Song of the Day #315: ‘Prelude / Angry Young Man’ – Billy Joel

turnstilesTurnstiles is Billy Joel’s first truly great album. Featuring such classics as ‘New York State of Mind,’ ‘I’ve Loved These Days,’ ‘Summer, Highland Falls,’ ‘Say Goodbye to Hollywood’ and ‘Miami 2017′ (which I featured as a Song of the Day back in November), it’s practically a greatest hits collection.

This is Joel’s first New York album, to a degree that I never really appreciated until reading about it for this blog entry. All of the songs I mentioned above are either about New York or about leaving California behind.

Today’s song is one of the few on the album that doesn’t stick to that theme. It’s a perceptive character sketch of a man who could well be Joel himself. This angry young man is proud and righteous and probably not a lot of fun to be around. I see a lot of people (men and women) like this in my workplace and alternate between feeling sorry for them and being majorly irritated by them.

Joel is a big Bob Dylan fan and it wouldn’t surprise me if this song was inspired, at least in part, by the famous chorus of ‘My Back Pages': “Oh, but I was so much older then… I’m younger than that now.”

There’s a place in the world for the angry young man
With his working class ties and his radical plans
He refuses to bend, he refuses to crawl,
And He’s always at home with his back to the wall.
And he’s proud of his scars and the battles he’s lost,
And he struggles and bleeds as he hangs on his cross
And he likes to be known as the angry young man.

Give a moment or two to the angry young man,
With his foot in his mouth and his heart in his hand.
He’s been stabbed in the back, he’s been misunderstood,
It’s a comfort to know his intentions are good.
And he sits in a room with a lock on the door,
With his maps and his medals laid out on the floor-
And he likes to be known as the angry young man.

I believe I’ve passed the age
Of consciousness and righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight.
I once believed in causes too,
I had my pointless point of view,
And life went on no matter who was wrong or right.

And there’s always a place for the angry young man,
With his fist in the air and his head in the sand.
And he’s never been able to learn from mistakes,
So he can’t understand why his heart always breaks.
And his honor is pure and his courage as well,
And he’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell
And he’ll go to the grave as an angry old man.

There’s always a place for the angry young man
With his working class ties and his radical plans
He refuses to bend, he refuses to crawl,
And He’s always at home with his back to the wall.
And he’s proud of his scars and the battles he’s lost,
And he struggles and bleeds as he hangs on his cross
And he likes to be known as the angry young man.

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3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #315: ‘Prelude / Angry Young Man’ – Billy Joel

  1. Amy says:

    You know it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve heard a song, or know it note for note, when you stop to read the lyrics you can still appreciate it all over again. That’s certainly the case with many of Billy Joel’s songs, and this one is no exception. I love hearing him play this song in concert (where I’ve seen him something like 5 times). It seems like the piano should be retuned immediately after all his thrashing across the keys.

    What I love the most about the song though is how Joel once again is the poet. The bridge (? – does this song have a chorus?) is one of the most beautiful pieces of music/writing Joel has produced. And achingly poignant: “I’ve passed the age… of righteous rage.” Powerful.

  2. Dana says:

    I love that you found a vinyl version of this song. It sounds much like the first time I heard it when I used to own the LP.

    This actually ranks amongst my favorite Joel songs. And I agree this is a great album. After production on previous albums ranged from subpar to chipmunk awful, Joel finally took contol and produced this one himself. Still not nearly the production of the Ramone albums to come, but markedly better than those that came before.

    Angry Young Man is likely a song that would not have been written in the same way today, not even by Joel. As Amy points out, the song lacks a chorus, though arguably the piano breaks just after Joel sings “likes to be known as the angry young man” serve structurally as the chorus. Listening to less structured songs like these caused me to write songs like these, which I am reminded of whenever the guy who helps me record listens to my songs and says “where’s the chorus?” and “is that the bridge?” Such comments (ciriticisms?) have nudged me to add choruses to a few of my songs because, well, that’s just what is done these days. But I really do love the freedom artists were more able to have years ago to write songs with less rigid structure. Of course, you still can hear such songs in the works of Randy Newman and Rufus Wainwright, but how many records have they sold?:)

    Anyway, as for today’s song—what can i say? It rocks, especially in concert. I too could hear this song a thousand times (and probably have), and it still feels fresh to me each time.

  3. Kerrie says:

    Incredible song. I love the whole intro and the “big production” quality of the entire song (i.e. it makes me think of a Broadway show). This is so stylistically similar to his other “storytelling” songs like ‘Scenes From an Italian Restaurant’ and ‘Movin’ Out,’ but listening to it I was also reminded of some of the songs on the Storm Front album.

    I’ll be interested to see what you feature from that album as that was the first Billy Joel concert I went to. It wasn’t until I had seen him in concert that I really got into some of his earlier albums and found out what I’d been missing.

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