ODE TO BILLY JOEL: NY Mag Ranks The Piano Man



NEW YORK MAGAZINE: By the measure of hit-making, his stats are staggering. The New Yorker’s profile of him last year pointed out that he’s had 33 songs in the Top 40. That’s about a quarter of the songs he’s written and recorded. Most of those charted in the era when you had to sell a lot of records to get there, too.

For critics, he’s a problem. They used to beat him up for his perceived lack of edge. Robert Christgau called his 1976 album Turnstiles “obnoxious,” which it is not. Lately, though — like every artist from a generation back — he is undergoing a critical reassessment, despite some dissenters. The argument is headed in this direction: He’s not quite the hard-rock star he sometimes tried to be, but he’s a better pop songwriter than you remember, and sometimes a great one.

I am in his camp. I grew up right off the Jersey Turnpike, halfway between Levittown and Allentown, during the years when he was on the radio every day. People who write paeans to the suburbs, on topics that sit on the cusp between white-collar and blue-collar, are unfashionable these days. It’s certainly not very cool for an arts editor to defend Billy Joel. “Dad rock,” one of my younger colleagues said, unimpressed, when I told her about this project: relistening to the 121 songs that Joel has written and recorded, and ranking every one. MORE

Live April 1972 at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia for broadcast on WMMR.