Saturday, December 18, 2010

Katy Perry hit #1 with “Firework”

Last updated 3/16/2020.


Katy Perry

Writer(s): Katy Perry, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Sandy Wilhelm, Ester Dean (see lyrics here)

Released: October 26, 2010

First Charted: October 17, 2010

Peak: 14 US, 14 RR, 11 AC, 15 A40, 3 UK, 11 CN, 3 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 11.0 US, 1.2 UK, 13.31 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 0.3 radio, 1268.57 video, 200.0 streaming


About the Song:

The third single from Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream album was a dance-pop anthem to self-empowerment. Perry pronounced “Firework” as her favorite song from the Teenage Dream album WK and has even called it her epitaph. SF It’s hard,” she said, “to write an anthem that’s not cheesy…I hope this could be one of those things where it’s like, ‘Yeah, I want to put my fist up and feel proud and feel strong.’” WK

She told Billboard that the inspiration for the song came from what she called her “very morbid idea…to be put into a firework and shot across the sky over the Santa Barbra Ocean” when she died. SF Her then boyfriend showed her a paragraph from Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road which she described as being about “people that are buzzing and fizzing and full of life…They shoot across the sky like a firework make people go ‘Ahhh.’ I guess that making people go ‘ahhh’ is kind of like my motto.” SF

The lyrics weren’t completely embraced by critics. MTV said the lyrics were “clunky,” but praised Perry’s vocals and Slant magazine said the lyrics “are nonsensical…but the song would work well enough in a club setting that you could forgive its otherwise glaring weaknesses.” WK BBC Music’s Al Fox said the song “displays a breezy maturity and serious set of pipes.” WK

It was the third of five songs from the album to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making her and Michael Jackson the only artists to land five chart toppers from one album (for Jackson it was his 1987 album Bad).

The video, which featured Perry in Budapest, Hungary, features Perry at the center of an outdoor dance party among fans. The director, Dave Meyers, said he wanted the video “to articulate the meaning of that song: what it means to be an underdog and have the courage…to be your own person.” SF It won MTV Video of the Year and was ranked #1 on MuchMusic’s list of best videos of 2010. WK The song was also nominated for Grammys for Record of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance.

Resources and Related Links:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mojo: Songs of the Year, 1955-2006

Originally posted 12/10/2010; updated 4/7/2019.

Mojo is a monthly UK magazine first published in October 1993. While they haven’t always named a “song of the year” they have done multiple best-of lists. Based on 15 of those lists (see links at bottom of page), here are the best songs of each year from 1955 to 2005.

  • 1955: Little Richard “Tutti Frutti
  • 1956: Elvis Presley “Heartbreak Hotel
  • 1957: Buddy Holly & the Crickets “That’ll Be the Day
  • 1958: Chuck Berry “Johnny B. Goode
  • 1959: Ray Charles “What’d I Say

  • 1960: The Shadows “Apache”
  • 1961: Del Shannon “Runaway
  • 1962: Booker T. & the MG’s “Green Onions”
  • 1963: The Ronettes “Be My Baby
  • 1964: The Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
  • 1965: The Miracles “The Tracks of My Tears”
  • 1966: Ike & Tina Turner “River Deep, Mountain High”
  • 1967: Aretha Franklin “Respect
  • 1968: Marvin Gaye “I Heard It Through the Grapevine
  • 1969: The Jackson 5 “I Want You Back”

  • 1970: Simon & Garfunkel “Bridge Over Troubled Water
  • 1971: Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On
  • 1972: Stevie Wonder “Superstition
  • 1973: Stevie Wonder “Living for the City”
  • 1974: Kraftwerk “Autobahn”
  • 1975: Queen “Bohemian Rhapsody
  • 1976: Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the U.K.”
  • 1977: Sex Pistols “God Save the Queen”
  • 1978: The Dils “I Hate the Rich”
  • 1979: Dead Kennedys “California Über Alles”

  • 1980: Martha & the Muffins “Echo Beach”
  • 1981: Ultravox “Vienna”
  • 1982: Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five “The Message
  • 1983: The Smiths “This Charming Man”
  • 1984: Frankie Goes to Hollywood “Two Tribes”
  • 1985:
  • 1986: Run-D.M.C. with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler & Joe Perry “Walk This Way
  • 1987: Phuture “Acid Tracks”
  • 1988: A Guy Called Gerald “Voodoo Ray”
  • 1989: The La’s “There She Goes”

  • 1990: Sinéad O’Connor “Nothing Compares 2 U
  • 1991: Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit
  • 1992: Radiohead “Creep
  • 1993: Beck “Loser”
  • 1994: Oasis “Live Forever”
  • 1995: Pulp “Common People”
  • 1996: Manic Street Preachers “A Design for Life”
  • 1997: The Verve “Bittersweet Symphony”
  • 1998: Britney Spears “Baby One More Time”
  • 1999: Rage Against the Machine “Sleep Now in the Fire”

  • 2000: Asian Dub Foundation “Real Great Britain”
  • 2001: The White Stripes “Fell in Love with a Girl”
  • 2002: The Libertines “What a Waster”
  • 2003: The Darkness “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)”
  • 2004: Franz Ferdinand “Take Me Out
  • 2005: Arctic Monkeys “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor”
  • 2006: Camera Obscura “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken”

Mojo Song Lists:

Mojo: Top 100 Songs

Originally posted 12/10/2010; updated 4/7/2019.

Mojo is a monthly UK magazine first published in October 1993. They have published multiple best-of lists over the years. Below is an exclusive Dave’s Music Database list in which 15 song-based lists (see links at bottom of page) from Mojo hae been aggregated into one best-of list.

1. Sex Pistols…God Save the Queen (1977)
2. Nirvana…Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)
3. The Ronettes…Be My Baby (1963)
4. Oasis…Live Forever (1994)
5. Marvin Gaye…I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1968)
6. Ike & Tina Turner…River Deep, Mountain High (1966)
7. Queen…Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)
8. Aretha Franklin…Respect (1967)
9. The Miracles…The Tracks of My Tears (1965)
10. Stevie Wonder…Superstition (1972)

11. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five…The Message (1982)
12. The Beach Boys…God Only Knows (1966)
13. The La’s…There She Goes (1990)
14. Pulp…Common People (1995)
15. The Kingsmen…Louie Louie (1963)
16. Bob Dylan…Like a Rolling Stone (1965)
17. The Beatles…Revolution (1968)
18. The Rolling Stones…(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (1965)
19. The Beatles…Hey Jude (1968)
20. The Beatles…Penny Lane (1967)

21. The Rolling Stones…Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1968)
22. The Beatles…Paperback Writer (1966)
23. The Beatles…Rain (1966)
24. The Righteous Brothers…You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (1965)
25. Billie Holiday…Strange Fruit (1939)
26. Procol Harum…A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)
27. The Beatles…I Want to Hold Your Hand (1963)
28. Chuck Berry…Johnny B. Goode (1958)
29. The Smiths…This Charming Man (1983)
30. The Who…My Generation (1966)

31. Ray Charles…What’d I Say (1959)
32. The Jimi Hendrix Experience…Purple Haze (1967)
33. The Beatles…Strawberry Fields Forever (1967)
34. The Beach Boys…Good Vibrations (1966)
35. The Jackson 5…I Want You Back (1969)
36. Elvis Presley…Heartbreak Hotel (1956)
37. Four Tops…Reach Out (I’ll Be There) (1966)
38. Sex Pistols…Anarchy in the U.K. (1976)
39. The Byrds…Eight Miles High (1966)
40. Kate Bush…Wuthering Heights (1978)

41. Otis Redding…(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay (1968)
42. Blue Oyster Cult…(Don’t Fear) The Reaper (1976)
43. The Animals…The House of the Rising Sun (1964)
44. ? and the Mysterians…96 Tears (1966)
45. The Specials…Ghost Town (1981)
46. Squeeze…Up the Junction (1979)
47. The Small Faces…Itchycoo Park (1967)
48. Simon & Garfunkel…Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
49. The Dils…I Hate the Rich (1978)
50. Marvin Gaye…What’s Going On (1971)

51. Sex Pistols…Holidays in the Sun (1977)
52. Martha & the Vandellas…Dancing in the Street (1964)
53. Edwin Starr…War (1970)
54. The Undertones…Teenage Kicks (1978)
55. The Clash…White Riot (1977)
56. The Poni Tails…Born Too Late (1958)
57. The Byrds…Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)
58. Sam Cooke…A Change Is Gonna Come (1965)
59. Marvin Gaye…Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) (1971)
60. Derek and the Dominos…Layla (1971)

61. Stevie Wonder…Living for the City (1973)
62. Don McLean…American Pie (1971)
63. The Kinks…You Really Got Me (1964)
64. Link Wray and His Men…Rumble (1958)
65. R.E.M….Losing My Religion (1991)
66. James Brown…Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (1965)
67. Booker T. & the MG’s…Green Onions (1962)
68. The Rolling Stones…Sympathy for the Devil (1968)
69. Del Shannon…Runaway (1961)
70. Manic Street Preachers…A Design for Life (1996)

71. David Bowie…Space Oddity (1969)
72. John Lennon…Imagine (1971)
73. This Mortal Coil…Song to the Siren (1984)
74. The Small Faces…Tin Soldier (1967)
75. The Kinks…Waterloo Sunset (1967)
76. Massive Attack…Unfinished Sympathy (1991)
77. Buddy Holly & the Crickets…That’ll Be the Day (1957)
78. Eddie Cochran…Summertime Blues (1958)
79. Mott the Hoople…All the Young Dudes (1972)
80. Jimmy Ruffin…What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (1966)

81. Primal Scream…Higher Than the Sun (1991)
82. Frankie Goes to Hollywood…Two Tribes (1984)
83. Oasis…Wonderwall (1995)
84. Oasis…Champagne Supernova (1996)
85. Chic…Good Times (1979)
86. McAlmont & Butler…Yes (1995)
87. Radiohead…Creep (1993)
88. The Jimi Hendrix Experience…Hey Joe (1966)
89. The Temptations…My Girl (1965)
90. Martha & the Vandellas…Heat Wave (1963)

91. The Smiths…How Soon Is Now? (1984)
92. Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps…Be-Bop-A-Lula (1956)
93. Ramones…Blitzkrieg Bop (1976)
94. Television Personalities…Part-Time Punks (1978)
95. Pete Seeger…We Shall Overcome (1963)
96. Kraftwerk…Autobahn (1974)
97. Subway Sect …Ambition (1978)
98. Ultravox…Vienna (1981)
99. Fairport Convention…Who Knows Where the Time Goes (1969)
100. R.E.M….Everybody Hurts (1993)

Mojo Song Lists:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

'Tis the Season to Be Listing

‘Tis the season for mistletoe, gawdy blow-up decorations in people’s yards, and earworm-inducing ad infinitum spins of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” This also means it’s time for scrawling those wish lists and checking them twice. Santa’s dropping down that chimney in just a few weeks and stuffing those stockings with CDs by Justin Bieber or Arcade Fire, depending on whether we’ve been naughty or nice. With an 8-year-old and 5-year-old, list-making in my household means children taking notes during television commercials.

Ah, but in the music world, this is the time of year for another kind of list-making as well. While Santa’s loading up his sleigh with goodies, editors of every music mag known to man (a phrase that begs the question, “are there ‘zines devoted to the auditory pleasures of, say, the platypus kingdom?”) are packing their year-end magazine issues with plenty of treats. Those often come in the form of best-of-the-year snapshots. Considering my inclination in that area, my Christmas wish list is generally comprised of which year-end issues rank highest as must-haves.

As a side note, my obsession with year-end lists has overwhelmed even my fictional writing. Last week, in my efforts toward penning that great music-themed novel everyone so desperately needs from me (yeah, right), I scribed an entire chapter devoted to two characters debating the best college rock tunes of 1983. I know. I have a problem and need to seek help.

In the spirit of the season of list-making, Rolling Stone has offered a unique spin with its playlist issue (Dec. 9, 2010; issue #1119). While their year-end wrap-up should be just around the corner, this time out the focus is squarely on artists making lists of other artists. I doubt the world has been on pins and needles awaiting the revelation that Maroon 5’s Adam Levine ranks “Man in a Suitcase” as his eighth favorite Police song, but they might care about what roots and reggae songs make Keith Richards’ top ten. I must admit that after perusing a couple lists even I was thinking what an exercise in tedium this seemed to be – and this is coming from a list devotee so obsessed that he’s created a website and Facebook page devoted to the crap.

However, when I read Patti Smith’s comments about how moved she was by “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” it matters not one whit whether that or “One Too Many Mornings” ranks higher on her list of favorite Bob Dylan love songs. (For the record, she ranked “Mornings” #1 and “Lowlands” #4). The importance comes not in the rankings, but the feelings evoked by the creation of the list. More importantly, for us readers it allows a glimpse into Smith’s world as she reverentially describes singing “Dark Eyes” with Dylan nightly while they toured together in 1995. Her comments about striving, and failing, to pen a song of gratitude to Dylan was revelatory; even the greats like Smith, no slouch in the lyrical writing department herself, have musical gods to whom they bow.

When Elton John calls Kanye West’s “Say You Will” the “2008 equivalent of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On,’” my browser is already heading toward my favorite quasi-legal Russian download site.

While the presence of Kanye West on Elton John’s iPod might be eyebrow raising, it is no shock that Gerard Way, frontman for emo-rock group My Chemical Romance, would offer up his snapshot of the glam rock world. It is hardly groundbreaking to see David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” and Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes” make the cut, but Way defines glam in a broader context to include Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Alice Cooper, and the New York Dolls. We’d all do well to similarly expand the boundaries we’ve placed on genre classification.

This is why I love music lists. Ultimately, it isn’t about what ranks at #1 and what comes in at #68. It is more about being on the list at all. A list is a celebration of what shows up and a surefire argument starter over what doesn’t. Either way, the end benefit is the discussion spurred by a list. Heated debates over what should and shouldn’t make the grade really are mini-musical history lessons. Why should an artist be lauded with “best ever” status? How has so-and-so’s album left its mark? What has “song X” done to change the musical landscape?

Of course, there never really can be such a thing as a “definitive” list – although I cheekily attach the tag to many of the posts on my Dave’s Music Database Facebook page. Any list is subject to debate or change – just ask my kids. If they watch any TV tonight, they’re bound to scratch something off their Christmas wish lists and add a couple new things.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re stumped over what to get me, I’d be fine with the $750 thirty-disc box set of Elvis’ studio recordings. You know, just in case you’ve got nearly a grand burning a hole in your pocket that you desperately feel a yearning to throw my way. Merry Christmas all. Here’s hoping you get at least something on your list.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Red Nichols charted with “I Got Rhythm” 80 years ago (12/6/1930)

Last updated 4/12/2020.

I Got Rhythm

Red Nichols

Writer(s): George Gershwin/ Ira Gershwin (see lyrics here)

First Charted: December 6, 1930

Peak: 5 US, 16 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.04 video, -- streaming


About the Song:

“I Got Rhythm” was originally written for 1928’s Treasure Girl, but didn’t get used. SB George Gershwin took the initial slower melody and upped the tempo. TY The song surfaced again in the 1930 show Girl Crazy, featuring a 21-year-old Ethel Merman TM in her Broadway debut. MM “With a clarion contralto that could shatter glass and shoo away the blues,” TM she made the song into a “perky spirit rouser in the first year of the Great Depression.” TM

Merman also reportedly stole the limelight from Ginger Rogers, who was featured in her first leading role singing two of the show’s other classics, “Embraceable You” and “But Not for Me.” SB Merman would serve as the “sassy muse” in Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, and Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy. TM

Red Nichols, who led the show’s all-star orchestra including Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, and Glenn Miller, SB also charted with the song, taking it to #5. Ethel Waters and Louis Armstrong each took the song to #17. The Happenings revived it in 1967 with their #3 JA million-selling version. SB Others to tackle it include Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Erroll Garner, Lena Horne, Django Reinhadt, Sarah Vaughn, Fats Waller, Roger Williams, and Teddy Wilson. MM

The song is “probably the most widely heard Gershwin song and the one most commonly recorded by instrumentalists.” SB It is “a standout for jazz performers” JA who “must know intuitively its changes and its plain AABA architecture, a matrix for improvisation as essential as the twelve-bar blues.” MM Jazz artists Sidney Bechet, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker all used variations of the song’s rhythm changes for improvisation. SB Will Friedwald, author of Stardust Melodies, says, “It would be impossible to name a melody or set of chord sequences that has withstood more interpretations and variations.” SB

Resources and Related Links:

Friday, December 3, 2010

December 3, 1960: Camelot opened on Broadway

Originally posted June 10, 2011. Last updated September 3, 2018.

Camelot (cast/soundtrack)

Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics)/ Frederick Loewe (music)

Opened on Broadway: December 3, 1960

Cast Album Recorded: December 11, 1960

Cast Album Charted: January 23, 1961

Soundtrack Charted: November 11, 1967

Sales (in millions):
US: 0.5 C, 1.0 S
UK: --
IFPI: --
World (estimated): 1.5 C+S

US: 16-C, 11 S
UK: 37 S
Canada: --
Australia: --

C cast album
S soundtrack

Quotable: “One of the great Lerner & Loewe musicals” – Wikipedia

Genre: show tunes

Album Tracks – Cast Album:

  1. Overture
  2. March
  3. I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight (RICHARD BURTON)
  4. The Simple Joys of Maidenhood (JULIE ANDREWS)
  5. Camelot (RICHARD BURTON)
  6. Follow Me (BERRY/ MARY SUE)
  7. C’est Moi (ROBERT GOULET)
  8. The Lusty Month of May (JULIE ANDREWS)
  9. Then You May Take Me to the Fair (JULIE ANDREWS/ JAMES YARNELL/ JOHN CULLUM)
  10. How to Handle a Woman (RICHARD BURTON)
  11. Before I Gaze at You Again (JULIE ANDREWS)
  12. If Ever I Would Leave You (ROBERT GOULET)
  13. The Seven Deadly Virtues (RODDY McDOWALL)
  14. What Do the Simple Folk Do? (RICHARD BURTON)
  15. Fire on Goodness (MALE ENSEMBLE)
  16. I Loved You Once in Silence (JULIE ANDREWS)
  17. Guenevere
  18. Finale Ultimo (Camelot Reprise) (RICHARD BURTON)

Album Tracks – Soundtrack:

  1. Prelude and Overture - Orchestra
  2. I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight - Arthur
  3. The Simple Joys of Maidenhood - Guenevere
  4. Camelot and the Wedding Ceremony - Arthur, Guenevere, and Chorus
  5. C'est Moi - Lancelot
  6. The Lusty Month of May - Guenevere and Women
  7. Follow Me and Children's Chorus - Chorus
  8. How to Handle a Woman - Arthur
  9. Take Me to the Fair - Guenevere, Lionel, Dinadan, Sagramore
  10. If Ever I Would Leave You - Lancelot
  11. What Do the Simple Folk Do? - Guenevere and Arthur
  12. I Loved You Once In Silence - Guenevere
  13. Guenevere - Chorus
  14. Finale Ultimo - Arthur and Tom


Lerner & Loewe turned to the legend of King Arthur, specifically T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King, for their 1960 musical Camelot. Initially, Loewe agreed to write the music, but said he had no interest in the project and that it would be his last score if things went badly. WK-C The production of the show was delayed when Lerner had to seek medical attention after his wife left him. WK-C The show initially ran too long with Lerner noting that “only Tristan and Isolde equaled it as a bladder endurance contest.” WK-C

However, the result was a success. “The advance sale for the show was the largest in Broadway history.” WK-C It opened on December 3, 1960, at the Majestic Theatre and ran for 873 performances. WK-C It starred Richard Burton and Julie Andrews and introduced Robert Goulet in his first Broadway role. WK-C It also won four Tony Awards.

Initial reaction from New York critics was mixed, but a 1993 New York Times review noted that the musical “has grown in stature over the years, primarily because of its superb score.... [which] combined a lyrical simplicity with a lush romanticism.” WK-C A 2003 review said “Camelot has it all – a beautiful English princess swept off her feet by a shy, but passionate bachelor king; an ardent French knight, torn between devotion to his liege and an uncontrollable hunger, reciprocated, to be sure, for the king’s tempestuous wife.” WK-C

The story follows Arthur and Guinevere from their first meeting when they have yet to meet, but stumble across each other accidentally. Arthur – still unknown to Guinevere – persuades her of the joys of Camelot in the title song and she agrees to marry him.

Lancelot, a young Frenchman, enters the picture five years later when he comes to become one of Arthur’s knights after hearing about the Round Table, “a democratic system built around the idea of “a new kind of knight – one that does not pillage and fight, but tries to uphold honor and justice.” WC-C He is devoted to Arthur, but he and Guinevere battle feelings for each other.

Their forbidden love is uncovered by Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son, who is determined to overthrow Camelot. He accuses them of treason and Arthur, born by his own law, is obliged to burn Guinevere at the stake. To his relief, the escaped Lancelot returns to save her.

Before Mordred attacks Camelot, Arthur meets Lancelot and Guinevere and forgives them. In camp the night before battle, Arthur is inspired by boy named Tom of Warwick who wishes to join the Round Table. Arthur instructs him “to run behind the lines and survive the battle, so he can tell future generations about the legend of Camelot.” WK-S

The 1964 film version directed by Joshua Logan snagged eight Oscars, but ultimately fell short of the Broadway version. “There wasn’t time for half a dozen songs, which have been deleted, leaving the highlights.” WR-S Richard “Harris is a much more demonstrative King Arthur than Burton, overplaying his role as if he's trying to be a royal Henry Higgins, as played by Rex Harrison (in My Fair Lady).” WR-S Vanessa “Redgrave has the impossible task of replacing Andrews…in fact, she can’t sing.” WR-S Franco Nero, who stepped in as Lancelot, had the singing done by Gene Merlino, who’s “ not a patch on Goulet. The result is a mediocre soundtrack album that really doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the original Broadway cast recording.” WR-S

Review Sources:


Related DMDB Link(s):

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy released

First posted 12/2/2011; updated 9/24/2020.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye West

Released: November 22, 2010

Peak: 11 US, 12 RB, 16 UK, 11 CN, 6 AU

Sales (in millions): 1.35 US, 0.1 UK, 1.59 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: rap


(date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Dark Fantasy (with Teyana Taylor, Nicki Minaj, & Bon Iver) (12/10/10, 60 US)
  2. Gorgeous (with Kid Cudi & Raekwon)
  3. Power (with Dwele) (6/12/10, 22 US, 22 RB, 36 UK, 49 CN, 100 AU, 2x platinum single)
  4. All of the Lights (interlude)
  5. All of the Lights (with Drake & Rihanna) (12/11/10, 18 US, 15 UK, 53 CN, 24 AU)
  6. Monster (with Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, & Bon Iver) (9/18/10, 8 US, 32 RB, 43 CN, 91 AU, platinum single)
  7. So Appalled (with Jay-Z, Pusha T, Prynce Cy Hi, Swizz Beatz, & RZA)
  8. Devil in a New Dress (w/ Rick Ross)
  9. Runaway (with Pusha T) (10/2/10, 12 US, 95 RB, 56 UK, 13 CN, 46 AU, platinum single)
  10. Hell of a Life
  11. Blame Game (with John Legend)
  12. Lost in the World (with Bon Iver)
  13. Who Will Survive in America

Total Running Time: 68:36


4.358 out of 5.00 (average of 19 ratings)

Quotable: “There are few more human albums in hip-hop.” – David Amidon,


About the Album:

Kanye West’s fifth album “features themes regarding excess and celebrity.” WK Among the topics he explores are “decadence, grandiosity, escapism, sex, wealth, romance, self-aggrandizement, and self-doubt.” WK The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin said it was “darkly funny, boldly introspective, and characteristically fame-obsessed.” WK Prefix magazine’s Andrew Martin said it was a “meditation of fame” in which West laments the burden that goes with it. WK On Fantasy, West “made music as sprawlingly messy as his life” and that he crafted “songs full of the kind of grandiose gestures that only the foolish attempt and only the wildly talented pull off.” RS David Amidon of said “there are few more human albums in hip-hop.” WK

The latter point raised criticism from some; NME’s Alex Denney said West was “by turns sickeningly egocentric, contrite, wise, stupid and self-mocking.” WK He is “an instinctive consumer with a mouthful of diamonds and furtive bad conscience, a performer who lives the American dream to its fullest with a creeping sense of the spiritual void at its heart.” WK The Independent’s Andy Gill called it “one of pop’s gaudiest, most grandiose efforts of recent years, a no-holds-barred musical extravaganza in which any notion of good taste is abandoned at the door.” WK

The album “received general acclaim from music critics, earning praise for its varied musical style, opulent production quality, and West’s dichotomous themes.” WK “Nobody else is making music this daring and weird.” SH West “goes for the grandeur of stadium rock, the all-devouring sonics of hip-hop, the erotic gloss of disco, and he goes for all of it, all the time.” SH Among the album’s musical diversity were “string sections, Elton John piano solos, vocoder freakouts, Bon Iver cameos, King Crimson and Rick James samples” RS Time’s David Browne said that “few combine disparate elements as smoothly as West” WK while Steve Jones of USA Today said it “easily outstrips anything he’s done.” WK Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield echoed that statement saying it was West’s best album and “his most maniacally inspired music yet.” SH

Critics often referred to the album as a culmination of West’s previous works. Simon Vozick-Levinson of Entertainment Weekly said this takes “the luxurious soul of 2004’s The College Dropout, the symphonic pomp of Late Registration, the gloss of 2007’s Graduation, and the emotionally exhausted electro of 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak.” WK Pitchfork Media’s Ryan Dombal said the album “largely continues where 2007’s Graduation left off in its maximalist hip-hop bent, with flashes of The College Dropout’s comfort-food sampling and Late Registration’s baroque instrumentation weaved in seamlessly.” WK Andy Kellman of said Fantasy “does not merely draw characteristics from each one of them. The 13 tracks…sometimes fuse them together simultaneously.” WK

Power, with its “bracing prog-rock” RS sound, was the first single from the album and garnered West a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance.

The opening cut, Dark Fantasy, “introduces the album’s themes of decadence and hedonism” WK with “a retelling of writer Roald Dahl’s poetic rework of Cinderella.” WK In the song, West references Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology Song)” and Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” as well as musicians Nas and Leona Lewis.

All of the Lights offers a story of a “character who abuses his lover, does prison time, scuffles with her new boyfriend, and subsequently mourns his absence from his child’s life.” WK The song tapped 11 guest singers including Alicia Keys, John Legend, Elton John, Tony Williams, Elly Jackson, and Rihanna. WK The song received Grammy nods for Song of the Year, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

Devil in a New Dress is a song “about lust and heartache” WK built around a Smokey Robinson sample. One critic described the song’s mix of both sexual and religious imagery “part bedroom allure, part angelic prayer.” WK

Runaway has a “spooky grandeur” RS built on a “piano-based motif comprising a series of sustained descending half and whole notes” WK and a “coda that incorporates light strings and vocoder-singing by West.” WK At about the six-minute mark, “long after the song has already sealed itself in your brain, the sound cuts out and you think it’s over. Then there’s a plinking piano, the feedback of an electric guitar plugging in, some ‘Strawberry Fields’-style cellos and Yeezy himself singing a poignant Robert Fripp-style solo through his vocoder. There’s no way it should work, but it keeps rolling for three more minutes without breaking the spell.” SH Rolling Stone named it the best single of 2010.

Also on the album: Hell of a Life has “a psychedelic rock sample and a narrative about marrying a porn star.” WK There’s also “the spooky space funk of GorgeousSH and “the paranoid staccato strings of Monster.” SH

Indie-folk rocker Bon Iver is sampled for Lost in the World. West turns the original song, “Woods”, and its alienation theme into “the centerpiece of a catchy, communal reverie.” WK

The album closes with Who Will Survive in America, which builds on a sample of “Comment No. 1” by Gil Scott-Heron. The original song is “a blunt, surrealist piece delivered by Scott-Heron in spoken word about the African-American experience and the fated idealism of the American dream.” WK

The album’s artwork, a portrait by George Condo, caused controversy because of its nude depiction of West and an armless winged female (a phoenix). WK

The album was ranked as the top of the year by, The A.V. Club, Billboard magazine critics, Pitchfork Media, Rolling Stone, Slant, Time, and The Village Voice. It was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album. As Rolling Stone said in its assessment of the album in its year-end review, West “made all other music seem dimmer and duller. Is the album dark? Sure. Twisted? Of course. But above all, it's beautiful.” RS

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Billy Joel Retrospective

First posted 9/22/2020.

A Retrospective: 1973-2001

Billy Joel

A Brief History:

He was born William Martin Joel on May 9, 1949, in New York City (the Bronx), New York. He showed an aptitude for the piano and began taking lessons at age four. When he saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, he decided to pursue a full-time music career. After failed stints with the Echoes, the Hassles, and Attila, he went solo and “refashioned himself as a sensitive singer/songwriter.” A-B From 1971 to 1993, he released a dozen studio albums, charted 33 top-40 hits and garnered 23 Grammy nominations and 5 wins, including Album of the Year for 52nd Street and Song and Record of the Year for Just the Way You Are. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. He has sold over 150 million records worldwide.

“Although Billy Joel never was a critic’s favorite, the pianist emerged as one of the most popular singer/songwriters of the latter half of the ‘70s.” A-B “His classical training and reverence for Broadway musicals” RH alongside a “flair for Tin Pan Alley” RH “have been counterpointed by his early grounding in the Long Island bar-band scene and his love of rhythm & blues, resulting in an enthusiastic yet musically sophisticated approach to rock and roll. His diverse influences include Beethoven, the Beatles, Dave Brubeck, George Gershwin, Phil Spector, Ray Charles and Fats Domino…From romantic balladry to hard-rocking material, with elements of jazz, pop and soul thrown into the mix, Joel has applied his skills in a diversity of settings.” RH His “popularity is such that he tied the Beatles for the most multi-platinum albums in the U.S.” RH

The Studio Albums:

This page offers spotlights of all of Joel’s studio albums. Links below connect to dedicated pages for the albums.

These are the compilations spotlighted on this page.


The snapshots of the studio albums indicate all songs featured on any of the three compilations, noted with the codes above. Appearing after song titles are the songwriters in italicized parentheses, running times in brackets, and when relevant, the date the song was released as a single and its peaks on various charts. Click for codes to singles charts.

Cold Spring Harbor (1971):

Joel signed a deal with Family Productions and released his first solo album, Cold Spring Harbor. It went nowhere at the time, but “She’s Got a Way” would resurface in 1981 when he released a live version of the song in support of the Songs from the Attic live album. The live version of the song appears on most of the compilations cited on this page.

  • She’s Got a Way (11/21/81: live version, 23 US, 16 CL, 4 AC, 46 CN) G, UC, ES, VB: live
  • Everybody Loves You Now UC: live, H: studio

Piano Man (1973):

After Cold Spring Harbor, flopped, Joel moved to Los Angeles, adopted the name Bill Martin, and started a gig as a lounge singer. He signed a new contract with Columbia Records and released Piano Man, which garnered a top-40 hit with the title cut. It was the first of 33 top-40 hits. Of course the title track is present on every possible compilation. The album also sported two minor hits with “Worse Comes to Worst” and “Travelin’ Prayer” which don’t show up on any of the compilations.

  • Piano Man (2/23/74, 25 US, 1 CL, 4 AC, 10 CN, 20 AU, sales: 3 million) G, UC, ES, VB, H
  • You’re My Home (1981 live version: 100 AU) UC, ES
  • Captain Jack (11 CL) G, ES

Streetlife Serenade (1974):

After the unexpected success of “Piano Man,” Joel followed quickly with another album, releasing Streetlife Serenade. He didn’t have time to develop the material as much and the album didn’t match the heights of its predecessor, but it did give him another top-40 hit with The Entertainer, “withering portrait of the music industry.” RH

  • The Entertainer (11/30/74, 34 US, 13 CL, 30 AC, 30 CN, 89 AU) G, UC, ES, H
  • Streetlife Serenader UC

Turnstiles (1976):

Joel’s move back to New York is signalled by Say Goodbye to Hollywood, a song with echoes of “Brill Building pop” RH that shows up on four of the compilations on this page – twice as the original studio cut and twice as the live version from 1981’s Songs in the Attic. The album also produced “the cabaret-styled tribute to his home turf, New York State of Mind.” RH While not a single, it became a Billy Joel fixture and appears on every compilation possible cited on this page.

  • Say Goodbye to Hollywood (1976: 45 AU, 9/12/81: live version, 17 US, 6 CL, 35 AC, 11 AR, 27 AU) G, H: live; UC, ES: studio
  • New York State of Mind (11 CL) G, UC, ES, VB, H
  • Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway) (16 CL) UC: live; ES: studio

The Stranger (1977):

“With its jazzy sheen and compositional cunning, Joel hit his stride” RH “and the resulting album, The Stranger catapulted him into superstardom” A-B on the backs of hits such as Just the Way You Are – which would win the 1978 Grammy for Record of the Year and Song of the Year – Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song), She’s Always a Woman, and Only the Good Die Young. The Stranger “surpassed Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water as the top-selling album in Columbia’s history (until Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. displaced it in the Eighties).” RH

While Joel had three #1 hits, it is reasonable to argue that “Just the Way You Are” may be his best known song. That makes it particularly odd that it is omitted from The Hits. “Only the Good Die Young” and “She’s Always a Woman” are noticeably absent from The Ultimate Collection. Also, while the title cut is a good song, it could have been bumped from the Greatest Hits collection in favor of one of the charting songs that didn’t make the collection.

  • Just the Way You Are (11/12/77, 3 US, 1 CL, 1 AC, 19 UK, 2 CN, 6 AU, platinum single) G, UC, ES, VB
  • Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) (3/18/78, 17 US, 7 CL, 40 AC, 35 UK, 11 CN, 99 AU, gold single) G, UC, ES, VB, H
  • Only the Good Die Young (5/13/78, 24 US, 8 CL, 18 CN, platinum single) G, ES, VB, H
  • She’s Always a Woman (8/12/78, 17 US, 6 CL, 2 AC, 29 UK, 12 AU, gold single) G, UC, ES, VB
  • The Stranger (12 CL, 59 AU) G
  • Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (7 CL) G, VB

52nd Street (1978):

52nd Street spent eight weeks at number one in the U.S., eventually selling 7 million copies and landing the Grammy for Album of the Year. While lead single My Life regularly shows up on compilations, Big Shot and Honesty each only make it on two of the five possible compilations.

  • My Life (11/4/78, 3 US, 2 CL, 2 AC, 12 UK, 3 CN, 6 AU, platinum single) G, UC, ES, VB, H
  • Big Shot (2/10/79, 14 US, 9 CL, 13 CN, 91 AU) G, H
  • Honesty (4/21/79, 24 US, 8 CL, 9 AC, 16 CN, 80 AU) UC, ES

Glass Houses (1980):

This was “theoretically a harder-edged album that was a response to the punk and new wave movement.” A-B This was readily apparent on Joel’s #1 hit It's Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me, which “rebutted punk and New Wave acts who’d taken potshots at perceived old-wavers like Joel.” RH The top-10 hit You May Be Right is inexplicably absent from Piano Man: The Very Best of.

  • You May Be Right (3/15/80, 7 US, 2 CL, 48 AC, 6 CN, 28 AU, gold single) G, UC, ES, H
  • All for Leyna (4/12/80, 17 CL, 40 UK) UC
  • It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me (5/13/80, 1 US, 1 CL, 45 AC, 14 UK, 1 CN, 10 AU, 2x platinum single) G, UC, ES, VB, H
  • Don’t Ask Me Why (8/2/80, 36 US, 8 CL, 1 AC, 4 CN) G, UC, ES

The Nylon Curtain (1982):

The Nylon Curtain was Joel’s “lushly produced concept album about America’s ‘diminishing horizons’” RH and the “baby boomers and their experiences.” A-B It was a commercial disappointment when compared to the multi-platinum success of its three studio predecessors, but still spawned top-20 hits with Pressure and Allentown. How does “Pressure” only make it on to two compilations?

  • Pressure (9/25/82, 20 US, 8 AR, 9 CN, 16 AU) G, H
  • Allentown (11/27/82, 17 US, 19 AC, 28 AR, 21 CN, 49 AU) G, UC, ES, H
  • Goodnight Saigon (3/19/83, 56 US, 29 UK) G, UC, ES, VB

An Innocent Man (1983):

This was Joel’s “fond tribute to the doo-wop era.” RH It was a success on par with his 1977-1980 work, “eventually selling over seven million copies” A-B on the strength of six top 40 hits and his willingness to embrace MTV and music videos. Three of those – Tell Her About It, Uptown Girl, and The Longest Time – are featured on Greatest Hits Volume I and Volume II and two others – An Innocent Man and Keeping the Faith – are on Greatest Hits Volume III. Both collections passed over Leave a Tender Moment Alone, but it eventually showed up The Ultimate Collection and The Essential.

  • Tell Her about It (7/17/83, 1 US, 1 AC, 17 AR, 4 UK, 5 CN, 9 AU, gold single, airplay: 2 million) G, UC, ES, VB, H
  • Uptown Girl (9/24/83, 3 US, 2 AC, 22 AR, 1 UK, 4 CN, 1 AU, platinum single, airplay: 2 million) G, UC, ES, VB
  • An Innocent Man (12/17/83, 10 US, 1 AC, 8 UK, 16 CN, 23 AU) G3, UC, ES, VB
  • The Longest Time (3/24/84, 14 US, 1 AC, 25 UK, 36 CN, 15 AU, gold single, airplay: 2 million) G, UC, ES, H
  • Leave a Tender Moment Alone (6/23/84, 27 US, 1 AC, 29 UK, 58 CN, 76 AU, airplay: 2 million) UC, ES
  • Keeping the Faith (1/19/85, 18 US, 3 AC, 81 CN) G3

Greatest Hits Volume I and Volume II

Billy Joel


4.398 out of 5.00
(average of 16 ratings)

Released: July 2, 1985

Recorded: 1973-1985

Peak: 6 US, 7 UK, -- CN, 2 AU

Sales (in millions): 11.5 US, 0.3 UK, 21.4 world (includes US and UK)

Tracks, Disc 1: (1) Piano Man (2) Captain Jack (3) The Entertainer (4) Say Goodbye to Hollywood (5 New York State of Mind (6) The Stranger (7) Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (8) Just the Way You Are (9) Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) (10) Only the Good Die Young (11) She’s Always a Woman

Tracks, Disc 2: (1) My Life (2) Big Shot (3) You May Be Right (4) It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me (5) Don’t Ask Me Why (6) She’s Got a Way (live) (7) Pressure (8) Allentown (9) Goodnight Saigon (10) Tell Her About It (11) Uptown Girl (12) The Longest Time (13) You’re Only Human (Second Wind) (14) The Night Is Still Young

Total Running Time: 1:53:45


About Greatest Hits Volume I and Volume II:

The first Billy Joel compilation was really two albums since he released it as Greatest Hits Volume I and II and it lives up to the titles by offering two disc’s worth of hits. Beginning with Piano Man, the first disc runs through a number of early songs…including Captain Jack and New York State of Mind [that] weren’t strictly hits, but were popular numbers within his stage show.” A-G Other early favorites include “the unbridled biographical boasting of The Entertainer and the ambitious storytelling of Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” DD an album cut from The Stranger.

Mostly, though, this collection focuses on the hits, such as # 1 songs It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me and Tell Her About It as well as top ten hits like My Life, You May Be Right, and Uptown Girl. There are also his “soft-rock staples such as Just the Way You AreDD and She’s Always a Woman. We also get “the careening abandon of Only the Good Die Young and the thoughtful social commentary of Allentown.” DD There are also two new songs: You’re Only Human (Second Wind), The Night Is Still Young.

However, the collection skips top-40 hits “Honesty,” “Sometimes a Fantasy,” “An Innocent Man,” “Leave a Tender Moment Alone,” and “Keeping the Faith.” It is still “an excellent retrospective of the first half of Billy Joel’s career,” A-G “exactly why Billy Joel was one of the most popular singer/songwriters of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s” A-G and is “as complete an artist as the last three decades have produced.” DD

  • You’re Only Human (Second Wind) (7/13/85, 9 US, 2 AC, 26 AR, 94 UK, 15 CN, 6 AU) G, UC
  • The Night Is Still Young (10/5/85, 34 US, 13 AC, 48 CN, 82 AU) G

Notes: The 1998 remastered package added videos for “You’re Only Human” and “The Night Is Still Young” and replaced the live version of “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” with the original 1976 studio version.

The Bridge (1986):

“In the summer of 1986, Joel returned with the Top Ten single Modern Woman, which was taken from the soundtrack of Ruthless People…[and] was also a teaser from his new album, The Bridge.” A-B. It’s unclear why the song doesn’t get more love; it only appears on one compilation. The album’s place in the Billy Joel canon is similar to that of The Nylon Curtain: it was a top ten, two-million seller buoyed by a couple hits, but not on par with Joel’s multi-million sellers of the late seventies and early eighties.

  • Modern Woman (6/7/86, 10 US, 7 AC, 34 AR, 27 CN, 21 AU) UC
  • A Matter of Trust (8/9/86, 10 US, 17 AC, 14 AR, 52 UK, 15 CN, 3 AU) G3, UC, ES, H
  • This Is the Time (11/15/86, 18 US, 1 AC, 32 AR, 26 CN, 73 AU) G3, UC
  • Baby Grand (with Ray Charles) (4/4/87, 75 US, 3 AC, 78 AU) G3, UC, ES

Storm Front (1989):

Joel managed to turn “a history lesson into a hit single with his rapid-fire recitation of 20th-century names and places in We Didn’t Start the Fire…Both single and album reached #1.” RHStorm Front marked a significant change for Joel – he fired his band, keeping only Liberty DeVito, and ceased his relationship with producer Phil Ramone, hiring Mick Jones of Foreigner to produce the album.” A-B This album is definitely over-represented on compilations. Shameless and Leningrad are good songs, but minor enough that they should be bumped from collections to make room for other more deserving hits.

  • We Didn’t Start the Fire (9/27/89, 1 US, 5 AC, 6 AR, 7 UK, 2 CN, 2 AU, platinum single) G3, UC, ES, VB, H
  • I Go to Extremes (1/13/90, 6 US, 4 AC, 10 AR, 70 UK, 3 CN, 48 AU) G3, UC, ES, H
  • The Downeaster ‘Alexa’ (4/14/90, 57 US, 18 AC, 33 AR, 76 UK, 25 CN) G3, UC, ES
  • And So It Goes (10/20/90, 37 US, 5 AC, 30 CN) G3, ES
  • Shameless (1/4/92, 40 AC) G3
  • Leningrad (53 UK) G3, UC, ES

River of Dreams (1993):

River of Dreams “entered the charts at number one and spawned the Top Ten title track. Following the River of Dreams tour, Joel divorced Christie Brinkley.” A-B Little did anyone know that Joel was closing another chapter as well as it marked the end of his recording career as a pop artist.

  • The River of Dreams (7/19/93, 3 US, 1 AC, 3 UK, 2 CN, 1 AU) G3, UC, ES, VB, H
  • All About Soul (11/6/93, 29 US, 6 AC, 32 UK, 9 CN, 34 AU) G3, UC, ES, VB
  • Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) (3/26/94, 77 US, 18 AC, 27 CN) G3, ES

Greatest Hits Volume III

Billy Joel


3.767 out of 5.00
(average of 3 ratings)

Released: August 19, 1997

Recorded: 1983-1997

Peak: 9 US, 23 UK, -- CN, 12 AU

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, 0.06 UK, 1.06 world (includes US and UK)

Tracks: (1) Keeping the Faith (2) An Innocent Man (3) A Matter of Trust (4) Baby Grand (with Ray Charles) (5) This Is the Time (6) Leningrad (7) We Didn’t Start the Fire (8) I Go to Extremes (9) And So It Goes (10) The Downeaster ‘Alexas’ (11) Shameless (12) All About Soul (13) Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) (14) The River of Dreams (15) To Make You Feel My Love (16) Hey Girl (17) Light As the Breeze

Total Running Time: 76:16

About Greatest Hits Volume III:

Designed as a companion to Greatest Hits Volume I and Volume II, this one, roughly, picked up where the last one left off. Keeping the Faith and An Innocent Man were from the 1983 album An Innocent Man, but everything else came after the 1985 greatest hits set. There are also two new songs and Light As the Breeze from Tower of Song, the 1995 album of Leonard Cohen covers.

The rest of the collection is comprised of cuts from Joel’s three studio albums released from 1986 to 1993: The Bridge (3 songs), Storm Front (6 songs), and River of Dreams (3 songs). The Storm Front album is over-represented, especially since a few other hits, including the top-10 “Modern Woman” and top-30 “Leave a Tender Moment Alone” could have been included. Otherwise, though, it does a solid job of gathering the most familiar of Joel’s work from the latter part of his recording career.

  • To Make You Feel My Love (Bob Dylan) [3:53] (8/16/97, 50 US, 9 AC, 90 AU)
  • Hey Girl (Gerry Goffin, Carole King) [3:57] (11/8/97, 13 AC)
  • Light As the Breeze (Leonard Cohen) [6:12]

The Ultimate Collection

Billy Joel


4.433 out of 5.00
(average of 3 ratings)

Released: December 20, 2000

Recorded: 1973-1993

Peak: -- US, 4 UK, -- CN, 12 AU

Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.3 UK, 0.3 world (includes US and UK)

Tracks, Disc 1: (1) Just the Way You Are (2) My Life (3) It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me (4) An Innocent Man (5) Piano Man (6) You’re My Home (7) Everybody Loves You Now (live) (8) The Entertainer (9) Streetlife Serenader (10) New York State of Mind (11) Say Goodbye to Hollywood (12) She’s Got a Way (live) (13) Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) (14) She’s Always a Woman (15) Honesty (16) You May Be Right (17) Don’t Ask Me Why (18) Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway) (live)

Tracks, Disc 2: (1) Uptown Girl (2) Tell Her About It (3) The River of Dreams (4) The Longest Time (5) We Didn’t Start the Fire (6) Goodnight Saigon (7) Allentown (8) All for Leyna (9) This Is the Time (10) Leave a Tender Moment Alone (11) A Matter of Trust (12) Modern Woman (13) Baby Grand (with Ray Charles) (14) I Go to Extremes (15) Leningrad (16) The Downeaster ‘Alexa’ (17) You’re Only Human (Second Wind) (18) All About Soul

Total Running Time: 153:09

About The Ultimate Collection:

I’m not a fan of the non-chronological track listing, but this non-American two-disc set does an adequate job of gathering the most familiar of Joel’s hits from throughout his career. His earliest albums receive too much attention and there are some minor hits such as “All for Lenya” and “Leningrad” that could be excised, especially since there are a handful of top 40 hits that don’t make the collection, including “Only the Good Die Young,” “Big Shot,” “Pressure,” “Keeping the Faith,” and “And So It Goes.”

Fantasies & Delusions (2001):

After a dozen pop albums from 1971 to 1993, this was Joel’s foray into creating his own classical compositions. It is, to date, his last studio album.

  • Waltz No. 1 (Nunley’s Carousel) ES
  • Invention in C minor ES

The Essential

Billy Joel


4.480 out of 5.00
(average of 3 ratings)

Released: October 2, 2001

Recorded: 1973-2001

Peak: 15 US, 157 UK, -- CN, 50 AU

Sales (in millions): 3.0 US, 0.1 UK, 3.1 world (includes US and UK)

Tracks, Disc 1: (1) Piano Man (2) You’re My Home (3) Captain Jack (4) The Entertainer (5) Say Goodbye to Hollywood (6) Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway) (7) New York State of Mind (8) She’s Always a Woman (9) Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) (10) Only the Good Die Young (11) Just the Way You Are (12) Honesty (13) My Life (14) It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me (15) You May Be Right (16) Don’t Ask Me Why (17) She’s Got a Way (live) (18) Allentown

Tracks, Disc 2: (1) Goodnight Saigon (2) An Innocent Man (3) Uptown Girl (4) The Longest Time (5) Tell Her About It (6) Leave a Tender Moment Alone (7) A Matter of Trust (8) Baby Grand (with Ray Charles) (9) I Go to Extremes (10) We Didn’t Start the Fire (11) Leningrad (12) The Downeaster ‘Alexa’ (13) And So It Goes (14) The River of Dreams (15) All About Soul (16) Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) (17) Waltz No. 1 (Nunley’s Carousel) (18) Invention in C minor

Total Running Time: 154:43


About The Essential:

After the non-American release of The Ultimate Collection, The Essential was the first U.S. double-disc anthology covering Joel’s entire recording career. The album works through his major hits chronologically from Piano Man through The River of Dreams. There are still notable songs missing (three of which weren’t on The Ultimate Collection either), like “She’s Always a Woman,” “Big Shot,” “Pressure,” “Keeping the Faith,” “Modern Woman,” and “This Is the Time.”

Like The Ultimate Collection, minor hits All for Leyna and Leningrad take up space where some of those bigger hits could have been. This is also the only one to include cuts from Joel’s 2001 classical album Fantasies & Delusions, but that’s not necessarily a positive since they aren’t familiar to the average Joel fans.

Notes: A reissue added a third disc with seven songs: “Worse Comes to Worst,” “Prelude/Angry Young Man,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “Big Shot,” “All for Leyna,” “Pressure,” and “This Is the Time.”

Piano Man: The Very Best of

Billy Joel


4.287 out of 5.00
(average of 3 ratings)

Released: November 15, 2004

Recorded: 1973-1993

Peak: -- US, 7 UK, -- CN, 14 AU

Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.9 UK, 0.9 world (includes US and UK)

Tracks: (1) Tell Her About It (2) Uptown Girl (3) Piano Man (4) New York State of Mind (5) The River of Dreams (6) It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me (7) We Didn’t Start the Fire (8) Goodnight Saigon (9) My Life (10) She’s Always a Woman (11) She’s Got a Way (live) (12) Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (13) An Innocent Man (14) Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) (15) Only the Good Die Young (16) All About Soul (17) Honesty (18) Just the Way You Are

Total Running Time: 79:43

About Piano Man: The Very Best of:

This single-disc, non-American release hits the highlights, such as Piano Man, Just the Way You Are, My Life, It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me, Tell Her About It, Uptown Girl, We Didn’t Start the Fire, and The River of Dreams.

Of course, the problem with a single-disc collection is how many songs get left out. For the third time, “Big Shot,” “Pressure,” and “Keeping the Faith” fail to make the cut. Also left out are top-10 hits “You May Be Right” and “I Go to Extremes,” as well as top-40 hits “Allentown,” “The Longest Time,” and “Leave a Tender Moment Alone.” To be fair, though, it’s hard to know what to bump in favor of any of these songs.

The Hits

Billy Joel


4.580 out of 5.00
(average of 3 ratings)

Released: November 16, 2010

Recorded: 1973-1993

Peak: 34 US, -- UK, -- CN, -- AU

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)

Tracks: (1) Everybody Loves You Now (2) Piano Man (3) The Entertainer (4) New York State of Mind (5) Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) (6) Only the Good Die Young (7) My Life (8) Big Shot (9) You May Be Right (10) It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me (11) Say Goodbye to Hollywood (live) (12) Allentown (13) Pressure (14) The Longest Time (15) Tell Her About It (16) A Matter of Trust (17) We Didn’t Start the Fire (18) I Go to Extremes (19) The River of Dreams

Total Running Time: 79:34

About The Hits:

Once again, a non-American release is followed by a U.S. version. This compilation suffers from the same problem as its predecessor in that too many hits have to be overlooked to create a single-disc retrospective. The most glaring omission is “Just the Way You Are,” arguably Joel’s signature song. However, “Uptown Girl” and “A Matter of Trust” are also notably absent. Overall, though, this collection works much better than Piano Man: The Very Best of and it presents the songs chronologically.

Resources and Related Links: