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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

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Monday, March 06, 2006

A Review: Billy Joel - My Lives, Disc 3


This is the third in my series of reviews of the "My Lives" Box Set from Billy Joel. Scroll to the bottom of this post for links to reviews of the other discs.

Disc 3 of the series basically showcases Billy Joel as a kick-ass cover band and movie soundtrack contributor. As a cover artist, Joel offers up the Isley Brothers' Shout (recorded live at Yankee Stadium), two Elvis Presley tracks from the Honeymoon in Vegas soundtrack (All Shook Up and Heartbreak Hotel), Duke Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood from the soundtrack of A League of Their Own, the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night (a staple of his Face-to-Face setlist with Elton John), Leonard Cohen's Light As A Breeze, the Disney classic When You Wish Upon a Star, and two Bob Dylan tunes: To Make You Feel My Love and Highway 61 Revisited. It's been said many times that Joel is quite an impressionist, and putting all of these covers on the same disc highlights that fact. He not only does a pretty good job imitating the voices (especially Presley and Dylan), but also has an uncanny ability to capture the style of the original tune while still providing his own take on the material.

As a soundtrack contributor, there are the songs mentioned above, but also a couple of originals: Why Should I Worry from Disney's Oliver & Co. and Where Were You (On Our Wedding Day) from Runaway Bride, both of which, in my humble opinion, are good enough to have made it on their own as singles if they weren't already part of a movie soundtrack.

The real gems on this disc, though, are the live (Yankee Stadium) version of I Go to Extremes and the alternate version of River of Dreams. In the former, Joel's piano playing exceeds even his own high standards, particularly on the improvisational riffs near the end (over the years, these settled into a scripted few, including the one where he bounces down the keyboard on his backside), and some clever variations in the lyrics ("Darling I don't know why I go for ice cream..."). The latter has a lot more featured piano than the released track, including a swing-style version of the Goodnight, My Angel theme right in the middle of the piece. In retrospect, they probably cut it down for timing so they could release it as a single, but this version is much, much more entertaining.

Motorcycle Song, a demo that eventually became All About Soul, and the unreleased You Picked a Real Bad Time are the only "rabid fans only" tracks on this disc. I liked Motorcycle Song because the lyrics are such obvious placeholders (they describe Joel riding his motorcycle around various Long Island highways), in much the same way that Allentown was originally written as Levittown ("Well we're living here in Levittown; The grass is green the dirt is brown..."). You Picked a Real Bad Time is roadhouse blues in the spirit of Big Man on Mulberry Street, and while I like it a lot, it's not as good as the released material.

The only original album cut on the disc is The Downeaster "Alexa", the first track on the disc, which I'm sure is there because it has some sentimentality to Joel ("Alexa" is his boat, which he named after his daughter), but given the rest of the material, I think it sticks out like a sore thumb.

All in all, this was my favorite disc so far. The first two discs show Billy Joel, rock & roll hopeful from Levittown, hungry for success and working hard to prove himself to everyone. This disc shows BILLY JOEL - SUPERSTAR, spending some of his hard-earned capital to branch out in different directions, lend his name to smaller projects, and have some fun with the music, rather than trying to create the next classic rock song every time out.

I look forward to Disc 4...



My other reviews:
Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4

posted by Brian at 1:32 PM


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