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Billy Joel blends 1950s style in an 80s record in his album “An Innocent Man”

Billy Joel is one of the most famous artists on the planet. He has made many hit songs, including “Piano Man,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”. He also has many hit albums, such as “The Stranger” and “52nd Street.” Today I will be talking about an equally great album, “An Innocent Man”. 


“An Innocent Man” was Joel’s ninth album, and was released in 1983. The album serves as a love-letter to the pre-Beatles music of the 1950s, and since Billy Joel just released a new song, I think it’s time to look back at this iconic album.


The album’s concept came from Billy Joel’s divorce from his wife, and due to being on the dating scene again, it reminded Joel of his teenage years, and the music from that time.


I feel the best way to review this album is to go through the songs genre by genre, with the exception of “Uptown Girl,” which I have saved for last. I will also be covering the music videos to the songs that have them.


Before I go into the music, I want to cover the album artwork first. The album cover for the album, which features Joel sitting on the front steps of 142 Mercer Street in Manhattan, New York City, is a boring album cover. 


Album cover to “An Innocent Man.”


Joel has had many great looking album covers, such as “52nd Street,” “Turnstiles,” “River of Dreams,” etc. This is not one of them. It’s not cool-looking for interesting, nor does it scream anything 1950s. The single cover for “Keeping the Faith” would have been a much better cover for the album, as it shows Joel standing in front of a jukebox.


It’s not just me who thinks this image is bad, as when I showed the album cover to one of my friends, he genuinely thought at first that it was a deep-fake AI image of Jerry Seinfeld.


The back cover of the album shows Joel and his band-mates posed on the same set of stairs, and is much cooler than the front. 


The record sleeve to the album has the lyrics to all the songs, along with a photo of Joel. 


Something else the record came with is a poster of Joel standing in front of a wall, which has a cross graffitied onto it. This should have also been a contender for the album cover in my opinion.


Poster that was included with the album.


Now onto the songs. 


I want to start off talking about the best genre on the album in my opinion, which is doo-wop. 

Doo-wop as a genre started in the 1950s, and is known for its lack of instruments, instead replacing them is vocals. Doo-Wop songs have numerous layers of vocals. Probably the best known doo-wop song is The Chords’ “Sh-Boom.”


While “Uptown Girl” is technically a doo-wop song, I’m not including it here, since I more to say about it than others. 


“The Longest Time” is the first doo-wop song on the album, and frankly it’s my favorite song off the album. All the vocals, which were all done by Joel himself, are great and Joel is able to harmonize with himself perfectly. 


The music video to “The Longest Time” is also enjoyable. It shows an old Billy Joel at an empty class reunion, when his band-mates enter and start singing. Despite Joel doing all the vocals for the song, it shows his band-mates doing the backing vocals in the video. The old version of the band also meet their younger selves, much to the bemusement of the school janitor.


The follow-up song, “This Night” is equally as great. The harmonies on this song are equally as gorgeous. The interesting thing about this song is its chorus, which is taken from Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata. While that doesn’t sound like it would work on paper, its inclusion in the song is amazing. It also has a killer saxophone solo.


The last doo-wop song on the album, “Careless Talk,” while good, is the weakest out of the three. Everything that worked in the previous two songs is also here, but weaker. 


The album also features rock and roll/R&B songs. 


The first song off the album, “Easy Money” is a rockin’ opening track, with a great chorus. The song was the first song written for the album, and was written for the Rodney Dangerfield comedy film of the same name. 


“Christie Lee” is Joel’s tribute to Little Richard, and while good, is one of the weaker songs on the album. While the piano playing is top-notch, the vocals don’t match Richard’s enthusiasm. The saxophone playing is great though.


The closing song on the album, “Keeping the Faith,” is also very underrated in my opinion. It’s a very fun rock and roll song. The lyrics focus on nostalgia for the 1950s, which suits the album perfectly.


The music video to “Keeping the Faith” is definitely the best out of the four music videos. First of all, the music video has a plot. The plot shows Joel being taken to court to see if he’s guilty for not keeping the faith, or if he’s an innocent man, a clever tie-in to the title song. 


The court set is amazing, with many music references. The judge’s suit has a treble note on the front, and his desk is a jukebox, which is shown on the cover to the single. 


On the walls are many gold records, and the stairs to the courthouse are piano keys.


This music video also features cameos by comedians Richard Pryor and Joe Piscopo, as well as Joel’s future real-life wife Christie Brinkley. 


The music video ends with the decision that Joel is in fact an innocent man.


Next I will talk about the soul songs off the album. 


The record playing on a turntable.


The first soul song, the title track is a pretty good song, but when compared to the others, is kind of weak. The song is an homage to Ben E. King, which you can hear in the start of the song, which is similar to King’s famous “Stand By Me.” While I do like the song, I find the song too long, and slow. 


The next song is, besides “Uptown Girl,” the most popular song off the album. “Tell Her About it” is a great song, and probably one of the most radio-friendly songs off the album, even though all the songs off the album did well in the charts. It’s a fun song, with a top-notch chorus. 


The music video to the song is just as fun. It shows Joel performing his song on the Ed Sullivan Show, in a very nice suit I might add. We get to see many people and their reactions to seeing Joel perform the song on T.V., including an astronaut watching his performance in space. 


The music video ends with Rodney Dangerfield making a cameo, as he thanks Joel for warming up the crowd for him, only for a dancing bear to get picked to go onstage instead of him. He doesn’t even get respect in music videos.


“Leave a Tender Moment Alone” is a very underrated song for me. I really enjoy this song, and the Harmonica on it is great. The song also reminds me a lot of The Marvelettes song “Don’t Mess With Bill.” 


I covered all the songs off the album, except for one. I saved “Uptown Girl” for last for a reason. I hate it. 


“Uptown Girl” at best is the worst thing written since Venable Herndon and Arthur Penn wrote the movie version of “Alice’s Restaurant,” and at worst it’s the spawn of the devil. 


I want to preface this by saying that if “Uptown Girl” was an instrumental, it would be great. The instruments are well done, and the background vocals would be perfect in any other song. What kills the song is the lyrics, and the vocals. 


The lyrics are the most brain-melting, white-trash sentences put to paper. I find it crazy that the same man who once wrote the moving lyrics, “Son can you play me a memory? I’m not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad and it’s sweet, and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man’s clothes,” also wrote the sad, pathetic, mind-numbing lyrics, “she’s been living in her white-bread world, as long as anyone with hot blood can.”


The term “white-bread” doesn’t deserve to be in a song, and frankly the song doesn’t get much better with terms such as “backstreet guy,” and “downtown man.” It makes me sick. 


And the vocals aren’t any better. I could stand the sickening lyrics if the vocals were good, but Billy Joel’s not done torturing us. Joel decided, for whatever reason I don’t know, that he would do a country accent while doing the song. The results are repulsive. 


The vocals are ear-grating to listen to. This is the only song off the album that would be better to listen to if you were deaf. And while I praised Joel’s singing ability on “The Longest Time,” this song makes me want to pull Joel’s vocal cords out of his larynx and crush them in front of him. Sure Joel did a similar voice in the song “Allentown,” and that’s a good song. However, the country accent is toned down, while here it’s all out to hear. He also did it in that song because he’s role-playing a person from Allentown. 


Now fans of the song have defended the vocals, by saying he was doing an impression of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons. And that is true, but the thing is, I can listen to a Four Seasons song without hurting myself.


The Four Seasons have many great songs, and to compare Franki Valli to the vocals in this song is an offense that shouldn’t be disregarded. 


This song is a joke. It’s the musical equivalent of a whoopie cushion or fake vomit, and it makes Yoko Ono look like Liberace. 


The only good thing about this “song,” if you can classify it as that, is that it’s the shortest track on the album.


The sad thing is that, besides “Piano Man,” this is his most famous song. This meaningless radio-friendly crap doesn’t deserve its popularity. My favorite Billy Joel song, “Vienna,” is a beautiful sounding song with poetic lyrics about how you don’t have to rush through your life in your younger years, while “Uptown Girl” is just about some stupid girl who’s never had a “hot-blooded back-street guy.” 


I wouldn’t hate this song so much if it was from some one-hit wonder who doesn’t even deserve their hit. However, this isn’t just nobody. This is Billy Joel. He’s shown us that he’s capable of much more, so to see him do this, is just pathetic. 


Unfortunately we aren’t done with “Uptown Girl,” as it had a music video. Out of fear of this music video being recommended to me on Youtube after watching it, I had to sign out of my account to watch it. 


I’m going to be honest, I find it hard to review this music video on its own merit due to my hatred of the song. I wonder what my opinion would be if this was the music video to any other song off this album.


The music video is okay, I guess. It shows Joel and his band-mates strutting around dancing as mechanics at a gas station, when Christie Brinkley shows up playing the uptown girl. 


The band-mates wash their car singing, before Joel drives off with the uptown girl. For the girl to fall in love with Joel in this music video based on his singing, she has to be deaf. 


While this song does sour the album a little bit, I can’t emphasize enough how much I love this album. I don’t want people to walk away from this article thinking I hate Billy Joel, because I love Billy Joel. I think he’s written some of the best music of the 1970s and 80s. I just hate “Uptown Girl.”


To close out this album review, here is my ranking of the songs off this album, from worst to best: Uptown Girl, An Innocent Man, Christie Lee, Careless Talk, Easy Money, Keeping the Faith, Tell Her About It, This Night, Leave a Tender Moment Alone, and The Longest Time.


This album is a great love-letter to the music of the 1950s. If you like that type of music, or just know Billy Joel from “Piano Man” or “The Stranger,” I highly recommend giving this album a chance. 

Back cover of the album, featuring Joel and his band-mates.
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