he's also been more aware than many of his guitar-based peers that rock has always been a species of popular music and not a totally separate art form.
A bantam, hyperkinetic Rocky Balboa onstage, Joel works audiences into a lather of adulation with the snappy calculation of a borsch-belt ham. As cockily aggressive as Sammy Davis Jr., he lards his performances with schtick that usually includes impersonations of such genre greats as Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, et al. In the past, I've been hostile to this artist's feisty bravado, to the competitive edge of these impersonations, to Joel's strutting himself off as a rock & roll winner, because his blithe lampoons of rock icons have looked suspiciously like the blandishments of a spiritual impostor.
But in all fairness, Billy Joel has never pretended to be more than the consummate showman that he is, and his charades contain a great deal of humor. Besides, times have changed. The late Seventies are not very conducive to rock shamanism. And Joel is very much a phenomenon of the times: an urban realist in the age of gossip mongering and the sinking dollar, a cynical ultraprofessional in a booming culture racket, the artistic standards of which are now almost completely determined by mass-market technologies.
Neither a great singer nor a great writer, Billy Joel is a great show-business personality in the tradition of Al Jolson. The same qualities that distinguish his schtick also distinguish his singingbluntness, brashness, a middle- to lower-middle-class fringe urbanity and plenty of heart. Joel's is a sidewalk voice from the chorus of West Side Story, vending chutzpah. His complete lack of vocal subtlety, though an artistic limitation, is still one of his charms. He's every scuffling city boy who ever made it big, crowing with ego but also giving back his all.
Joel's songwriting forte is pop pastiche. As with so many rock stars, one of his most important early influences was Bob Dylanin fact, "Piano Man" and "Captain Jack," two of his more ambitious early tunes, as well as the more recent and better "She's Always a Woman," are practically keyboard parodies of Dylan critiques. Both lyrically and musically, Joel's compositions tend to be very direct (there's not much beneath the surface), a little awkward, somewhat overstated and extremely melodic. Billy Joel's best pop songssentimental standards