Song of the Day #319: ‘Stiletto’ – Billy Joel

52ndstreetBilly Joel followed up The Stranger with an album just as strong if not as iconic, 52nd Street. This jazzy collection boasts such hits as ‘Big Shot,’ ‘Honesty’ and ‘My Life’ but it’s the other, lesser-known tracks that make it one of Joel’s finest efforts. ‘Zanzibar,’ ‘Stiletto,’ ‘Rosalinda’s Eyes,’ ‘Half a Mile Away,’ ‘Until the Night’ and the title track, which (in order) finish off the album after the first three hit tracks, are among the best songs Joel has ever written.

My personal favorite is today’s track, ‘Stiletto,’ and for one primary reason: the piano-bass interlude that starts at 2:08 and launches into that unreal horn part at 2:27 before easing back into the staccato piano and drum bit that precedes the next verse. That’s just quality stuff.

But it’s hard to single out just one track from this album… they’re all so wonderful in different ways — from the Latin flavor of ‘Rosalinda’s Eyes’ to the grand country balladry of ‘Until the Night.’

I remember as a kid who’d never been to the Big Apple, this album (both the music and that great cover photo) really symbolized New York for me. I didn’t know what that meant, exactly, but I pictured a place with dingy alleyways where jazzy rock songs poured out of clubs and street smart guys gathered. That image probably isn’t too far from the place Joel was trying to evoke with this album, so kudos to him for sealing the deal with an 8-year-old kid.

Finally, a bit of trivia… apparently, way back in 1982, 52nd Street was the first album to be released in the brand-new CD format.

She cuts you once, she cuts you twice
But still you believe
The wound is so fresh you can taste the blood
But you don’t have strength to leave
You’ve been bought, you’ve been sold
You’ve been locked outside the door
But you stand there pleadin’,
With your insides bleedin’,
‘Cause you deep down want some more
When she says she wants forgiveness
It’s such a clever masquerade
She’s so good with her stiletto
You don’t even see the blade
You don’t see the blade

She cuts you hard, she cuts you deep,
She’s got so much skill
She’s so fascinating that you’re still there waiting
When she comes back for the kill
You’ve been slashed in the face
You’ve been left there to bleed
You want to run away
But you know you’re gonna stay
‘Cause she gives you what you need
Then she says she needs affection
While she searches for the vein
She’s so good with her stiletto
You don’t really mind the pain
you don’t mind the pain

She cuts you out, she cuts you down
She carves up your life
But you won’t do nothng
As she keeps on cutting
‘Cause you know you love the knife
You’ve been bought, you’ve been sold
You’ve been locked outside the door
But you stand there pleadin’
With your insides bleedin’
‘Cause you deep down want some more
Then she says she wants affection
While she searches for the vein
She’s so good with her stiletto,
You don’t really mind the pain
You don’t mind the pain

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7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #319: ‘Stiletto’ – Billy Joel

  1. Amy says:

    Love the paragraph about an 8 year old getting a sense of a mysterious New York from this album. Must have seemed a daunting and unwelcome place for children. Thank Goodness for Rudy Giuliani!!

    What I remember most from this album is how much our father loved “Zanzibar.” I always am amazed how much insight you can gain into a person by discovering the music they appreciate. The chance to do that with people as enigmatic as one’s parents – now that’s exciting stuff!

    The song would start, we’d all get quiet, and Dad would sing :) And I may be wrong, but I seem to recall that we had this album on reel to reel. That new-fangled CD be damned.

    I, too, love “Zanzibar” and today’s song, but it’s “Rosalinda’s Eyes” that is my favorite track on this album. Still, I think you’re absolutely right that it’s the string of them one after another that makes each song, and the album as a whole, so amazing.

    As an afterthought, I feel we should say that Billy Joel’s New York is a real New York. I don’t know that I’ve stumbled on any of the places mentioned in these songs, or if I’ve ever made an impression on somebody north of Hester or south of Grand, but I’ve walked those streets. And it’s easy to hear Billy Joel’s words, and hear his music, when you do.

  2. Dana says:

    Stilletto is up there among my favorite songs as well. Until the Night is another favorite–though I never thought of it as a country ballad- I suppose the chord strucure could lend itself to being countrified, but there is NOTHING about the way Joel does it that plays up any country aspect. It is far closer to the power ballad that became so popular in the 80′s, but far better in my opinion.

    Are you saying 52nd Street was the first CD put out from any artist, or just the first one of his albums? The first CD I ever owned was Dark Side of the Moon, which I believe I bought around 1984.

  3. Amy says:

    Glad Dana made that point about “Until the Night,” as I, too, did a double-take when I saw you describe it as a country ballad. I never would have considered it such. Why do you call it that? I’m curious.

  4. Clay says:

    Apparently the first album of any sort released on CD (if various Web sources are to be believed).

    The plodding chord structure in the verses of ‘Until the Night,’ as well as Joel’s vocals in those sections, feel like something Johnny Cash would have had a ball with. I agree the chorus is more power pop.

  5. pegclifton says:

    I think we had graduated from the reel to reel by then, because we bought The Stranger before this came out and that was an album (and we still have it as I mentioned earlier). These are such great songs; I’ll have to pull out “Zanzibar” for Dad for old times sake :)

  6. Amy says:

    So this we listened to on a turntable? Shocking! ;-)

  7. Sean says:

    I think Until the Night was meant as a Righteous Brothers sounding You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ type song and Billy even “duets” with himself on the parts that go:

    So many lovers come and gone
    I’ll have my fears like every man (lowish Bill Medley style voice)

    You’ll have you tears like every woman (highish Bobby Hatfield style voice)

    and later:

    As they’re closing it down (Bill Medley )

    I’m gonna open it up (Bobby Hatfield)

    and so on.

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