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Pop Shots: Billy, Marx & Olivia

Billy Joel’s Storm Front (1989) is an underappreciated collection of ten songs that showcase some of his most interesting work. With rich rock-n-roll in piano, guitar, and horns, and of course his robust vocals, Billy Joel bursts with an angry and buoyant nostalgic anthem, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which, in retrospect, traces America’s decline. He sails into the fisherman’s “Downeaster “Alexa”, he goes to extremes, observes the fall of Communist Russia in “Leningrad”, and he wraps with a poignant acknowledgement of reality in “And So It Goes.”

One of Storm Front’s background singers created an album of his own at the turn of the century which is itself an excellent piece of pop music. Though it is a bit too polished, a crisp production of country and rock is on display in Days of Avalon by Richard Marx of Highland Park, Illinois. These 12 mostly romantic tunes cover a range of emotions—always with the talented Marx’s sincerity in top form.

His sappy 2000 song with Olivia Newton-John (ONJ), “Never Far Away,” is part of Olivia’s 2008 duets CD, Olivia Newton-John & Friends: A Celebration in Song. I highly recommend this album for anyone battling cancer or any of life’s difficulties. From the opening anthem, “Right Here with You” to the acoustic guitar-driven last track, Belinda Emmett’s (1974-2006) “Beautiful Thing,” this is one of ONJ’s best recent efforts. The powerful motivational song, “Courageous,” is the perfect jolt for these lousy times. But each old and new song, featuring pairings with Keith Urban, Jann Arden and one of modern pop music’s best songwriters, longtime ONJ producer John Farrar (“You’re the One That I Want”) offer melodic shots of optimism fueled by a positive sense of life and the type of encouragement that only comes from a true friend.