Song of the Day #100: ‘Miami 2017’ – Billy Joel

For my 100th Song of the Day, I wanted to do something special. I was digging through my collection looking for songs that contained the number ‘100’ (without success) when I happened upon this great Billy Joel track. And it felt epic and important enough to warrant this place of honor.

‘Miami (2017)’ was first released on the Turnstiles album, but the version I’ve always loved best is the live recording found on Songs in the Attic. The song is about a future skirmish that wipes out New York City, and this version was performed in Manhattan in front of an electrified crowd that screams in unison at every mention of a New York landmark.

I’ve loved Billy Joel ever since my parents played The Stranger and 52nd Street in our house 30 years ago. After the great run he had in the 70s and 80s, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t put out an album of new songs in 15 years. He’s better known now for drunk driving and marrying a woman younger than his daughter. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a batch of songs by anyone as well-written as the stuff Joel put out between Cold Spring Harbor and The Bridge.

Songs in the Attic is one of the few live albums I own, and probably the best. It covers Joel’s lesser-known pre-Stranger output and does an excellent job capturing the energy of his live performances as well as his piano virtuosity.

I love the slow start and finish to this song, interrupted by the powerhouse middle third. It reminds me of ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant’ in that regard, though it doesn’t quite live up to that song’s standard. Mostly I love the way this recording puts you in that stadium with a bunch of New Yorkers screaming along to a tale of their city’s demise. It’s sort of a strange concept but somehow it seems exactly right.

7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #100: ‘Miami 2017’ – Billy Joel

  1. Dana says:

    I recently saw a wonderful Billy Joel concert on PBS. It was from a1978 concert in a relatively small venue in England and had never before been shown in the US (though often shown in England apparently). It wasn’t the type of live Joel performance we were accustomed to seeing–with him running around the stage and playing at multiple keyboard stations. It was him sitting at the piano the whole time, but the energy in the songs as compared to the studio versions was remarkable.

    During breaks in the concert, PBS showed excerpts from an interview with Phil Ramone, Joel’s producer beginning with The Stranger through the Bridge. When producing the Stranger, Ramone immediately recognized the disparity between Joel’s live performances and the earlier albums. Joel understood the problem also, having fired his original producer on Turnstiles and self-producing that album, insisting that his touring band, and not studio musiciams, play on those tracks. But despite recognizing the problem, Joel didn’t quite come up with the entire solution since tracks like Say Goodbye to Hollywood, Angry Young Man and Miami 2017 still seemed flatter than the live performonces (He did, however, get the softer songs such as New York State of Mind and Summer Highland Falls right in my opinion). So it took Ramone to take Joel’s studio recordings to that next level. Then, it took Ramone to recognize the need to release those earlier gems again with Songs in the Attic. The difference between the studio and live recordings is stunning–and Miami 2017 reflects the dramatic improvement. It is interesting to note that later live albums by Joel have not been nearly as remarkable, not because the songs aren’t great, but because the compelling need to hear them live vs. the studio versions just isn’t there, save perhaps Angry Young Man, which does play better live than on the Turnstiles version and really should have been included in Songs in the Attic..

    By the way, I like the video you picked–great images of New York, and I was particularly amused with the sole image of Florida:).

  2. pegclifton says:

    I remember driving home some 30 years ago and hearing “just the way you are” and running into the house exclaming that I loved this song. “It’s someone named Billy Joe or something like that” Well, we found the album and the rest is history. I love this video–great shots of NYC, and I love this song. Great choice for #100!

  3. Amy says:

    Love the song, love your rationale for choosing it, and love Dana’s information packed comment. Song in the Attic is perhaps unique in that it isn’t a single live concert recorded but rather a series of distinct live performances, some performed in front of a small audience in an intimate club, others (such as Miami 2017) in front of large audiences. Each song is served by the audience in front of which it was performed, but perhaps none more so than Miami 2017 for the very reasons Clay suggests.

    Regardless, I love the way Joel sings this song.

  4. Amy says:

    Oh, and congratulations on hitting #100.

  5. pegclifton says:

    I don’t know which image is the one of Florida?

  6. dana says:

    The one when he says the word Florida, it’s an image of a graffitied store front with Spanish signage.

  7. Sean says:

    I’m not wanting to split hairs here but this song isn’t really about events set to happen in New York in the future but more a New Yorker in 2017 living in Miami having grown older and moved there for the warmer weather and retrospectively looking back at events in New York around the time the song was written, in the mid 1970s when New York was going through some troubled times.

    I’m from London, England and we also had a similar situation too in the 70s with power cuts and workers strikes and that kind of thing.

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