Tag Archives: Ben Folds

Rocks In The Attic #677: Billy Joel – ‘The Stranger’ (1977)

RITA#677There are some records that you hear so much about, they become part of the furniture. The front cover becomes so familiar, it becomes part of the wallpaper of life. You see it all the time, but you’ve never heard it. The part of your brain that reasons why it’s so ubiquitous is usually extinguished by some other factor – a dislike of the artist in question, or the fans of the artist in question.

Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was one of those records for me. When I first heard it about five years ago, it hit me like a sledgehammer. Hit after hit after hit. That’s the reason it used to sit in the record collection of my friend’s parents. “Yellow vinyl, that is!” they used to proclaim as though that might have swayed me. It didn’t. So I just remained ignorant to it for the next twenty years or so.

Billy Joel’s commercial break-through, The Stranger, is another one. His fifth studio album, it plays like a Greatest Hits record. Strangely, it stalled at #2 on the US Billboard – despite staying there for six consecutive weeks in late 1977. None of the singles did particularly well either. They all sound like number ones, but the closest to the top spot was Just The Way You Are, which peaked at #3.

Having just seen Ben Folds in concert (on his Paper Aeroplane tour), it’s lovely to listen to the piano break in Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, and hear in one ten second blast where Folds got much of his playing style from.

Maybe the reason I wrote Billy Joel off was Uptown Girl – his enduring ‘80s hit from An Innocent Man. I love Uptown Girl – it might have been overplayed to death when I was growing up, but there’s a good reason why. The melodies are so catchy, it’s one of those songs I find myself singing out of the blue without hearing it – particularly the backing vocals that kick the song off, and accompany the instrumental break later in the song.

Okay everybody, on three. One…two…three… “ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh-ohhhhh…

Hit: Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)

Hidden Gem: The Stranger

Rocks In The Attic #464: The Beach Boys – ‘Surf’s Up’ (1971)

RITA#464I think this might be my favourite era of the Beach Boys. Of course I love the ‘60s Beach Boys – who doesn’t? – but their albums around this period feature music that is just so fragile and different from the surf pop from which they made their name.

I’ll put my money on the fact that Ben Folds listened to this record when he was growing up. In fact, it sounds so close, it could be a Ben Folds record if only there was a little bit more piano on it. Ben definitely hits the keys harder than Brian, but that’s where the differences end.

I recently watched the fabulous Brian Wilson biopic Love And Mercy on a plane into Sydney; one of those occasions where you find yourself hurrying the film up to finish, because you don’t think you’re going to make it to the end before the plane reaches its destination. I needn’t have worried; I made it in plenty of time.

Surf’s Up would be placed closer to the timeframe in the film where Brian Wilson is portrayed by Paul Dano – in fact it’s only five years after Good Vibrations was released, the crowning achievement of Dano’s Wilson. Those sections of the film work much better; the John Cusack scenes set in the ‘80s don’t revolve around the music as much. They’re more concerned with the drama of Wilson’s life at that time – something I just didn’t find as interesting as seeing Wilson teach the chord changes of Good Vibrations to the Wrecking Crew.

There are no big hit singles of this record. It wasn’t about hit singles by this time; it was a new decade and the album was king.

Hit: Feel Flows

Hidden Gem: Lookin’ at Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)