Fire & Water Records – Billy Joel


Rob welcomes podcaster extraordinaire Tom Panarese to talk about the music of the Piano Man himself, Billy Joel!

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26 responses to “Fire & Water Records – Billy Joel

  1. Terrific episode, guys! Great topic and wonderful discussion.

    I wasn’t a huge Billy Joel fan growing up; I was mostly just familiar with his big hits. Like Tom, I enjoy “We Didn’t Start the Fire” un-ironically, and also, like Tom, I never liked “Uptown Girl” except when Homer Simpson belts it out from the back of Martin Mull and George Carlin’s car.

    However, about ten years ago I did a dive into all of his albums and built myself an iTunes playlist that was… (hang on, double-checking…) Wow, 34 songs deep! Most of them are of the Greatest Hits variety but there are a few deep cuts in there. Just about all the songs you guys brought up are on my list, except for “Vienna” and “Rosalinda’s Eyes”. I don’t remember those. I’ll have to go back and listen to them again.

    My Top 5 Billy Joel playlist (in no particular order):

    1. “Only the Good Die Young” – I can understand why some might think this song is too pop-like compared to some of his deeper, darker tunes, but I still dig it. Beyond the catchy quality, the lyrics have always resonated with me, reminding me of my good Catholic girlfriend from senior year of high school. I wouldn’t say the crowd I ran with was dangerous, per se, but “we might be laughing a bit too loud” indeed.

    2. “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” – for all the reasons you guys said.

    3. “The Longest Time” – yeah, it might be a cheesy do-wop song, but I love it. For a time, this was in the rotation of songs I would sing to my son to put him to sleep at night.

    4. “The Entertainer” – for all the reasons you guys said.

    5. “And So It Goes” – probably my favorite Billy Joel song, although whenever I hear the piano at the start of this song I’m reminded of “All I Know” by Art Garfunkel, which I like far, far, faaaarrr better. Maybe a dubious honor that my favorite Joel song reminds me of someone else’s better song. Oh well.

    Tom has an open invitation to come on FWR whenever he wants to chat about anything he wants.

      1. Welcome.
        It’s up there as one of my favorite Billy Joel songs. I even did some role playing sessions based on my thoughts on what that alternate universe would look like going from what the narrator in the song described and historical postulations.

  2. Great episode. Joel was a unifier in the house, someone everyone liked, a record my parents and all my siblings could listen to without griping. That is amazing.

    I’ll give my 5. But one isn’t a favorite song as much as a favorite family story. And while I love Joel, I will share the top 4 songs I lick of his to sing in the shower/karaoke. I guess that makes them my favorite.

    1) You May be right – now I’m not the lunatic who gets drunk and drives a motorcycle in the rain, but I thought this song represented my trying to date in high school and college. A comic reading, D&D playing premed guy was a ‘lunatic’ in comparison to jocks, etc. I kept hoping that someone would think that it just may be a lunatic they were looking for.

    2) She’s got a way – shows the breadth of his talent. Slow, piano love sing. Wonderful.

    3) Pressure – a bit more rock, great psychedelic lyrics, and a great song when you are feeling pressure. Cathartic.

    4) Don’t ask me why. – for all the reasons you say.

    And then the story. I grew up in a pretty conservative Catholic house. As I said, Joel was a unifier. We listened to his albums a lot. Well, at some point my mother came up to me and said ‘do you know what ‘only the good die young’ is about?’ She used to sing it in the house all the time not realizing it was about a guy trying to convince a good girl to have sex. It must have hit her like a ton of bricks. ‘Well,’ she said. ‘We won’t be playing that song in this house anymore.’ She made us skip it! I love that story so much!

  3. Wow, this is the podcast i never knew how much i needed! I’m so relieved to hear someone else dissect Billy Joel’s lyrics and break down his songs the way that Ryan and I do. I’ve always heard the underlying sadness in his words and themes, masquerading as uptempo pop tunes. But had trouble convincing anyone else (then again, my problem may have been trying to discuss it with Long Islanders).

    Example? Sure. In 2004, i got married in an epic Italian Long Island ceremony. And as you can imagine, Billy Joel was a recurring prerequisite for the reception; culminating in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” when all 200 attendees literally stopped every conversation mid-sentence and rushed the dance floor to “air piano” and sing. But as fun as it was, I couldn’t escape the haunting feeling that the song’s lyrics would doom my marriage (it did, by the way). When i mentioned it to my then-wife Tina (or Teen-er, as it’s pronounced on the LIRR), she had no idea what i was talking about. So i roped in some other members of my new NY family. And they seemed just as lost. Confused, i reminded them that they all sang every single word of the song just an hour ago so how did they NOT know that Brenda & Eddie got divorced? I mean, we all just waved goodbye to them..?

    And then it dawned on me. They weren’t musical snobs like my brother and i. They can memorize lyrics simply by repetition (think hooked-on-phonics) without ever considering what it was that they were saying. Because it wasn’t important to them. So I brought up others like “Summer Highland Falls” (my personal fave BJ song) and “I’ve Loved These Days” and again… crickets. It had never occurred to them how sad the lyrics really are. “He’s just friggin’ awesome” is all they’d say! And to a certain degree, they’re right. He is. But for me personally, I always wanted to know more and dig deeper and experience the hopes and dreams, highs and lows, heartaches and heartbreaks of the writer. So you guys did what i’ve been waiting for someone to do with Billy Joel for a long time.

    Needless to say, Teener and Neil went the way of Brender and Eddie. But thanks to her and my time spent on Long Island, I’ll always have a ton of Billy Joel memories, from backyard BBQ karaoke parties to seeing him perform at Madison Square Garden. Ironically, one of my closest musician friends is now NY/NJ’s premiere Billy Joel tribute act, “Captain Jack” (shameless plug for a friend)! Anyway, your podcast stirred up all kinds of great memories and has me primed to revisit my Billy Joel playlist for some new insights. So thanks guys for the great show. Looking forward to more…

  4. Partway through the episode, and had to beat Chris Franklin to saying noted art connoisseur Vincent Price curated the paintings sold by Sears.

    Among my top 5 would be “Just the Way You Are” for its sound, which the Internet tells me borrows the tape loop voice machine fron 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love. ” “Innocent Man,” and “River of Dreams. “

  5. Fantastic show, fellas. I am a passing Joel fan. Like the hits, never owned an album. But he’s pretty much everywhere. His videos were always entertaining back in the day, and although most probably don’t hold up now (very few music videos do), at the time they were normally inventive and worth watching.

    And yes, as a kid, I loved “Uptown Girl”. The video was fun. And Christie Brinkley! I didn’t realize it was “lame” until that Simpsons episode you guys mention.

    I didn’t realize he hasn’t produced an album since “River of Dreams”. I really dug that title track, with it’s “In the Jungle” type beat and lyrics, but much deeper spiritual meaning.

    Oh, and one more comic connection. In the video for “A Matter of Trust”, the building Joel and his band are playing in has some kind of poster with a John Romita Spider-Man on it. I caught that at the time, and it still sticks with me.


  6. Thanks for a entertaining episode! I’ve always been a passing fan of Billy Joel. I knew some of his hits and enjoyed them, but never followed that up with a deeper dive. So I really enjoyed this episode which gave me a larger appreciation of some of his other songs. Special of note is Summerland, Highland Falls, which I never heard before but it hit me like a ton of bricks listening to it on this episode. So much so that it gave me goosebumps! Thanks for a new favourite song to listen to! Keep up the great work and I can’t wait to hear what artist is next,

    1. I forgot to mention my one main memory of Billy Joel is when I was about 6 or 7 and seeing my older brother play Glass Houses over and over again. He really loved that album and I thought the cover looked neat.

  7. ok,
    this is a true story from my youth.
    I had to be under 10 listening to billy joel, he was all over the radio. you could not get away from him.

    the song “big shot” with these lyrics:
    You had the Dom Perignon in your hand
    And the spoon up your nose

    i just remember thinking, why would anyone have a spoon up their nose????
    it just didn’t make any sense to me…

    i have since then figured it out.

    and a message to pan pan, if you want to one of these about bruce, let me know!!!!

  8. I was a huge Billy Joel fan in the 70’s and 80’s, bought all the albums from The Nylon Curtain onward, plus backward. Saw him live on the An Innocent Man tour etc.

    I think around the early 90’s I had put too much of his music in my ears. I just became tired of the whole catalogue and need a break.

    That break lasted till 2018. Finally dig out the CDs and put them back into my phone’s rotation.

    So this episode is excellent and timely.

    Fave album is Nylon Curtain, top 5 songs are:
    All for Leyna
    Goodnight Saigon
    We Didn’t Start the Fire
    Moving Out

  9. My two favorite albums are
    Storm Front and КОНЦЕРТ

    Top fav songs in no order
    Miami 2017
    Goodnight Saigon
    Keeping the Faith
    Scandinavian Skies
    The Downeaster ‘Alexa’ and / or Leningrad

  10. Thanks for this guys – absolutely loved this.

    My parents had the cassette of An Innocent Man and played it a lot through the mid-80s – it’s probably still my favourite of his albums.

    Then I took the cassette with me to university in ‘93 and despite Britpop and Cool Britannia, I ended up as a big fan – bought all of his albums on CD or cassette except for Streetlife Serenade.

    Needless to say, my enthusiasm got a lot of sarcastic comments, but I never even pretended to be cool. My enthusiasm has waxed and waned over the years, but this episode was, as Shag says, an example of finding my joy. Particularly liked how enthusiastic you were for Songs from the Attic – listened to it again today, as I’d forgotten how good it is.

    My top 5 varies, but at the moment they are:

    – Big Shot
    – Uptown Girl (I don’t care how cheesy people think it is)
    – Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
    – All for Layla
    – Miami 2017

    Thanks guys

  11. I like Billy Joel alright– as much as the next guy, so long as the next guy isn’t a fellow commenter here. I feel like Joel doesn’t get a lot of credit because he’s a regular guy. I mean, he’s a middle class, middlebrow, straight Italian white dude who grew up listening to the Rat Pack and only the lightest complected doo-wop/rock/etc. He’s therefore not gay, perpetually looks like someone’s befuddled dad, is as eager to please as an attention starved puppy, owes no exceptional debt of influence to artists of color, had the unmitigated gall to cheat on Christie Brinkley, and was in no way out of place voicing/performing for a Disney cartoon. Plus, his instrument of choice is a piano, and only angry alterna-chicks get street cred for tickling the ivories.
    If Paul Pfeiffer grew up to become Marilyn Manson, Kevin Arnold is Billy Joel. He may help you get laid, but you won’t actually do the business to a Billy Joel soundtrack and successfully maintain an erection. He’s talented, certainly, but he’s never cool, absolutely. Arguably the living embodiment of adult contemporary in the 1980s.

    “You May Be Right,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “Big Shot,” “My Life,” and “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” are the least embarrassing for me to be caught listening to. Garth Brooks’ “Shameless” is so much better that Joel’s sounds like the halfhearted cover. I mostly only like “Modern Woman” because of Ruthless People, which I haven’t seen since before Chad Bokelman was born. You guys keep bringing up “A Matter of Trust” and it just makes me wish for a Depeche Mode episode.

  12. Great show Team!
    Billy Joel was my first ever concert, with my Mom and brother, stepdad (before he became my stepdad) and his kids on the Bridge Tour in 1986.
    Since then, I’ve seen him 4-5 times, second only to Eric Clapton (another time, another place).
    My goodnight rocking chair song for my oldest was “Lullabye” and still tugs at my heartstrings. No matter how old she gets, that song will always put my Baby Amanda in my arms.
    But enough reflection.
    MY 5 Billy Joel songs are:
    2000 Years
    The Stranger (I’d whistle this anywhere and everywhere throughout my high school years)
    Angry Young Man
    Leningrad – I grew up in that Cold War fear, so this one was really poignant to me, especially coupled with the TV special that took us with Billy and family into the heart of Russia.

  13. I enjoyed this more than I expected to! I have kind of a knee-jerk reaction to Billy Joel and his music. There’s a resentment from 13-year-old-me against my big sister playing his albums (52nd Street, Glass Houses) over and over. There’s the annoyance/jealousy of the (Long Island) guy in college who played nothing but Joel on the piano in the Student Union. There’s also the over-saturation of so many of his records. As an older man, I have gotten over my teen angst with me sister, and I greatly admire my fellow alum who entertains many people playing Billy Joel songs on his piano! I can even enjoy some Joel hits for nostalgia sake, but I’m not a fan of his music. I am a fan of his musicianship, though! When I do listen to those records, I not only like his piano-playing, but also the arrangements and instrumentations. I also like hearing “back-stage” stories. I heard an interview Joel had with Alec Baldwin on the latter’s NPR show. It was a fascinating perspective, as the host could ask questions as a peer. How one deals with fame, how one has a celebrity marriage, etc. Joel was quite candid and very interesting!
    Finally, I want to share this with you. I play in a rock band. We have a new song in our repertoire called “My Baby Like To Rock.” In the bridge the singer sings a list of bands that his baby likes. When we first started learning it, we observed that “list” section was quite similar to “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” So, the writer made an adjustment, and now the bridge ends with: “Nick Lowe, XTC, Buzzcocks, DMZ,
    Black Lips, Plimsouls, (She hates Billy Joel!)”
    The lyrics in parentheses are sung (shouted) by the whole band. Rob and Tom, if we record this, I’ll let you know!

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