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Jewish Conversion: The Billy Joel Experiment

Part III: ‘Until The Night’

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(CDandLP)

Wednesday, we discovered that Billy Joel’s love song “Rosalinda’s Eyes” shows nothing but contempt for humanity.

Yesterday, we discovered that Billy Joel’s “Los Angelenos” is not only an ersatz Steely Dan impersonation, but that it’s borderline racist.

This, of course, is only the perspective of one man–my colleague Liel–whom I am trying convince to give Billy Joel a friggin’ break. Two songs into the Billy Joel conversion and we have two strikes. But we’ll keep trying.

Here’s “Until The Night,” one of Billy Joel’s lesser-known tunes I sent Liel in the hopes of swaying him.

Like “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” this is from Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, released in 1978.

In this song, Joel, for all his preening, finally stops looking around and puts some humility on display. The result is “Until The Night,” a genuine love song about distance, need, insecurity, and even mortality. Is it full of bombast? Absolutely. Does he earn it? Yes.

Lyrically, he’s at his best here. Musically, he’s at his best here. “Until The Night,” despite not being a big hit, is not only considered by a number of fans and commenters to be his best song, but is also the centerpiece of a TERRIBLE German album of Billy Joel covers by Helena Vondráčková.

In addition to being a very able and committed nod to The Righteous Brothers, the song is textured with great vocal harmonies, humming, orchestral chimes, horns, some nylon strings, and what sounds like a church bell at the very end. But forget all that.

Instead consider the build that starts about four minutes into the song and carries through to what as to be one of the Top 5 Saxophone Solos of All Time™. When did people stop putting half-minute-long saxophone solos in music? I never thought I’d ask this question, but “Until The Night” begs it. You’d have to be some kind of monster to dislike this song.

***

Liel’s response:

This sounds like Barry Manilow on Quaaludes.

Oh, and “I’ll have my fears like every man / You’ll have your tears like every woman.”

Because “I never ask you where you go after I leave you in the morning,” I’ll never really know if you’re a real person but it
doesn’t matter because I’m really only interested in sleeping with you…

Sigh.

Earlier: Part I: “Rosalinda’s Eyes”
Part II: “Los Angelenos”

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OK, I’m getting into this! According to Amazon Mp3 there’s 3087 Billy Joel songs out there ( I didn’t have the patience to calculate the total songs there’s only 13 studio albums , etc) so I am settling in, canceling my cable and ordering pizza! I am enjoying this. As I’ve said, I like the earlier more obscure stuff the best, and the later hits kinda get on my wick. But this is a fascinating debate and thought provoking– what constitutes a good song? Is objective criteria possible or is it just subjective? Kepp at it fellas! :)

Billy’s doing it all for Helena.

If you want to minimize the schmaltz and the kitsch, don’t you think Glass Houses is your best bet, Adam?

marjorie says:

i did not know this one, and like it! the opening bars remind me of the beginning of Little Shop of Horrors. and i like the violins. OK, the lyrics are dumb but i’d argue (as i said in an earlier comment) that he HAS written some good character pieces. i see the Manilow, but it’s not Quaaludey, LIEL.

Apologies that this recording is overprocessed…doesn’t sound like this on 52nd Street, overpumped levels and such. This is one of my favorites, not the least of which is because it’s easy to play on piano. The story reminds me of [and i'm being old old here] one of my favorite episodes of Cheers, “Sam Time Next Year” [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0539845/].
Every Valentine’s Day, Sam disappears and never tells anyone where he goes — he has a secret rendesvous, once a year, same date, with a woman he happened to meet a few years back, had a perfect night, and they both resolved they’d return each year, same date. But they also vow they’ll never contact each other at all at any time during the year. He doesn’t know her number or real address, maybe not her real name, and in the episode, it’s finally getting to him. She reminds him of their deal, and that she might be willing to meet at some point during the year, but then would never see him again. And wouldn’t that just destroy something beautiful, after all?
Billy and this woman have an incredibly amazing time together. But he’s almost tortured that it all ends when the sun comes up. He’s afraid to ruin everything by asking too many questions, maybe it’s commitment, maybe she’s unattainable to him, it could all be his weaknesses that he’s doing this to himself. Regardless, he thinks he’s showing her respect by not intruding into her day-to-day, just hoping she’ll agree to see him again the next night. Could be he just met her — or she’s super famous — or her family wouldn’t approve — or he’s just a jerk. But it’s a real romantic, dark, 70′s kind of ballad for me, an ironic ballad that’s maybe more about the situation than the woman in the room.

Wrote a blog calling for another look at Joel a couple of years ago: http://joeygoodall.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/a-critical-reevaluation-of-billy-joel/

Case closed.
Your colleague is some kind of monster.

“The Billy Joel Experiment” is good fun and reminds me of a twenty-five year music feud I’ve had with a close friend and self-described music snob. He got the upper hand after we first met in Tel Aviv in 1987. We’d had a few Macabbi’s at an outdoor cafe on Ben Yehuda, sang “The Boxer” full blast, “Lie La Lie…” when he asked, “who’s your favorite band?” I loved lots of music and didn’t have one favorite. Gregory Isaacs, Joan Armatrading, Arik Einstein, 10,000 Maniacs, Steely Dan, and Yehudit Ravitz cassettes were what I was listening to at the time. I blurted “Tom Petty” and regretted the answer before the “tea” rolled off my twisted tongue. The derision came swift and fast. It’s remarkable we’re still friends. Still, after twenty-five years of music disagreements, I realize it’s not just about the music. (I can’t listen to Tom Petty at all anymore) It’s about reasoning, arguing and sharing a passion. Meeting that person where they are in their musical journey.
Adam Chandler chose “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” “Los Angelenos” and “Until the Night,” as easy to criticize softballs, in order to draw the ire of many BJ fans toward Liel who took the bate. BJ’s first two albums “Cold Spring Harbor” and “Piano Man” have beautifully composed songs like “She’s Got a Way” or “You’re My Home.” Much deeper and genuine than these shallower songs.
Keep arguing fellas. It’s a hoot.

“The Billy Joel Experiment” is good fun and reminds me of a twenty-five year music feud I’ve had with a close friend and self-described music snob. He got the upper hand after we first met in Tel Aviv in 1987. We’d had a few Macabbi’s at an outdoor cafe on Ben Yehuda, sang “The Boxer” full blast, “Lie La Lie…” when he asked, “who’s your favorite band?” I loved lots of music and didn’t have one favorite. Gregory Isaacs, Joan Armatrading, Arik Einstein, 10,000 Maniacs, Steely Dan, and Yehudit Ravitz cassettes were what I was listening to at the time. I blurted “Tom Petty” and regretted the answer before the “tea” rolled off my twisted tongue. The derision came swift and fast. It’s remarkable we’re still friends. Still, after twenty-five years of music disagreements, I realize it’s not just about the music. (I can’t listen to Tom Petty at all anymore) It’s about reasoning, arguing and sharing a passion. Meeting that person where they are in their musical journey.
Adam Chandler chose “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” “Los Angelenos” and “Until the Night,” as easy to criticize softballs, in order to draw the ire of many BJ fans toward Liel who took the bate. BJ’s first two albums “Cold Spring Harbor” and “Piano Man” have beautifully composed songs like “She’s Got a Way” or “You’re My Home.” Much deeper and genuine than these shallower songs.
Keep arguing fellas. It’s a hoot.

shira bat pat says:

Liel, here is what I wrote to Adam about this last week:

“It’s funny; I reflexively think of Joel as a tunesmith, but the truth is I
haven’t listened to him much in the last 20 years or so, aside from
what’s on the radio. When I was a young teen I really liked some of the
songs on Cold Spring Harbor (recording flaws notwithstanding), but I
just went back to try and figure out which they were and couldn’t.

I think ‘You Look So Good to Me’ could sound good with a different arrangement and sung by someone else. But that is not a ringing endorsement.”

popsiq says:

Then there’s the apocrypha about BJ and the shiksa Chrispy Bunkley having sex for the first time. Getting a load of Billy’s schwanz, Chrispy is said to have remarked,” Hey, you’re circumcised!”
Billy replied, “I’m Jewish.”
To which the Chrispy answered, “Oh. You’re one of those guys who don’t believe in … Jeeesus! That’s big.”
That, too, is poetry ;-)

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Jewish Conversion: The Billy Joel Experiment

Part III: ‘Until The Night’

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