Monday, July 05, 2021

Jose Feliciano - 'Feliciano!'

I first remember learning of Jose Feliciano when I was watching a public television music documentary about the 1960s with my father when I was 15 or 16 years old.  In the featured clip, a young, sunglass-donning Puerto Rican was belting a Latin-styled version of The Doors' 'Light My Fire.' 

I was perplexed.  I was a mini-Stan of Jim Morrison at the time (which was the en vogue thing to be in the late-90s, following Oliver Stone's groundbreaking biopic of the rock legend earlier in the decade), but I had never heard the single arranged in such a peculiar way.  My dad explained to me that Feliciano was blind (hence the sunglasses), and that this particular version of 'Light My Fire' was a fairly big hit when he was in Junior High twenty five years earlier.  Candidly, I wasn't very impressed.

A few years later, while I was a student in my high school's Spanish Level 3 class, the instructor coincidentally decided to play another performance of Feliciano, once again bellowing 'Light My Fire' to acoustic guitar.  And as had been my original reaction only a year or two before, I remained unmoved. (The nexus between an English-singing musical artist who just happened to be of Latin descent, and the teaching of the Spanish language to Anglo-American students seemed flimsy, even at the time).

For the next twenty or so years, my only exposure to Jose Feliciano was on a yearly basis, when local radio broadcasted ad nauseum his Christmas anthem, 'Feliz Navidad,' a song so kitschy, the regional Mexican Restaurant chain Taco John's used it for years as the music behind its TV commercial jingles.  Again, I was unimpressed.

Then, in 2019, Quentin Tarantino released his love letter to the Second Golden Age of Cinema: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The stratified thriller ever-so-craftily set chic fashion, lustrous smiles, and unbridled ambition against the backdrop of the subtle and sinister forces of 1969.  The linchpin to such effective mood-setting was the film's score, which includes at many times actual vintage recordings of L.A. radio D.J. "The Real" Don Steele from local A.M. station KHJ.

In Hollywood, one of the featured tracks is 'California Dreamin'--- not by The Mamas and the Papas, who originally composed and popularized it, but by, you guessed it, Jose Feliciano.  Feliciano's version is restrained and stretched out; it is much quieter than its antecedent.  And it pairs faultlessly with the corresponding scene in the movie to set the perfect atmosphere.  Unlike my previous exposure to Feliciano, I was no longer indifferent to him, but now quite astonished and intrigued.

I began to research the man and his catalog, and I discovered that Feliciano is a master of the reimagined cover song.  Think on the same level as or better than Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" version of 'Layla' and Joe Cocker's Woodstock version of The Beatles' 'With a Little Help From My Friends.'  Feliciano not only flawlessly remakes any song he touches into his own image, but he has done it on an incredible scale for multiple decades.  Refer to his cover of Michael Jackson's 'Billy Jean' for just a scintilla of proof.  

A great introduction and starting point for the uninitiated to Jose Feliciano is his eponymous Feliciano!, which was released in 1968, and just happens to be his most commercially successful album.  It reached Number Two on the U.S. albums chart.  

Feliciano! is comprised of cover songs only.  It features the aforementioned 'California Dreamin' and 'Light My Fire.'  It also contains three Beatles tunes.  The Burt Bacharach penned 'Always Something There to Remind Me' is included as well, and it is a delightful reinterpretation.  But even though none of the songs on the album are an original, they are nevertheless unique and captivating, providing a gateway to an entirely new palette of music for listeners of rock music who may not have otherwise stepped in that melodious direction.  

I will feature a few of the tracks from Feliciano! in the video players below.  The album is certainly worth checking out and best listened to from start to finish, as opposed to a single at a time.  It is spacious and light, but earnest and brave. It is the fitting soundtrack to a relaxing dinner, yet perplexing enough to make the pickiest audiophile ponder.  It has quickly risen to become one of the favorite records in my entire collection.  And that makes me very glad.  

In a world of boundless access to any song ever created by way of music streaming and social media, it is refreshing and inspiring to know it is still possible to discover "new" music, so long as you are willing to open your mind and remove your preconceived notions.    Jose Feliciano has patiently and authentically continued to make incredible music in a career spanning over five decades by just being himself.  He has been here the whole time, even when I wasn't willing to listen.  I wonder what other great artists I have foolishly deprived myself of due to hubris.  I am immensely thankful to Jose and to Feliciano! for teaching me such a valuable lesson.    

Jose Feliciano - 'Light My Fire'


Jose Feliciano - 'California Dreamin'


Jose Feliciano - 'In My Life'


Jose Feliciano - 'Always Something There to Remind Me'

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Genesis Owusu - 'Gold Chains'

When you go to the Twin Cities in Minnesota, it's always a smart move to turn your FM dial to The Current on 89.3 KCMP.

The Minnesota Public Radio-owned station is a great place to hear a wide range of music, including local artists. I have discovered new music everytime I've been able to tune in to the station.

I made a weekend trip to Saint Paul this past weekend, and heard everything from new Modest Mouse to Bob Marley to Arlo Parks to Prince.

But one song on my drive out of town caught my attention enough to write this post -- "Gold Chains" by Genesis Owusu.

Owusu, a 23-year-old Ghanaian-born Australian, started recording just a few years ago.  According to his Wikipedia page, Owusu got his unlikely break in 2019, opening for the sold out 5 Seconds of Summer benefit concert in Sydney.

Owusu's debut album, Smiling with No Teeth, came out in March, 2021, and combines elements of experimental R&B, Hip Hop and Alternative Rock for a unique sound.  The album debuted at #27 on the Australian charts but hasn't quite taken off in the U.S. yet.

On his single, "Gold Chains", Owusu assumes the dual roles of soulful crooner and smooth MC, singing and rapping over glitchy trickles of late night electro-funk.  You can watch the official music video to "Gold Chains" in the YouTube player below.  

There's already a cool remix of the song by Harvey Sutherland, and if you liked "Gold Chains", I would also highly recommend Owusu's latest single, "Same Thing" with its Prince-like guitar lick and Frank Ocean-meets-Thundercat delivery.

For more on Genesis Owusu, visit: https://genesisowusu.com


Monday, May 24, 2021

Behind the Sample: 'NARD

One of my favorite aspects of Hip Hop music is discovering the musical legacy behind the singles.  I love it when I stumble across an old tune and instantly recognize it from its use in a more-famous rap song. I've found a lot of great music this way over the years.

Many of the Hip Hop genre's biggest hits have sampled from Jazz, Funk, R&B and Rock songs, and from the earliest days of the rap scene, artists would dig through crates of old records for inspiration.  Sometimes just a few seconds from a dusty old album would speak to an artist enough to sample, loop and rhyme over.  

For many young artists without the means for expensive musical equipment, two turntables and a microphone (cue Beck) were enough to create unique, original music.

Just last week, I was having a conversation about samples with a coworker and asked him if he'd ever listened to Bernard Wright's album, 'NARD, because a couple of the album's tracks have been prominently featured in some of Hip Hop's greatest hits.

He was unfamiliar, and realizing I didn't actually own it myself, I promptly ordered myself a copy of the LP on Discogs.  I've been happily spinning it since and that brings me to today's post...

'Nard is the near definition of a forgotten gem.

Bernard Wright was born in Jamaica, Queens in 1963--the son of the legendary Roberta "Killing Me Softly" Flack.  A prodigal young jazz/funk keyboardist, Wright began touring with jazz drummer Lenny White when he was only 13-years-old.

Wright's debut album, 'Nard, was recorded when he was just 16 and released in 1981.  While the album didn't gain as much momentum as it deserved, it did make it to #7 on the Billboard Jazz charts, and the single, "Just Chillin' Out", made the charts for both US R&B and Dance that year.

But here we are, 40 years later, and the album still holds up.  

From the wacky, funked-out roller coaster trip of "Haboglabotribin'" to the beautiful piano rendition of Miles Davis' "Solar" concluding the album, 'Nard is a musical joy ride.

Wright's commercial career peaked a few short years later with the single "Who Do You Love?" (which was later the base for LL Cool J's hit single, "Loungin").

But back to 'Nard...

If you've ever heard the song "Gz & Hustlas" from Snoop Doggy Dogg's 1993 breakout masterpiece, Doggystyle, you'll instantly recognize Bernard Wright's connection when you hear "Haboglabotribin'".

A few years after Snoop, 2Pac sampled the same song on "Lie to Kick It" from his album, R U Still Down?

The song's music box intro transitioning to full on, bass-slappin' funk was a major player in the memorable Snoop anthem.  Wright's amusement park raps and tweaked vocals throughout the song feel like a lost track from George Clinton.  It's goofy and weird, but funky as all get out.

Speaking of slap bass, the album's next track, "Spinnin'" is even more impressive -- highlighting Wright's keyboard skills and a tight horn section bringing to mind Earth, Wind & Fire or Kool & the Gang.

Around the 1:25 mark, the song suddenly switches gears to a laid back vibe.  That :15 seconds of chill was later sampled on the self-deprecating megahit 1995 song, "I Wish" by Skee-Lo.  

Check out Bernard Wright's "Spinnin'" in the YouTube clip below, and then watch Skee-Lo's classic music video to hear the sample.

Songs from the album have also been sampled by The Afros, Yo-Yo feat. Ice Cube, and Anotha Level, and dozens of other artists.

The whole 'Nard album is worth checking out if you haven't heard it, and used copies of the out-of-print LP aren't difficult or expensive to find online.  Enjoy!

(The sampled clip on "Spinnin'" first appears at 1:25)

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Guest Poster Cassidy: Rihanna - 'Disturbia

We would like to welcome guest poster Cassidy to the blog.  Born in 1996, from time to time she may choose to regale us with her unique "Zillenial" musical point of view.  

Today, she talks about Rihanna's monster smash 'Disturbia:' 



In 2008,  'Disturbia' by Rihanna came out. It seems impossible that it has been 13 years since this club hit was released, and as we all know time passes us by, and it passes us by quickly


As I have gotten older, I have started to appreciate the early to mid 00’s hits that defined my childhood; namely, staying with my big brother at his apartment and watching MTV Hits and Fuse (when it was still a thing).


I vividly remember staying up during all hours of the night, my tween brain addicted to recognizing songs that I had grown up on and newer songs that were airing at the time. It seems like yesterday when I remember hearing the the hook in Rihanna’s 'Disturbia' at 2 a.m., and entertaining the fix to watch the music video.


'Disturbia' was a radio hit that year, and it was always played at the pool I went to as a kid. When I think back to that year, I can remember how badly I wanted to be in my mid-twenties, going to the club and being able to "adult" (I know - very self aware).  I am almost 25 years old now, and every time I hear 'Disturbia' it takes me back to being 12 years old, the warm sun on my skin at the pool and not a care in the world. It actually makes me want to go back to being a kid (it’s funny how things change). 


While 'Disturbia' was the focus of this post, I do want to give a huge shoutout to the other hits that came out in 2008. During that year, and other years while he lived there, I vividly remember hanging out at my older brother’s apartment and just enjoying the music. Every time I hear Rihanna, T-Pain, or Akon, it truly takes me back to a great time in my life, specifically, getting to hangout with my big brother. 




Steve's Response:  Cassidy:  Thank-you for the guest post.  'Disturbia' was definitely a monster MTV Video Hit when it was released.  I still remember the live performance on the 2008 MTV VMAs.  It is definitely a part of the popular music canon today.  

Friday, April 30, 2021

Little Simz - 'Introvert'

We're now less than a month away from the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death, and the past year--though tumultuous and frustrating--has shed light on many problems that still persist in this country.

The weekend leading up to St. Patrick's Day last year, my wife and I took a trip to Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota.  COVID-19 had hit stateside at that point, but it wasn't until a few days later that the whole country would essentially go into lockdown.  The catchphrase, "We're all in this together" soon became the unofficial motto of the pandemic. 

But just a couple of months later, in that same city, George Floyd was killed while under policy custody and the whole world took notice.  The viral video of police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for 9-1/2 minutes sent shockwaves across the internet.  For many Americans, this moment was a wake up call.  For many black Americans, it unfortunately felt like the same story, different day... but this time others listened.

The civil unrest boiled over soon after, with George Floyd Protests and Black Lives Matter marches in streets across the country, protesting police brutality, racial inequality and systemic racism. Riots in the Twin Cities led to over 600 arrests and around $500 million in property damage, but the message was heard.  

Nearly a year later, officer Chauvin has been found guilty in Floyd's murder.  For many, it feels like justice has finally been served in the face of countless other cases where no conviction took place.  But there is still a long way to go before equality is reached, even if this moment triggered a movement.

In the Hip Hop world, many artists took the emotions of the past year and channeled them into song.  One of the most powerful songs and music videos I've come across is from British rapper Little Simz in her new song, "Introvert".

Little Simz, AKA Simbiatu 'Simbi' Abisola Abiola Ajikawo, is a London-based rapper, singer and actress of Nigerian heritage.  Her forthcoming album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, is due in September 2021.

Opening with a military-style drumline, "Introvert" builds to a sweeping orchestral and choir arrangement with Little Simz' emotive and dynamic lyrics carrying the message of empowerment.  The video features beautifully-shot modern choreography.

All of the song's lyrics are important, but here's one snippet that struck a chord with me:

"Look beyond the surface don’t just see what you wanna see

My speech ain’t involuntary

Project with intention straight from my lungs

I’m a black woman and I’m proud one

We walk in blind faith not knowing the outcome

But as long as we unified then we’ve already won."

Watch the video for Little Simz' "Introvert" below, via YouTube.  For more on this artist, visit: www.littlesimz.com

Monday, April 26, 2021

Vök - 'Lost in the Weekend'

A few summers ago, I took a memorable trip to Iceland.  The country's stark and dramatic landscape was breathtaking.  We drove the coastal highway between sporadic, quaint towns, flanked by the ocean on one side and rocky cliffs and waterfalls on the other.  

We stayed on a volcanic island (Vestmannaeyjar) one night, a horse farm in the middle of--essentially--nowhere on another, and in a domed glass rental house nestled deep inside a valley the next.  We threw our coats over the windows to block out the near 24-hour-daylight of the summer season. Time, as a construct, was pretty meaningless when it was as bright going to bed as waking up, and it took a bit more discipline to go to sleep at any point.

We waded in natural hot springs--both established and off the beaten path--and soaked up the cool misty air and amazing views around us.  We drove down windy gravel roads without seeing another car for miles on end. We ate amazing food, drank local beer and experienced the capital city of Reykjavik's vibrant and artistic culture.  

I was astounded that the country's entire population (approx. 357,000) was on par with that of my own small city back home in Des Moines, Iowa.  In other words, once you got outside the bustling airport and tourist attractions, Iceland was an easy place to disappear into solitude.

While in Reykjavik on our last full day before flying home, we stopped into the super cool Lucky Records.  

The shop was already closing for the day, but we still had just enough time to comb through the local music section and put on headphones to listen to some unfamiliar Icelandic artists.  I was, of course, familiar with the likes of Björk and Sigur Rós, but there was a sea of music at my fingertips to explore in a short time.  

I only had enough room in my suitcase to stash one LP without the threat of bending, so I had to act quickly and decisively in my purchase.

And then I turned my headphones on to Vök.

The Icelandic dreampop trio instantly caught my ear when I put on their album, Figure.  The pensive and introspective atmospherics and pulsating rhythms encapsulated much of the feeling and emotion that I'd had driving around the countryside that week.

The store clerk tapped me and said, "Okay, we're closing now", which snapped me out of my music-induced stupor.  I quickly snatched up a copy of the album and a red t-shirt with the Lucky Records logo, as the employees locked the doors behind me.

That record, Vök's Figure, made it home in one piece, fortunately, and still brings me back to that trip whenever I put it on.

Earlier this month, the band released a new music video to their latest single, "Lost in the Weekend", describing it as focusing, "...on the ease of over-indulgence when you’re living in the moment and the purposeful loss of a sense of self."

It seems like a pretty good takeaway message.  For me, Reykjavik would have been an easy place to get lost in the moment--losing all sense of what day or time it was in endless daylight, surrounded by art and music and food and drink.  As much as I enjoyed my time in the city, it was the stunning landscape of the nearby countryside that brought me the most self-reflection and relaxation.

You can watch the video for "Lost in the Weekend" below, via Vök's YouTube:

For more on Vök's music, visit the band's Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Revisiting the Original Mortal Kombat Soundtrack

With this Friday's highly anticipated (and R-rated) Mortal Kombat movie release, I thought I'd revisit the legacy and personal impact the franchise had on me growing up.

Back in 1995, when I was a 12-year-old, braces-wearing, comic book-trading nerd playing Sega at my friend's house up the street, Mortal Kombat was the epitome of cool.  It was edgy, violent and addictive.

The overtly brutal game encouraged you to take on your friends, cage match style. This was before XBox and PS5 let you talk smack to random strangers online, and you instead had to sit in farty bean bag chairs next to one another and battle it out, yelling, "Get over here!", "Toasty!", and "Finish him!"

Now, more than 25 years later, Mortal Kombat still finds an audience.  It's rare for something to stay relevant for so many years, crossing generations.  I've been away from the game for some time now, but I still got excited when the trailer to the new movie came out recently.

The 1995 Mortal Kombat film by the same name was a doozy.  I saw it in the theater, of course. It was by no means an Oscar contender, but it accomplished what it needed to, hindered only by a PG-13 rating. It's pretty dated to watch the movie now, but man, does it take you back in time.

 The plot was simple:  three martial artists travel to a secret island to fight in an underground tournament to determine the fate of the world.  The talents of Robin Shou and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa carried the film, while Christopher "Highlander" Lambert--for some reason--played the Japanese Thundergod, Raiden.

The success of the 1995 film was also due in part to its soundtrack.  The theme song, "Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)" by the Immortals was one of the hottest tracks of the year.  You might know it as the techno song that periodically screams "MORTAL KOMBAT!"

But to write the soundtrack off as a gimmick would be unfair.  It also contained some great original music, crossing the aggressive genres of heavy metal and techno.  Not all of the songs on the original motion picture soundtrack were featured in the film itself, but the mood fits throughout.  Metal bands like Type O Negative and Napalm Death were featured alongside electronic acts like Orbital and Utah Saints, taking the soundtrack as high as #10 on the Billboard Top 200 that year.

Amongst my personal favorite tracks were "Goodbye (demo version)" by industrial rock group Gravity Kills, and the smoldering "Burn" by Sister Machine Gun.

But it's Orbital's 9-1/2 minute-long masterpiece "Halcyon + On + On" that has stood the test of time.  The ambient and melodic track slowly builds up, utilizing a delicate piano and guitar loop and a backmasked vocal sample from "It's Fine Day" by Opus III for its angelic, trance-like nature.

It's an extended version of the original Orbital single, and probably one of the greatest soundtrack songs of all time, having also been used in Hackers, and later, Mean Girls.  It's also one of my favorite songs of all time, so I'm honestly disappointed in myself that in 16 years of writing for the Lonely Note, I've never actually posted about this song before. 

All through Jr. High and High School, my friends and I would put the cd on track #6, set the boom box to repeat and listen to it over and over again while we'd hang out and talk about life, so it brings back a flood of memories anytime I hear it.  Never heard it?  You can listen to "Halcyon + On + On" in the YouTube clip below.

I should also mention that I bought the follow up compilation album, 1996's Mortal Kombat: More Kombat. It also featured some great tracks continuing in the same industrial direction, including songs from God Lives Underwater, Sepultura, the Crystal Method, and a song called "My Ruin" by Crawlspace (later known as Sevendust).

Will 2021's Mortal Kombat reboot live up to the hype?  It's one of the latest films to be simultaneously released to theaters and HBOMAX, and the trailer has a lot of fans (AKA other dudes in their 30s) worked up.  

Will it have a killer soundtrack?  That is yet to be determined, but there is a pretty sweet updated "Techno Syndrome 2021" theme song remix to go with it, so it's a start!


Monday, April 19, 2021

Cannons - 'Bad Dream'

The dark, moody synthpop of Cannons' latest single, "Bad Dream", would have fit right in on the soundtrack to the 2011 movie Drive had it been released a decade earlier.

A continuation of the synthwave movement, Cannons hits on all the right notes that fans of retro '80s-90s culture, music and film love.  Fans of The xx, M83 and the Chromatics should find Cannons equally-appealing.

The video to "Bad Dream" feels like a mashup between Twin Peaks and Stranger Things, with a hint of Netflix true crime series and a splash of Napoleon Dynamite dance moves to boot.  Cassette boom boxes, giant cell phones, tube TVs, Ford Broncos and sequins all round out this creepy trip down nostalgia lane.

Watch the video for "Bad Dream" below, and visit the official Cannons website for more:

London Grammar - 'How Does It Feel'

Hannah Reid's soaring vocals take center stage on London Grammar's new album, Californian Soil.

The English indie-pop trio have teased new singles for the last 9 months leading up to the album's release just three days ago.

London Grammar takes sparse, dreamlike electronic and guitar arrangements and layers them with Reid's echoed, classically-trained vocals.  It's delicate, it's haunting, it's undeniably catchy.

Reid's dramatic vocals and cathartic delivery bring to mind Florence Welch, while musicians Dan Rothman and Dot Major round out the group's ambient stylings and bring elements of trip-hop and electronica/dance.

On singles, "How Does It Feel" and "Lord, It's a Feeling", the group takes their sound up a notch, complementing delicate atmospheric elements with epic waves of emotion. 

You can watch the official video for "How Does It Feel" and the official visualizer for "Lord, It's a Feeling" below, via YouTube.  

For more on London Grammar and their latest release, Californian Soil, visit londongrammar.com


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Julian Lennon - 'Valotte'

My keen preoccupation with piano ballads continues to dominate the conversation with a spotlight on a 1984 single by Beatles offspring, Julian Lennon.  

'Valotte' was the opening track of the eponymous debut album of John Lennon's eldest son.  And while the album may be lazily remembered by armchair musicologists for the much poppier 'Too Late For Goodbyes,' 'Valotte' is the stronger composition in my opinion.  

Released only a few years after the elder Lennon's murder, the track is haunting on multiple levels:  for its lyrical depiction of a romantic relationship in its waning days; and perhaps more so for its vocals and stylings that sound nearly identical to a beloved man who was no longer alive.  

While I am sure many Beatles fans clamored for Julian's  musical offerings in the wake of his father's death, I am just as sure its fruition nevertheless served as an unfortunate reminder that the biological impersonation can rarely fill the void left by the loss of its progenitor.  

This is not to say that Julian's music is bad or subpar---far from it.  Instead, I merely point out that, while he may have been privileged to have a mythic musician for a father, he was likewise disadvantaged by the same's inescapable shadow.  No matter how immensely talented Julian could ever be, the wound of his father's death was too fresh for fans to move on from and to separate from the son.

(Don't believe me?  Take note of the career trajectory of Julian's half-brother--and John's son with Yoko Ono--Sean Lennon, a likewise talented and brilliant artist in his own right).  

Nevertheless, I believe enough time has passed for 'Valotte,' the song, to be given an independent look and listen.  Structurally, the track is full of infectious hooks and plaintive verses.  

Sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar 
Wondering if we're really ever gonna get that far 
Do you know there's something wrong 
'Cause I've felt it all along

And its measured march toward the rewarding choral climax is splendidly tender.  Had Billy Joel or Elton John penned this song, it would have been canonized.  Think about that, and keep an open mind, when you take a look at the video for Julian Lennon's 'Valotte' below:

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Billy Joel -'Big Shot' + 'Honesty' + 'My Life' + 'Zanzibar' + 'Stiletto'

Anymore, it is rare as hen's teeth for a studio album to contain a sequence that keeps hitting track after consecutive track after consecutive track. 

I suppose much of that may have to do with the single-centric music culture we seem to find ourselves in.  And perhaps much more of that may have to do with the short attention spans the plurality of the American citizenry seem to currently have as well.  What with the Tik-Toks and the Snapchats and the Tweets, the dopamine injections social media provides is often a much more attractive option for one to spend an evening doing than to actively listen to a longform audible masterpiece that requires more than five minutes of focus.

But I digress.

Of course, many Beatles albums fit the bill of sequential sublimity; as do those by Michael Jackson. Probably my earliest firsthand experiences with such a treasure trove of continuous audio bliss were with Ten by Pearl Jam and Nevermind by Nirvana. The first half--if not more-- of both of those albums have an indescribable chemistry, a consummate formulation that would do worse if produced in any other way.  I am sure there are numerous examples of other like-kind albums that I am forgetting or neglecting to mention right now.

Billy Joel's 1978 release, 52nd Street, fits the definition of the seamless album structure as described above.  At least the first five songs on the album consist of one of my favorite track successions.  Below is a synopsis of each, and why I believe they make up the bulk of one of the greatest piano rock records ever.  


1.  Big Shot

Not much needs to be said about this one.  'Big Shot' is one of Billy's biggest hits that is probably still played on most oldies stations today.  It's uptempo opening and large rhythms comprise a well served and over-the-top introduction to an album that would knock the socks of many listeners of the day.  Billy also sings in a dramatic New Wave Punk style that was emblematic of the era.



2. Honesty

A palate cleanser, 'Honesty' is a heartfelt ballad that I just so happen to believe is Joel's best composition ever.  No pun intended, but if any set of lyrics speak absolute truth to its underlying message, 'Honesty' is it.  For those of us fortunate to find ourselves in long term marriages or relationships, the song's message serves as convincing advice that many of us can attest to.  For a true romantic partnership to work, it requires vulnerability, sincerity, and compassion;  lust and histrionics may work in the short term, but they are never sustainable.

I can always find someone
To say they sympathize
If I wear my heart out on my sleeve
But I don't want some pretty face
To tell me pretty lies
All I want is someone to believe   


3. My Life 

This is another track that needs no introduction.  Just like 'Big Shot,' it is another standard of the Great American Oldies Songbook.  The quintessential song of telling someone else to mind their own business, 'My Life' is politely rebellious; the lyrics may be telling the world to back off, but its underlying tune is a jaunty sing-along.  Highly relatable, 'My Life' has likely hit a chord with many who want to pursue their own happiness without the interference of judgmental authority figures and frenemies.  

(Note: the video below features  the beginning of the fifth track, 'Stiletto,' in its intro).  


4.  Zanzibar

At this point in 52nd Street, things begin to get interesting.  'Zanzibar' is a gritty ode to masculinity; a lament of a bachelor in the New York City metroplex who just so happens to likes booze, baseball, and women.  (Shocking, right?)  Its structure is equal parts theater production and equal parts speakeasy jazz.  This is probably one of Billy's most sophisticated creations, with multiple change-ups in a short five minute timeframe.  The choral hook, however, is what makes 'Zanzibar' a diamond in the rough.

I've got the old man's car
I've got a jazz guitar
I've got a tab at Zanzibar
Tonight that's where I'll be, I'll be


5. Stiletto 

With the fifth track, Billy rewards the listeners who have loyally listened thus far with jazzy syncopation and staccato, the nucleus of much of his catalog.  Not to worry, though, the track is still fundamentally pop in its structure.  While its introduction may resemble the lovechild of 'Careless Whisper' meets West Side Story, the half-minute mark gives way to the raucous storytelling Billy Joel has made millions on.  Just a man and his piano, 'Stiletto' is the essence of Billy Joel, and certainly the antecedent to later-comers like Ben Folds.