Billy Joel Peter Reilly - Essay

Peter Reilly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It was obvious from last year's "Piano Man" that Billy Joel was very good, but … "Streetlife Serenade" runs well beyond the high expectations set up by the first, achieving what I shall have to call a dark brilliance. In it he casts an eye as cold as that of novelist Nathanael West (try Miss Lonelyhearts) on the contemporary scene in a series of wry, occasionally savage, and often funny songs that nevertheless betray a certain compassion and even fondness for their targets.

It has been apparent for some time that what we need right now is a gifted eccentric to set us straight, someone who can cancel out with a fine, ripe raspberry the dull thud of yet another commercial sausage dropping off the end of the pop assembly line and the shrieks of robotic exhibitionists who are as uniform in their outrageousness as anything Karel Čapek ever dreamed up.

Joel has all the sound, basic credentials that an eccentric (perhaps more than anyone else) needs if he expects to get a hearing…. But first of all, most of all, there are the songs, each of them ringing with real, if slightly lopsided, truth.

Further description would be as pointless as trying to describe W. C. Fields' walk, Barbra Streisand's giggle, or Paul Lynde's simper. You'll simply have to listen to Billy Joel's new album to hear what I mean. Once you do, your head ought to be changed around quite a bit. (pp. 84-5)

Peter Reilly, "'Streetlife Serenade': The Cold Eye and Warm Heart of Bill Joel," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1975 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 34, No. 2, February, 1975, pp. 84-5.