"It might be disco and it might be the blues / Or maybe even something like the B-52s / Just a handclap, finger snap / Even if its mindless pap / Its still Billy Joel to me."
- Weird Al
Billy Joel has been around since Nixon was president and has lasted longer than a cache of double mint gum. He has recorded 33 Top 40 favorites, has been nominated for 23 Grammy Awards and has sold in excess of 100 million records. More importantly, for those of you who are too young to remember, he bagged supermodel and mega babe Christy Brinkley- who was the inspiration for his bubbly 1983 hit "Uptown Girl." As a long time music fan and musician, I have made the personal choice to ignore his musical contributions; but since I received a review copy of his new double live CD, necessity now compels me to step up to the plate and render my two cents.
12 Gardens Live was recorded at Madison Square Garden, which is Joel's home turf and was compiled from various sold out performances. For folks like me, this is probably a great record to buy, as it offers spirited versions of most of his hit songs. With 30 tracks on two discs, you receive a lot Billy for your buck; and if you're a cheap bastard like me, you can already get this just released CD (in slightly used condition) at the big online behemoth for fewer than 7 dollars. I don't care what you say anymore this is my price.
Disc one begins with the slamming piano rocker "Angry Young Man" played at breakneck speed, impressively showcasing a tight live band handling lots of stops and changes as easily as a tourist sipping margaritas at a poolside bar. Track number seven is "New York State of Mind," which in a post-9/11 world has become somewhat of an anthem for the wounded big apple. It is a soothing, jazzy pop masterpiece that embodies a dyed in the wool New Yorker's love of his culturally diverse super metropolis. The first CD in this collection dishes out revved up performances of favorites like "My Life" and "Allentown" but for my tastes, the second disc really takes it up several notches, starting with "Goodnight Saigon," a Joel song I had never heard before. It is a powerful reflection about the war in Vietnam that in lieu of the current situation in Iraq is as lyrically poignant as was when it was released nearly 25 years ago. Melodically speaking, it is haunting dramatic and should be considered one of songwriter's best efforts.
As I listened to the seafaring saga “The Downeaster Alexa,” I found myself wondering why I hadn’t appreciated the songwriting talents of this journeyman artist a little sooner than three decades after his first release. By the time energetic renditions of “You May Be Right” and “Only the Good Die Young” had played loudly on my CD, I understood why Billy Joel deserved his recent induction into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, as he is one of our most gifted American pop songwriters. With the release of 12 Gardens Live, he has offered up a career retrospective that will not only please his long time fans, it might just make him some new ones.
Phillip E. Hardy
July 28th, 2006