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Just The Way He Is: Starbucks Brews Billy Joel “Opus Collection”

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Though Billy Joel retired from the business of writing and recording new pop music in 1993 following his River of Dreams, and has largely kept his word in the ensuing almost-twenty years, the music legend has hardly lowered his profile.  Since River of Dreams, Joel, now 62, has written an album’s worth of classical compositions, overseen a hit Broadway musical, staged lucrative tours and issued numerous live albums and career-overview collections.  As recently as last week, Joel’s catalogue was celebrated by the contestants on television’s American Idol.  Starbucks Entertainment is the latest partner of Joel’s to jump into the fray with the release of an Opus Collection entry devoted to the superstar.  Previous artists in the series have included Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt and John Lennon, putting the Long Island boy in splendid company, indeed.

Over sixteen tracks, Billy Joel: Opus Collection draws on eight of the artist’s Columbia Records releases, from 1973’s breakthrough Piano Man to 1993’s River of Dreams.  Typical of these collections, the disc is aimed at casual fans (read: there’s nothing new here) and completists, but isn’t a strict “greatest hits” compilation either, blending key favorites with successful singles.  Five tracks, or nearly one-third of the disc, hail from 1977’s best-selling The Stranger, including “She’s Always a Woman,” “Vienna,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” and “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.”  Represented by two tracks apiece are 1973’s sophomore effort Piano Man, 1976’s Turnstiles, 1978’s jazz-inflected 52nd Street and 1989’s Storm Front.  Rounding out the set are songs from Glass Houses (1980), An Innocent Man (1983) and River of Dreams (1993).  Among the all-time Joel favorites here are “New York State of Mind,” “My Life” and “Honesty.”  1971’s debut Cold Spring Harbor, 1974’s Streetlife Serenade, 1982’s The Nylon Curtain, and 1986’s The Bridge are Joel’s only studio albums overlooked on this anthology.

Hit the jump for more, including the full track listing with discography, and order link!

For those keeping score, Starbucks’ Opus Collection offers three fewer tracks than the 2010 Billy Joel: The Hits, the U.S.’ first such single-disc career-spanning compilation.  Those who already have the core Joel classics but never built a collection on CD might be directed to Columbia/Legacy’s 2011 Complete Albums box set which also includes a smattering of non-LP sides on one disc.

Billy Joel’s Opus Collection is available now at Starbucks.  If you just can’t make it to one of the coffee giant’s numerous locations, you can order at the link below!  (Grande Toffee Nut Latte not included, of course.)

Billy Joel, Opus Collection (Starbucks Entertainment, 2012)

  1. My Life
  2. Travelin’ Prayer
  3. Piano Man
  4. She’s Always a Woman
  5. Vienna
  6. Summer, Highland Falls
  7. An Innocent Man
  8. And So It Goes
  9. Just the Way You Are
  10. Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
  11. You May Be Right
  12. The Downeaster “Alexa”
  13. New York State of Mind
  14. Honesty
  15. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
  16. Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)

Tracks 1 & 14 from 52nd Street, Columbia PC 35609, 1978
Tracks 2-3 from Piano Man, Columbia KC 32544, 1973
Tracks 4-5, 9-10 & 15 from The Stranger, Columbia JC 34987, 1977
Tracks 6 & 13 from Turnstiles, Columbia PC 33848, 1976
Track 7 from An Innocent Man, Columbia QC 38837, 1983
Tracks 8 & 12 from Storm Front, Columbia CK 44366, 1989
Track 11 from Glass Houses, Columbia FC 36384, 1980
Track 16 from River of Dreams, Columbia CK 53003, 1993

Written by Joe Marchese

March 30, 2012 at 14:03

4 Responses

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  1. I really like the album cover, with Billy’s reflection in the raised piano top, but what the hell is with this collection? Heavily tilted towards The Stranger, and the 70s in general (great stuff, but his 80s stuff and one album in the 90s are just as great), missing a lot of key hits but also not offering anything rare for the fans who already have anything.

    I never really understand these Starbucks collections. Maybe they’re just meant to be a half-assed impulse item for the latte-sipping crowd, but they’re neither comprehensive nor do they hold appeal for the hardcore fan.

    Are we ever going to get that long version of “Sometimes a Fantasy” on CD? How about rescuing the original mix “House of Blue Light” (from the B-side of “We Didn’t Start the Fire”) from obscurity and releasing that on a collection like this? The version released on the My Lives boxed set, which stripped away Billy’s organ playing and replaced it with a harmonica, was an abomination.


    March 31, 2012 at 12:28

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Shaun! These Starbucks compilations are quite successful at reaching their target (casual) audience; this Billy set even opened at No. 80 on the Billboard 200! I’m also happy to say that these sets often boast better liner notes and more lavish booklets than many other “general retail” releases. I guess the simple answer to your question is that we reading and/or writing this just aren’t the target audience for a set such as this. I, personally, always love to see a rarity or two thrown onto an anthology, but from experience, I know that if Columbia had included, say, that original mix of “House of Blue Light” on this set, a number of fans would complain about having to buy an otherwise-“inessential” set for one track. So, for many labels, it’s a lose-lose situation…folks are unhappy about the lack of rare material, but other folks would be just as unhappy about the inclusion of one or two tracks as “collector’s bait.” And Mr. Joel clearly is uninterested in a “rarities” set for longtime fans, at least for the time being, as evidenced by the lack of any real treasures on his recent Complete Albums box set.

      Of course, you or I may have selected different songs, but the Billy disc adheres to the Opus Collection’s general format of including some, though far from all, key hits with lesser-known songs (“Travelin’ Prayer,” “Vienna”). Other entries in the series have been devoted to John Lennon, Paul Simon, etc. I gather the general feeling is that the CD will be an entry point for further exploration of an artist’s catalogue, which is usually described in the booklet in decent detail.

      My feeling in general is simply that this set is obviously finding a substantial audience among the latte-sipping crowd you describe, and those purchasers are clearly rediscovering a great artist they may have overlooked. To that end, it’s all to the good. Is this release tailored for a diehard fan? Of course not, but if a few Billy completists pick it up for the sake of a “complete” collection, at least it’s a well-annotated, well-designed quality release in good sound. For that, I have to commend Starbucks. And their more interesting titles (such as the recent MUSIC BY BACHARACH, which included a few off-the-beaten path tracks) have been worthwhile, too.

      Just my two cents’ worth….


      Joe Marchese

      March 31, 2012 at 14:35

      • You just had to pique my curiosity by mentioning the good liner notes, didn’t you? 🙂 Actually, I won’t buy this just for that (and it’s rare that go into Starbucks anyhow) but I would like to read them.

        Anyhow, Joe, you make some good points. Since they messed up “House of Blue Light” (one of my favorite Billy songs ever, and a song that would’ve made a big splash at album-rock radio had it not been relegated to a B-side only) on the My Lives box I’ve been craving a release of the original mix elsewhere. I happen to have that track on a German CD single from 1989 that I was fortunate to track down, but that superior, original version isn’t available now (same goes for the long “Sometimes a Fantasy”). So I would’ve been perfectly happy to buy it (or something otherwise obscure) on an actual album release, and I bet at least a few other fans would’ve too.

        But, yeah, no matter what they put out you won’t be able to please everyone. The (many) odd choices on My Lives (the only rarities set Billy’s ever released) are proof of that. A lot of wonderful things did make it on that set, but so many others got left off and some tracks just weren’t needed at all. And they still felt the need to throw on a handful of hits that are widely available else. “A” for effort, “C” for execution.

        Interesting that the Stabucks set appears to be selling well… Clearly, Billy’s catalogue still has strong appeal. Now if he’d just find his muse and make some new music again. Oh well.


        March 31, 2012 at 16:19

  2. Misgivings about this set aside, this actually is a pretty good “coffee house” collection of songs.

    I’d probably swap out “An Innocent Man” for either “The Longest Time” or “Keeping the Faith,” and I can’t believe they didn’t include “River of Dreams” (which should be paired with “Lullabye”)… Maybe throw “Allentown” on there too. The inclusions of “Travelin’ Prayer,” “Summer, Highland Falls,” and “Vienna” are all inspired non-hit selections.

    Makes me wonder why Billy doesn’t get played on the Coffee House channel on Sirius XM. A lot of his songs would fit well.


    March 31, 2012 at 16:49

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