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!).
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.
I’ve featured Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ on the blog before, in its studio version, but I wanted to tell a little story about it so I dug up this nice 1975 live version on YouTube.
‘Piano Man’ has the honor of being the song I most misunderstood as a kid.
The year was somewhere between 1981-1986, making me somewhere between 9 and 14. I hope I was closer to 9.
Billy Joel is another strand in the ‘Piano Men (And Women)’ segment of my personal musical genome. That’s fitting, considering he gave it its name. And I didn’t feel right selecting any other song to represent him.
Joel doesn’t bridge any of my other categories in a meaningful way. Apart from the cinematic intro to ‘The Ballad of Billy the Kid,’ he’s never dabbled in country. His experiments with doo-wop and 50s pop on An Innocent Man aren’t exactly what I have in mind for my ‘Pure Pop’ category. And his street-smart style in no way derives from folk rock.
Joel’s breakthrough album, Piano Man, is probably best remembered for the tune that gave it its title. ‘Piano Man’ is indeed a great song, but it’s become a cliché. Has there been a write-up of Billy Joel in the past 36 years that hasn’t referred to him as a “piano man?”
In addition to that signature tune, though, Piano Man contains a treasure trove of beautifully written and played songs. Several, such as album opener ‘Travelin’ Prayer,’ ‘The Ballad of Billy the Kid’ and today’s song, have a strong country vibe. One of Joel’s greatest strengths is his ability to bring his own flavor to a wide range of genres and he proved that right out of the gate.