Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why Billy Joel Sucks

The Missus and I got into an argument once over Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" when she praised it for being so creative. I countered with the notion that it's not creative at all, it's just listing things that happened in the 20th century in no particular order and occasionally rhyming. It has no consistency, no timeline, no over-arching narrative, no commentary on what's happening (other than the insightful "wow! isn't the world a crazy place where stuff always happens?"), nothing...it's just a meaningless recitation of major events and completely inconsequential events he threw in for reasons of cadence and rhyme.

And even then, the lyrics are fucking ridiculous. Listen to the song and really pay attention to it -- half the things he mentions are just people's names he throws out, and half of those people really don't warrant it. For instance, Bob Dole?!? What exactly was Bob Dole's impact on the fire of the world (which keeps on turning)? Being a forgettable Senator and handily losing a presidential election?

And what finally pushes Mr. Joel over the cliff at the end of the song? Nuclear paranoia? Mid-east turmoil? The savings and loan crisis?

Nope. The cola wars. Pepsi vs. Coke.

Do what you will to the world, says Billy Joel, but don't pit two innocent sodas against each other like that. How can we collectively live with ourselves after the billions of dollars in property damage and thousands of lives lost in that meaningless war?

For further proof, check out this great article detailing why Billy Joel sucks so much more than other similarly shitty pop musicians.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wrong. There is a consistent timeline in that song. There is an overarching narrative in that song. It's simply a list of headlines that give the Cold War a context. It also marks Joel's 40th birthday -1949 to 1989. That's it. So what? 'Be bop a lu la she's my baby'. And what's wrong with that? And that Slate article is a pathetic mess. The writer wet his pants in public. No substance to it at all. P.S. There is no mention of Bob Dole anywhere in this song. What kind of mushrooms have you been eating?

Ken Graham said...

I beg to differ - there is an obvious historical timeline in 'We Didn't Start The Fire'. The first verse begins in 1949 - which is acknowledged to be the beginning of the cold war-and each succeeding verse starts with a news headline from the next year. The iconic names, places and events begin to accelerate in the seventies - much as technology and events did at that time. The song ends in the year 1989 -which was the end of the cold war. The song is clearly marking time for a certain age group known as baby -boomers. I think it was written very cleverly. I see no need for a song to twist itself into a pretzel to explain itself when it is already so obvious what the writer's intention was. Just because you don't 'get it', doesn't mean everyone else is as obtuse as you are. Your thesis that this proves 'Billy Joel sucks' has no merit to anyone but you and probably that urine-soaked moron at Slate magazine. And the anon poster is correct. There is no mention of Bob Dole anywhere in the song.

T. Moran said...

Hey Mom, now you can tell your kid's friend to go fuck himself.

Anonymous said...

I don't suppose you'll have the decency to apologize to 'the Missus'. You don't have to change your opinion about Billy Joel to admit that you were wrong and she was right. Do the right thing.

Woz said...

Well, I'll be -- it turns out that there is indeed no mention of Bob Dole (I had been mis-hearing him say "Bardot"), so on that I apologize.

But who knew the piano man had such ardent supporters? And who knew they were so obsessed with urine?

But to reply to all of these en masse, it's still not a creative song. Sure, I'll give you that there may be some sort of narrative in that the events are in chronological order, but that's your best counter-argument? That he's listing random pointless shit in order instead of arbitrarily? And the cold war argument doesn't really hold water, because it's difficult to pinpoint when the cold war started, but most would agree it was well under way by 49.

But regardless, whether it's his 40th birthday or tracing the cold war, it still a pointless and uncreative song. Essentially all he's saying is "Wow, the world sure has changed over the past 4 decades." Yes, thank you Mr. Joel. How insightful of you to tell me that the world has changed over the span of multiple decades. It's too bad he didn't follow it with a stirring song about how summer always seems to follow spring -- I mean, isn't that crazy?

I'm sorry, but I can't back down on this one. Naming a bunch of headlines is neither creative nor entertaining, regardless of whether or not it follows a timeline

Anonymous said...

I thought your motto was 'This Blog Kills Facists'. Creativity is in the eye [or ear] of the beholder [or listener]. Entertainment is MTV for some and The History Channel for others. Who's wrong? Who's right? What's good? What's bad? Only a Facist would claim to know the answers for everyone - including 'The Missus' Good luck, Facist killer.

Brenda said...

I am with you, Woz! That song sucks. Two thumbs down. What the hell is "the fire"? And it's like this guy thinks that his lifespan actually means something in the history of the world. What is 40 years in the life of our universe? Nothing. Billy Joel, you are a speck of dust. Embrace it.

Woz said...

@ the last anonymous -- yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I do not believe it makes one a fascist to argue that some things are not as artistically well developed as some others. Surely you would not argue that a goth-obsessed eighth grader's awkward and derivative attempts at poetry are at the same level as Shakespeare, would you? Is there no room within free thought to say some ideas are not as good as others? In fact, I would say such critical thinking skills would be a great defense against the rise of fascism, but that's another subject for another day.

And yet, Billy Joel is still not very creative...

Anonymous said...

"Billy Joel is not very creative".............to you. But then again, you've probably never written a song in your life. You apparently have absolutely no idea how to create one. And all I've read from you is commentary about what others have actually created. So of what use are your self-bestowed "critical thinking skills" if you create nothing and ridicule those who do? Please couch your opinions with the disclaimer that they are merely yours. And let your wife enjoy the music that appeals to her without arguing with her about something that is completely subjective to everyone.

Woz said...

I think the very definition of critical thinking would be to be critical of the works of others, but I suppose we could argue that definition all day. Though I will point out that me not recording and distributing my own songs doesn't mean I can't say other people's songs aren't good. I don't play professional football, either, but I think it would be pretty fair of me to say the Lions were not a very good team this season.

But I would also point out that I never said no one is allowed to listen to or enjoy Billy Joel, I'm just saying he's an untalented hack. If you're into untalented hacks, well, all the more power to you and you have a wide variety to choose from.

One last note, though...anonymous -- you wouldn't happen to actually be Billy Joel would you? I've never seen anyone go to bat so hard for a washed-up pop star

T. Moran said...

"I never said no one was allowed to listen to or enjoy Billy Joel"...Ummm.....well.....yeah, you did. You said that you "had an argument with 'The Missus" about her "praising it for being so creative"- i.e. she's so stupid for liking it, and you're so smart for hating it. Remember? Hmmmmm....... Billy Joel writes love songs for his wife, and you argue with your wife about the Billy Joel songs she loves. And who's the insufferable bastard? Abracadabra! Billy Joel Sucks!

Anonymous said...

Washed-up pop star? How many washed-up pop stars sell out two nights at Shea stadium in less than an hour? Or sell out 12 shows at Madison Square Garden? Or perform with Elton John and sell out every ticket for their current our? Or sell out every show he's done for the last 25 years? Or continue to be the best selling recording artist on Columbia Records? Am I Billy Joel? No. But I'll tell you why I go to bat for him. I'm a musician too, and I know hard it is to write the kind of music he writes. He took a chance and devoted his whole life to music, for people like me to enjoy and for amateurs like you to insult. I go to bat for him because if he tried to defend himself against your so-called 'critical thinking skills' he'd be pilloried. I stick up for him because, in my opinion, he is so much better than you can ever comprehend, and because egocentric dilettantes like you believe that their own personal likes and dislikes constitute some kind of empirical evidence to make statements like "Billy Joel Sucks" - as if your opinion and that ludicrous diatribe by Ron Rosenbaum actually prove anything. I stick up for him because it is so difficult to do what he does and it is so easy to do what you do - which appears to be pretty much nothing.

Woz said...

Again, to direct you to the post, I didn't say anyone was stupid for liking Billy Joel, I said I didn't think he was creative. I understand that people can like something even f it isn't particularly clever or good; I myself like all sorts of music that doesn't qualify for much praise. Billy Joel is just one of those people that doesn't have many redeeming qualities that I don't like.

And anonymous, I know the creative process is very hard. I've tried to write music myself and had nowhere near any of the success Mr. Joel has, and I think it's pretty safe to say I never will. That still doesn't make him a good musician, though.

Either way, I guess I learned not to mess with Billy Joel on the internets, regardless of how I may feel about his musical output. So at least I've learned something in this process...

Anonymous said...

"I've tried to write myself and had nowhere near any of the success Mr. Joel has". Oh, you poor thing. Maybe you just didn't try hard enough. Maybe your whole life didn't depend on it like "Mr. Joel's" life did. Maybe it's a whole lot fucking harder than you can ever possibly fathom. Maybe you just don't have the talent, or the hunger, or the soul that it takes to do it as your main means of sustenance. Your pathetic attempt at humility is too little, too late. And your statement "that still doesn't make him a good musician,though" confirms your colossal ignorance. He is, undeniably, by every universal standard of technical and artistic excellence - A PHENOMENAL MUSICIAN. That is not up for debate. That is not a matter of opinion. That is not my side of things. That is an inarguable fact. Your consistent screed merely reinforces what is so obvious: You know NOTHING about music -repeat- NOTHING. You wouldn't know good musicianship if your life depended on it - which it clearly never did. Not like it did for Billy Joel. And I'm not dunning you because of your opinion. I simply despise your whole phony pretense of "critical thinking skills" pertaining to musical composition, theory, melody, basic harmony, inner harmony, thematic development, variation, chromaticism, rhythm, tempo, syncopation, counterpoint, rhyme, lyric integration, key signatures, time signatures, dynamics, ensemble technique,arranging, recording, producing, mastering, etc., etc., etc. Get this straight - your purely personal, parochial, politicized, prejudiced taste has not a shred of credibility or substance with regard to what is true musicianship. IT'S JUST YOUR OWN GOD-DAMNED SUBJECTIVE OPINION. I don't care if you hate everything Billy Joel does from here to eternity, YOU OBVIOUSLY KNOW NOTHING EXCEPT YOU. And until you realize that, you will never know anything.

Woz said...

Oh, anonymous -- how I wish you posted a comment on everything I wrote. While I am impressed with your ability to name a variety of musical terms (look I can do it, too -- clef, pitch, counterpoint, thematic composition, serialism, baroque, contralto, lyricism, mezzo soprano), but what I think I like the most about your retort is that you're essentially saying "You think he's no good and that's just your opinion. I think he is good, and that's not an opinion, that's fact."

I suppose that's a different subject entirely, but isn't it interesting how your opinion of the guy is fact and mine is ignorance?

Anyway, you clearly like Billy Joel and I clearly don't, so I think this subject is pretty much done (unless we want to take a few more turns of saying "Nu uh! You're the stupid-head!" some more), but thanks for the musically-inspired internet sparing round.

Anonymous said...

Okay stupid-head. Based on your seemingly boundless ego, your mind works like this "I don't like Billy Joel" ergo: "Billy Joel Sucks". While you may think "I don't like Billy Joel's songs" ergo:" He's not a good songwriter", or "I don't like Billy Joel's voice" ergo "He's not a good singer", you are confusing an artist's music with his musicianship. This is purely a matter of semantics. Some people may hate the music of Shostakovitch, but only a philistine or someone who is deaf would say that he is not a good musician. While I may strongly disagree with you, I wouldn't call you a philistine - although I do question your hearing capacity. Even Joel's harshest detractors recognize that he is a good musician. You'll notice that your hero Ron Rosenbaum wrote not a single word about Joel's music or his skill as a musician. Why? Because he'd have had to acknowledge that Billy Joel is good at something. God forbid. Anyway, I do regret that we are so diametrically opposed about Mr. Joel. You are a pretty good sparring partner.

Anonymous said...

You know, of all the songs ever written in popular music; I'd say only 1.5% (give or take) have had any point to them whatsoever. I am a big Joel fan, and I can admit this is far from his best song, but you need to stop crying over milk that spilt 20 years ago.

Henry Swanson said...

@Ken Thanks for taking time out from playing WoW to update us with that fascinating data! @Anonymous "You need to stop crying over milk that spilt 20 years ago" - reminds me of that Bill Hicks skit re: Jezus - "Since we're talking about shelf life.." B.J is offensively-inoffensive pap for people (/stuck in elevators) who find Music too edgy for their lukewarm tastes. That "Uptown Gurrrrl" video is laughable.. it makes me want to hurt Friends fans slowly. The only thing worse than aiming for the middle is hitting the mark - like B.J does every time. (PS I might be a bit biased here since I enjoy listening to Henry Rollins & electric era Miles Davis.)

Anonymous said...

I love the title of this blog because it is like Pandora's box: You open it and shit hits the fan. To whom ever made this blog criticizing Billy Joel, I applaud you. You have huge cahones addressing your opinion of the musician. The only thing that you could have done to strengthen your argument would have been to add a concession that confirms Joel's talents, but then bash "We didn't start the fire." I am personally a Billy Joel fan, but I agree that this song, in a way, is bland and lists random events.

Elizabeth, a hack musician from Florida said...

How hilarious! I never knew that it was just as popular to despise Billy Joel, as it is to love him! I'm one of those who has loved him - from age 13 to my current age of almost 50. I'll admit, "We Didn't Start The Fire" isn't among my top 70 favorite Joel tunes. But I don't care if it has a point, or not. I don't fault him for having put out anything he wrote, commercial or not. Airplay, after all, is not a bad thing, especially if music is your living. So people call him a "sellout"? I happen to think he's a supremely gifted performer and songwriter, and he's given me, personally, a lot of joy over the years. So you think he's a washed up hack? So what? As a musician myself, I have put ONE original album, and I sold a few thousand copies of it. But mostly I play covers. Some songs I cover are more "artsy" and some are pretty lame I guess by some standards. But I have made my whole living by performing music for nearly 30 years. I'm a nobody. I'm a local musician. I might have a thousand or several thousand fans, I have no clue. People come back to see me. I'm sure there are some who think I am a joke. (Most people don't say that to your face, when you aren't anywhere where they think you might need "taking down a notch" like Joel.) But maybe I'm a "hack". I mean, I'm sure that could be someone's opinion. Are they right or wrong? I don't care. I'm happy. But I'm not playing Madison Square Garden or riding around in a limo, am I? Go Billy! Millions love him, I guess now I know millions hate him. Who cares? It does prove that he accomplished SOMETHING - whether YOU hate it, or not ;)

Anonymous said...

This song gives me the farts just as much as his other 80 flacid "hits." America's whtie answer to actual soulful music, BJ has little to say except how awful it is to have money. We didn't start the fire is a grade school attempt at making some sort of statement, something that seems written while chugging down a box of pink wine with other limp friends and cackling at their cleverness. Oh dear BJ you have really related to problems us regular folk. Must go now... my doc says if I think of BJ too much my health is at risk.