My final pick for the upcoming Billy Joel anthology series is ‘Big Man on Mulberry Street,’ the epic, jazzy centerpiece of Joel’s 1986 album The Bridge. This is one of Joel’s best songs, so different than so much of what preceded it, yet still quintessentially him.
The song features one of Joel’s great characters, a small-time New Yorker with big-time dreams. This guy, with the right writing and acting, could be an incredibly rich character.
Our next Billy Joel anthology song comes from 1978’s 52nd Street, and this one is not about a person but a place.
‘Zanzibar’ wasn’t a hit at the time but it became a staple of Joel’s concerts and is a fan favorite. It’s a perfect representation of the jazz style Joel introduced to his pop rock for this album. Just check out those horn solos.
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.
My next candidate for an episode of the upcoming Billy Joel anthology series is ‘Roberta,’ a track from Joel’s 1974 album Streetlife Serenade.
I like this one because it’s one of Joel’s lesser-known songs but still a great one. I suspect that many casual Billy Joel fans have never dived too deeply into his earlier catalog and a series like this should give them that opportunity.
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!).
The Random iTunes Fairy has been peeking in on the weekday conversation, as she is wont to do.
Just the other day I proposed a theme week on Billy Joel songs that would make good fodder for a Netflix anthology show. And she serves up ‘Half a Mile Away,’ a very strong candidate. With street smart characters like Little Geo and Angelina circling our restless narrator, this song could make for a great little New York-set character sketch.
Yesterday I covered the seventh studio album by Elton John, one of the great piano rockers of our time. Today I’ll focus on the sophomore album by another of them, Billy Joel.
Piano Man was inspired by John’s Tumbleweed Connection, in its use of Western themes and country-fueled character sketches (including a literal ‘Ballad of Billy the Kid’). The album’s classic title track offers up a bar full of memorable characters, enough to stock a decent NetFlix series.