Billy Joel – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me

First Hit #1: July 19, 1980

Billy Joel isn’t cool. That’s more his own contention than mine, since It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me is a song about the futility of being cool. It’s a song that is outwardly dismissive of trends and changing tastes while unconsciously being influenced by them. There is a touch of new wave in a song that has a line that is explicitly dismissing new wave, and that’s the funny thing about it. It’s outwardly dismissive about trying to be cool, but it was still a popular song sung by a bestselling artist that was, musically, completely on trend with the time.

But maybe that’s the point. Trend hopping is pointless, it doesn’t work and wastes your money. But just following your muse and making some pop music you believe in, that can sometimes be on trend and be successful. The coolest people are the ones who aren’t trying, but the ones that just follow what they like and act accordingly. Sometimes they’re also the people who are decidedly uncool, but the point is, given that trend hopping is futile, why not just go with what you know and ignore the static?

Maybe Billy Joel is cool after all.

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One Response to Billy Joel – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me

  1. RBerman says:

    I never saw this song as dismissive of New Wave. If anything, the song’s villain is overly preoccupied with new music and dismissive of older styles. As you said, its sound is clearly influenced by New Wave’s slinky guitar sounds and processed vocals. The imaginary conversation between the doubletracked hipster and the mellow music fan is both conceptually clever and well-executed, with the former full of sarcasm and criticisms (“You’re tie’s too wide… you think too much”) and the latter good naturedly looking for a point of contact. (“Everybody’s talking about the ‘new sound.’ Funny, but it’s still rock’n’roll to me.”) Joel is quite the 50s pop/rock traditionalist, so for him to endorse continuity between the sounds of the past and modern “hot funk” and “cool punk” is much more generous than the anti-innovation attitude of, say, Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll”. As far as being forward-looking musically, Joel’s track even breaks into a saxophone solo which was both prescient of the zillion sax bridges that would clutter 80s songs. Thematically, it’s a preemptive strike against the silly idea in the 90s that the latest generation of pop/rock ought to be called “Alternative Music,”

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