Shut The Fuck Up, You’re The Piano Man
There are issues which, though they should by any reasonable estimation have been settled long ago, are still being debated nearly into the second decade of the 21st century. In our world today, when we can literally transmit information at the speed of light, when we are as far removed from our primitive ancestors as the Earth is from Sirius, we are still debating the right and wrong, the false and true, of topics that should have been laid to rest when the lingua franca of the human race was savage grunting and frenetic arm-waving. Primary among these is this question: “Is William Martin Joel the worst popular musician in all of recorded history, or is he not?” The answer – a yes so resounding that you pray it will deafen you rather than leave the slightest chance you will have to hear “Uptown Girl” one more time – seems as obvious as gravitation, and yet there are those who contest its truth even as I commit it now to eternal, unchanged electrons.
ARGUMENT #1: THE BASEBALL ANALOGY. Just as one can argue that there were better World Series teams than the 1927 New York Yankees, one can argue that various performers have written worse songs than those produced from the depressingly fertile mind of Billy Joel. “Yummy Yummy Yummy”, to cite an older example, is certainly the product of a nightmarish hatred of all humanity, and arguably worse than any Billy Joel song. To cite a more recent example, “My Humps” offends the soul and mind in ways to which only the most cretinous songs by the Man from Hicksville can aspire. But while there are those who can honestly contend that the ’27 Bronx Bombers were not the greatest of all World Series teams, no one – not even those who hate the Yankees with a soul-scorching fire, as do all right-thinking humans – can argue that they are not the best baseball franchise ever. The numbers simply speak for themselves. No other team has even remotely come close to topping their total number of world championships. Similarly, no other performer or group has ever had so many horrible songs become so successful on the charts as has Billy Joel. Others have been worse; others have been bigger. But no one has been bigger and badder at the same time than Billy Joel.
ARGUMENT #2: THE “SUSSUDIO” EXCEPTION. As long as there exists in this world Cockney lamebrain Phil Collins, there will be those who deny Billy Joel’s sole ownership of the Worst Pop Musician Since The Dawn Of Time. And, just as late in his career, Ty Cobb chose to bat in home runs simply to show that he could, proving wrong all the doubters who said he wasn’t capable of hitting like Babe Ruth, Phil Collins sat down one day and said, “So there are those who still aren’t convinced that I am a huge aching chasm of suckrocity who could eat Billy Joel like a fat socialite eats bon-bons, eh? Well, I’ll show them.” And on that day, he wrote “Sussudio”, the worst song ever crafted by a human mind. As much as I would like to, even I cannot deny that “Sussudio” is worse than anything Billy Joel has ever done. It is the audio equivalent of having a railroad spike driven through your still-living brain. That men can live through having heard it repeatedly is a testament to the astonishing resilience of the human species. Nor can it be denied that, among all the shitty singer-songwriters of our time, Phil Collins comes closest to unseating the unshakable dominance of Billy Joel. He has a lot of big hits, and they’re pretty much all horrible. He is, certainly, the Los Angeles Dodgers to Joel’s Yankees. But the Dodgers are not the Yankees, five is less than ten, and Phil Collins is not Billy Joel. “Sussudio” is the worst song ever written, it is true. It is also the stupidest song ever written. Its mere existence is an embarrassment to the aspiration of human thought. But just as one ten-pound weight may be crushed under the preponderance of one hundred one-pound weights, “Sussudio” is bested by the existence of dozens of Billy Joel songs that are almost as bad and far greater in number. Beyond that, “Sussudio” is merely idiotic. Its idiocy is vast enough to nearly destroy the universe, it is true, but in the end, it is merely dumb, while Billy Joel’s songs are malignant and evil. Dumb songs can be fun and even great – take Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2”, for example: one of the most moronic songs ever created, it is true, but not a bad song by a longshot. Billy Joel’s songs can never be good. They are the opposite of good. The difference between him and Phil Collins is the difference between a pathetic village idiot sitting on a drying patch of his own shit and Adolf Hitler plotting the agonizing and needless death of millions. One is merely a genetic mistake; the other is an inexplicable force sent to try the very soul of humanity. “Sussudio” is an unforgivable crime against music, but it alone cannot vault the laughable Phil Collins to the heights of sinister madness represented by Billy Joel.
ARGUMENT #3: MITIGATION. Almost every other shitty pop star you can name – at least ones on the level of worst-ever consideration – has some mitigatory background that, in some way, alleviates their awfulness. Phil Collins, for example, was the drummer for Genesis when they were a good band; likewise, Sting had his years with the Police, and Rod Stewart his stint with the Faces. Elton John had a couple of good albums before he fell down a deep, black well of suck. Even Journey and Styx have their defenders. But not Billy Joel. He started out bad and got worse. There is no Police, no Faces, no Genesis in his past. He is a lone wolf of the musical apocalypse, a horribly destructive force tearing across 30 years of cultural history without a single mitigating factor. Only Peter Cetera, Huey Lewis, and Bryan Adams are in the position to claim that they’ve been really, really bad for a really, really long time, and frankly, they can’t come close to Joel’s track record. A single one of his albums could totally annihilate their combined output in terms of crappiness.
ARGUMENT #4: THE GENERATIONAL DIVIDE. Normally, I shy away from “you had to be there” arguments; I recognize, for example, that my love of mid-‘80s post-punk isn’t because that music is better than all other kinds of music, but because I happened to be of an impressionable age and condition at the time it was being made. I still think it’s great, but I can’t say that what you might term environmental factors don’t hugely influence that belief. But I do think there are specific cultural reasons why Billy Joel is uniquely horrible in human history. By the 1980s, a segmentation of the musical market was taking place, fueled by demographic shifts and changing technologies. Nowadays, with iPods, internet radio, microgenres, ultra-indie labels, mp3s, and an utterly Balkanized music market (as well as the decline of music radio and the tailspin of the traditional music industry), it is entirely possible for someone to go years without ever having to hear whatever the most popular music of the day is. That trend began in the late ‘80s, in an explosion of independent labels, the introduction of the CD, more robust touring possibilities, and the growth of alternative and college radio. But Billy Joel’s career – which currently places him as the 6th-biggest recording artist of all time, with in excess of 150 million albums sold – began in 1973 and was in full swing by the mid-1980s, which means that for people of my generation and older, it was next to impossible to avoid being inundated with his songs. One’s musical choices were limited then, and while I can say with all honesty that I have never heard a single one of Miley Cyrus’ seven Top 100 singles, I have heard pretty much every song Billy Joel has ever recorded.
ARGUMENT #5: BILLY JOEL IS A FUCKING ASSHOLE. What is particularly noxious about Billy Joel is that he thinks he’s better than rock ‘n’ roll. While Phil Collins, Elton John, and Rod Stewart are all just hacky singers who more or less know their place in the artistic firmament and likely think of themselves as fortunate to have reached the pinnacle of success they have achieved, Billy Joel is actually resentful of his pop music success. If you are one of the millions of deluded fools who likes his music, he hates you. He looks down on you. All you ever did was make him a multi-millionaire who could marry a supermodel and drive around drunk feeling sorry for himself. Billy Joel thinks he is a serious composer of music, and you, you shithead who wants to hear him sing “The Longest Time”, are just holding him back, keeping him from being recognized as the genius he is. Evidence of this can be found in his shamefully self-congratulatory, bewilderingly bitter and self-pitying records, as well as in all the interviews he did promoting his unbearably pretentious and totally awful album of ‘classical’ music, the wonderfully titled Fantasies & Delusions. Joel isn’t the only rotten music star with a totally out-of-proportion sense of self – Sting is very much his rival in that regard, and Bono thinks he’s Jesus with a better haircut – but no one else matches Joel’s astonishing combination of massive ego and microscopic talent. To him, his career isn’t something you gave him; it’s something you did to him.
But all of this doesn’t matter. What really matters is the music. And while there are a lot of really shitty singers with a lot of really shitty songs, there’s none of them who can match the sheer volume of shittiness Billy Joel has produced. The amazing thing about his catalog is that you can start with pretty much any random song from it, and it will easily be a candidate for the worst song ever. And then you can go on to the next random selection from the Joel oeuvre, and it will be even worse than the one before it. It doesn’t matter where you start or where you end – each song is the worst song until the next song. In other words, his music is so bad it literally defies the laws of probability. While others can play this game, no one can play it so well for so long. Billy Joel is scientifically, objectively, provably the worst popular musician of all time: behold.
“A Matter of Trust”. Peaked at #10. A directionless, meandering, offensive bit of nothing from the dismal Bridge album (1986). Billy tries to ruin the guitar like he ruined the piano. Awful. But not as bad as:
“All About Soul.” Peaked at #27. People tend to forget Billy Joel’s post-‘80s output, because by that time, you didn’t have to listen to it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t out there being just horrible. Billy Joel is not in any way about soul. But not as bad as:
“All Shook Up”. Peaked at #92. This isn’t even a particularly good Elvis song, and still Billy Joel manages to make it a billion times worse. One of only two of his many, many loathsome and unnecessary cover songs to make the charts. But not as bad as:
“Allentown”. Peaked at #17. From the noxious, inescapable Nylon Curtain album (1982). Billy puts on a Bruce Springsteen schtick and tries to express solidarity with the workin’ man. Offensive to all that is decent. But not as bad as:
“Always a Woman”. Peaked at #17. In 1977, Billy put out The Stranger, which was his biggest album of all time. It featured this utterly pussified piece of musical shit. Air Supply would be ashamed to cover this. But not as bad as:
“And So It Goes”. Peaked at #37. Oh ho, I bet you forgot this one, didn’t you? And yet I bet you remember it now. I bet you can’t get it out of your head now. I bet you wish you had a shotgun. Too bad, asshole. But not as bad as:
“An Innocent Man”. Peaked at #10. The year is 1983. Post-punk is roaring, rap is birthing, the New Wave of British heavy metal is searing. Billy Joel, in the meantime, is making a white doo-wop record. Unforgivable. But not as bad as:
“Baby Grand”. Peaked at #75. Late-period Billy Joel, which means not as ubiquitous as his early songs, but just as bad, and probably actually much worse. This finds him singing alongside, and defecating all over, the legendary Ray Charles. But not as bad as:
“Big Shot”. Peaked at #14. Billy Joel puts on his tough-guy routine, but he is a blow-dried dwarf from Hicksville and not Biggie Smalls. From 52nd Street, which went septuple-platinum despite being incredibly awful. But not as bad as:
“Don’t Ask Me Why”. Peaked at #19. A perfect example of Joel’s ability to craft a song so catchy that you don’t notice how completely awful and reprehensible it is until it’s already stuck in your head. Detestable. But not as bad as:
“Goodnight Saigon”. Peaked at #56. Joel’s first, but not last, attempt to suck up to the troops who were off fighting in a war while he was singing “Piano Man” for the jillionth time. It seems impossible that anything could be more degrading. But not as bad as:
“Honesty”. Peaked at #24. Written specifically as a rebuke to those who thought no song could possibly be more grating and wimpy than “Always a Woman”, this one is self-righteous, obnoxious and arrogant to boot. But not as bad as:
“I Go To Extremes”. Peaked at #6. Billy Joel has never gone to extremes in his life, unless you mean extremes of sucking. This song is beloved by fans for its ‘special’ ending, which is also a polite way of saying ‘retarded’. But not as bad as:
“It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me”. Peaked at #1. This was literally Billy Joel’s ‘answer’ to punk and new wave. No, really. It is a testament to the decency of our society that Joey Ramone did not beat him to death with a mic stand. But not as bad as:
“Just the Way You Are”. Peaked at #3. A very popular love song amongst those who are partnered with ugly, stupid spouses. Don’t go changin’ to try and please me, Billy Joel: I hate you whichever way you are, especially this way. But not as bad as:
“Keeping the Faith”. Peaked at #18. An utterly insufferably, burbling, stinking, steaming piece of vomitus off of the unending white doo-wop album An Innocent Man. I’d rather die than hear this fucking song again. But not as bad as:
“Leave a Tender Moment Alone”. Peaked at #27. Do you know I actually listened to all these songs in preparing this post? Do you understand how I have suffered? Do you dare, after all this, doubt Billy Joel’s insurmountable awfulness? But not as bad as:
“Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)”. Peaked at #77. Billy Joel’s last charting album track to date, this was written in tribute to his newborn daughter. And you know what that means, right? That’s right: it sucks. But not as bad as:
“Modern Woman”. Peaked at #10. From the Ruthless People soundtrack, this song is horrific enough on its own, but the b-side is the truly hellish “Sleeping with the Television On”. Not that well known, but still a huge bad hit song. But not as bad as:
“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”. Peaked at #17. One of Joel’s inexplicable rebellious-Catholic songs, inexplicable because he is neither rebellious nor Catholic. Still, he does have a gift for writing really, really awful story-songs. But not as bad as:
“My Life”. Peaked at #3. Bizarrely hostile and understandably defensive, this snotty, wallowing quasi-rebel song is best known as the theme song for Bosom Buddies, which, let’s be honest here, wasn’t all that great either. But not as bad as:
“Only the Good Die Young”. Peaked at #24. Another one from the ridiculous Stranger-era bad-Catholic-kid song cycle, this one is notable for its utter failure to match the music with the lyrics. A godawful mess. But not as bad as:
“Piano Man”. Peaked at #25. If the World Court allowed songs to be placed in evidence at a war crimes tribunal, this thing would be Exhibit A. Joel’s first hit, it defines his entire future career in terms of its sheer atrociousness. But not as bad as:
“Pressure”. Peaked at #20. Released in 1982, a good ten years after it was even remotely plausible that Joel could pass himself off as a rocker. A lamentable failure on every imaginable level, and pompous to boot. But not as bad as:
“River of Dreams”. Peaked at #3. Billy Joel’s last huge hit is just as horrible as his first huge hit. Pretentious, self-righteous on a level that would shame Sting, pseudo-mystical, and overproduced even by his standards. Hellish. But not as bad as:
“Say Goodbye to Hollywood”. Peaked at #17. Billy Joel was so popular in the early 1980s that he could make top 20 hits out of live versions of songs so rotten that he didn’t have the guts to release them as studio singles in the first place. Shameless. But not as bad as:
“She’s Got a Way”. Billy Joel’s first album, Cold Spring Harbor, is the only studio record he ever made (other than the classical record) that didn’t go platinum. To punish us for our failure to recognize his genius, he released a live version of a song from it in 1982, and sure enough, fearing further cruelties, we bought it. But not as bad as:
“Sometimes a Fantasy”. Peaked at #36. Lost in the shuffle between his late-‘70s stuff and the white doo-wop debacle, this one often gets forgotten, but if you hear it again, like I just did, you will remember that it’s the worst song ever. But not as bad as:
“Tell Her About It”. Peaked at #1. The biggest hit off the repulsive doo-wop album, this is probably the least awful of all of them, which is sort of like saying it’s the most painless way of having your nuts torn off with a rusty boat hook. But not as bad as:
“That’s Not Her Style”. Peaked at #77. Another nearly-forgotten Joel hit from his sad, lonely poor-little-rich-boy late period, “That’s Not Her Style” is almost good enough to be a Phil Collins song. Or, to put it another way, it’s almost bad enough to be a Phil Collins song. But not as bad as:
“The Downeaster ‘Alexa’”. Peaked at #57. What in God’s name is Billy fucking Joel doing singing a song called “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’”? What is anyone, but especially Billy Joel? What Gordon Lightfoot would sound like after severe head trauma. But not as bad as:
“The Entertainer”. Peaked at #34. A delightfully bitchy follow-up to “Piano Man” finds Joel once again yelling at his fans, complaining about his fame and fortune, and insisting that his songs should be even longer. Maddening. But not as bad as:
“The Longest Time”. Peaked at #3. This thing stinks like Danny Aiello’s armpit after a wrestling match in a vinegar bath. It’s just absolutely putrid and supremely annoying, and it wasn’t even the biggest hit off of the doo-wop record. If this was the only thing Billy Joel had ever done I would hate him forever and ever. But not as bad as:
“The Night is Still Young”. Peaked at #34. What can I say about this song? Should I focus on the moronic lyrics? The loping, predictable tune? The asinine music video? The musical equivalent of an accidental drowning. But not as bad as:
“This is the Time.” Peaked at #18. Written around the time of The Bridge, this didn’t become a big hit until much later, when it was released as a single from one of his greatest-hits records. That doesn’t mean it isn’t terrible, though. But not as bad as:
“To Make You Feel My Love”. Peaked at #50. So far, and praise be to Jesus on his throne, this is the final charting song by Billy Joel. This is a Bob Dylan cover, also sung badly by Garth Brooks. In the hands of Joel, the title sounds like a threat. But not as bad as:
“Travelin’ Prayer”. Peaked at #77. Have you ever wondered what it would sound like if Billy Joel decided to record a reekingly bogus country song? Have you ever wondered what the depths of Hell will sound like when you are being tortured there for all eternity? But not as bad as:
“Uptown Girl”. Peaked at #3. Hands down the most poisonous, awful thing to seethe off the grooves of his godforsaken doo-wop album. Every time I hear this song I just want to punch him in the face until one of us goes blind. But not as bad as:
“We Didn’t Start the Fire”. Peaked at #1. Also known as “Billy Joel Remembers Things That Happened”. Not even being made fun of on The Office could redeem this boring, stilted, stench-bomb of a song. Dire. But not as bad as:
“Worse Comes to Worst.” Peaked at #80. Billy Joel’s second hit, this one is one of his rare songs that you actually have to listen to in order to remember how devastatingly bad it is, as opposed to the ones whose badness is permanently ingrained in your memory. But not as bad as:
“You May Be Right.” Peaked at #7. Another one of those songs where Billy tries to come across as charmingly self-deprecating but ends up just sounding like a defensive jackass. The loopy intonation he gives to ‘lunatic’ marks the absolute nadir of western civilization. But not as bad as:
“You’re Only Human (Second Wind)”. Funny, because Billy Joel isn’t human at all. He’s a demon from hell. This song was written to prevent suicides. Did you know his Greatest Hits Vols. 1 & 2album went platinum twenty-seven times? That causes suicidal ideation in me. But not as bad as:
So there you have it. Forty-two of the absolute worst songs ever written. I put them in alphabetical order, but each one is worse than the one before no matter how you arrange them. And that’s not to mention abominable non-charters like “Captain Jack”, “Streetlife Serenade”, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, “New York State of Mind”, “Leningrad”, “Rosalinda’s Eyes”, “Shameless”, and the unspeakable, unforgivable “Christmas in Fallujah”; or his truly abhorrent collection of horrible covers; or, God protect our living souls, that deeply, profoundly excrescent ‘classical’ album. After all this, if you still question that Billy Joel is the worst popular musician in the history of the world, I question your brain.
Go now, and sin no more.