Why I Hate “Uptown Girl”

A while back, I wrote a blahg post about why music isn’t something I write much about. The gist, if you hate clicking links (and I understand, that’s something I hate, too! We have so much in common!): there is no predicting how any one person will react to your favorite band or the best song you’ve ever heard. I’m not going to be able to convince you that the Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday is one of the greatest concept albums you’ll ever hear if you hate Craig Finn’s voice or don’t think the lyrics are clever. (They are, to clarify. So clever.) So why critique when it’s not going to influence whether you consume that media or not? If I see an entertaining trailer for a movie and then read a positive review, I’m more likely to see a movie. If a friend tells me they love a new show, I’ll probably give it a shot. But I don’t often take music recommendations to heart. I want to find things on my own time because I’m stubborn about what I hear and would rather find it on my own. And I suggest you do the same, because only you know how much you love Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me” or Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” or Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead.” And no one’s going to change that.

That being said, I’d like to explain why I hate Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,” and why you should, too.

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed I’m quite fond of Billy Joel. I think he’s a brilliant storyteller and songwriter, and I can find merit in even his weakest efforts. Have you ever heard “Stiletto” from 52nd Street? It’s not a good song. But it’s catchy and clashes with the tone of 52nd Street in a way I find really fun. I can handle “Stiletto.” I won’t skip over “Stiletto” if it happens to come on. Not so with “Uptown Girl.”

I would probably hate “Uptown Girl” a little less if it hadn’t gone gold. It’s arguably one of Joel’s two most recognizable songs (alongside “Piano Man”), and I can think of at least fifteen songs that deserve that honor more than “Uptown Girl.” “Uptown Girl” is a Billy Joel song without any of the elements that make Billy Joel songs great. Here are just a few of the things “Uptown Girl” sorely lacks:

A compelling story. Our protagonist—let’s call him Billy—is a self-described backstreet guy and downtown man, unfamiliar with the ways of the titular uptown girl’s white bread world. This Billy isn’t long-suffering or stranded in Vietnam or wondering when she’ll realize Vienna waits for her. No, he’s just striving for the affection of a girl who looks so fi-i-ine when she’s walking. Good story, Billy! You should tell that one at parties!

Killer piano accompaniment. Come on, Billy, you’re the piano man. Don’t make us forget that with all this vocalization and hand claps. Hand claps certainly have their place in pop music—I happen to love a well-placed series of hand claps (see Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” for more information)—but these are a poor substitute for Joel’s signature ivory-tickling.

Overtly depressing moments. Granted, not every Billy Joel song contains at least one lyric of unrelenting sadness. But most of them are melancholy at least once. Even “The Longest Time,” one of the more joyful Joel classics, speaks to long gaps between romantic relationships and personal fulfillment. And even “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” unquestionably the goofiest Joel classic, mentions assassinations, botched political ventures, and cola wars in short order. At least two of those three things are inherently sad. “Uptown Girl” is upbeat without depth, and that’s not what I want to hear when I have a hankering for some Billy Joel.

So, what have we all learned today? Is it that I’m not an authority on music, but “Uptown Girl” still isn’t worth your love? I hope so. I really do.


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