Music News

On Billy Joel and the Days When You Had to Earn Music

I love Billy Joel. I can get pretentious about the music I like, but at the end of the day, I always go back to the Piano Man. He could be soft or edgy. Songs like "Pressure" were futuristic and others like "Uptown Girl" could wax nostalgic. He was the one musician my parents and I could agree on. He was my first concert. I learned his music on piano after I got "Mary Had A Little Lamb" out of the way.

I know every word of the song "We Didn't Start the Fire." If it were karaoke night, you'd lose the bet. I wouldn't screw up one word. I bought the cassette of the album Storm Front when I was 11 years old, and I broke the rewind button on my boom box listening to that song. I would read the liner notes as each song played, even singing along on occasion. And let's face it, "We Didn't Start the Fire" isn't the greatest song ever. It isn't even a good Billy Joel tune, but I love it anyway. I earned it and it was something I could hold in my hand.

Back in 1989, getting an album was work in itself. It would take weeks for me to earn enough money to even afford a cassette. Then I would walk in the Midwestern winter to the local record store. The cassettes were hidden in the back of the store, and hopefully the one you wanted didn't sell out. I couldn't even listen to the album right away. I would have to walk back in the chilling winds only to spend five minutes trying to remove the wrapping from the cassette case.

Don't get me wrong -- there were ways to pirate music in the days of analog. You could find a friend with a combination record/cassette player and have them make a tape for you. You could record the radio for two hours and re-record the songs that you liked. Only problem with that is this is when radio stations had DJs, and they would talk over a song's introduction. If you were really creative you could record a song from MTV with your television speakers.

Now I pay $10 a month so I can allow a streaming service put a catalog of cool new music at my fingertips. No more trips to the record store. No searching. But nothing to hold on to.

So every couple days I'll stream music at work, listening to something Pitchfork recommended, and I'll feel a little empty. It doesn't have anything to do with what I'm listening to. I just don't feel like they worked hard for my time. Then I'll hit the search button and find my old friend William Martin Joel and start listening to "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" and smile.

In order for me to appreciate a new band I have to see them live or buy their album. I don't need a podcast to tell me what to listen to, but I still want music to connect with me. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Vinyl has been making a comeback for the last decade. By making music cheaper and easier to find it has become less meaningful to the listener.

So once in a while, I'll walk into a record store and just browse for a while. I want to find some music that will mean something to me the way listening to Billy Joel still means something to me.

Billy Joel is scheduled to play the US Airways Center on Sunday, June 1.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil