Song of the Day #4,570: ‘Vienna (Live)’ – Billy Joel

Continuing the chronological presentation of my 25 favorite songs…

‘Vienna’ – Billy Joel (1977)

Billy Joel’s The Stranger came out the same year as Rumours, a fact that doesn’t quite compute in my head. I think of Joel’s album as coming much later for some reason. That’s two all-time great albums in a single year. I look forward to seeing what else 1977 had to offer when I get there in my Decade series.

Four years contributed two songs to my list of 25 favorites, one each in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s.

‘Vienna’ has been a favorite of mine since I was first introduced to it as a youngster. I remember my sister pointing it out as a highlight of The Stranger — a popular album in our household — so I paid it extra attention. But it wasn’t until I was much older that it resonated for reasons other than its pretty sound.

Once you get through high school and college and embark on a career, ‘Vienna’ really gets inside of you.

When I posted another version of ‘Vienna’ seven years ago, frequent commenter Dana posted a transcript of an interview where Joel explained the meaning of the title. He said that in Vienna, the elderly aren’t “put out to pasture” the way they are in America, but instead play a productive and valuable role in society. So rather than worry about fitting everything in before you get old, you can take comfort in the fact that Vienna waits for you.

That’s a pretty nice way to arrive at the song’s central metaphor, though I’ve never needed it to be so concrete. To me, Vienna is a place where you can “slow down” and “take the phone off the hook” and realize that life is special even if your dreams don’t come true. Writing this, I realize this song has a lot in common with Pixar’s new movie Soul. A lovely montage toward the end of that film gives me the feels in the same way this song does.

‘What a Fool Believes’ – The Doobie Brothers (1978)

I remember the exact moment when The Doobie Brothers’ ‘What a Fool Believes’ joined the ranks of my favorite songs.

It was five or six years ago, and I was in an Old Navy waiting while my wife tried something on in the dressing room. The song came on and while thoroughly enjoying it, I realized I had no idea who sang it. It’s a song I’d always loved when I’d come across it in situations like that one, but I didn’t know anything about it.

I fired up the old Shazam app (my kids always tease me for not using Siri for song identification, but I remain a Shazam guy) and was surprised to learn it was by The Doobie Brothers, a band I knew only by name. I promptly bought their greatest hits in order to own this track and was pleasantly surprised to learn how many other classic hits the band had released.

Written by Doobies lead singer Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, this yacht rock staple is simply perfect. Every section goes in some wonderful new direction, and McDonald’s vocal is just brilliant. The Doobie Brothers’ McDonald era generally doesn’t live up to the Tom Johnston years, but this is their best song, period.

Loggins released his own (vastly inferior) version of ‘What a Fool Believes’ five months before The Doobie Brothers’ hit version. It’s a great demonstration of how writing a good song is just half the battle. Performance and production are often just as important. If I never hear Loggins’ version again it will be too soon, but McDonald’s is pure ecstasy.

[Verse 1]
Slow down, you crazy child
You’re so ambitious for a juvenile
But then if you’re so smart, tell me
Why are you still so afraid, hmm?
Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?
You’d better cool it off before you burn it out
You’ve got so much to do
And only so many hours in a day

But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you could just get old
You gonna kick off before
You even get halfway through, ooh
When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?

[Verse 2]
Slow down, you’re doing fine
You can’t be everything
You wanna be before your time
Although it’s so romantic
On the borderline tonight, tonight
Too bad but it’s the life you lead
You’re so ahead of yourself
That you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you’re wrong
You know you can’t always
See when you’re right, you’re right

You’ve got your passion
You’ve got your pride
But don’t you know
That only fools are satisfied?
Dream on, but don’t imagine
They’ll all come true, ooh
When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?

[Instrumental break]

Slow down, you crazy child
And take the phone off the hook
And disappear for a while
It’s all right, you can afford
To lose a day or two, ooh
When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?

And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you could just get old
You gonna kick off before
You even get halfway through, ooh
Why don’t you realize, Vienna waits for you?

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,570: ‘Vienna (Live)’ – Billy Joel

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    There is no doubt that a Billy Joel song would make my top 25 list and, in thinking about this exercise, I flirted with a few other favorites including “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “Big Man on Mulberry Street.” “Summer Highland Falls,” and “Only the Good Die Young, in the end, though, I think it really has to be “Vienna.” Like you, I have loved this song since I was a kid, but, with each passing year, and now seeing my own kids wrestle with their pressures, choices and decisions, the song just resonates all the more. I suppose in some ways the same could be said for the Beatles “In My Life,” which would also likely make my list.

    By the way, I love Seth Meyers recent joke about “Vienna” being Joel’s best song. It actually helped cement my decision. Here’s the clip:

    As for “What a Fool Believes,” another great song and probably not one that would have immediately come to mind. And, yes, that Loggins version is way inferior, but not only because of production, but because McDonald, like Sting, James Taylor and Peter Gabriel, is one of those singers who just make every song sound better.

  2. Peg says:

    Wonderful Song from one of my favorite albums ❤️

  3. Amy says:

    “Oh, man, the Doobie Brothers broke up” (spoken by Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone) will forever be on a loop in my head whenever I hear a song by them (or, apparently, read a blog post about them :)) I think it’s fascinating that a song like this wound up in your top 25. I’m flirting with a few such possibilities (think “Sister Golden Hair”).

    Meanwhile, I’m honored to learn a) that I had the good sense to recognize Vienna’s brilliance early in my life and b) that my touting the song made an impression on you. It was one of the first songs I placed on my playlist , though, like Dana, I flirted with the possibility of whether Scenes or Highland Falls might replace it.

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