Song of the Day #2,568: ‘Allentown’ – Billy Joel

nyloncurtainMy third favorite album of 1992 is The Nylon Curtain, Billy Joel’s eighth studio album and the one he has called his personal favorite.

I’d likely give that title to The Stranger or 52nd Street, but this one would round out the top three.

The album, running just nine songs long, featured Joel’s most ambitious studio work. It’s his Beatles album.

The Nylon Curtain had hits in ‘Pressure’ and especially today’s SOTD, ‘Allentown,’ but the deeper cuts are just as strong. I especially like the very Beatles-esque ‘Laura’ and ‘Scandinavian Skies.’

The all of Joel’s later work had merit (especially 1986’s The Bridge), I’d say The Nylon Curtain is his last truly excellent album. Hard to believe that was 33 years ago.

Well we’re living here in Allentown
And they’re closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they’re killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line
Well our fathers fought the Second World War
Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore
Met our mothers in the USO
Asked them to dance
Danced with them slow
And we’re living here in Allentown

But the restlessness was handed down
And it’s getting very hard to stay

Well we’re waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coke
And chromium steel
And we’re waiting here in Allentown

But they’ve taken all the coal from the ground
And the union people crawled away

Every child had a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our face

Well I’m living here in Allentown
And it’s hard to keep a good man down
But I won’t be getting up today

And it’s getting very hard to stay
And we’re living here in Allentown

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #2,568: ‘Allentown’ – Billy Joel

  1. Dana says:

    I may have told this story before, perhaps even on the blog. I had been turned on to Billy Joel through my cousin who had given me Piano Man. This was about 1981, just after the release of Glass Houses. That year, I bought the entirety of Joel’s discography through that date and was desperate for new material. Joel next teased with the release of Songs in the Attic, a great live album that provided better, more energized versions of previous material. The only thing new to me on that album, however, were the two cuts from Cold Spring Harbor, which, at that time, was not available in record stores..

    While Songs in the Attic satiated my ravenous appetite for new Joel music for a few months, I became increasingly desperate and annoyed that a record of all new material was not being released. It’s ironic how impatient I was when the wait was all of a year until Nylon Curtain given Joel’s now going on about a 30-year hiatus from new music. I guess for a 14 year old kid, a year can be an eternity.

    At the time, I tracked every bit of news I could gather from magazines and MTV about the upcoming release. I made sure I was positioned in front of the TV when the world premiere of “Pressure” aired and, when I saw/heard it, I was rather freaked out as it seemed like such a radical departure from all I had come to know and love from Joel.

    So, when the album was released, I ran down to Vibrations to buy it and immediately put the record on my parent’s old stereo. I tried to insist that my parents listen, but, as I recall, I could only get my mom to hear the first track “Allentown” while she walked around the house. When those first chords of “Allentown” came on, I was so relieved to hear piano and a more familiar sound from my idol.

    For many years after the release of Nylon Curtain, I declared it as Joel’s best album. Maybe that is because it was my introductory point to his first new release. Maybe it’s because I was never a bigger fan than I was in 1982. Looking back 33 years later, I tend to agree that The Stranger might have been Joel’s best record and that 52nd Street should also be in the running. And, without doubt, there are standout songs on both of those records (“Viena,” “Scenes…,” “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” etc) that eclipse any single track of Curtain. Still, as a cohesive album from cover to cover, I would still argue that Curtain is Joel’s best work. But perhaps that’s just my teenage nerd self dominating my adult addled brain.šŸ˜€

  2. Andrea Katz says:

    and that is why I love my little brother…

  3. Andrea Katz says:

    Great song – I love the lines about the promises the teachers made contasting with -“they threw an American Flag in our face” … the expression of defeat agains the energy of the percussion conjuring up factory work. Good god, did I take my pills this morning?

  4. Amy says:

    I, too, recall the shock of seeing the video for “Pressure” for the first time. My favorite songs on this album are probably those most like other Billy Joel songs, namely “Sleeping with the Television On” and “You May Be Right,” and I agree that it belongs in his top 3. I like The Bridge a bit better than you do, I think, Clay, but Nylon Curtain would edge it out for the #3 spot.

  5. Clay says:

    Your husband has probably corrected you already, but you seem to be confusing Glass Houses with The Nylon Curtain. The two songs you named are from the former.

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