Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Billy Joel 11: Greatest Hits

Firmly established as a superstar, the time was ripe for a bona fide Billy best-of. The helpfully titled Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II reflected its existence as a two-record set, arranged in rough chronological order, each volume helpfully subtitled with the relevant years.
Beginning with “Piano Man”, it pretty much has everything the casual top 40 radio fan would have heard already. A whopping five songs from The Stranger dominate the first record, with only three hits from the still-recent An Innocent Man on the second. (“Goodnight Saigon” anchors side three, suggesting his own input into the sequencing.)
To entice fans who already had all the albums already, two brand new songs were included, both designed to be counted among their brothers as true greatest hits. “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” is a jarringly bouncy track assuring the listener that it’s okay to make mistakes, since they’re part of life and everything—and just to prove it, he even flubs one of the choruses! What a silly goose. If this song actually helped prevent a suicide, that’s a good thing, but the knee-jerk critic’s response is to suggest that it probably drove more people nuts. All the way into the top ten.
The other new song was more of a production, and wasn’t as big of a hit. But “The Night Is Still Young” is a much more palatable track, with a vocal approach that echoes the Righteous Brothers, and gently layered keyboards that nudge the melody along. It’s one of those songs that’s rarely played anymore, but it welcome when it is.
The release history of the album has become somewhat confusing over the years. First, overseas markets swapped “Honesty” for “Don’t Ask Me Why”, while some tracks were the shorter (or live) single versions. The compact disc medium was a relatively new novelty, and the CD version of Greatest Hits took advantage of the extended capacity to add more songs (and long ones, too, including “Captain Jack” and “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”). The current CD you can buy or download now has everything in their full lengths.

Billy Joel Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II (1985)—4
1985 CD: same as LP, plus 4 extra tracks

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