Streetlife Serenade (1974)

1. Streetlife Serander 2. Los Angelenos 3. The Great Suburban Showdown 4. Root Beer Rag 5. Roberta 6. The Entertainer 7. Last of the Big Time Spenders 8. Weekend Song 9. Souvenir 10.The Mexican Connection


With the exception of Piano Man, all of Billy Joel's early recordings suffered from lack of professionalism and polish in the recording studio. The ideas were there, and the melodies could be somewhat strong as were the sentiments, but the final product always seemed to be lacking something. Anyone remotely connected to the business knows how important (but expensive) a strong producer and backing band is needed, so Joel probably was deemed too inconsequential from the Powers that Be when it was time to cut a new disc.

This is Joel's weakest studio effort ever. To be fair, not all the blame should be shouldered on outside factors, as many of the songs seemed to be lacking much substance. The exceptions to that are the lead-off cut Streetlife Serenader which does have the piano beautifully intertwined throughout the song, and The Entertainer is a catchy little tune that, musically, rivals Travelin' Prayer from his last effort that is a sarcastic look at the business that was already leaving burn marks.

Most of the rest of the album is flat out boring and/or too angry. Joel, never really known as a strong lyricist, labors through such topics as high priced hookers (Roberta), boredom in the suburbs (The Great Suburban Showdown) and an unappealing picture of his temporary residence (Los Angelenos). Had any of these songs had somewhat decent melodies, it might have been easier to overlook the mundane subject matter, but unlike his last album, there just isn't much here.

Other songs try their hardest to come through, but for various reasons fall short. The Mexican Connection is an instrumental in the vein of Ballad of Billy the Kid, it has its moments, but sounds too much like a theme music from a made for TV western. Root Beer Rag has a few bright moments at being a modern-ish ragtime piece, but its whiny synthesizers take too much of the joy out of it. Consequently, Souvenir has a nice sound to it - sort of an "after the show" song, yet this song seems to be a tad too short to have any lasting effect.

This was Joel's "California" album - where he went to work after his initial failure as an artist happened in his hometown of New York. Things obviously weren't much brighter on the west coast and it just wasn't a fit for his temperament and style. Even when he was at the top several years later, he was too much of a fit for Long Island, and always belonged to New York City. Yes, even being in a certain geography can influence a recording.

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