Billy Joel Robert Cowan - Essay

Robert Cowan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Last year Billy Joel was some kind of American Elton John, this year he's a piano-playing Bruce Springsteen, returning from the West Coast to New York, presumably—judging from two of the better tracks [on "Turnstiles,"] "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" and "New York State Of Mind"—to re-mine his roots…. [The switch] certainly puts a mite more muscle behind his music. The songs have more bite, yet they invite instant comparison with Springsteen, and, alongside the works of the Asbury Park Kid, Joel's seem sadly dull, the vibrant urgency of the former becoming mere freneticism. The basic fault is in the lyrics: both the writing and the singing of them. Joel's constructions are often needlessly clumsy; good ideas are stripped of their cutting edge and made worse by an often flat singing style that tends to shake off any initial interest in what the man is trying to say…. The one track that really does stand out is "New York State Of Mind," a moody, slow blues with liberal quotes from "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out." Much more than the surrogate-Springsteen numbers, it conjures up all those archetypal images of New York: dirty streets, grey river, Broadway lights, bars, etc…. Superb. Perhaps with a little more thought the rest of the album could have matched it. The potential is certainly there.

Robert Cowan, "School of Art: 'Turnstiles'," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), August 21, 1976, p. 18.