Category Archives: Billy Joel

Covering Bobby Z

Musing about the May birthdays of musicians, particularly musicians whose work I own, I noticed that any number of them covered Bob Dylan songs. Not a surprise there; Dylan’s put out over 40 albums.

What WAS a little surprising was that I couldn’t find the May birthday songs I own on YouTube; I’ve just started to expect it.

I first looked for the pair of songs from Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome album, a live 1963 recording. Pete did A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall and Who Killed Davey Moore; nope. Instead, here’s Paths of Victory

Happy birthday, Bob.


Way back on May 13, Carol and I got the grandparents to babysit so that we could see a production of the traveling show of the Broadway musical, Movin’ Out, featuring the music of Billy Joel, and choreography by Twila Tharp. We saw the production at the historic Proctor’s Theater in downtown Schenectady. Prior to the show, our real estate agent, who had secured us discounted tickets, also provided his coterie of associates with a complimentary pre-performance buffet featuring a musician who sang pop songs that I knew well.

The trick about Movin’ Out is that it helps a lot if you read the program, particularly the plot synopsis. I did; my wife did not. On paper, the plot seemed, well, paper-thin. My wife, conversely, was quite confused about whether there was actually a plot to this story. Is this merely a dance revue? It felt like that since the dancers would dance to the song, and then people would applaud, at least for the first 3-4 tunes. But as the plot thickened as the threat of war, specifically the Vietnam war, came over the story, there was a much more discernable story arc. So for me, it was much more enjoyable in that second part of the first act and the segued 4-song cycle that began the second act, ending with “Big Man on Mulberry Street,” a song I remember fondly from an episode of the television show Moonlighting.

I must say the musicians and singers were outstanding and the dancers were very good, although the choreography among the males early on seemed a little repetitive, and the songs, though familiar, took on a new energy. So I loved the parts, but I wasn’t always sure then, or even now, how I felt about the whole.


Songs That Move Me, 10-2

10. Neil Young – Harvest Moon
A beautiful song, with specific recollections of a romance that burned brightly, then ended.
Feeling: autumnal.

9. Crying- Roy Orbison And k.d lang.
As good as Roy’s original is, this one is better. It’s the harmonica. And when lang gets to sing, by herself, the chorus, it is stunning.
Feeling: there’s something in my eye.

8. Biko – Peter Gabriel.
The story of the slain South African is penetrating, but the vocals, the rhythm, and that ending!
Feeling: ticked off.

7. John Hiatt – Have a Little Faith in Me
How does this rate so high? It’s just a guy on the piano. Well, it’s the quality of both. Hiatt remade this song with more orchestration for a greatest hits album; it was not improved, and in fact was somehow diminished. Not so incidentally, a key song on a mixed tape I made for my now-wife.

6. When Love Comes To Town – U2/B.B. King.
From the opening drumming to King’s guitar lines, to King’s and Bono’s vocals, I almost always platy this song twice.
Feeling: struggling with the power.

chops off 1st notes and then too soon.

5. Billy Joel-Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)
As beautiful as it is, the piano on the bridge just lifts it higher. I heard an a cappella version of this, which was lovely.
Feeling: melancholy.

4. Roberta Flack – Gone Away.
I was watching the Grammys in the last couple years and discovered someone has sampled this. This song, part of the group of songs I used to play when love went south, really builds after the 1:30 mark, with instruments (a painful guitar line, and is that a tuba?) plus mournful vocals that feature the late Donny Hathaway.
Feeling: brokenhearted.

3. I Only Have Eyes For You – the Flamingoes.
I hear those first three or four chords and I am always surprised how it leads to such a lush tune. My first favorite song, probably for 30 years.
Feeling: loving.

2. Let’s Go Crazy – Prince.
Unfortunate that the video overlays the preach part with the musical beginning, for it’s both elements that I love. The danceability, plus my favorite guitar solo possibly ever. I have a 7-minute version that’s even more fun.
Feeling: let’s get nuts!

So, here are
the rules.

Anyone want to venture a guess as to #1?

(Confidential to T&C, who started before I did, but somehow will finish after: it’s from my top 10 with which one or more of your Top 40 will converge, I’m guessing.)

"Sing us a song tonight"

Chamber Music Magazine: The Piano Man gives back (June, 2007)

“Composer Laura Kaminsky was looking for scholarship money. She has started in 2004 as dean of the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College, part of the State University of New York, and soon identified some specialized area that needed funds that could not come out of a state budget. Chief among them: a graduate string quartet-in-residence. Help was on its way. “Out of the blue, we got a phone call,” Kaminsky reports. “The man told us he was representing a distinguished person in the entertainment field who had selected a number of musical institutions for grants of approximately a quarter-million each. The net result: This fall, the young iO quartet came to Purchase as its first Billy Joel String Quartet in Residence.”

Billy Joel, who is not motivated to write pop songs, despite his current single, performed around here recently, giving his fans what they came for; the preview story is here.

What brought this to mind is a book somebody gave me some years ago – it has a 1991 copyright – about the worst songs, the worst albums, and the worst rock and roll performers. At #1, worse than Paul McCartney, who was a runner-up, was Billy Joel.

I don’t buy it.

I saw Billy Joel back in 1973 or 1974, in the gym at my college, SUNY New Paltz. The band got lost somewhere between Long Island and our upstate town right on the Thruway and the concert started over two hours late. He was stiff and was practically glued to his piano stool. But somewhere along the line, he became, well, “The Entertainer”, putting lots of personality into his performances. I have a handful of Joel albums, including one of the first CDs I ever bought, his greatest hits volumes 1 & 2.

Oh, BTW, Billy Joel is 58 today.