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5 Overlooked Billy Joel Songs

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billy joel - knifeI came of age in suburban Staten Island during the 80’s, back when you couldn’t hang on the stoop without someone blasting Billy Joel from a boombox. Even my Italian grandparents loved “that little Jew.” They would pop in an 8-Track of The Stranger or 52nd Street in the Caddy on our trips to the city. I’d time it so the title track on The Stranger would blossom just as we popped out of the tunnel into the Battery.

My friend was more fanatic and would dress like Billy Joel… jacket, tie and jeans. I always looked like a shlub next to him. I was infatuated in my own less demonstrative way. I listened to a lot of those albums exclusively for years, took it personally when anyone criticized Billy, and wore out my VHS of Live from Long Island pretty quickly.

That being said, I’m not into many of the hits anymore. With 33 songs in the top 40, that’s a lot of songs to ignore. Don’t get me wrong, I had a ball at Brooklyn Bowl watching Gene Ween sing them live, but I’m not alone in never wanting to hear Piano Man or goddamn Uptown Girl again, am I? Billy has to be sick of those songs, too.

So what are some overlooked gems from the Billy Joel catalog? I thought you’d never ask.

1. All for Leyna / Glass Houses, 1980

Ok, I’m gonna start with an obvious one. Obvious to fans, that is. Let me be clear by saying good Billy Joel songs are not “overlooked” by fans, just by Joe Shmoe who probably only knows a fistful of hits.

As a ten year old in 1980 my only experience with women was a quick kiss here and there, yet lyrics like “I don’t wanna eat, I don’t wanna sleep, I only want Leyna one more time” spoke to the part of me that gave into obsessions. Granted most of my obsessions involved eating entire boxes of Cap’n Crunch when no one was looking, but there was definitely a girl or two I couldn’t get off my mind during all that crunching.

All For Leyna is Joel several albums away from his sweet and folksy debut. By now he’s heard The Police and wants in. My English teacher thought Glass Houses was the best example of Billy Joel selling out. He probably also thought Dylan sold out when he went electric. Whatever. At their core, these guys are entertainers, and entertainers like to make crowds happy. Billy started in a piano bar, for chrissakes.

2. Worse Comes to Worst / Piano Man, 1973

“And if I don’t have a car, I’ll hitch. I got a thumb and she’s a son of a bitch.”

My pal and I used to hang out in SoHo in our early teens and if we ever found ourselves in a sketchy neighborhood we starting mouthing the intro music to this song. It somehow represented something gritty and urban to us, which is so off the mark listening to it now. Sounds more like Jimmy Buffet taking a cab through the Lower East Side. Totally listenable, totally seventies with some great slide guitar and background vocals. I wish Billy would do smaller venues playing songs like this instead of his usual live stuff.

3. You Look So Good To Me / Cold Spring Harbor, 1971

You won’t look cool blasting this at full volume cruising down the bully, that’s for sure. It kinda sounds like white people getting dressed for an early supper. Almost like a James Taylor or Carol King cover, but it’s a Billy original, yo.

I’ve never heard it outside playing it for myself. Not on the radio, not in concert, never heard fans talking about it. Yet to me it’s the perfect little pop song. A little light lyrically, but Stevie Wonder could have a field day funking this love song up.

4. Close to the BorderlineGlass Houses, 1980

“I got remote control and a color TV. I don’t change channels so they must change me.”

This is drunk and probably stoned Billy uncharacteristically rocking out and letting loose in a way that made fans of Piano Man skip to the next track. I love it and I’m sure I’m not alone. I wish he made more balls to the wall songs like this.

Sung via the same impatient point of view as Pressure from The Nylon Curtain, it’s another litany of modern day anxiety encapsulated in four minutes of rock. It’s a road-house stomper that doesn’t take itself too seriously – which Joel is sometimes guilty of.

5. Surprises / The Nylon Curtain, 1982

“Don’t look now but you have changed.”

The ghost of John Lennon walks the halls of The Nylon Curtain in ways Joel never allowed before or since. I used to think this was Joel’s best record, and it certainly has a lot of great songs on it, but let’s be honest; it’s no 52nd Street. In fact, I forced myself not to include anything from 52nd Street on this list because that record belongs on a different list altogether.

The Nylon Curtain is famous for Allentown, Pressure and Goodnight Saigon, but Surprises, Laura, and A Room of our Own are the best tracks if you ask me, and you didn’t. It’s grown-ass suburban music fo’ shizzle. That he followed this record with a concept album exploring doo-wop is still jarring.

And so it goes… 5 overlooked tracks among many possible choices by a guy who has sold more than 150 million records worldwide. He even got to keep some of that money.

Now if only we could get him to write something new.

Recording as Electronic Device, Brooklyn artist and writer Eric Curran released his debut record "Two Dull Boys" in 2021.

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Writing Your First Book / Should I Self Publish?

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I had the distinct pleasure of  participating in a panel discussion on writing your first book, presented by the Harlem chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.  Alongside Jim St. Germain, Author – A Stone of Hope: A Memoir and Dr. Keneshia Nicole Grant, Author – The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century.  We opined on pain points, benefits and strategies regarding our inaugural voyages into authorship. Feel free to watch for your self and I hope this provides some insight to all those looking to make the same voyage. Enjoy!

Alfred Obiesie is a writer with over 12 years of online content contribution (Onetrackmine.com, Cartermag.com, Essence.com) and author (You Made It a Hot Line; The most influential lines in hip hop.) The book chronicles hip hop lines from the genre’s most notable artists spanning almost 40 years. It is illustrated by Grammy award winning Illustrator Shah Wonders and has garnered praise from multiple media outlets (Sirius XM, Vibe, Brooklyn Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, etc...)

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What the NFT is a BEEPLE?

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On March 11 this year, the digital artist Beeple sold a collage of digital images from his “Everydays” series for nearly 70 million dollars as an NFT, or non-fungible token. And if that sentence confuses you, you’re not alone.

A non-fungible token is a unit of data on a digital ledger called a blockchain, where each NFT can represent a unique digital item, and thus they are not interchangeable. NFTs can represent digital files such as art, audio, video, and other forms of creative work. While the digital files themselves are infinitely reproducible, the NFTs representing them are tracked on their underlying blockchains and provide buyers with proof of ownership.” – Wikipedia

Still confused? Let the artist himself explain it, and learn how he went from NFT newbie to making the third most expensive artwork by a living artist in three months. Not to suggest Beeple is an overnight success. The “Everydays” series alone involved creating a piece of art every day since May 1, 2007 – and he hasn’t missed a day.

Check out some of Beeple’s amazing and controversial work below.

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Comic Fans: Geek out with Cartoonist KAYFABE

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Cartoonist Kayfabe is a YouTube channel hosted by comic-book makers Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg.

Comics have come a long way since they were just for kids – and anyway, those kids have grown up and rightfully embrace it as  an artform. Cartoonish Kayfabe expertly walk you through the finer points of comic creation and appreciation, referencing some high quality images along the way.  If you’re a comic geek, you will dig it – especially if you’re into 90’s era and independent comics.

Recording as Electronic Device, Brooklyn artist and writer Eric Curran released his debut record "Two Dull Boys" in 2021.

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