Saturday, 11 April 2009

1983 Billy Joel: Uptown Girl

Billy Joel's first (and last) UK number one is a tribute in form to the New York doo wop sound of Frankie Valli et al, and a tribute in content to his then supermodel girlfriend Christie Brinkley. It's a popular track that, considering it's content specific subject matter, has been a surprising choice for other people to cover. It's memorable certainly, and everybody down at the eighties club knows exactly what's coming as soon as the opening 'Woahs' start up, but here's something about Joel's self deprecating lyrics and delivery that's way too smug for its own good.

"You know I can't afford to buy her pearls.
But maybe someday when my ship comes in, she'll understand what kind of guy I've been. And then I'll win" - "Maybe someday"? A bit rich coming from someone who obviously can afford to buy her not only the pearls, but also the ship that's meant to be coming in (in fact, he married Brinkley on his yacht). It reminds me of Mrs Merton asking Debbie McGee "What was it that first attracted you to multi-Millionaire Paul Daniels"? and it dilutes the 'hey, it's personality, not money or looks that counts' message ever so slightly.

And the manner of it's delivery is less than endearing too, with Joel's Bronx accent singularly failing to let rip with anything like Valli's formidable falsetto and instead drawling out the R's into a 'yous guys' "Uptown Girrrrrrrrl, You know I can't afford to buy her pirrrrrrls" crack at showing his working class, downtown guy credentials. It's not helped either by the music behind it all being a series of relentlessly bland formulaic handclaps and 'woahhs', and though it changes key frequently behind him, Joel's voice doesn't follow suit. Too excited to notice probably.

'Uptown Girl' is the musical equivalent of seeing the thick kid who disrupted the lessons at the back of the class while you sweated out your O Levels, suddenly pull up alongside your Ford Escort at the traffic lights ten years later in a 7 Series BMW and gloat in a 'hey, look where I got from doing nothing in school' kind of way while you feign indifference as your fingernails bite into the steering wheel. In other words, it's a boast accompanied by not very nice rubbing your face it gesture that would have worked well as a private wedding gift from him to her, but leaves a very sour taste in the mouth with the decision that the world should have a listen too. Putting her in the video didn't help make it any friends either - for god's sake, you're sleeping with a stunning woman, we get it Billy.

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