Song of the Day #314: ‘Streetlife Serenader’ – Billy Joel

serenadeJoel’s third album, Streetlife Serenade, is for me his least memorable. The only two songs I really know from it — ‘Los Angelenos’ and ‘Streetlife Serenader’ — were featured on the excellent live album Songs in the Attic and those versions top the ones found on this LP.

The rest of the album is forgettable. And I mean that literally… scanning the titles — ‘The Great Suburban Showdown,’ ‘Last of the Big Time Spenders,’ Weekend Song’ — I have absolutely no idea what they sound like. Perhaps they are lost gems, but I tend to believe this album is an early valley in a career of many peaks.

But today’s song, ‘Streetlife Serenader,’ is a great one. I love the minimalist lyrics… just seeing them written out below drives home exactly how spare this song is. The verses are practically a series of haiku and Joel teases out every word in one of his best vocal performances.

Streetlife Serenader
Never sang on stages
Needs no orchestration
Melody comes easy

Midnight Masquerader
Shoppin’ center hero
Child of Eisenhower
New world celebrator

Streetlife Serenaders
Have such understanding
How the words are spoken
How to make emotions

Streetlife Serenaders
Have no obligations
Hold no grand illusions
Need no stimulation

Midnight Masqueraders
Workin’ hard for wages
Need no vast arrangements
To do their harmonizing

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #314: ‘Streetlife Serenader’ – Billy Joel

  1. Amy says:

    This is a great vocal performance and I, too, know it from the version that appears on Songs in the Attic. You’re right in that it may be one of Joel’s most poetic songs, as well. The streetlife serenader/ midnight masquerader pairing alone can be analyzed in depth, not to mention enjoyed for the lovely alliteration 🙂

    I think Dana holds this album in higher regard than you do, so I look forward to hearing what he has to say about the forgotten (or forgettable) tracks.

  2. Dana says:

    I indeed do hold this album in higher regard. Now, I will admit that this album, like its predecessors, suffers from a lack of great production. And Last of the Big Time Spenders and Weekend Song are not necessarily amongst his strongest work. But there are jewels on this album nonetheless, and it is a crime against Joel fandom if, as I suspect, Clay no longer owns this album..

    Rootbeer Rag is a really fun piano piece, which Joel still plays in concert. Roberta is an ironically sweet and romantic song about Joel’s affection for a prostitiute. The Entertainer was the “hit” from this album and is a pretty great commentary on the commercial pressures Joel was undoubtedly facing after the success of Piano Man, The title track you feature today is, without doubt, a beautiful song, both lyrically and musically, but I agree that it is served far better on Songs in the Attic (as is Los Angelenos)

    But, for me, the standout song on this album is the short and beautifully poignant Souvenier. Enjoy:

  3. Clay says:

    I do like ‘Souvenir’ a lot. You’re right, I no longer own this album, mostly because my favorite songs on it (the first two) were so better served on Songs in the Attic and I never really got into the others.

    It’s been years since I’ve heard any of them, though, so maybe they’d strike me differently now.

    At any rate, if I were to rank all of Joel’s albums, this one would be near the bottom not because it’s weak but because his other albums are so strong.

  4. Amy says:

    I am so guilty, as has been well documented on this blog, of only listening to songs rather than albums. So even if we do own this one (which I assume we do), I can’t say I have heard it in the last 17 or so years. I would listen to Songs in the Attic, but more because it was a collection of great songs. Regardless, I like the one Dana is featuring and seem to recall that Joel nodded to it in the last song he intended to write on his last new collection of songs with lyrics. Does that ring a bell to any of you? Maybe I’m delusional 🙂

  5. Dana says:

    Well, his last song on his last album (River of Dreams) was called “Famous last Words” and it did make a reference to souveniers in the first verse:

    Sitting here in Avalon, looking at the pouring rain
    Summertime has come and gone and everybody’s home again
    Closing down for the season, I found the last of the souvenirs
    I can still taste the wedding cake and it’s sweet after all these years

    I’m not sure if he intended to bookend that song with Souvenier, but it would be fitting if he did.

  6. Amy says:

    Yes, I think maybe I just always interpreted it that way. I love that song, too.

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