This deserving Top 10 pop hit from 1980 certainly sounds convincing as an up-tempo, slightly edgy rocker, but it's hard to escape the feeling that Joel's portrait of an unhinged first-person narrator is a bit too calculated for its own good. After all, much of 1980's Glass Houses attempted to put to rest Joel's rather neutered soft rock image, and what better way to do so than spotlighting his rebellious, nihilistically carefree side. Perhaps that's overanalysis (imagine that on a music website), because at its most basic this song works remarkably well in terms of its new wave guitar rock sound and Joel's clever and humorous lyrics. I'm not sure exactly what "alone in your electric chair" means, but it's nothing if not interesting.
Following the relative silliness of a smash hit like "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," Joel must have felt he needed to get serious in order to ensure his musical legacy. He does so brilliantly here, layering some convincing, heartfelt social examination atop a strong piano foundation. Of course, Joel can't touch Bruce Springsteen in the area of fighting for the disenfranchised through pop music, but he rivals John Mellencamp's solid mid-'80s work here. There's courage in Joel's retrospective look at Baby Boomer nostalgia that unearths the bitterness and hopelessness encountered by such figures as they aged and sometimes found their livelihoods stripped away. An empathetic protest song that deserves its continuing status as important music.
As I've mentioned before, Joel's synth part on this track from The Nylon Curtain may be one of my favorite keyboard riffs of all time, a brilliant, frenetic instrumental accompaniment for the emotional powder keg of the song's lyrics. The tune also succeeds as an effective rock song with minimal guitar, which is a rare feat that Joel desperately wanted to accomplish back when he formed the ill-fated Attila. As in "Sometimes a Fantasy," Joel takes on the persona of an addled modern man struggling to cope with his emotions. It's a territory in which the singer works capably, and with the benefit of his unfailing melodic sense ("I'm sure you have some cosmic rationale"), Joel's lyrics come off as sophisticated and insightful most of the time.
Though certainly another example of an oldies throwback number from the 1983 album of the same name, this song has always felt to me like a far superior effort than the wildly popular but ultimately annoying hit singles of that time like "Tell Her About It" and "Uptown Girl." Anchored by a haunting, moody bass line and a very solid melody, this tune features also some of Joel's finest, expressive singing, including an impressive range. Rather typically, the title takes on a mild tack of defensiveness, as if Joel must convince someone of his innocence or at least grapple with some sort of unexplained guilt. That chip on his shoulder, both real and imagined, has always enhanced the music of one of America's top '80s hitmakers.
As much as Joel has tried desperately to attract critical acclaim, he has also been smart for other reasons to go for different sounds on each and every album. And although doo-wop and '60 soul styles have always been a part of his music, he certainly makes that comparison undeniable on the tracks from An Innocent Man. This gentle song again proves Joel to be a soulful singer capable of much passion and emotion. More importantly, this kind of music, perhaps more than any of Joel's long career, demonstrated a tremendous versatility and appeal within the pop market simply because it covered so many styles simultaneously. Still, this was most certainly a long way from Joel's ambitions to rock three years earlier.
Maybe it's a coincidence, but it is interesting to me that Joel released his last truly great single after re-establishing dominant electric guitar in his music. The rock groove of this Top 10 hit from 1986's The Bridge almost ranges into a hard rock sound, but beyond that the songwriting stands at a level surprisingly high given the relatively decreased quality of the album. Joel would go on to produce two more albums that made their primary mark during the '90s, but no songs from either would really reach the same area of transcendence found here. This song basically strikes me as one of the last times Joel put together an equal effort of lyrical, musical and conceptual brilliance in his music.