10 No-Skip Albums: An Innocent Man
Sometimes an album just fills you with so much joy you can hardly contain yourself. "Tell Her About It," the first single from Billy Joel's An Innocent Man LP, was released in late summer 1983 and it was so much fun and full of life that I had to have the whole album.
An Innocent Man is Billy Joel's tribute the music of his teenage years. He conceived after his divorce from his first wife. Single for the first time as an international rock star, he was dating super models (including future wife Christie Brinkley) and felt like a teenager again. He composed songs heavily influenced by the sounds of the late '50s to late '60s. Artists like Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, Little Richard, and others influenced the variety of the track list. After the darkness and solemnity of the previous The Nylon Curtain, An Innocent Man sounds like the work of an artist rejuvenated with creative energy. He plays with different styles and sounds, all homages to the music of his youth.
"The Longest Time" channels the doo-wop groups of the late '50s/early '60s like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and The Platters, but it also shows how Billy Joel didn't skimp on lyrical quality for the sake of capturing a sound:
Who knows how much further we'll go on
Maybe I'll be sorry when you're gone
I'll take chances
I forgot how nice romance is
I haven't been there for the longest time
I'm also impressed that Billy Joel does all the vocal work on "The Longest Time." It really is a lovely, charming song that captures the concept he was going for here. Remembering what it was like to feel young again and feeling the exhiliration of possibilties. There's an infectuous, exhuberant optimism to "The Longest Time."
The title track sounds like something Ben E. King would've recorded. A tender, earnest ballad about a man willing to be vulnerable to love again. It's another lyrical masterwork, really. Few people can tap into the complicated depths of relationships like Billy Joel.
Some people stay far away from the door
If there's a chance of it opening up
They hear a voice in the hall outside
And hope that it just passes by
Some people live with the fear of a touch
And the anger of having been a fool
They will not listen to anyone
So nobody tells them a lie
That's how the song opens. A rich, poetic examination of emotional isolation in only two stanzas.
But there is clear masterpiece on this record. On a work of genius no-skips, one songs still stands head and shoulders above the others. For three utterly charming minutes, Billy Joel channels Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons on the wonderful "Uptown Girl." Few songs bring me as much happiness as this one. It's playful, sweet, and a reminder that good pop music is more than just a catchy beat. The most iconic works combine an irrestible medley, lyrical quality, and vocal chops. "Uptown Girl" captures all of that and more. It actually evokes an entire of music.
And I dare you not to dance to it.