Tuesday, November 17, 2009

USA v. World (Round 3): Clash of the Titans -- Billy Joel v. Elton John

Tied at one a piece entering Round 3 of USA v. World, I decided to finally showcase the match-up that got me started on this whole idea -- Elton John (UK) v. Billy Joel (USA). This is one seems particularly strange, considering that the two musicians are not only friends, but they have been longtime touring partners since 1994 -- creating, literally, the "most successful concert tandem in pop music history."

If we go straight by the numbers, there is no question that Elton John edges out Billy Joel. Even though both musicians kicked off their careers right around the same time (the early '70s), Elton John has sold over 200 million records worldwide -- nearly doubling Billy Joel's 100 million records sold. Both have picked up five Grammys, which I actually found to be surprisingly low; however, John has also picked up an Academy Award, a Tony, and a Golden Globe. Joel's thirty-three Top-40 hits are also a far-cry from John's impressive fifty-six.

While the numbers may be skewed, music is an art... not a science. Being such, quantifiable comparisons (such as records sold) perhaps pale in comparison to unquantifiable artistic accomplishment. Let's consider this single fact: all thirty-three of Billy Joel's top 40 hits were apparently written by him single-handedly. Compare this to Elton John, who has famously collaborated with Bernie Taupin for the past 40 years. In fact, Taupin helped John write lyrics for several (verging on most) of his biggest hits, such as Your Song, Candle in the Wind, Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues, Sad Songs (Say So Much)... among others. This is a big mark on Elton John's undeniably impressive resume -- because, last time I checked, lyrics, and the ability to form them, is one of the key components of songwriting. (scroll down past video to see winner)

Elton John. USA 1, World 2.

Even with the lyrical assistance of Bernie Taupin, no sane person would try to claim Elton John lacks genuine talent -- as compared to modern manufactured pop acts who can simultaneously lack any cognizable level of talent and sell millions of records.

Instead, Elton John can bask in the knowledge that he is both a commercial success and artistic genius. He has also penetrated pop-culture in a way that most artists couldn't comprehend. Everyone knows he wrote The Lion King's Can You Feel the Love Tonight and most people were appauled at Tim McGraw's remake of Tiny Dancer... but this fact remains. His work touches on every aspect of our culture. If you're a girl, you probably own a copy of Moulin Rouge's version of Your Song and, if your a guy, you probably remember Rocket Man serving as ironic background music during one of The Rock's best scenes.

Oh yea.... and he also wrote "Candle in the Wind" -- which, following Princess Diana's death, became the best single of all time.


  1. i must say this is a legit battle !!! elton john will win because his stage outfits alone are glorious so that is a huge bonus points which was not mentioned... however billy joel wrote about christy brinkley "uptown girl" that alone is a very romantic gesture ... however you forgot to mention that elton john has had major broadway hit plays "aida, lion king ( yes granted it was based off a movie but a huge success on the great white way ( that is broadway )) and many more ... so overall i think you chose the correct winner and it was a close one i must say.. i think the next battle should be something more pop- tastic ( maybe like...... john mayer vs. james blunt who knows im not the blogger.. ok overall 2 thumbs u

  2. I am a fan of Elton mostly, but Billy Joel is awesome too. As far as sales, there is no contest. Elton wins. I think Elton has musically taken more risks which can be a negative (his album Victim of Love). As performers, I think Billy is better at interacting with the crowd. Elton is a better piano player. Both are fantastic. Overall, I would give the edge to Elton, but you just can't go wrong with either. I would add that Billy should have never let Liberty Devitto leave his band. He is an awesome drummer.