Song of the Day #1,411: ‘Zanzibar’ – Billy Joel

Best Albums of the 70s – #18
52nd Street – Billy Joel (1978)

I’ve never understood why Billy Joel gets such a bad rap. Just the other day I happened upon a Slate article titled ‘The Worst Pop Singer Ever: Why, Exactly is Bill Joel So Bad?’

That’s the sort of garbage that only gets written about artists who are beloved by “the masses” and therefore un-hip.

I can’t imagine any serious music fan listening to Joel’s 1970s output and dismissing it as awful. Granted, his last four albums before inexplicably retiring in 1993 were largely weak, but don’t judge the man by ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’

But 52nd Street? Friggin’ genius. Joel named the album after a famous jazz music spot in New York City and he introduced those jazz elements to his trademark piano pop with spectacular results. The horn parts on songs like ‘Stiletto’ and ‘Zanzibar’ (listen from the 3-minute mark) are brilliant flourishes that elevate the material.

Admittedly, ‘Honesty’ serves as a bit of a drag on the first side of 52nd Street but every other track is pure gold. Haters, take note.

Ali dances and the audience applauds
Though he’s bathed in sweat he hasn’t lost his style
Ali don’t you go downtown
You gave away another round for free

Me, I’m just another face at Zanzibar
But the waitress always serves a secret smile
She’s waiting out in Shantytown
She’s gonna pull the curtains down for me, for me

CHORUS
I’ve got the old man’s car,
I’ve got a jazz guitar
I’ve got a tab at Zanzibar
Tonight that’s where I’ll be

Rose, he knows he’s such a credit to the game,
But the Yankees grab the headlines every time
Melodrama’s so much fun
In black and white for everyone to see
Me, I’m trying just to get to second base
And I’d steal it if she only gave the sign
She’s gonna give the go ahead
The inning isn’t over yet for me,for me

CHORUS

Tell the waitress I’ll come back to Zanzibar
I’ll be hiding in the darkness with my beer.
She’s waiting out in Shantytown
She’s gonna pull the curtains down for me, for me

CHORUS

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6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,411: ‘Zanzibar’ – Billy Joel

  1. andrea katz says:

    Dana, have you slipped into a coma? Waiting for your comments with bated breath!

  2. Dana says:

    No coma here, just a bit delayed due to an early hearing.

    It would have been far easier for me in the early 80′s to be something other than a Billy Joel fan. I remember being ridiculed by many a junior high student, all dressed in their AC/DC, Van Halen, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin t-shirts. It probably didn’t help matters that I was sporting coke bottle glasses, a velor shirt and corderoy pants.:) But there I was–loving and defending Joel, Things got a bit easier when Miami 2017 (the live version from Songs in the Attic) started getting played on Big 105.9, but seemed to go downhill again (at least with the cool junior high kids) when “Tell Her About It” and “Uptown Girl” hit the airwaves.

    Anyway, Joel never did get the love from critics (most particularly Rolling Stone) during the 70′s and early 80′s when he should have. Springsteen could do no wrong, while Joel could do no right. The two were often compared, probably because they came from similar roots from New York and New Jersey, Bruce was seen as the more muscular blue collar every man’s musician, while Joel was simply the Piano Man who was selling out for commercial success. Somehow, by the way, Elton John (who would have been the more approriate comparator to Joel) didn’t seem to get trashed by critics as much, even though I would argue that his music took a nose dive in the late 70′s/early 80′s, far more so than Joel’s music, as he started writing more and more commercial pop sings.

    While Joel remains my first love, I have moved on to have greater appreciation for other artists such as Costello, Newman, Folds, etc., That is most likely because those artists have evolved and continued to put out compelling music while Joel moved away from rock/pop and started recording classical albums and, more recently, seems to be living off his greatest hits. Still, I maintain, as I know you do, that his work in the 70′s was wonderful and, even in the 80′s, there were standout moments such as The Nylon Curtain and tracks like “Big Man on Mulberry Street” from the The Bridge.

    So, 52nd Street is a solid pick on your top 20 list and I suspect this will not be the only selection from Joel to make the list.

  3. pegclifton says:

    I love Billy Joel; it’s that simple. I introduced my family to him when I heard “Just the Way you Are” from the Stranger album and I’ve never looked back. Zanzibar happens to be one of our favorites; I even love “We didn’t start the Fire” He’s the greatest–got the picture you haters out there???

  4. Cliff Dorton says:

    Oh, I also loved Billy Joel and I still listen to his music; he was one of the music legends in the 70s and 80s. Hits like ‘Just the Way You Are’ and ‘Uptown Girl’ remind me of my younger years. And, of course who doesn’t love Zanzibar if you are a Billy Joel fan. For me, it’s always a delight to listen to Billy Joel’s music.

  5. andrea katz says:

    I have great memories of Billy Joel all fused with my younger brother singing his songs and playing them on the living room piano. Golden moments, New Year’s Eves with all of us singing Piano Man and so many concert
    s. I agree with Dana that Elton john went into some really funky, commercial bubble gum territory also. Actually there are a couple of Spingsteen songs in that category as well. I will always love stuff like “Sleeping with the Television on” Is that the title? There are songs that never made it to the top of the charts which are magnificient. I am a fan. Thanks.

  6. Amy says:

    Not so funny bit from The Onion:
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/why-do-we-hate-billy-joel,20312/4

    Pretty fascinating exploration of the whole “why does the Internet hate Billy Joel?” from a fellow blogger:
    http://michaelduff.net/2009/01/28/why-does-the-internet-hate-billy-joel/

    As an unabashed fan of so much of Joel’s music, I, too, am fascinated by why anyone – critic or not – would feel a need to HATE his music. If it’s not your cup of tea, fine. But why the intensity of emotion? Is it to balance the amount of success he has had? Is it because, as the fellow blogger suggests, Joel is so earnest in his expression of emotions? I’m not sure.

    Regardless, I love many of his songs, and today’s SOTD is certainly one of them.

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