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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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Rest Easy Eric Curran a.k.a M.C Krispy E

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Almost every year for the past 6 years and on the same day, I’ve posted the same pic of me in the hospital  during my temporary and untimely demise  in 2015. A few weeks after I was back to “normal”, I asked Eric “Why’d you take the pics?” And he said, “I knew you would want to write about it if you lived.” Eric was right. Eric was often right and Eric always had my best interest at heart. I am going to miss my friend.

You ever meet someone and become friends immediately?! Well this was not the case with Eric. Before he was my manager at Morgan Stanley, I would often see this 6’4″, giant white guy walk up to the only black woman at work, say something then walk away without any hint of human emotion. Naturally I thought he was a jerk until I asked her “Yo, is that dude bothering you?” She laughed and proceeded to tell me he was a great person, which I ultimately got to experience first hand. Little did I know this Italian from Staten Island was more Brooklyn than most Brooklynites.

Eric was not with the shits!! If there were ever someone who lived their life in direct, honest and no uncertain terms, that would be Eric. He would ask me questions at work like “Why are the other consultants making more money than you?” I knew the answer to that question and so did he. Eric then proceeded to increase my salary by 15K. After arguing with all our managers that “You need to hire Alfred!”, they eventually did 1 year prior to the 2015 incident. In the hospital, one of my friends asked me, “What if you didn’t have health insurance when this happened?” I would be in debt for the rest of my life is the obvious answer. I still am in debt for the rest of my life but at least, it is to those who made sure I had a more enjoyable life and for that, I will gladly repay.

My mom loved to tell me the story of how she met Eric. After they told her I was going to be in the ICU for some time, she told the doctor “Well I’m not going anywhere.” She then hears a voice from that back of the room that says “Well I’m not going anywhere either!” That was Eric and in true form, he was at that hospital every single day until I was discharged.

Eric passed away in December 2021 of stage 4 cancer. After feeling faint on his way to my bbq, he went to get checked out and was diagnosed. During the past 5 years, Eric lost his mom, twin brother and dad. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have felt like but I’m glad that pain he was feeling is no more.

It’s been a bit difficult to deal with it to be quite honest and I’ve been writing this in my head for years but never had the bravery or grace to accept that my friend wouldn’t be here soon. I also can’t imagine what it must be like to lose your entire family nucleus unexpectedly. In true Eric fashion however, I would like this to not be about me but whomever has lost someone and has been coping. I’ve always intimated that my life would not be as enriched as it was were it not for the people in it. The problem with that is there is also no way to deny that it feels empty without those who helped craft your path. Rather than focus on the negative, I would rather focus on the examples of duty, family and emotional intelligence. All concepts reinforced by Eric that have led me to have successful relationships since I’ve put them into practice.

From being my manager to my business partner, writer, book editor, artistic director, and most importantly, my friend, I am going to miss you MC Krispy E a.k.a “Enrique Pollazo!” And although you told me Enrique means Henry in Spanish and not Eric, it was too late!

Sidebar. The day I was discharged, while everyone was deciding what was best for me, no one had remembered that I would need clothes in order to leave the hospital. Eric shows up (unasked) with all the clothes I had on the day I coded, laundered and ready to go. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve friends like this but i need to keep doing it! Sidebar complete.

Rest in Peace Eric. “Be Good.”

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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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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