Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Billy Joel: 12 Gardens Live, But Lower

So Billy has a new live disc coming out very soon. 12 Gardens Live will be released on June 13. Clearly, Sony is hurting for new Billy Joel product, since he won't give them the pop stuff they want. And it never hurts to release live greatest hits, even though out of the 30 songs, 13 14 according to Mark were released on his last live album, 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert.

I'll still buy the disc, because I had the opportunity to see his final show on 4/24, and it was phenomenal. After walking away disappointed from a show I saw in 1999, I vowed I wouldn't waste the money again. But the reports about both Billy and his band were strong this time around, and they didn't disappoint.

What's interesting about 12 Gardens Live is that the songs are going to sound slightly different to your ear. Billy has transposed most of the songs on the discs down at least a half step, if not a whole step. I don't have perfect pitch, but I can tell when a song is being performed in a key different from the original. I hate it.

I fully understand why Billy changes the keys. As a performer, you have two options: you can keep the songs in their original keys and just change the melodies to accomodate your shrinking vocal range (Elton John), or you can lower the keys and still deliver a melody that is familiar - one that people can still sing along to. As an audience member, the latter is a better choice.

There is one key change that didn't bother me, though: Billy lowered "An Innocent Man," and was thus able to finally sing the chorus on his own again. For years, he's taken the "I am" and the "Oh yes I am" phrases and relegated them to Peter Hewlett or Crystal Taliefero. I love me some Crystal Taliefero, but it always cut the emotional impact of the song for me. I'm glad to hear him singing the full chorus once more.

On one of the Billy Joel message boards that I frequent, one extremely astute member named Mark has listened to a sample of each song on 12 Gardens Live, and noted when songs have been transposed into lower keys. Poor Mark has perfect pitch and must be going nuts whenever he hears these songs in adjusted keys. Anyway, here is Mark's list of all the songs on 12 Gardens Live, and their new keys. Quite interesting - I had no idea how many had been adjusted for Billy's voice.

Half Step Lower Than Original Key:
Prelude/Angry Young Man
My Life
Miami 2017
The Great Wall of China
She's Right On Time
Movin' Out
She's Always a Woman
The River of Dreams
A Matter of Trust

Whole Step Lower Than Original Key:
Everybody Loves You Now
The Ballad of Billy the Kid
The Entertainer
New York State of Mind
Goodnight Saigon
An Innocent Man
The Downeaster Alexa
Keeping the Faith
Only the Good Die Young
Piano Man (yes, it's down to B flat now)

Still in its Original Key:
The Night is Still Young
Don't Ask Me Why
We Didn't Start the Fire
Big Shot
You May Be Right
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
And So It Goes


At 6/21/2006 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I saw him in Los Angeles in April and my roomate and I noticed something fishy about his piano: Instead of the normal damper pedals and their brace, a electronic keyboard pedal with a cable was running from the bottom of the piano. It seems that the piano body is a facade and Billy is playing a keyboard housed in a grand body - Enabling him to transpose his songs electronically to a different key without altering his finger postions. It makes sense but, listening closely, you can tell that his 'piano' doesn't have the warmth or expressiveness of a real piano.

At 6/21/2006 1:54 PM, Blogger Jason said...



I guess I would have to see pro-shot video of one of the concerts to confirm. I would have sworn that he would've learned the songs in different keys, just because, well...he's Billy Joel and could probably do it quite easily.

I'll investigate this further. :) Thanks for the comment.

At 4/30/2013 4:19 AM, Blogger Mike Riley said...

It's tough to mic a piano live for consistent sound quality and feedback rejection. Plus, the artist is at the mercy of the venue to provide a first-class instrument. Whether or not Billy is transposing with his fingers or a button-push is just a point of curiosity. A consistently high quality sound and a keyboard instrument the performer enjoys playing is an artistic choice that shouldn't be a concern to the audience.


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