Billy Joel Peter Reilly - Essay

Peter Reilly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Turnstiles" is an intelligent, perceptive airing of young middle-class values and attitudes in 1976, though there's not nearly as much sentiment or drama here as in Billy Joel's earlier work. The pervading mood is one of exhausted malaise. All You Wanna Do Is Dance is a deftly aimed shot at the Beatles generation, baffled and resentful at the party's end; James is the male equivalent of the girls Janis Ian was talking about in At Seventeen (play by Their Rules and you still end up loser); I've Loved These Days is a sour paean to Life at the Top; and Miami 2017 is a description of a future time when New York has long since been dismantled completely, we are all living in Florida, and "the Mafia took over Mexico."… Angry Young Man is the toughest, best, most mordant piece here. The lyrics have a bitter wisdom that contrasts sharply with so much of the complaint, no matter how trenchant, that has gone on before….

Joel's tunes are just that, tunes, but they serve him well enough as a setting for his ideas. "Turnstiles" is a mildly depressing but, I think, valid glimpse into under-thirty thinking today. Unfortunately, it's probably too tough-minded for the audience that it's aimed at, yet not shrill enough to entice the older I-told-you-so contingent who, no matter what their age, remain as anti-youth as ever. And there is, too something rather Dylanesque about it all—not an imitation, of course, but more of an updating, different strokes for different folks, different rhymes for different times. Billy Joel therefore still bears close watching.

Peter Reilly, "Billy Joel: Too Tough-Minded?" in Stereo Review (copyright © 1976 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 37, No. 4, October, 1976, p. 91.