. 24 Nights (see above) works better. Journeyman (see below) is probably the one I’ve listened to the most. 

This Derek and the Dominoes album, then, is about as solid, front to back, as it gets. When I first bought it, it was only for the title track, a la Hall & Oates. I actually thought the rest of the album was a little boring. A little slow. I was expecting rock and I got blues. How does the greatest song in rock history find itself as the thirteenth track of a blues album? But I’m not fifteen anymore. I now appreciate music that isn’t balls-to-the-wall. Having two of the greatest guitarists of all time (and those other three band members weren’t slouches either) find their inner Duke and Satchmo is pretty fucking awesome. 

Some of the songs grew on me after hearing other versions. “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” was released as a single from his Unplugged album and “Bell Bottom Blues” came from 24 Nights. I don’t know that he’s ever re-released “I Looked Away” or “Key to the Highway,” but he ought to.

But seriously, go listen to Clapton bend the string on that “Bad Love” solo on 24 Nights.  Possibly the greatest single guitar note of all time.

8. But Seriously. Hey, great segue. This album is a bit of an anomaly on my list. I can’t 100% be sure this is my favorite Phil Collins album. No Jacket Required has “Sussudio” AND “Don’t Lose My Number.” And somehow Phil Collins clearly had a time machine when he wrote that album. How else do you explain the following lyric: “I’ve been sitting here so long, wasting time, just staring at the phone.”

Nor would I say But Seriously is the best album of the year it came out. Which leads me to my conundrum. 1989 was, in my opinion, one of the best musical years ever. I know everyone thinks the year they turned fifteen was the greatest musical year ever. But hear me out. 1989 represented the last gasp of many of the classic rockers. They were all moving into their late-forties and started to write about hardening arteries and such. In 1989, they could still have a little bit of drive. 

Oh, and I turned fifteen in 1989.

Here’s only a partial list of albums that came out in 1989. I’ve tried to cover each of them in other spots on this list. 

Full Moon Fever: Probably, objectively, the best album of the year. See below. 

Journeyman: if I didn’t have Clapton on this list already, this would’ve been my 1989 pick. This was his last rock album. 

Flowers in the Dirt: Maybe not one of Paul McCartney’s best, but it was on continuous loop on my CD changer.

Spike: Great collaboration between Elvis (the musically talented Elvis, that is) and Paul on this and “Flowers.” 

Storm Front: See Above.

Oranges & Lemons: XTC listened to Sgt. Pepper nonstop when they recorded this album, and it shows.

Best Shots: I know I said no greatest hits, but as greatest hits go, Pat Benatar is a pretty solid entry. And a great title, considering her most well known song.

9. Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1. This was a weird one. It took me a while to think of it, but as soon as I did, it was like, “Holy crap, that has to be in there.” If Derek and the Dominoes is great because it has two of the best, how about a group with five? This album is so good, and it gave me cover to avoid tabbing Full Moon Fever as my Albome de 1989. Because Full Moon Fever, while technically a Tom Petty solo project, had a number of the Wilburys playing on it. It is, effectively, Volume 2, which helps answer the question of why they skipped from Volume 1 to Volume 3. Also because they were having fun. They picked different pseudonyms and everything on Volume 3.

Volume 3’s a solid effort, but it’s just not the same without Roy Orbison. His voice added a magic that, say, Bob Dylan’s voice doesn’t. And hey, who would’ve guessed that we’re one Jeff Lynne mishap from Dylan being the last surviving member of the Traveling Wilburys? Good thing I didn’t make that bet back in 1988.

10. Armed Forces. This was a last minute addition. Similar to Traveling Wilburys, when I was listing the albums in the running for 1989, I realized that Elvis Costello was completely missing from my list. And really, I could probably pick up to five of his albums that deserve mention. If the all acoustic “Rush” soundtrack sounds up your alley, try Elvis Costello singing in front of a string quartet in The Juliet Letters. Of course, I’m partial to his back-to-back collaboration-with-McCartney albums, Spike and Mighty Like a Rose, because they both came out when I was in high school. 

But I admit that true Elvis Costello should be earlier in his career, when he was in full “& the Attractions” mode. Blood and Chocolate might be one of the coolest-named albums of all time, and it’s solid, to boot. King of America is a good entry, as well. But in the end, an album that starts with the lyric, “Oh, I just don’t know where to begin” sums up what an album is supposed to be as wonderfully as the Abbey Road medley.

Honorable Mentions:

Americana Deluxe. If I wanted to go with the late-1990s swing blip instead of the late-1990s ska blip, in lieu of Bosstones, I could’ve gone with this Big Bad Voodoo Daddy album, which I always assumed was named “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” until I just googled it. Maybe that’s a good reason to not include in my list. Plus, while Voodoo Daddy burned brighter, but the Bosstones stuck around for longer.

Tower of Power. This was album number ten until the Case of the Missing Elvis began to haunt my dreams. And yeah, I just checked that the album has the same name as the band. Now I’m gun shy. 

Father of the Bride. This Vampire Weekend album came out in 2019. It’s a strong late entry. Except I don’t own the album. I only listen to it on YouTube or else I tell Alexa to play Vampire Weekend and I get a smattering of all four of their albums. That’s what music is in the twenty-first century. Everything’s a greatest hit album.

Black Parade. Ditto this My Chemical Romance album. It’s great. Title track might be one of the best songs ever written. But I’ve only listened to it on YouTube. If I don’t own an album, can it be one of my definitive albums?

Sinatra Reprise: The Very Good Years. No greatest hits, but if I were allow myself a greatest hits, there isn’t a better one than Frank Sinatra. And really, I think Sinatra pre-dates albums, so it could be fair game. This album isn’t really a greatest hits, it’s just a sampling of a few years he was at Reprise Records instead of Capitol. What’s the difference between a Sinatra album and a greatest hits, anyway?

So there you have it. Maybe I’ll return next week with my favorite uses of mayonnaise. Not counting that one scene in Jurassic Park.

The Case of the Missing Billy Joel

I’ve been listening to a lot of Billy Joel recently. There was a temporary Billy Joel Channel on Sirius/XM and, shockingly, they played a lot of Billy Joel.

One wouldn’t think it was shocking, but my thought process whenever I got back in my car usually goes something like, “Whoa, Billy Joel is on. Wasn’t Billy Joel just playing when I went in the store? Oh right, Billy Joel channel.”

I’m used to listening to Margaritaville Radio, but that’s only about fifty percent Jimmy Buffett. Maybe because Margaritaville’s a permanent station. Billy Joel Radio’s only had a limited time frame, so it had to be all Billy all the time.

One nice addition to this station is that Billy Joel introduces a lot of his songs and says what went into them. Beautiful nuggets like the song “Honesty,” for which he had the melody before the lyrics. His drummer needed lyrics to figure out how to fill it, so until Billy could come up with lyrics, the drummer was singing “Sodomy.” I guess that would get you writing some lyrics pretty hastily.

Although I think the original title would’ve worked just fine. “Sodomy is such a lonely word… and mostly what I need from you.”

But the most shocking revelation was that Billy Joel hasn’t written a song in twenty-three years.

“That can’t be right,” I thought. “I remember when River of Dreams came out. Since then he’s released…. Well… Nothing that I’ve bought, but I’m sure something.”

I’ll be honest. I haven’t bought many albums since college. But I know they still exist. Paul McCartney released Off the Ground the same year as River of Dreams, and although I haven’t bought any Paul McCartney albums since then, I know there have been some. Evidently the bouncer at the Grammy awards post-party is in the same boat as me.

I just assumed Billy Joel was in the same boat, having gone on to release a whole bunch of albums that I didn’t buy containing songs I hadn’t heard on the radio.

But Billy Joel was not on said boat. The last metaphorical boat he was on was floating down that River of Dreams. And then he went cold turkey. Or cold fish, maybe? To keep the metaphor going.

He even told us that he was done on that album. The last song on his last album was called “Famous Last Words.” The song is all about being done. “These are the last words I have to say/It’s always hard to say goodbye/But now it’s time to put this book away/Ain’t that the story of my life.”

Whoa. Did he just drop the mic on his career a couple decades before dropping the mic was even a thing? Has this ever been done before? An artist just deciding they’re done and telling us as much?

Sure, the Beatles put “The End” at the end of Abbey Road. But then they moved “Her Majesty” after it. Then they released Let it Be after they had broken up. So that kind of killed it.

The last chapter of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is titled “Nothing More to Write,” but I think that was from Huck’s point of view, not Mark Twain’s. If the latter was what was intended, then he fucked up big time because he wrote a lot more books.

Speaking of which, how many books has Stephen King written since he retired? At least ten, I think.

And Stephen King is a good counter-example to Billy Joel. A creative person who said he was finished, yet continued to create. Because how does one really turn that part of their brain off?

Seriously, Billy Joel, how did you do that? Have you really gone through the last two decades without a single idea for a new song?

And Billy Joel wasn’t some one hit wonder. He was not a J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee, who had one big hit then went into seclusion. If Billy Joel had just released “Piano Man,” then went behind closed doors, I could wait patiently until he was on his deathbed when his entire catalog would be released.

I’ve known Tommy Tutone. Tomy Tutone was in a Walkman of mine. You, Billy Joel, are no Tommy Tutone.

Billy Joel had, and I would wager still has, talent for writing songs. He produced twelve albums over a span of twenty years. For a while there, he was producing a new album every eighteen months or so. Then nothing.

On the radio station, he gave a few hints as to how easy it is for him to write songs. He says he has “Magic Fingers,” which thankfully, did not refer to some sex act he uses to get all of those supermodels. Instead, he just plays a chord on a piano, then he moves a finger to make a different sound. Diminished, minor, maybe a flat 7th. But that new chord puts him in a mood or gives him and idea and he goes from there.

“And that’s how I write songs,” he says, “or how I used to write songs.”

Almost caught yourself there, Billy! I know you’re still writing songs. Where the fuck are they?

One time, he explains, he had a whim to make an homage to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. So he worked on his falsetto. Then he took the Four Seasons song, “Rag Doll,” about a rich boy upset that he can’t date a poor girl, and decided to reverse it. Add in a little biographical info about him using his magical fingers on Elle McPherson and, voila, “Uptown Girl.”

But he didn’t stop there. He kept that jazzy falsetto feel going decided to throw in a few more homages to his musical influences. Take a little Ben E. King, add a dash of Little Richard, mix in some  doo-wop style, and before you know it you have one of the definitive and best albums of the 1980s, An Innocent Man. Not only does that album have the aforementioned “Uptown Girl,” and its title song, it also has a minor little ditty called “The Longest Time.” Heard of it? Oh yeah, and “Tell Her About It.”  Plus “Keeping the Faith” and “Leave a Tender Moment Alone.” I could go on, but I’d have to divert to explain to my younger readers who Rodney Dangerfield is.

But evidently a guy who can churn out that list of songs in less than a year after releasing Nylon Curtain can’t find a single thing to write about since the first days of the Clinton Administration.

Maybe he believed that the end of the Cold War really was the end of history. A lot of his songs were based on the historical events that happened during his life. Vietnam, the Cold War, and the post-industrial economy. He always said if he hadn’t been a musician, he would’ve liked to be a history teacher. To which I say, “Want to switch?”

But trust me, Billy, there’s a plethora of other history for you there, Billy.  I know St. Petersburg is harder to rhyme than Leningrad, but I have faith in you. If you don’t like history, you can try a science fiction song again, like you did in “Miami, 2017.”

Dude, he should so play a concert in Miami next year.

He does still tour, after all. Maybe he knew that concertgoers always hate the new stuff and he didn’t want to give them the opportunity to go to the bathroom during his concerts. Or maybe, as a self-proclaimed social scientist, he foresaw the coming time when musicians didn’t make jack shit from album sales.

Part of me wonders if he’s afraid to go back to writing because of that whole drop-the-mic moment. In a few interviews, he implied that he wasn’t necessarily done forever, but that he was closing that book. There might be more songs in the future, when he’s at a different point in his life. In one interview, he even implied that the title, “Famous Last Words,” was meant to be the sarcastic usage of that phrase. “This is my last cigarette.” “Yeah, famous last words.”

So maybe in 1993, he thought there’d be more writing in the future but as time went on, it became harder and harder to get back to it. Maybe he has some song ideas now, but doesn’t think any of them are worthy of going back on his “Famous Last Words.” If he released a new song now, regardless of how good or bad it might be, there’d be a lot of people who would say “Wow, twenty years away and that’s what you break your silence for?”

I at least have faith that it would be better than Van Roth’s “Tattoo.”

I keep going back to Stephen King. If he had taken a year or two off after his retirement, he might not have come back. Instead, he went back to some of the old ideas he had had earlier in his career. Now that the pressure was off, he could try again and it didn’t matter if he failed. In my opinion, it’s some of his best stuff – I love both Under the Dome and 11/22/63. I don’t love the latter enough to pay Hulu to watch TV shows I can watch for free on demand, but it was a damned good book. I mean, JFK blown away, what else do I have to say?

In fact, that last line might be a little nudge to Billy Joel. Stephen King finally got around to writing a sequel to The Shning. How about a sequel to “We Didn’t Start the Fire?” That’s usually how I start off my history classes. We listen to the song, then I have them look at the lyrics and write another verse . I can forward some of their compositions if you want.

In the meantime, let me help you get started. “No World Series, Nine Eleven, Tupac and Biggie gone to heaven, something, something, bread unleavened.”

Damn, this is hard. Maybe you should just stick to the classics Billy.

“Sing us a song, you’re the Piano Man. Just make sure it ain’t nothing new. Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody. The one you wrote back in ’82.”