Album Reviews

Billy Joel

Streetlife Serenade

Artist:     Billy Joel

Album:     Streetlife Serenade

Label:     Columbia/Audio Fidelity

Release Date:     05/26/2015


At the time of its release in 1974, Streetlife Serenade seemed like something of a stopgap in Billy Joel’s then abbreviated career. The album had its share of memorable melodies: the romanticized ballad “Streetlife Serenader,” the didactic “Los Angelenos” and the signature single, “The Entertainer,” chief among them. But as a conceptual whole, it failed to make the impact that its predecessor, Piano Man, had made only a year before. The latter song in particular seemed a logical follow-up to the big breakthrough achieved with “Piano Man,” but where the former was a tale of longing and hopeful aspirations, “The Entertainer” was wrought with bitterness and frustration, expressed from the vantage point of a still up and coming young artist who was already disgruntled with the mechanisms of the star making machine. “It was a beautiful song but it ran too long/If you’re gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit/So they cut it down to 3:05,” he chimed, mocking the record company’s insistence on creatively tinkering with his material to make it fit standard radio formatting. Already looking back with remorse — one of the album’s best tracks, the autobiographical “The Great Suburban Showdown” offers a strong hint of that bittersweet reflection — Joel found himself coming to grips with the prospects of looming stardom and was somewhat wary as a result. It’s actually ironic that the album made it only as far as number 35 in the album charts, indicative perhaps of the fact that his confidence may have been waning to a certain extent.

In retrospect, Streetlife Serenade compares favorably with most other albums in Joel’s catalog and, with time, its consistency has become increasingly clear. “Roberta” is patented Billy Joel in both style and sentiment. “Last of the Big Time Spenders” comes across as a plodding piano heavy lament that recalls future pal Elton John in its narrative delivery. “Root Beer Rag,” a rare Joel instrumental, spotlights his keyboard prowess in ways that weren’t apparent at the time. Newly enhanced by multichannel surround sound and a bright new stereo remix, the album certainly sounds better than ever before, bringing a measure of urgency and potency to songs that never got a full measure of appreciation when the album was originally released. Worthy of rediscovery, Streetlife Serenade offers some lively listening from an artist who was rapidly becoming a capable crooner himself.

– Lee Zimmerman

Got something to say?

One Response