REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/06/2010
There has to be an economical reason to explain the massive influx of Greatest Hits compilations in the first decade of the new millennium. Sure there were such records back in the day, but back then there was not this global awareness that technology has brought forth unto this world. These days, it's not enough just to release the damn thing; there has to be the run through the talk show circuit, the five different special editions, and the simultaneous release of the album on Rock Band/Guitar Hero (Oh, yes, don't forget the quadruple 180 gram vinyl reissue as well).
For whatever it's worth, at least Billy Joel can offer up some logical argument for once again traveling down the yellow hit road. His last pop record came in the early ‘90s, and since that point, he has lived up to his promise that he was simply "done" with feeding the pop machine. Since then, it's been orchestral pieces and the occasional collaborative recording, as well as the massively successful Face To Face tours with Elton John.
Nobody would completely buy the reasoning that the public has forgotten Billy Joel: the man has millions upon millions of record sales to his name. The gloomy future he envisioned of pop superstardom in "The Entertainer" never came to pass for the Piano Man. But truth be told, Joel's reluctance to continue on making records has to have had some sort of impact. Elton John reclaimed his legacy with the Disney projects of the mid ‘90s and the use of "Tiny Dancer" in Almost Famous. When was the last time Billy Joel made headway into the current musical scene? Right now, his daughter is getting the Joel name out there with more frequency.
So I guess that's where The Hits is supposed to come into play. Give the people more "Piano Man," "Tell Her About It," and "My Life!" Of course with this being a single disc, there are plenty of worthy songs that failed to make the cut. Actually, one omission that has my full support and surprised the hell out of me was "Just The Way You Are" getting kicked off the island. It doesn't appear that The Hits presents a revisionist history of Joel; there were never that many shades to his work. Joel hated being categorized as a schmaltzy, romantic songwriter and that informed much of his late ‘70s and early ‘80s work. Maybe the lack of some of the bigger ballads indicates Joel is okay with the public moving past them. Of course, that won't stop you from hearing "Just The Way You Are" on the radio every hour of every day.
As I sat down to write this review, I had vivid memories of doing something similar for the Elton John hits compilation that came out a few years ago, and it is no coincidence many of my complaints are the same here as they were with the Rocket Man. Yes, 19 Billy Joel songs are better than 95% of anything else out there in music land. And yes, some of these are true classics that will never get old. But it always comes down to the same two fundamental problems, the first of which being that there are better compilations out there. The Essential Billy Joel blows this set out of the water, having the advantage of being spread across two discs. Secondly, and most important of all, there is the "Why?" We can guess, we can assume, we can hypothesize just why someone at the label felt Billy Joel needed yet another hits package. But the truth of the matter is, despite my posturing, I have no better idea than any of the rest of you. So if The Hits is asking us, "Why Not?" I have a simple retort: "Why Should We."