Song of the Day #4,147: ‘ The Ballad of Billy the Kid’ – Billy Joel

As I mentioned in a Dolly Parton anthology post two weeks back, a TV show is in the works that dramatizes the songs of Billy Joel. This week I’ll feature five Joel songs I’d like to see converted.

‘The Ballad of Billy the Kid’ is a western epic from Joel’s sophomore album, 1973’s Piano Man. That album’s title song is the most obvious candidate for a TV version (I won’t be surprised if it lends its title to the whole series) but I’m trying to stay away from the popular picks (sorry, Anthony, you won’t be movin’ out this week!).

I like this song for a TV adaptation because it offers a chance to more directly tie together the Billy the Kid legend described in the first six verses and the suburban rebel in the song’s final lines.

The episode could cut back and forth between the two Billys, paralleling the lawlessness of the Old West with the class struggles of modern America.

From a town known as Wheeling, West Virginia
Rode a boy with a six-gun in his hand
And his daring life of crime
Made him a legend in his time
East and west of the Rio Grande

Well, he started with a bank in Colorado;
In the pocket of his vest, a Colt he hid
And his age and his size
Took the teller by surprise
And the word spread of Billy the Kid

Well, he never traveled heavy; yes he always rode alone
And he soon put many other guns to shame
And he never had a sweetheart, and he never had a home
But the cowboy and the rancher knew his name

Well, he robbed his way from Utah to Oklahoma
And the law just could not seem to track him down
And it served his legend well
For the folks they loved to tell
About when Billy the Kid came to town

[Musical interlude]

Well, one cold day a posse captured Billy
And the judge said, “String him up for what he did.”
And the cowboys and their kin
Like the sea came pouring in
To watch the hanging of Billy the Kid

And he never traveled heavy; yes he always rode alone
And he soon put many other guns to shame
And he never had a sweetheart, but he finally found a home
Underneath the boot hill grave that bears his name

From a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island
Rode a boy with a six-pack in his hand
And his daring life of crime
Made him a legend in his time
East and west of the Rio Grande

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,147: ‘ The Ballad of Billy the Kid’ – Billy Joel

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Great theme week!

    I agree that this would be a good candidate for anthology treatment, particularly since the show creators have indicated that they intend to stay away from the bigger hits and more obvious tracks. So, I would not be surprised if they bypasses both Piano Man and Movin’ Out.

  2. Peg says:

    I always though Billy the Kid was shot not hanged. We were just in Santa Fe and saw the jail he was in and escaped from. I agree this would work for the anthology.

  3. Amy says:

    This is a great idea for a TV show (and a Meet in Montauk theme week!) Sorry I’m late to the party. I love that all the new channels and streaming sites are providing opportunities for more innovation. This song adaptation might need the Coen brothers at the helm.

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