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Top Five Songs I Hate Playing (and why)

I really love playing music for a living. It’s a really wonderful job much of the time. After doing this for a minute, however, there are a few songs that folks request (and request often) that make me want to stab my own eyes out. Here they are.

5. Pour Some Sugar on Me — Def Leppard

With a vocal range reserved for men with a quarter-sized coin purse and rock guitar riffs never intended for keyboard transcription, this adolescent anthem plods along like a clumsy toddler who reminds you that contraceptive education is severely lacking in our public school system. As the chorus approaches I can see the Chads and Trishes inhale big while leaning back, closing their eyes, and hoisting aloft their Bud Light Lime, totally forgetting about their busy lives filled with tanning appointments, above-ground pool parties, and after-market truck part shopping.

4. Baby Got Back — Sir Mix-A-Lot

Anthony Ray, AKA Sir Mix-A-Lot (a pathetic echo of the mighty arthurian legend become a preteen’s AIM screen name) blathers through a blatantly objectifying set of low-brow lyrics I’ve never felt comfortable playing. It was funny in that it is its own parody, but it’s increasingly hard to find a place for it in today’s climate, particularly when it’s requested by a dude in a passive attempt to comment on a nearby woman. Not to mention how musically insipid it is, especially when being played on solo piano.

3. Anything by Springsteen

I can already feel your hate from here. It’s okay, I understand. I really do understand. And I will say this: I have the utmost respect for the guy, he’s still relentless, and can still stuff himself into a badass leather jacket and make it work. Credit where it’s due: he’s the voice of a generation. But he’s just a bit outside of my strike zone. Case in point: I’m 22. I had a crush on a beautiful Italian. I ask her out, and we drive into the city with windows down on a beautiful summer evening; she turned up Thunder Road and sang loudly, with bright eyes and a smile a mile wide, which melted into confused disgust as she looked at me and saw that I was left unmoved. I really tried to get into it, even just for her sake. But a chorusless, meandering song structure with a stagnant melody line being barked by a man unconcerned with diction did not pull my groove chain, and consequently the rest of the date was brief. I heard someone call him “an open mic host that never gets off the stage.” I just call him The Employee.

2. Piano Man — Billy Joel

But not for the reason you’d expect. I love the song. I still get nostalgic when I hear it. I can remember as a kid sitting shotgun in my dad’s Silverado on the highway getting goosebumps on both arms when young Bill jumps the octave on the last stanza: “And the piano sounds like a carnival, and the microphone smells like a beer…” I still love playing it, seeing folks throw their arms around each other, singing loud and swaying. So why is it on the list? The people who request it. There are two kinds of people who request this song. The first is the apologizer — “I’m so sorry, I know that you’re probably totally sick of this song, but please, if you could, we love it, and we’d love to hear you play it.” Totally great. I’m in. I’ll play the hell out of it. The second, however, is a banal, vacuous, vapid tub of dishwater who could only think of “Piano Man” because they never cared enough about life to take an extra second to think of a song that might actually mean something to them. These are people who like Papa Johns, TiVo Pawn Stars, and drive slowly in the left lane.

1. Sweet Caroline — Neil Diamond

I’ve done a bit about this song for years. I bet the entire audience that not a single one of them knows the words to the song, and aside from one old man at the Zebra Lounge 6 years ago, no one has been able to get through the tune, even with help. It’s an excuse for a sea of inebriated idiots to go “BAHP BAHP BAAAAH” and I cant help but feel like that’s why our oceans are filled with plastic, Nickelback was a thing, and Arrested Development was cancelled. I will give you a pass if you’re old or a Red Sox fan, but this song annoys me so much even that’s hard to do. But if you give me twenty bucks I’ll probably still play it.

Return to House of Blues

Super stoked to announce that I’ll be playing a very special set on Thursday, February 1st at the House of Blues in Chicago.

This will be quite a different show in many ways — I don’t want to give everything away, but I can assure you of a few things:

  1. I’m playing first, so make sure you’re there at 7pm sharp.
  2. Though I’m still playing the hits, there’s going to be plenty of new music that I know you’re going to dig.
  3. You can buy tickets through the House of Blues (please make sure you use promo code “Joel” or I won’t get the credit) or you can come to any one of my shows before then and I will sell them direct and save you the handling fees.

Hope to see you there for a great night of music in a great sounding venue in a great city.

And as always, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.



What’s new in 2018


I’ve really been looking forward to this year. 2017 was brutal, wracked with disappointment; but I’m also able to say that 2017 was also the best year of my life. I saw corners of the world I had never seen, I celebrated life and new relationships, and I married the Viking Queen.

She and I were talking and we both feel a wind of change coming — particularly in the arts. The wind has caught our sails and all of us are going to share in something spectacular this year.

Be sure to check back here, and follow on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for new content and shows. Wishing you all the best in 2018,



The new Christmas music is here!


After a lot of hard work by a lot of hardy folks, we are proud to announce the release of our Christmas Showcase, called “Outta Christmas Time,” recorded live at Ovation in Chicago.  S. Joel Norman performs his arrangements and original songs with the East Hubbard Jazz Ensemble.

The four-song showcase is also available for purchase here.