Saturday, November 22, 2014

"The Longest Time": The One-Man Doo-Wop "Like A Virgin"

I guess there was something about boinking Christie Brinkley that made Billy Joel feel like a horny street corner teenager all over again. Actually, make that an entire gang of horny street corner teenagers, because his new paramour filled him with the urge to pen and sing an entire multi-part harmony doo-wop song ... all by himself.
If you said goodbye to me tonight
There would still be music left to write
What else could I do
I'm so inspired by you
That hasn't happened for the longest time

Once I thought my innocence was gone
Now I know that happiness goes on
That's where you found me
When you put your arms around me
I haven't been there for the longest time
Sorry Madonna, I think you got beaten to the punch here - although, to be fair, hearing Billy Joel sing about rediscovering his carnal innocence is somehow less sexy than hearing Madonna sing about it. Nevertheless, on this one, Billy Joel was Dion and the Belmonts, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Little Anthony and the Imperials. In fact, aside from a bass guitar, he was the entire song. It's like if Prince were white, and couldn't play any instruments.

Because "The Longest Time" has made its irresistible presence known on the radio for, well, the longest fucking time, I think people have forgotten how weird this song truly is. It was released smack in the middle of the '80s, and yet there are no drums on it, no synthesizers, no keyboards, no tambourines or maracas or castanets or even a lousy dog whistle. And it was a hit (#14 pop, #1 Adult Contemporary). I have to say that it doesn't sound dated in any way whatsoever - mostly because when there's nothing on your record, there's nothing that can actually date. Roll over, Philip Glass: this shit is minimalist.

Mostly it just sounds like Billy having a lot of fun. "Ooh, I'm gonna do the bass part! And next I'm gonna do this other part! Roll the tape, Phil, I've got some falsetto crap I wanna try out." You can tell he really let himself go with the high harmony, particular with those recurring "Woo-ooh-woo-ooh"s (first one at 1:12). But I don't think this song was a stunt, or a gimmick. Here's a question: what would "The Longest Time" have sounded like with a more conventional, "rock band" arrangement? What's funny is that I'm wondering this for the very first time in my whole life, because the song has never seemed like it was missing anything.

The video hasn't aged too badly either, but I'm not sure I could say the same for Billy himself, since the premise is that he's sitting alone in the gym at a high school reunion, but in order to show that he's "aged," they just put some glasses on him and a couple of grey streaks in his hair. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a little optimistic.

Although several of his fellow aging classmates quickly join him in song, I must point out that none of these actors participated in the actual studio recording. In the end, all of them become a grating nuisance for the janitor, who, in addition to just trying to do is job, is apparently New York congressman Charlie Rangel. Something tells me he isn't quite as nostalgic about the "good old days" of '59 as Billy and his buddies are.

No comments: