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Scene Selections: Searching for Billy

, and | Monday, October 14, 2019

Nicole Simon | The Observer

As campus prepares for the Long Island legend’s fateful return, Scene will try its hand at the impossible — to define, as it were, a theory of Joel. Our theorists will look beyond the songs and into the soul of the man, the mystery, the myth, the whole, the Billy that is the Joel.


J++ (v.2) — Joel [in Code]

By Mike Donovan, Scene Editor ([email protected])

#First Attempt

Activate dancing sequence: protocol 12-50b alpha 8.8862 => fire starter.

      ERROR. Access denied. Message_print: “We didn’t!”

#Second Attempt

Activate dancing sequence: {keys^3 / [Long Island*young_good_dead]} == billy(Joel).

      ERROR. Access denied. Message_print: “Not at our fine Catholic University!”

#Third Attempt

Activate dancing sequence: compile(“stadium” , “musician” ,  “famous” , “fun”)

      RETURN: Garth Brooks



Print(“We couldn’t dance to Billy Joel.”)  

      We couldn’t dance to Billy Joel.


A certified bop: ‘Uptown Girl’

By Ryan Israel, Scene Writer ([email protected])

What does it mean to say that a song is a bop? There’s no strict definition or list of qualifications for what makes a song a bop. It’s more of a feeling, you know it when you hear it. And when you hear “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel, one thing is clear: it’s a certified bop.

“Uptown Girl” goes well in nearly any situation that calls for an upbeat song — a pregame, a party, a wedding, a brisk walk along a busy city street. You really don’t need to know the lyrics to feel like you’re singing along, you can just repeat the words “uptown girl” whenever they come in on the chorus or join in on one of the many extended “ohhhhhhhhs.” It’s also an incredibly easy song to dance along to, a huge factor in making it a bop — just watch Homer Simpson boogie along to what he calls his favorite “song of protest.”

When Billy Joel performs “Uptown Girl” at Notre Dame Stadium, I have no doubt that everyone in attendance will be bopping along. Unfortunately, I will not be one of those people because the concert was scheduled for June, a month when I and almost every other student will not be on campus.


“Nylon Curtain” Revisited: ‘Laura,’ ‘Where’s The Orchestra?’ and other non-hits from Billy’s best album

By Jake Winningham, Scene Writer ([email protected])

Billy Joel’s greatest hits album — the one with “Piano Man,” “Only The Good Die Young” and approximately 50 other songs you’ve heard a million times — only covers a small portion of his appeal. The issue with greatest hits albums and hit-loaded studio albums like Joel’s “The Stranger” is that they have a way of sanding down an artist’s rougher edges.

Joel’s 1982 album “The Nylon Curtain” is my favorite album from his catalogue exactly because it showcases his idiosyncratic side. His easily-digested hits are phased out for experiments like the Broadway-esque “Goodnight Saigon” or the rock-polka mismatch of “Pressure.” 

More importantly, the worst part of Joel’s songs is almost completely absent. Most of his biggest hits are rife with head-scratchingly bad lyrics — shoutout to all zero of the world’s real-estate novelists, who are apparently doomed to the single life if “Piano Man” is to be believed. 

“The Nylon Curtain” is home to Joel’s two most introspective songs: “Laura,” whose Oedipal rage finds Joel dropping an f-bomb, and album closer “Where’s The Orchestra?” The latter song is an understated mini-masterpiece from an artist who could rarely be described with that word. There’s no reason anybody should ever get tired of listening to Joel’s greatest hits — but if they do, there’s plenty of music worth listening to just below the surface.


An appreciation, of sorts, of ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ 

By Jake Winningham, Scene Writer ([email protected])

I have come to bury “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” not to praise it. It is shameful that in a career full of legitimately great songs, the biggest Billboard hit Billy Joel ever had is “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” The song is a typhoon of Baby Boomer nostalgia masquerading as lyrics; the instrumental sounds like “Ride of the Valkyries” remixed for Kidz Bop. “We Didn’t Start The Fire” legitimately may be the worst pop record of all time. Only four of the people mentioned in the song are still alive — is Joel’s invocation responsible for killing all the rest? I wouldn’t be surprised. 

“We Didn’t Start The Fire” steals the central conceit from R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” and dumbs it down; in the process, it may have inspired Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” another contender for pop music WOAT. The rapid-fire litany of historical events that Joel rattles off culminates in a particularly baffling revelation. Billy is apparently fine with foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack and Bernie Goetz — but rock and roller cola wars? Well, that he cannot take anymore. 

The most painful part of all of this is that this song’s awfulness will outlive us all. When we’re gone, it’ll still burn on. And on. And on.

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