Friday, August 9, 2013

Billy Joel - An Innocent Man

Today (August 9th) marks the thirtieth anniversary of An Innocent Man, the ninth studio album from Billy Joel. This 1983 release has gone multi-Platinum in sales and charted at number 39 in Sweden, number 36 in Germany, number 14 in Japan, number 12 in Canada, number 9 in Norway, number 4 on the US Billboard Hot 200, number 3 in Australia and Japan, number 2 in the UK and number 1 in New Zealand.

An Innocent Man spent one hundred and eleven weeks on the US Billboard charts, and over a year on the charts in Australia, Japan and the UK as well. It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year (losing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller).

Side one opens with “Easy Money”, the title tune from the Rodney Dangerfield comedy of the same name (whose soundtrack I reviewed earlier this week). The song has a big, brassy sound to it thanks to the horns of Ronnie Cuber, Jon Faddis, David Sanborn and Joe Shepley. Joel even goes with guttural growls and howls on the vocals in honor of classic R&B performers like James Brown.

The title track “An Innocent Man” is next. As the third single, it reached number 24 in New Zealand, number 23 in Australia, number 16 in Canada, number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 8 in the UK, number 3 in Ireland and number 1 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. This slower-tempo number has a street-corner serenade sound, complete with accompanying finger snaps. I instantly get the image of a darkened street with a single street lamp lit in the distance as a beacon of hope. Joel goes into the high falsetto range for some of the notes on the chorus.

Continuing that street-corner theme, we get the doo-wop vocal harmonies from “The Longest Time”. It charted at number 25 in the UK, number 24 in New Zealand, number 18 in Ireland, number 15 in Australia, number 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on the US Adult Contemporary chart.

While being the B-side to the fifth single, “This Night” charted at number 78 in the UK and number 88 in Japan. The chorus is based on the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor. Here, the lyrics tenderly hold those moments that are making up a fantastic date as if they were a fragile object. Joel sings from the heart as he does not want the evening to end. Mark Rivera plays the saxophone solo.

The first single “Tell Her About It” charted at number 58 in Japan, number 39 in the Netherlands, number 19 in Belgium, number 9 in Australia, number 5 in Canada, number 4 in the UK, number 2 in Ireland, and number 1 on both the US Billboard Hot 100 and the Adult Contemporary charts. Done in a classic Motown style, the lyrics tell of two buddies hanging out and one insists that the other go share his feelings with the woman he desires. Whenever I hear this one, even three decades later, my feet instantly start to bounce. Thanks to its up-tempo beat and outgoing optimism, we had a great time dancing to it back in college.

Side two begins with “Uptown Girl”, the album’s second single. It charted at number 18 in Austria and Germany, number 10 in the Netherlands, number 4 in Canada, number 3 in Belgium, Norway and the US Billboard Hot 100, number 2 on the US Adult Contemporary chart, and number 1 in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and the UK. The lyrics tell of a guy from the wrong side of the tracks that is in love with a wealthy, high society gal. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance but Joel lost this category to Jackson as well. Joel emulates Frankie Valli on the vocals for this song.

For “Careless Talk”, the lyrics speak to rumors spread and how it is best to ignore them when trying to getting to know someone.

The B-side to the fourth single was “Christie Lee”, an ode to Joel’s then-girlfriend and soon-to-be wife supermodel Christie Brinkley. This one has grown to become my favorite of the deeper cuts on the record. I like the story it tells, backed by high energy music that includes Joel's rollicking piano and Rivera's teasing sax.

The fifth single “Leave a Tender Moment Alone”, which features a harmonica solo by Belgian jazz musician Toots Thielemans, charted at number 76 in Australia, number 58 in Canada, number 29 in the UK, number 27 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 21 in New Zealand, number 16 in Ireland and number 1 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. I have always liked the way this one sways along on a gentle rhythm as a guy fumbles with the awkward anxiousness of a new relationship.

“Keeping the Faith”, a song that sums up the entire album, was released as the sixth and final single. It charted at number 81 in Canada, number 38 in New Zealand, number 18 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 3 on the US Adult Contemporary chart. The lyrics reminisce about growing up in the 1950’s yet end with the message that the past wasn’t always as good as you remember it and that the future isn’t as bleak as it might seem. The syncopation of the percussion and guitars is very infectious, and, when I hear it, my entire system begins to skip along to the beat.

An Innocent Man was a hugely popular album during my first two years of college (fall of 1983 through spring of 1985). Even though I had been a big Billy Joel fan since the late 1970's, I did not own this one on vinyl as I felt I did not need it then (the songs were everywhere). If I remember correctly, my freshman year roommate Steve had a copy of vinyl, as did many others on the floor. The hit singles kept coming on the radio; they would also play at parties all about campus and out at the bars.

Years later, I would get half of the tracks from a greatest hits CD collection, and then about four years ago I filled in the rest of An Innocent Man on my digital library. I think the reason I enjoy this album so much is because of its refreshing throwback sound when compared to the rest of the music released during the summer of 1983. As a fan too of many of the 60's artists that inspired Joel, I think he did a great job with it. I like that he made original songs in the same styles from that period, rather than just do an album of covers.

Here are more of my Billy Joel album reviews:

- For 1977’s The Stranger, click here.

- For 1978’s 52nd Street, click here.

- For 1980’s Glass Houses, click here.

- For 1982’s The Nylon Curtain, click here.

1 comment:

HERC said...

Huge fan during late 70s like you but I bought An Innocent Man the day it came out - the lady in my life insisted upon it.

Like you, I enjoy it as heartfelt tribute to the music of his youth and enjoy his originals rather than covers.