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Billy Joel vs. … Are You People Serious?!?
MUSIC is not a GENRE - Season 4 Episode #11




NICK – “10 Shun” (from What It Is)

NICK – “What It Is” (from What It Is)


Everything in this country – and possibly the whole world – needs to be a competition. Think of growing number of TV shows that pit people’s talents against each other. The Voice, America’s Got Talent, etc. etc. Or hell, think of any entertainment awards show. The conventional wisdom is that conflict makes for a good story. And if you create conflict where none exists, then you’ve REALLY won the game.


I did a podcast already on bogus music rivalries, so I won’t go into it too much here, except to say that just about 100% of the time we are forced to compare apples with oranges. We follow the lead of false conflict creators and actively look for similarities and comparisons so we can decide which one is better, even though most commonalities are surface at best.


Take this week’s case: the so-called contest between Billy Joel & Elton John, two singer/songwriter/piano players who happened to become famous around the same time. If you know enough about both of them, the first thing that comes to mind is how different they are. Background, overall sound, vocals, songwriting template, creation process, career trajectory, personal life & even piano playing – they only crossed over every so often. Most of the time, ALL of those elements were glaringly different.


We all know our judgments are highly subjective, and that they both excelled at what they did. But we need to pick a favorite and justify that pick by saying that person is better. So we twist ourselves up to turn coincidence into sameness, and then tear apart one of them to make our pick look even better.


I grew up with both, love & respect both, played covers from both, did recent chronolographies for both, read bios & reviews of both, and have three takeaways:


  1. Billy Joel is to the Beatles as Elton John is to the Stones. There are parallels for almost every quality listed two paragraphs above – songwriting, trajectory, etc.

  2. My favorite will always be Billy Joel. It also happens that my favorite from #1 is the Beatles. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I contend that if you are more a Beatles than Stones fan, you are more likely to favor Billy Joel.

  3. There are almost no critics who favor Billy Joel.


It’s mind boggling how great the disparity in praise, accolades, good reviews & overall respect is between these guys. They both deserve it all. They’re both geniuses & legends. So why is it that, for example, Rolling Stone has been way more solicitous to Elton than to Billy? Why do more of Elton’s songs end up on best-of lists? Is it that Billy Joel has always been more direct and open-faced with his intentions, and Elton John had a more winding path – i.e. Billy is no bullshit pop/rock and Elton is artsy rock/pop? There are too many caveats to both for that to be true, yet I suspect that’s a big part of it.


As a singer/songwriter, I very much lean toward Billy Joel’s style. Yet as a piano player I’m MUCH more similar to what Elton does. As a producer, I’ve incorporated elements of both. There’s no question that Billy Joel has influenced me much more than Elton John, right down to even some of his word pronunciations and the directness of his lyrics – often about relationship issues. Here are two I’ve been dying to feature, an “intro” song that transitions into one of my early hit singles, the title track of my album, What It Is:


NICK – “10 Shun” -

NICK – “What It Is” -


Who is your favorite? Why do you think critics tend to favor Elton John, and do you agree or disagree? Do you enjoy fake rivalries like this? What are some others? Can you heavily favor one side while still respecting the other? Discuss dammit!

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