His joy was infectious, as six of the album’s ten tracks were hit singles. At the risk of playing out a game of Spot the Influence, not everything on the album was as overt as “Uptown Girl”, which aped the Four Seasons, or “The Longest Time”, which brought a cappella doo-wop back to the radio. It helped that the songs could stand on their own. “Tell Her About It” was the first hit, spurred by a cute video complete with an Ed Sullivan impersonator and a cameo by Rodney Dangerfield (right around the time when his movie Easy Money came out, the title song of which happened to be the opening track on the album at hand). “Leave A Tender Moment Alone” helped revive the popularity of Toots Thielemans, whose harmonica would find its way to another Phil Ramone production a year later when Julian Lennon had a hit with “Too Late For Goodbyes”. Even the title track, a smooth pastiche of the Drifters that ran over five minutes, got airplay.
The woman who started it all got only one namecheck on the album, though “Christie Lee” is not exactly a highlight. “This Night” uses the vintage gimmick of borrowing from the classics—in this case, Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique—for the chorus, rendering that melody impervious to any other connotation. “Careless Talk” gets closer to the Sam Cooke style, but unfortunately, Billy is no Steve Perry. The one song that comes off the most contemporary is “Keeping The Faith”, which limits the nostalgia references to the lyrics, and effectively closes the album.
An Innocent Man had a lot of legs, with those hit singles carrying the album well into the following year. Being more pop than rock, it didn’t help his standing on the AOR stations, but Top 40 ate it up. And of course, being able to show off his girlfriend in his videos ensured that even the kids listening to Rush and Def Leppard looked forward to seeing him on MTV.
Billy Joel An Innocent Man (1983)—3½