KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Thirty Year Thursday – BILLY JOEL “THE BRIDGE”

[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]

Artist: BILLY JOEL
Album: THE BRIDGE

Billy Joel - The BridgeBy the time Billy Joel released The Bridge in the summer of 1986 he had already created a run of nine consecutive classic albums, from 1971’s Cold Spring Harbor through 1983’s An Innocent Man. Some fans might have a different definition of his prime years but for me that era concluded with The Bridge, which also marked the end of his long-time collaboration with legendary producer Phil Ramone. Starting with 1977’s The Stranger, Ramone helped Joel harness his strengths while expanding the sonic landscapes of his records, making each album sound different than the last while maintaining an unmistakable Billy Joel sound. Much of that had to do with his musicians, who were more than just a backing band or hired guns. To me and many other dedicated fans, the group consisting of drummer Liberty DeVitto, guitarists Russell Javors and David Brown, bassist Doug Stegmeyer and saxophonist Richie Cannata (later replaced by Mark Rivera) was as integral to his sound as the E Street Band was to Bruce Sprinsgteen. The Bridge was the final album to include contributions from all of these world-class musicians (only DeVitto & Brown remained for 1989’s Storm Front), and the two subsequent albums he released prior to his unofficial retirement from pop/rock songwriting were not in the same league as any of his previous work.

Although The Bridge isn’t as consistent from start-to-finish as most of his earlier releases, there are plenty of great songs that have stood the test of time. “Modern Woman” and “A Matter Of Trust” were both Top 10 hits in the U.S. Billy Joel Photo circa 1986The former is an energetic synth-based tune (which was featured in the hilarious movie Ruthless People that same year), while the latter is a crunchy guitar-based rocker. “This Is The Time” is a classic Billy Joel ballad marred slightly by the line “I’m warm from the memory of days to come.” Ray Charles joins in on vocals & piano for the tribute to their favorite instrument, “Baby Grand,” with Joel clearly relishing every moment with his idol. The horn-drenched “Big Man On Mulberry Street” is a jazzy delight, while album opener “Running On Ice” is a blast of fresh air with some typically impressive drumming from DeVitto. “Temptation” is one of those forgotten songs in his discography, a stunning ballad that could/should have been a hit single. The Bridge closes with two decent-but-forgettable songs that are notable for their guest artists. “Code Of Silence” was co-written by Cyndi Lauper, who also adds her distinctive vocals to the track. It’s one of only two songs in his catalog co-written by someone else (Ludwig van Beethoven was his other “collaborator”). Steve Winwood adds some tasty organ to “Getting Closer,” but that may be the only noteworthy thing about the song.  I could write a book, or perhaps a blog series, on Billy Joel’s discography and how much his music and his band have meant to me for nearly 4 decades, but that will have to wait. For now I’m happy to share this look back at the tail end of his incredible 10-album winning streak.

 

For another take on The Bridge, check out Wardo’s review.

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45 comments on “Thirty Year Thursday – BILLY JOEL “THE BRIDGE”

  1. mikeladano
    April 7, 2016

    I’m not sure that I’ve heard any of these songs before. Looks like I have homework!

    Like

    • Are you referring to the songs I highlighted with YouTube clips or all songs on this album? I would be surprised if you didn’t know “This Is The Time” and “A Matter Of Trust.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        April 7, 2016

        All! At least, I don’t know them by name. When I do some homework and listen I may find them familiar!

        Like

      • Let me know if/when you do that. I’ll be curious if any of them ring a bell for you. Billy Joel is probably in my all-time Top 10 artists so these songs have been part of my DNA for a long time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        April 7, 2016

        I will let you know!

        My first exposure was Uptown Girl. Younger sister’s dance recital.

        Like

      • That’s an interesting introduction to Billy Joel’s music. A lot of fans hate that song but not me, even though it’s not really representative of his best work.

        Like

  2. 80smetalman
    April 7, 2016

    I must admit that I had given up on Billy after “An Innocent Man” but I do remember this one. I thought the song “You’re Only Human” which was written for a campaign against teen suicide was on this one.

    Like

    • I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that you continued through An Innocent Man. A lot of people I know hate that album but I think it’s fantastic. The Bridge isn’t quite as good but still has enough great songs to make it essential. “You’re Only Human” and “The Night Is Still Young” were the two new songs included on his first Greatest Hits compilation.

      Like

      • 80smetalman
        April 7, 2016

        I see, I just remember “You’re Only Human” coming out about the same time as this album. It must have been released as a single.

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      • I think it was a single, and it came out about a year before “The Bridge.” If you weren’t aware of his “Greatest Hits” album it makes sense that you thought the song was associated with this album. It would have fit nicely.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jeff Kempin
    April 7, 2016

    I remember going to the Record Town in Ford City Mall and buying The Bridge and So, the first time I ever bought more than one new album at a time. Hey, for a high school kid with limited income, it was a big deal! This was the last Billy Joel album I ever bought too. Aside from a song or two here and there, I kind of parted ways with him and his music.
    As for The Bridge….well…it’s half of a great album. The good songs are really good and the rest is just kind of…meh. There’s too much Big 80’s style of production on here, which gives it a very dated sound compared to his other previous albums. I think the songwriting was weaker here too. But his run of albums from The Stranger to An Innocent Man set such a high standard, that sooner or later Joel was gonna falter and I think he did that here. It’s not a horrible album by any stretch, but it was a definite step down from what he’d done previously.
    Just my opinion. Billy Joel is up there with the all time great songwriters and performers. He had a run of classic albums that will stand tall for decades to come.
    Another great post, Rich!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jeff. It sounds like we have very similar feelings about Billy Joel’s discography, although I think his run of classic albums started a little sooner than The Stranger. As I’m sure you gathered from this post, I also think The Bridge is a flawed album but there are enough great songs to make it essential. I really enjoyed Storm Front when it came out, but over the years it didn’t age well for me, and River Of Dreams gets weaker each time I play it (other than the wonderful title track). I really appreciate your input. I think So and The Bridge were two excellent purchases. You had excellent taste.

      Like

  4. stephen1001
    April 7, 2016

    I adore the Stranger and Glass Houses – I don’t have this one…yet!

    Like

    • Geoff, if you don’t know Turnstiles, 52nd Street and the Nylon Curtain, check those out first. Same with An Innocent Man, although some fans dislike that one because of a few pop hits.

      Liked by 1 person

      • stephen1001
        April 7, 2016

        I’ve got all of those except Turnstiles – “Laura” on Nylon Curtain’s another favourite track. Sounds like Turnstiles will be my next stop!

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      • I think you’ll like Turnstiles. Some classics on that one.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Murphy's Law
    April 8, 2016

    I may have to give this a try. I’m one of those who didn’t stay with Joel after An Innocent Man. I started with The Stranger and all the albums between that one and at least Glass Houses have a rock feel to them. That was missing for me in AIM and I just never came back.

    Like

    • There are a few solid rockers on The Bridge so maybe you’ll like it, although Storm Front has a much bigger sound (thanks to Mick Jones’ huge production). Since you started with The Stranger and liked everything through An Innocent Man, you might want to go backwards at least one album and check out Turnstiles. It’s one of my favorites.

      Like

      • Murphy's Law
        April 9, 2016

        I’ve meant to do that (mainly influenced by Songs from the Attic) but I’ve just never gotten around to it.

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      • Some of the Turnstiles songs that appeared on Songs In The Attic might sound timid in their original studio versions compared to the live recordings, but song-for-song it’s one of his strongest albums.

        Like

  6. Nice Springsteen/E Street Band comparison.

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    • Thanks, Ovidiu. I’ve been a champion of Billy Joel’s band for a long time and wish they had more recognition as a unit. Billy Joel is a great songwriter & performer, but his records & concerts wouldn’t have been as legendary without those musicians.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. ‘Running On Ice’ – who’s been listening to The Police then?! Interesting.

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    • Not sure I agree with you, Matt (a rare occurrence indeed). Liberty’s drumming on “Running On Ice” might have some of that Stewart Copeland-esque syncopation, but the structure of the song and that manic piano figure doesn’t remind me of The Police at all. Now if we’re talking about Rush’s “New World Man” that’s another story. Of course, they’ve spoken about the influence The Police had on them at the time.

      Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        April 8, 2016

        What about Sting recycling “Don’t stand so close to me” for “I want my MTV” when he guested with Dire Straits? Homage or plagiarism? Or neither? A “My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine coincidence?

        Like

      • I think that was an intentional tongue-in-cheek reference to “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” in the Dire Straits track. Not a coincidence. An example of a musical coincidence is when The Rolling Stones were informed that the chorus of “Anybody Seen My Baby” seemed similar to k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving.” They could have claimed ignorance, especially since I don’t think it was intentional, but instead they gave her co-writing credit. Very classy.

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      • Really? Billy seems to have a distinctly Sting-like timbre to his (double-tracked) voice, and no vibrato too, just like Sting. Then there’s the very Sting-like bass sound. And very Police-like chords in the verse, with a rhythmic feel similar to ‘Spirits In The Material World’. And the half-time verses, double-time chorus. But I agree with your Rush comparison and there are loads of other bands who were influenced by the Police. I may well address that at some point over at MTR…

        Like

      • Those are some good points, Matt, especially the “Spirits In The Material World” rhythm, but I don’t think it was a direct influence, especially considering that The Police had split up by that time (the aborted reunion in ’86 notwithstanding).

        Do you remember the short-lived ’80s band Novo Combo? Those guys were HUGELY influenced by The Police. Then there’s The Samples, whose singer often sounded exactly like Sting. They were like a ’90s version of The Police.

        Like

      • OK, here’s the evidence, Rich… Seems that Sting and The Police were definitely on his mind at the time:

        http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/billy-joel-the-rolling-stone-interview-19861106

        Thanks for the tips about those two other bands that I’ve never heard of, I will check them out.

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      • Thanks for finding that interview, Matt. Even though he confirms the Sting/Police connection, I still don’t hear it in any of the songs from The Bridge. Perhaps 1980’s “Close To The Borderline” has more of the punk/new wave vibe that could be compared to The Police and other bands of that era. Of course, who am I to argue with Billy Joel…or you. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha, OK, Rich. Look forward to more debates soon.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Daddydinorawk
        April 16, 2016

        Rich, I was a big Samples fan from living in Colorado for a while and while Sean Kellys vocals can be reminiscent of Stings it is the drumming of Jeep McNicol which really gives them that comparison. Of course the Samples style is a bit more folksy with a splash of reggae vibe. You know they did open for Sting at Red Rocks. It was a big deal at the time (sadly I missed the gig long story) but it was kind of dealt with as a big Samples gig (another incredible Colorado band called the Reejers opened that gig) as they played nearly their full set in the daylight, then Sting came on and did his regular show.

        Like

      • I didn’t realize that The Samples once opened for Sting. Is there any chance that Sean Kelly joined Sting for a duet at any point? Good point about their drummer giving their music more of a Police vibe, although they had their own unique sound.

        Like

      • Daddydinorawk
        April 17, 2016

        Lol…no I don’t think so, but apparently there was a tet a tet and Sting told him that he thought they had their own original sound. I met Sean a few times, really nice dude.

        Like

      • Good to know that Sting agreed about The Samples having their own original sound. This conversation is reminding me that I need to give The Samples a fresh listen since I haven’t played any of their music in at least a decade. I also have a Sean Kelly solo album that was very good. Not sure if he has more than one.

        Like

  8. dah_sab
    April 8, 2016

    I still listen to A Matter of Trust regularly. When I first saw it on MTV I thought “that’s actually a cool Billy Joel song!” I love it.

    That said, as a kid (15 in 1980,) Billy Joel was the piano guy that girls liked. I remember being at a friend’s house when he put on the just-released Glass Houses and being distinctly uncomfortable because Billy Joel was kind of uncool, man. I actually liked what I heard, but I never bought any of his albums.

    The fact that he was so closely identified with New York was also somewhat alienating to a Texas boy. New York sometimes seemed like a different country back then. A really arrogant and annoying country.

    All so silly in retrospect. Took me a while to like what I liked and not just what my friends and I thought was cool. Yet I still feel weird when I find out a guy I know likes Billy Joel! I’m not proud.

    Like

    • Thanks for sharing your history with Billy Joel’s music. Obviously you had a much different perspective than mine by simply being from Texas. In 1980 New York was definitely an “arrogant and annoying country,” but it’s amazing how things have changed. Places in the city you wouldn’t have stepped foot in back then are now popular tourist attractions. And with that, people’s feelings about Billy Joel have probably changed, although it sounds like you still have some lingering doubts. I hope that changes over time.

      Like

  9. wardo68
    April 13, 2016

    Thanks for the traffic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t checked my stats in a while but I’m always happy whenever someone clicks through to one of my favorite blogs. Glad that’s been the case for you, Wardo.

      Like

  10. Daddydinorawk
    April 16, 2016

    Peak Billy for me is Piano Man thru to Nylon Curtain. Incredible body of work there. I’m pretty indifferent to the rest of his catalog, but with the incredible music of those 9 albums (yes including Songs From the Attic) it doesn’t even matter. He can play Uptown Girl at every show and it doesn’t even matter, the rest of his work speaks for itself.

    Like

    • I think An Innocent Man gets a slightly bad rap because he had so many pop hits, but it’s as diverse & musically adventurous as anything else he had done. However, I understand why a lot of fans (including you) dropped out when that album was released. Glad we agree about the strength of his catalog. Incredible indeed.

      Like

      • Daddydinorawk
        April 17, 2016

        Glass Houses was the first album I ever owned. Its not that I fell off the bus tho. I only had that and Piano Man. There are some good tracks on it. Leave A Tender Moment, Longest Time and Easy Money.

        Like

      • Those are three great songs from An Innocent Man. I also love the title track, “Keeping The Faith” and “This Night.” I think I might have mentioned it earlier, but “Christie Lee” is the only clunker on that album for me.

        Like

  11. Pingback: Forty Year Friday – BILLY JOEL “THE STRANGER” | KamerTunesBlog

  12. Pingback: YOU RIP, YOU SHRED – My Favorite Drummers Part 2 | KamerTunesBlog

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