Song of the Day #4,149: ‘James’ – Billy Joel

My next candidate for the Billy Joel anthology series comes from his 1976 album Turnstiles, and — like ‘Roberta’ yesterday — it’s another lesser-known track with a title that’s somebody’s first name.

The James in this song is reportedly based on a friend of Joel’s named James Bosse, who played with him in a band when they were teenagers. In some interviews, Joel has denied that the song is about a specific person and suggested the name just sounded right with the melody.

For the purposes of our TV show, James is a young man struggling between keeping his family happy by getting a traditional education and pursuing a life in the arts. We’ll make him a musician so we can get some of Joel’s music into the episode.

James’ songs in the show could all come from Turnstiles, one of Joel’s best early efforts. I’d especially love to get ‘Summer, Highland Falls’ some more exposure.

James, we were always friends
From our childhood days
And we made our plans
And we had to go our sep’rate ways

I went on the road
You pursued an education

James, do you like your life?
Can you find release?
And will you ever change?
Will you ever write your masterpiece?

Are you still in school?
Living up to expectations?
James, you were so relied upon
Everybody knows how hard you tried

Hey – oh, look at what a job you’ve done
Carrying the weight of family pride

James, you’ve been well behaved
You’ve been working hard
But will you always stay
Someone else’s dream of who you are?

Do what’s good for you
Or you’re not good for anybody

I went on the road
You pursued an education

James, how you gonna know for sure?
Everything was so well organized

Hey, oh now everything is so secure
And everybody else is satisfied

James, do you like your life?
Can you find release?
And will you ever change?
When will you write your masterpiece?
Do what’s good for you
Or you’re not good for anybody

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,149: ‘James’ – Billy Joel

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Another good pick.

    By the way, the Billy Joel channel is back on SIRIUS 30. I was listening a bit this weekend, and Billy had his old sound man who was with him when Billy first started out after not graduating from high school. They talked about Joel’s early bands, the places they played on Long Island, the other bands (like Traffic) who would play those same venues, and “on the road” stories. The conversation was interspersed with songs from Joel’s bands (like The Hassles) and the other artists he was referencing. He also talked about the decision to leave high school, telling his mother he was going to Colombia Records, not Colombia University. Really fascinating stuff, and I suspect some of these stories will weave into the anthology series.

    Here’s the song they played from The Hassles. (I owned this album when I was a teenager, and so wish I had held onto it…probably worth something) check out a very young Billy Joel:

  2. willedare says:

    Thank you, as always, for introducing me to music I often know nothing about. I love “James” and am grateful to start my day with a taste of THE HASSLES for historical perspective, too. I guess I need to read a biography of Mr. Joel to learn more about his personal and artistic evolution…

  3. Amy says:

    This song always struck me as being a bit sad… could make for a poignant episode.

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