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Sound of the City’s search for the quintessential New York City musician enters Round Two this week, with battles in the Round of 32 daily. Keep up with all the action here.
Things get a bit more melodic (no offense, guys) as two of American pop’s most prominent songwriters and members of the Long Island Music Hall Of Fame, No. 6 seed Billy Joel and No. 3 seed Neil Diamond, engage in a battle of the troubadours. Who will emerge triumphant?
Billy Joel: “Big Shot”
Sure, he wrote “New York State Of Mind,” which was later reappropriated by other artists who wanted to pay homage to the Big Apple. But this diss track aimed at a wannabe ’70s socialite, this song from Joel’s 1978 album 52nd Street, which has Billy in a different kind of angry-young-man mode, is a lot more Noo Yawk, and a lot more fun. The of-the-moment cultural references (Halston! Elaine’s! Spoons up noses!) and his put-on of an Italian accent near the song’s final run into the chorus make this track a lot more endearing than the more serious material he’d take on in his later years.
Neil Diamond: “Cherry, Cherry”
Brill Building vet Diamond penned a host of great songs for himself and for others (check out the Monkees’ “Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow” for just one example). But this snappy 1966 track, with a simple three-chord structure and a breakdown that can summon hip-shakes on command, remains irresistible some 45 years after its initial release.
Longevity: Both of these guys have tons of material that aren’t just songs, but standards. That said, Diamond has a bit of an edge, thanks to his pedigree and his going the Rick Rubin route on two records released in the ’00s. Joel hasn’t put out an album of new pop material since 1993, and he hasn’t had his “major artist of the past finally gets respect from the young turks” moment yet (can someone please get him in a studio with Britt Daniel?), but he still sells out stadiums and last night, his body of work was honored by that old American institution American Idol—which gave Diamond’s songs the same treatment back in 2008.
Innovations: Surely Joel’s Boomer-historical epoch “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” which traced the major world events from the ’50s through the apparently quite infuriating “rock and roller cola wars,” has to count for something.
Starpower: I’d say this one is pretty evenly matched.
Intangibles: Hicksville High School class of ’92 grad Billy Joel really needs to stop claiming that he’s from Levittown. I’m just saying.
Likely winner: My heart wants to say Billy, but Neil has a slightly “cooler” profile. At least they’re friendly, right?