Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Don't You Tell Her About It Instead?

So, maybe the world didn't ask for a Billy Joel Motown homage, but with "Tell Her About It," the world certainly got one.

Although thirty years of department store shopping may have led you to believe that "Uptown Girl" and "The Longest Time" were the most ubiquitous hits from An Innocent Man, at the time, the album's biggest single, in the US at least, was actually "Tell Her About It," which hit #1 in 1983. For my part, I easily remember it as well as the others, since I came to know it as the snappy and energetic closing track on my '80s Tape. After some slower numbers near the end of that tape, such as Kenny Loggins' "Heart To Heart," and Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton's duet "We've Got Tonight," "Tell Her About It" was like a refreshing shot in the arm, sending the cassette out on a zippy high note.

I wouldn't say the song is a rip-off of any one Motown number in particular, although it does seem to lift that choppy rhythm from the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" that everyone from the Jam to Hall & Oates seemed to love so much. I'm also impressed by how Billy managed to reproduce the sloppier, more unpolished backing vocal sound that one can hear on just about every early '60s Motown hit (think the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" or the Four Tops' "Baby I Need Your Lovin'") - a rougher style of back-up singing from a time when producers didn't seem to care very much about that stuff. In just a few short years, a series of uncoordinated "hey"s would quickly cease to make the grade.

But what "Tell Her About It" really did so well was set the tone for An Innocent Man's music videos: elaborate, winking, unapologetically nostalgic. Question: if you're at the peak of your stardom, and you're making the video for your next single, and you can do whatever the hell you want, what would you do? Well, when you're Billy Joel, the answer is easy: pretend you're on the Ed Sullivan Show:

The date: July 31, 1963. The time: 8:34 PM. The preceding act: Topo Gigio. The band name: B.J. and the Affordables. "Wait a minute," you're saying to yourself. "B.J. and the Affordables ... that wasn't a band." Was it though? Was it? (Also: notice that the Affordables are all black. Just sayin'.) Why, there's B.J. himself, in a slick pink suit and some suave sunglasses. He's got that studio crowd right where he wants them. But forget the studio; B.J. is being blasted all across America! He's in your staid suburban living room! He's in your sexy teenage slumber party! He's in your corporate department store window! He's in your hip black neighborhood bar! He's even in your Soviet spacecraft! (Why do I have the feeling such footage, if authentic, wouldn't be in color? I smell shenanigans.)

In fact, B.J. is not even limited by the laws of space and time, as he eventually appears on the very same street where he's also supposedly airing in the department store window at that exact moment, then he serenades the stuffy old parents in that suburban living room, and he even delivers pizza to the pajama-clad girls in that slumber party! I mean how ... does he do it.

Finally, don't miss the cameo by a certain comedian who doesn't get no respect. If I had a nickel for every time I got screwed over by Patrushka the Dancing Bear, why, I'd be a millionaire.

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