Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II

Billy Joel

Columbia Records, 1985

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


For someone who's had a recording career like Billy Joel's, there's no denying that he was long overdue for a greatest hits release back in 1985. But to combine two volumes into one release? That was as crazy as -- oh, I don't know, maybe Bruce Springsteen releasing two albums on the same day. (Hey, wait a minute...)

As it stands, Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II might be a little too much, even for fans of the "piano man," but you can't fault anyone for putting together this 22-song collection. After all, you really don't recognize the effect that Joel had on music over the course of 12 years until you hear all the hits he released.

Taking light pop, near-folk ballading, the atmosphere of smoky jazz clubs, his Italian heritage and religious roots, his love for doo-wop and the early days of rock & roll, and rolling them up into a career, Joel helped remind listeners to keep in touch with all of their roots while looking ahead to the future.

The first seven years of Joel's stardom are wrapped up nicely in the first disc of the collection -- though this also proves to be the toughest to get through at times. Even though it's been around for over 25 years, I somehow never get sick of hearing "Piano Man" and hearing the musical birth cries of a superstar. Even for someone who grew up with this material, tracks like "New York State Of Mind" and "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" might be new experiences, as these songs don't normally make the rounds of classic rock radio. But while they might not have been topping the charts, they prove that they belong in this collection.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

During this time, Joel seemed to be struggling with the decision of whether to be a pop crooner or a rocker -- and the conflict is heard in songs like "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" (the track that has Italian influences in it), "The Stranger," "Just The Way You Are," "She's Always A Woman" and "You May Be Right." The tough part of this portion of the collection is that the songs become very much a personal hit-or-miss. I've never liked the songs "Big Shot" or "Only The Good Die Young," and this collection doesn't do anything to change my mind. Your list of personal likes and dislikes is certain to change, but it's also pretty certain that both lists will have at least one song from this period.

The real fire under Joel's career is chronicled on the second disc of Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II. From the paean to rock music "It's Still Rock & Roll To Me" to the release of penned-up anger on tracks like "Allentown," "Pressure" and "Goodnight Saigon," Joel finally allows himself the freedom to express his emotions without worrying whether the songs would top the pop charts or not. The Nylon Curtain, from which three of these songs are pulled from, might not have been a commercial blockbuster, but for Joel, it truly was the release he needed.

1984's An Innocent Man was the culmination of all Joel's hard work. In a way, it had to be tough to choose between all the hits that came from this album -- notably absent is "Keeping The Faith." But the three selections that do make the grade -- "Tell Her About It," "Uptown Girl"and "The Longest Time" -- represent the album well, and are still quite enjoyable tracks.

You could question the inclusion of the two new tracks on this collection -- one of which, "You're Only Human (Second Wind)," became not only an anthem against suicide but another hit single for Joel -- but they fairly represent where Joel was at this stage in his career, looking back at the superstardom he now enjoyed. "The Night Is Still Young," admittedly not a song written for the top of the pops, is a pleasant track, but it also showed that joel had not abandoned his musical roots.

The one negative about this release is it often seems like more of Joel's music than one should handle in one sitting. On their own, these tracks are pleasant enough, but when you put them together, it sometimes feels like overkill.

Still, Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II is the perfect starting point for anyone who wants to get a feel for Joel's music up to the An Innocent Man days -- and it should make you intrigued enough to go check out the original albums the tracks are culled from.

Rating: B+

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.