We could start with the fact that it doesn’t even really SOUND like Billy Joel on this album… it’s like Michael Stipe of R.E.M. singing “Tongue” or something, some entirely ulterior persona manifesting before our very ears. Also, Billy Joel, in the ’80’s, is an artist who’d already mastered lyricism (“Piano Man”), so there was no burden on him to deliver great ones here.
Long story short, many, many forces converge to make “The Longest Time” vastly more enjoyable, once you’ve learned that it’s from the ’80’s, and not the ’70’s. They must have had some, like, smokin’ sounds of the ’80’s program goin’ on in this cafe recently, and it was pretty solid overall (though yes, unfortunately they did play “Take on Me”)… you had “Take you all the way / Rosaaannnnaah…”, you had Van Halen’s “Jump”, you had The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian”, The Bangles who actually had a pretty solid rhythm section, making for a pretty enjoyable listen on some good cafe speakers.
And then “The Longest Time” came on, and I was just like, who? Huh? Wha? It nestles within these songs as something refreshingly retro, not opportunistic — opportunistic like saying being a coked-up Barry Gordy’s next project of the smokin’ sounds of the ’70’s, or something, would have been. 
Anyway, the stylistic bravery hits you, in this context. It’s the ’80’s drastically slowed down… it’s not an OVERINDULGENT Elton John, it’s just a dude who really damn misses the hey day of Elton John. 
 I actually have no idea who Barry Manilow is, but I did live through the ’90’s and making fun of Barry Manilow then was big time all the rage… I imagined his music as being like a sort of “The Longest Time” type thing.
 This is something else I’ve discussed on this blog, the (rightful, if you listen to solely the radio) burgeoning, or not so burgeoning, attitude of people my age to only like “old” music and so, to chafe the time-honored tradition of lauding something being “ahead of its time,” actually praising something for SOUNDING like it could have been made in the ’70’s, like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ “How Do I Let a Good Man Down,” or that “Rumor Has it” song.