In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Actor, comedian, and podcaster Howard Kremer knows his music. He’s not only the co-host of Who Charted?, Earwolf’s semi-music-centric podcast, but he has also released several albums of his own, including his latest, Summahtology. Like his three previous LPs, Summahtology is inspired by Kremer’s own “Have a summah!” lifestyle movement, a dogma that expounds the virtues of just really loving summer.
The A.V. Club: Why did you pick “Just The Way You Are”?
Howard Kremer: Ever since it came out—I was very small—I just always didn’t like it. I didn’t like the vibe of it and I didn’t believe Billy in it. It sounded like he was just talking out of his ass. I wasn’t buying what he was saying to the lady.
AVC: In what way?
HK: Well, can I just start by saying that, in 1977, a lot of times you would just listen to the radio in the car, and there were songs around that time that could really be fun songs—like “Dancing Queen” by ABBA came out that year. [“Dancing Queen” was released in August 1976.—ed.] It was like a fun time, you know? Star Wars was out. They would even play the Star Wars cantina theme on the radio sometimes. That was a fun moment if you were little and you were listening to the radio. And then, without any warning, this song would start. It just started with the organ, and it just seemed like marmalade seeping through the radio, just filling the entire car up until we all just drowned.
It was like wrestling someone with no bones. It would just come and lay on you and there was just like really no way to throw it off you. He was just on top of you.
AVC: Do you like Billy Joel in general? Quite a few of his songs are like that.
HK: He’s super hit or miss. I think if you like one of his songs it’s just like how, if you met 30 stray dogs, probably one of them would just be nice and come up and lick you, but that’s just due to sheer numbers.
Basically, it was just such a fun time, and this song put a damper on the year. I think a weaker pop-culture year might’ve actually been ruined by this song.
AVC: There was a lot going on in 1977.
HK: Smokey And The Bandit was going on, you’re driving down the highway, just thinking about “Eastbound And Down,” you know that song? And all of a sudden this thing would come on and it was just a complete mood-killer.
It always sounded to me like a guy who was in hot water in a relationship and was just trying to talk his way out of it. It just sounded like the worst attitude for a healthy relationship. He’s basically saying, “Don’t progress, don’t try new things, don’t work towards a deeper connection with me. Just stay exactly as you are, and it’s great.” And even he didn’t believe it. These lies led to a lot of changes! I think women maybe got fed up with Billy at this point, and after this is when Aerobicise came in. Like, “You know what, I’m going to stay in shape. Billy told me all that stuff and then he left me anyway.” Which he did. He left the woman that this song was about [first wife Elizabeth Weber], which I didn’t know at the time. But I could sense it. I just never bought into it as legit. Like Jared from Subway. I just always knew there was something wrong with him. I mean, I didn’t know he was as bad as he turned out to be, but it’s just like—Jared, no. I don’t buy it. Whatever. Tell somebody else. That’s the way I always felt about this song.
The other thing, too, is that there’s saxophone all over it and it’s like this relentless attack. You’re either dealing with Billy’s lies or the saxophone. I think maybe he brought the sax in to distract, like just in case a lady might have a few moments to digest all the lies he just told her, he throws in the sax to disrupt her thought process, and then she can’t even think about it. It’s just like, “Hey, look at this!”
AVC: It’s very easy to hear this song in a very douchey Long Island voice, like some longshoreman who loves Billy Joel is just telling his wife to stay the same while he’s getting a piece on the side.
HK: Exactly. That’s exactly what I’m saying. He doesn’t even believe it. He’s like, “You know what? This sounds like bullshit. I’m going to make it a song. Then maybe she’ll just at least get swept off into the sentiment of the song.” It’s a scam, man!
There’s one line where he’s like, “I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble.”
AVC: “We never could’ve come this far.”
HK: Yeah. And then he shot over to Christie Brinkley [his second wife].
AVC: This song was pretty popular. It won the Grammy for Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year.
HK: Yeah. I mean. I guess that’s good? But hot dogs are popular, too.
Grammys are always getting it wrong. I mean, think about it. Not that this type of music was ever on commercial American radio, but the Sex Pistols came out that year. The Clash put out their first album that year. Even the theme from Rocky, which had come out in ’76, was big on the radio. There were so many exciting things going on. And just the amount of times that I had to have this thing smother me as we were driving down the road—it was brutal.
I feel like saxophone shouldn’t be this prominent in a song. I think the Beastie Boys mastered the saxophone on “Brass Monkey,” where it’s just like super short bursts and crazy funky? This thing is just, I feel like the guy is just staring down at the sax thinking, “Wow! Look at all these buttons! Oh my god, let me try and use every button!” He’s using every button combination. It’s like he’s playing Street Fighter, not sax. Even as the song ends, the sax keeps going. I had to listen to it on YouTube a bunch of times just now. I couldn’t get through it once the whole time. At the end, the song pretty much ends but the sax is just still going for it. He is not backing off at all.
AVC: Much like Billy Joel, he doesn’t back down and he doesn’t let down. He keeps going.
HK: These guys were egging each other on: “See what else you can do! Play some more of that sax!”
It’s like a hotel jazz combo, like the band that plays in the lounge? This is their dream song. It’s like, “I get to hang on the organ, you get to do 80,000 notes on your sax.”
AVC: Well, that jibes with Billy Joel. He was the piano man.
HK: Yeah, that’s his turf, baby.
AVC: He lives in the hotel bar.
HK: It’s crazy, because the song is really mellow, and it’s about this really loving topic, but it just smothers you from all these different angles. From Billy’s lies, and then the sax, it’s like Ronda Rousey. You don’t know what’s going to happen. She’s just on top of you and that’s it, the fight’s over.