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Billy Joel

America's Piano Man

Joshua S. Duchan

Despite his tremendous success, Billy Joel’s gifts as a composer and commentator on American life are long overdue for a thorough investigation. In Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man, music historian Joshua S. Duchan looks at the career and music of this remarkable singer-songwriter, exploring the unique ways Joel channels and transforms the cultural life of a changing America over four decades into bestselling song after song and album after album.

Billy Joel has not always enjoyed the acclaim of music critics, who have characterized his music as inauthentic and lacking a uniqueness of style. Duchan corrects this misunderstanding by exploring the depth and degree to which Joel’s songs engage with social, cultural, political, and economic issues. Organized by major themes and including original interviews with Joel himself, Duchan’s book delves into Joel’s endeavors as a musician, lyricist, and commentator on questions of geography and regionalism, politics, working- and middle-class culture, human relationships, and the history of music itself. Duchan draws on key songs from Joel’s career to explore each theme, from his folk-like lament for Long Island’s changing industry and lifestyle in “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” to his emotional ode to Vietnam veterans in “Goodnight Saigon.”

Original interviews with Billy Joel blend with Duchan’s engaging analysis to provide readers of all backgrounds and ages a new look at these unforgettable songs. Music lovers and historians of both the academic and armchair variety will find this exploration of Joel’s work a rewarding adventure into America’s social, cultural, political, economic, and—above all—musical history.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 216Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4422-4205-0 • Hardback • June 2017 • $40.00 • (£24.95)
978-1-4422-4206-7 • eBook • June 2017 • $38.00 • (£24.95)
Joshua S. Duchan is a musicologist specializing in American popular music. He currently teaches courses on music history and ethnomusicology at Wayne State University, and he is author of Powerful Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A Cappella (2012).
Chapter 1: “Somewhere Along the Line”: Biography and Influences
Chapter 2: “New York State of Mind”: Geography, Places, and Spaces
Chapter 3: “Where’s the Orchestra?”: Domestic and International Politics
Chapter 4: “Pressure”: Living in American Culture
Chapter 5: “She’s Always A Woman”: Relationships and Gender
Chapter 6: “The Entertainer”: Stylistic Authenticity and the Entertainment Industry
Chapter 7: “This Is the Time”: A Historically Conscious Composer
Chapter 8: “And So It Goes”: The Lasting Significance of Billy Joel
Further Reading
Further Listening
Duchan takes a middle-ground approach to analyzing the work of one of America’s most recognizable musicians of the past five decades. This book is much more than a biography.... Duchan organizes his analysis of Joel’s work around several themes (e.g., place, living in American culture, stylistic authenticity, etc.). This approach works very well, especially at tracing the musician’s development over the course of his career and in providing context for some of his best-known and finest songs and instrumental compositions. The writing style is fluid and the research solid, providing much insight into Joel. VERDICT A must-read analysis of the work of one our most popular performers.
Library Journal

Joshua S. Duchan has written a passionate study of the Piano Man's music and lyrics, decoding the artist's songwriting process in a smart analysis that investigates cultural context and the language of song. Given its focus on music, Billy Joel: America's Piano Man is a welcomed addition to the books that have come before.
Jeff Schock, director of the Billy Joel Archives