Review: Streetlife Serenade by Billy Joel (1974)

Even the cover is boring.
Even the cover is boring.

It’s hard to find much to say about Streetlife Serenade, it’s kind of boring. Boring as in “I was told I had to do another album and I didn’t really want to but I did anyway.” There’s not a lot of passion in these recordings from either Billy Joel or the session players but there are enough decent tracks here to make it worth getting if you can get it cheap enough.

Streetlife Serenader and Los Angelenos are two of the best songs on the album and would later feature on Billy’s first live album, Songs in the Attic. Being recorded by a proper band in a live setting brought them to life a bit and these versions are vastly superior. Get Songs in the Attic, is what I’m saying.

I was thinking of you the whole time, baby.
I was thinkin’ of you the whole time, baby.

The Great Suburban Showdown features some cringe-worthy old-timey synthesizer and lyrics about being rich and how that sort of makes you a cowboy or something. Of course, at this point Billy Joel was busy being a commercial failure and so I don’t think he was getting all that free champagne on his plane. Also features some riveting lyrics about his daddy mowing the lawn.

Root Beer Rag is an instrumental ragtime piece which doesn’t really belong on the album at all. I’m pretty sure he’d gone to see The Sting and thought it was really neat or something and that’s why this song exists. A good b-side but pretty jarring when it’s stuck between two slower songs.

Roberta is Billy Joel pleading with a prostitute to sleep with him even though he’s got no money – “I’m in a bad way and I wanna make love to you.”

Nope.
Nope.

The Entertainer crosses Moog synthesizer with more cowboy stuff and appears to exist in a universe where music and beans are kept in the same area in the shop. It’s kind of a cool song regardless and the only track from the album to appear on his many Greatest Hits collections.

Last of the Big Time Spenders is about having lots of money again. It starts off very nicely with Billy accompanying himself on piano in good ol’ bluesy style but goes off the rails a bit when the rest of the band comes in. It would have been nice to have had this one left alone.

Weekend Song is the last proper full-band song on the album and I’m very pleased for that. It’s really lame. Paul McCartney as a solo artist lame.

Souvenir is good because they left Billy alone to play it by himself. He used it to close concerts for years afterwards and similarly it should close the album, but unfortunately The Mexican Connection had to come in and spoil it. It sounds like music you’d hear either in an elevator or The Sims.

In short, Streetlife Serenade could have been a great album but then the session players had to spooge all over it.

Streetlife Serenade track list:

  1. Streetlife Serenader
  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
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