Billy Joel FRED DeVAN - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Billy Joel may be a new face and not exactly the most experienced performer around, but when he does something right, he does it very right. [The song] Piano Man … might well stand the test of time and vagaries of rockdom to become a true classic. The other cuts on the Piano Man album seem pale in comparison and may be the weakness of that album. Its strong lead is so strong it makes you expect too much of this one…. Billy Joel had a lot of middle-weight material vying with a blockbuster. The temptation to bypass much of his material may lead one past the quality that is there. (p. 74)

Streetlife Serenade sets out to overcome this difficulty; it succeeds. True, the blockbusters are there, but this time out they do not seem bigger than life. They are in proportion…. As the piano player has matured, so have his words and themes.

Billy Joel is able to write sensitively about almost ordinary things without becoming maudlin. He writes about love without resorting to Paul Williams style of omnipresent tragedy as he did on Piano Man. Joel writes about an entertainer (himself?) honestly and with a touch of bitterness. He, too, is feeling the crush of staying alive and healthy in today's music world, and his life is pretty much where most of this album comes from.

It may be unfair to compare him to Elton John, but much of what he does is what Elton would do if he stopped to reflect on himself during those few hours between record albums. Billy Joel pulls off this … album with far more maturity than I expected when I first saw it. Weekend Song is the only cut that I would exchange for another. The Entertainer is the star of the album, but Souvenir, Roberta, The Mexican Connection, and Streetlife Serenade all are strong contenders for top billing. The textures of this record change and flow from song to song, and serve to make it complete. A good album—well done and interesting. (pp. 74-5)

Fred DeVan, in his review of "Streetlife Serenade," in Audio (© 1975, CBS Publications, The Consumer Publishing Division of CBS Inc.), Vol. 59, February, 1975, pp. 74-5.