Classic Rock Corner

Billy Joel: Still Kicking Ass (Second Leg)

Here are my Top 5 Billy Joel songs that take names, after Tuesday's post that ran down the songs that do that other thing that comes before taking names.


Billy Joel: Still Kicking Ass (FIrst Leg)

5. "All For Leyna," Glass Houses Kicks Ass Because: It Rocks

Although Joel's persona in this song is a sniveling wimp who can't forget someone with an unforgettable and uncommon name, the song rocks. (Bonus points for featuring an old man telling his son to get over it, it was a one-night stand.)

It's heavy with guitars, some synth work and Joel singing like a man possessed, which fits the theme. It's the standout rock and roll song on Glass Houses, Joel's most assertive approach to straight-ahead rock and roll.

4. "Stiletto," 52nd Street Kicks Ass Because: It's About Dangerous Women

Jazzy, like most songs on 52nd Street, "Stiletto" sounds like the song you should hope is on the juke the next time you're in a dive bar chatting up some new love interest. On the one hand, it's sexy, so you'll probably get lucky. On the other, it's the angel on your shoulder suggesting you to back the hell away if there's even the slightest hint of the sort of madness that can make you both the subject of an approaching Snapped episode.

Joel is singing less about the physical and more about the emotional damage of a dysfunctional relationship, of course. How many of us know or have been that guy who stands "there pleadin' with your insides bleedin'/ 'Cause you deep down want some more"?

3. "Pressure," The Nylon Curtain Kicks Ass Because: The Older You Get, The Better It Gets

I famously sang this song at the top of my lungs to any and everyone when it came out during my high-school senior year. It was cool initially; I even turned some New Wavers onto Joel, but eventually my good pal Warren Najarian sat me down and said, "Dude, seriously. Stop singing "Pressure", you're annoying the shit out of us all. Go buy a Genesis album already."

I love this song even more now because I know more today about feeling loaded guns in my face than I ever could have at 18. Snarky before snark, wise in its message, ever relevant. "1, 2, 3, 4....Pressure!!!"

2. "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me," Glass Houses Kicks Ass Because: It's Unifying

1980 was a music lover's moment. New Wave was in full effect, disco was hanging on, punk and ska were holding court, hip-hop was emerging, metal was the alien violently bursting from rock's chest cavity and, best of all, we were just months away from a television channel devoted to showing it all to us 24/7.

But, because music lovers often define themselves through the music they choose, many couldn't (or wouldn't) take anything from the treasure chest besides the one piece of bling that best fit their taste. This song is Joel's response to the critics who wanted him to be either Randy Newman or Rod Stewart.

Was he an all-out rocker or a singer-songwriter with a meaningful message? His message was, "There's a new band in town, but you can't get the sound from a story in a magazine/Aimed at your average teen." So STFU.

Today's music listeners are more sophisticated than we were in 1980. Technology and the Internet obviously have helped, but I like to think "It's Still Rock And Roll to Me" reminded us all that labels were less important than just appreciating something for how good it was. At least that's what it did for me.

1. "Famous Last Words," River of Dreams Kicks Ass Because: It's The Walk-Off Homer

The last song on the last full album of original rock music written by Billy Joel is called "Famous Last Words." It includes the words "one final serenade" and "these are the last words I have to say." And, one forgettable single released in 2007 notwithstanding, they were.

Joel's fans didn't take the words literally, initially, but as years passed, they became cryptic. We wondered if the lyrics could really be a message to us. We were confused, angry and depressed as it became evident we might never hear a new Billy Joel song again.

In the end, though, I learned to respect "Famous Last Words," a declaration to all of us who had followed him so long that he'd given us everything he had to offer. What musician pens a song about calling it quits, makes it the last song on his or her last album and then actually goes through with it?

That's the most kick-ass rock and roll move of all time.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.