Friday, July 25, 2008

Skeletons in My Musical Closet - Billy Joel

It's hard to keep a critical distance from anything we once loved unabashedly, particularly if it was something we loved in our childhood or adolescence. Thus the presence of all three seasons of "Land of the Lost" at the top of my Netflix queue, and the mostly unapologetic appearance of a few Billy Joel albums on my IPod. In the past week I've troubled over two reviews of the 30th anniversary deluxe reissue of Billy Joel's "The Stranger" (from The Onion's AV Club, and from Pop Matters). They trouble me because I have a strong childhood connection to that album, and to Billy Joel in general, and I'm not sure what to do with it. Until recently I've mostly avoided thinking much about Billy Joel, and have never paid much attention to his critical & popular position in the pop/rock canon.

There's a key scene in Cameron Crowe's musical love letter "Almost Famous" in which the protagonist discovers his older sister's LP collection. It's clearly his moment of musical revelation, and it changes his life. [Note: The link is to a stupid montage, but look around 1:53]. While I have a few moments of musical revelation in my past, one of my earliest involves my brother's vinyl copy of "The Stranger". I won't go so far as to say it changed my life, but it at least cemented my devotion for many years to a critically dubious musical icon.

As for my moment of musical revelation? I don't remember how old I was - my best guess would be jr. high, approx. 10 years after "The Stranger" was released. I was in our faux wood paneled den, where the only real stereo in the house was, and I guess I must have been digging through my brother's record collection, and for whatever reason pulled out "The Stranger". While I'm pretty sure I listened to the whole album that night, it was "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" that I listened to over and over again. As a piano playing lover of musical theater on the cusp of his teenage years, I was probably doomed to love this song. A story of lost teenage innocence, in four acts, with heavy piano underneath it all (and I'm sorry, but the piano intro to act 3 is still a blast to play), this song had all the hooks I needed.

In subsequent years I would become a complete Billy Joel devotee. I had every album, all the piano music, the videos, saw him on the Storm Front tour, and made my best friend J try and play the saxophone part on "Scenes..." (as well as other songs) while I accompanied on piano (and maybe vocals?). Then sometime between "Storm Front" and what would be Joel's last pop album, "River of Dreams", I put him away. I don't know that I ever even owned "River of Dreams", and I'm not sure when or where my collection of Joel CDs went (though I do still have the piano music, but no piano). I wish I could say it was because my musical tastes improved, but my more honest guess is I lost touch with him during my "Christian Music" fanaticism years (see future, even more embarrassing, "Skeletons in My Musical Closet" blog post). I guess I've been surprised to only recently discover that Billy Joel wasn't critically respected during his heyday, and certainly isn't now; that he's even kind of a joke. In some ways he seems to have even less cred than his sometime tour partner Elton John, though Joel never did anything as egregious as The Lion King ("Innocent Man" may come close). So thanks reviewers for making me confront a large piece of my musical past. I'm more confused than ever, but it's comforting to know there are writers working for reputable music outfits that struggle with some of the same demons.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What's On Your IPod

I usually avoid internet surveys like the plague, but my friend J posted this one on her blog and I'm a sucker for anything music related, so here goes.

This would probably be more interesting if I hadn't had to replace my IPod some months ago. I'm still in the process of getting my library onto the new one and am about 3000 songs shy of where the old one was at.

Total Library Length: 8043 Songs, 21 Days, 34.41 GB

First and Last Songs (by title):

  • Abbatoir Blues by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (ABC by the Jackson 5 comes in second J)
  • 911 to Orson Wells (sp?) by Robert Deeble

Shortest & Longest Songs:

  • The Sky is a Harpsichord Canvas by Olivia Tremor Control :04
  • A Long Day by The Polyphonic Spree 36:31

First and Last Albums (by title):

  • A.M by Wilco
  • 80th Birthday EP by Charlie Louvin
    (I think these make nice bookends. J - I guess my copy of Achutung Baby hasn't made it on yet, but if it did, it would be 6th)

First and Last Artist (by name):

  • A.C. Newman
  • The 1900's (J - 10,000 Maniacs is second to last for me)

Top 5 Most Played Songs (actually 6 because of a tie):

  • Don't Tell Me To Do The Math by Los Campesinos! (18)
  • I Want You Back by Jackson 5 (17)
  • Death to Los Campesinos! by Los Campesinos! (15)
  • We Both Go Down Together by The Decemberists (14 Tie)
  • Run Myself Out of Town by The Holmes Brothers (14 Tie)
  • Hey Baby by The Holmes Brothers (14 Tie)
    This is where having the new IPod is a bit of a bummer. I'd be much more interested to see the top 5 over the last 3 years. I listen to my IPod on shuffle about 90% of the time, so there is some aspect of randomness here, but all 6 six of these songs are definitely favorites. I'm not at all surprised by the Los Campesinos! appearances as I've beat that one to death the last few months. I'm also not surprised by the Jackson 5 as they're constant favorites, though I am a bit surprised by "I Want You Back" as I've made no special effort to listen to that song (and I swear it has nothing to do with my recent divorce!). Ditto the Decemberists and Holmes Brothers...both favorites, and a few of my favorite songs by them, but I don't believe I've been purposefully calling them up or hitting repeat.

Search for the following words. how many songs show up?
  • sex: 5, though one qualifies because it has the word "sexton" in the title (after eliminating songs by Ron Sexsmith, Charlie Sexton, and Martin Sexton)
  • death: 24 though one album has "death" in the title and accounts for 12 entries
  • love: 525
  • you: 868
  • home: 108
  • boy: 129
  • girl: 168

First Five Songs That Come Up On Party Shuffle:
As best I can tell party shuffle actually uses my computer library, not my IPod library and the computer library is much smaller than my IPods, but here goes:

  • Daylight Savings Time By Josh Rouse
  • A New Family by Colour Revolt (This is from a sampler CD and I'm not sure I've even heard it)
  • One Last "woo-hoo" for the Pullman by Sufjan Stevens
  • Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You by Sally Timms
  • Welcome to the Occupation by R.E.M.

...would be a strange party.