Before 1982 I didn't buy much music that didn't have the words Star Wars in it so I had to wrack my brain to think of an album to give the Carter era High School Collection treatment to. Or in this case grade school collection. This was really my Mom's tape, but I played it on my own 'cause I liked Billy Joel. He was that middle of the road guy that kids and parents could agree on I guess. A little bit of yacht rock, a little bit of McCartney, a little bit of 50s revival given a 70's polish, Billy Joel had something for everyone. Time to roll back to the days of tube socks and t shirts, time for...
Billy Joel - 52nd Street (1978)
1. Big Shot
Before there was rap music, there was Billy Joel. That's not really a good comparison, what I mean is that "Big Shot" (or "Big Shit" depending on your mood) is a great song filled with self involved attitude. What's nice though is that there is a self effacing undercurrent as he mocks his own braggadocio. Joel directs the vitriol of the song towards himself, complaining he had to be the big shot that knew everyone and everything in front of others. Considering this was the first song on the record following his breakthru smash album The Stranger, this was a key moment as it humanized Joel and let his fans know that success wasn't going to his head. This was also the last appearance I can remember of what I'll call "Italian Billy Joel", when he used to sing alot about Italian things and sometimes put on a fake New Yawk Italian accent on like he does midway thru "Big Shot" (unless Billy Joel is Italian, in which case maybe it's a real accent for him). When I saw Joel live in '89, at the end of "Big Shot" he would climb on top of his piano and act like he was going to do a back flip and then simply climb down at the last second. Nice fake out :)
I remember pissing off my best friend by inserting his name in the lyrics in 1978, that was fun! Because that's what friends are for when you're young.
Well, lets forget the irony of Joel writing this song when later he would be tagged with rumors of infidelity and stolen musical ideas. "Honesty" is a great song, a fine ballad pleading for truth. All he wanted was honesty, like Roy Neary in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. All Neary wanted was for the government to admit that it wasn't crazy to play with your mashed potatoes and that space aliens wanted to experience synthesizers with a light show really bad. That lyric "I can find a lover / I can find a friend / I can have security until the bitter end / Any one can comfort me with promises again / I know" has stuck with me thru the decades. There's an emotional vulnerability to "Honesty" that resonates with me, awesome awesome song.
3. My Life
Bosom Buddies! Joel's catchy declaration of independence will be forever tied to my memories of Tom back-before-people-died-in-every-movie-he-does Hanks and Peter Scolari ("This will make a great novel") dressing up like women in that classic tv show. I lived for three things in 1978: baseball, sci fi and television. Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Battlestar Galactica were some of the programs I worshipped. For some reason I dislike the keyboard sound on this song, what is that electric piano? In college I had a friend sing this song inserting the name of his brother who annoyed him. Billy Joel's music is just good for that sort of thing. Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone!
You know, I do remember this busy dramatic song yet I don't have much to say on it. It was OK filler. I got kind of a Barry Manalow "Copacabana" vibe when I used to hear the tape back in the day. You know, one of those late 70s night clubs where guest stars from The Love Boat and Fantasy Island hang out. Maybe it was because I watched a lot of tv in 1978. I guess it's considered a big deal that there was a certain trumpet player on "Zanzibar" and the song does have the feel of Joel fulfilling his artsy muso ideas. Maybe he was inspired by the Cantina scene in Star Wars?
Now we're back on track! Vampy pop rock about a dangerous woman, and he's Billy Joel so he knows danger. The pensive piano and urgent vocals push the drama over the top. You've got to like a song that compares relationship problems with a knife fight, she cuts you once she cuts you twice and still you believe. It's like Joel was dating Patty Hearst or something. See, even back then you needed sex and violence to entertain children. Maybe he was referring to someone tamely dangerous like Olivia Newton John at the end of Grease. I got chills, they're mulitplyin and I'm losing control!
Joel's adult contemporary instincts are rock solid as he gets all wistful on this number. Think I've heard this on the radio from time to time. Have a soft spot for this one, pleasant bubbly keyboard bit and fine melody. "Rosalinda's Eyes" is perfect music for late 70s shopping, you could browse at Sears listening to this to get you in a mellow mood with just enough beat to keep you from falling asleep. You need a groove to get into the shopping mood when looking for the perfect Star Wars doll. If only I could invent time travel so I could go back to 1978 and say "Mike, stop! Leave the Star Wars dolls in their original packaging people will actually pay $100s of dollars for this crap." What I really bought a lot of back then were baseball cards, I had to do a lot of wheeling and dealing to get a Nolan Ryan for the doubles and triples of bench warmers like Sixto Lezcano. Though when I think about it, I recall a lot of muzak back then. It's not like now where you can shop to the beat of new wave hits of the 80s.
I can't remember which song it was, maybe it was this one, that ABC used for it's New Fall Lineup theme in the late 70s. Pretty sure it was this one, I'll have to see if it's online anywhere. Nice upbeat pop rock, not the most memorable one he's done just gets the job done while it's on. It makes me think of sitting in the back seat of a car to visit relatives out of town for some reason. Update: I've looked online and can't find any networks using this song as a theme, looks like the 'ol memory is faulty. I think I got it confused with the usage of Orlean's "Still The One" for the network theme because I vividly remember swirling lights and the ABC logo. Then again, at this rate who knows what I remember?
I just played this song off you tube and have no memories, don't remember this one at all. Since the album is themed around New York and I'm looking at 1978, I'll instead mention one of my baseball heroes of this era was third baseman Graig Nettles of the Yankees. Seeing his glovework at the hot corner during the championships and World Series was inspirational. After watching Nettles on tv, when I would play baseball I would jump and slide over any ball that was just out of reach-including when playing on asphalt. I had never seen anyone play baseball like that before, though a few years later I would see films of Brooks Robinson (Baltimore Orioles) and be equally impressed.
9. 52nd Street
I don't remember this song either, I must have stopped paying attention to the tape after "Half A Mile Away". Perhaps I was too focused on my Atari 2600, I logged countless hours trying to rescue falling humans in Defender. Hated when the planet blew up and the aliens floated all over the place. Stupid hyperspace always has me rematerializing inside an alien creature and exploding.
And that's the end of 52nd Street. Hope you liked how I tried to get those Suftjan Stevens brownie points by tying my world in 1978 to these songs. Hard to believe all this took place 32 years ago. Time flies!