Songs & Lyrics
Audio & Video
Cover art by Brian Hagiwara.
Billy Joel's second album for Columbia Records was
Streetlife Serenade, released in October 1974. It was a solid effort, but may have been released a little too soon, less than a year after Piano Man was released. During much of that year, Billy had been on the road promoting Piano Man, playing night after night across the country. He felt pressured by his label to put out another album to take advantage of the favorable publicity that Piano Man had received.
As Billy stated about Streetlife Serenade in a 2009 Rolling Stone interview, "I was pushed to put that one out, and I shouldn't have because it wasn't ready. There are fragments of things I think are good, but not a lot of good finished stuff, execution or follow-through. Also it was done with studio musicians, and I didn't want to work with studio musicians anymore. I wanted to work with my own road band, and there was always this battle."
Billy didn't win that battle and recorded Streetlife Serenade in a Los Angeles studio without "his" band. That battle would continue to 1976's Turnstiles which Billy produced himself with his own band.
Perhaps due to these issues, Streetlife Serenade has been considered one of Billy's weaker albums, almost forgotten among his several other multi-platinum albums. And it may have set back Billy's professional career a bit as Streetlife Serenade did not have a big hit single, failing to capitalize on the popularity of "Piano Man." The highest charting single was "The Entertainer" which peaked at #34 on the charts. Nevertheless, at least Billy was ambitious and took his music seriously. He was not just pumping out catchy tunes, trying to find the next big hit that the record company would cut "down to 3:05."
Rather, in Streetlife Serenade, Billy seems to be trying to capture a broad swatch of Americana and its music, covering everything from the materialistic and funky Los Angeles lifestyle ("Los Angelenos"), to an old-fashioned ragtime instrumental in ("Root Beer Rag"), to a detached take on the mundaneness of suburban life ("The Great Suburban Showdown"), to an elegy to the street corner singers busking on every American big city streets ("Streetlife Serenade"). Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not, but his intentions were good, even grand.
But I know the game
The album did yield some unforgettable tunes, including Billy's sardonic take on the music industry "The Entertainer," and the wistful "Souvenir." And the instrumentals "Root Beer Rag" and "The Mexican Connection" show his amazing piano skills and gift for melody. Streetlife Serenade may not have been one of Billy's best albums, but it has its moments and foreshadows some of the brilliance that we would see later in the trilogy of Turnstiles, The Stranger, and 52nd Street all released in a three-year period from 1976 to 1978 when Billy returned to New York.
As Jeff Giles stated in his review of Streetlife Serenade many years later: "For the casual fan who may have missed out all these years, however, these songs are well worth a listen. Billy Joel may have been a work in progress at the time, but the difference between struggling artist and Grammy-winning star was more of an incremental shift than a quantum leap, and on Streetlife Serenade, you can hear those pieces starting to fall into place."
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Billy discusses Streetlife Serenade on SiriusXM radio in 2016 (audio only).
Columbia Records Publicity Photo by Peter Cunningham.
Covers for "Los Angelenos," "The Great Suburban Showdown," "Roberta," "Last of the Big Time Spenders," and "Weekend Song" are fictional. Other photos are publicity photos.
Some live performances from 1975-1976.
1. Travelin' Prayer (Old Grey Whistle Test, 1975)
2. Piano Man (Old Grey Whistle Test, 1975)
3. Travelin' Prayer (Midnight Special, 1975)
4. The Ballad of Billy The Kid (Midnight Special, 1975)
5. The Entertainer (Palmer Auditorium, 1976)
6. The Great Suburban Showdown (Capital Theater, 1976)
7. Root Beer Rag/Weekend Song (audio)
Interviews & Features
1. Billy on Streetlife Serenade from The Complete Albums collection.
2. Interview on Speakeasy (1974) (audio)
3. Interview on Mary Travers and Friends (1974) (audio)
4. WMMR Radio Interviews with Ed Sciaky (1974-1976) (audio)
5. Billy on Streetlife Serenade from SiriusXM (2016) (audio)
6. Billy and Dave Mason on Speakeasy (1974) (audio) singing "Bring It On Home"
For the casual fan who may have missed out all these years, however, these songs are well worth a listen. Billy Joel may have been a work in progress at the time, but the difference between struggling artist and Grammy-winning star was more of an incremental shift than a quantum leap, and on Streetlife Serenade, you can hear those pieces starting to fall into place.
Ultimate Classic Rock
1. Streetlife Serenader (5:17)
2. Los Angelenos (3:41)
3. The Great Suburban Showdown (3:44)
4. Root Beer Rag (2:59)
5. Roberta (4:32)
6. The Entertainer (3:48)
7. Last of the Big Time Spenders (4:34)
8. Weekend Song (3:29)
9. Souvenir (2:00)
10. The Mexican Connection (3:37)
All Songs written by Billy Joel
Released: October 11, 1974
Recorded: Spring-Summer 1974, Devonshire Sound Studios, North Hollywood, California
Label: Columbia/Family Productions
Producer: Michael Stewart
Producer – Michael Stewart
Sound – Ron Malo
Arranged By – Billy Joel, Michael Stewart
Mastered at Artisan
Thanks to Barry Fasman for his invaluable assistance.
Thanks to Brian Ruggles for anything we left out.
Music & Lyrics, Keyboards, Synthesizer [Moogs] – Billy Joel
Bass – Emory Gordy, Larry Knechtel, Wilton Felder
Congas – Joe Clayton
Drums – Ron Tutt
Guitar – Al Hertzberg, Art Munson, Don Evans, Gary Dalton, Mike Deasy, Michael Stewart, Richard Bennett, Roj Rathor
Organ – William Smith (2)
Pedal Steel Guitar, Banjo – Tom Whitehorse
Front Cover painting – Brian Hagiwara
Back Cover Photo – Jim Marshall
Art Direction/Design – Ron Coro
(Click on photo for larger image)
(Click on photo for larger image)
The album cover for Streetlife Serenade was painted by artist Brian Hagiwara. The inspiration for the painting was the street corner at 651 Centre Street, Los Angeles, California. A photo of the street corner is shown below, from the website PopspotsNYC by Bog Egan. See PopspotsNYC post about the album cover and its origins. Hagiwara's cover painting is reminiscent of Edward Hopper's painting "Early Sunday Morning." See comparison above.
Single covers are fictional except for Streetlife Serenader (added the "r"), Root Beer Rag, The Entertainer, Souvenir, and The Mexican Connection. Photos for Last of the Big Time Spenders and Weekend Song are Columbia Records publicity photos by Peter Cunningham.