I have had satellite radio in my car for over ten years. One of the things I particularly enjoy about SiriusXM is when they have an artist specific channel for a month or two. Recently I’ve been listening to the one dedicated to Billy Joel. What attracts me to it is they usually edit in interview clips about songs as well as a show called “BJ the DJ” where Mr. Joel will talk about the artists that influenced his music. It can be really entertaining when he shows you the similarity in tempo change between the Beatles “Day in the Life” and his own “Goodnight Saigon”. Listening over the past few weeks I have come to appreciate again the album which I think I like the most, “Turnstiles”.
“Turnstiles” was released in 1976 as his third album. It was just before his star would really ascend with the release of “The Stranger” a year later. One of the things I have realized re-listening to Mr. Joel talk about it and to the music is how this album defines the breadth of the material to come. “Turnstiles” was recorded after Mr. Joel decided to return to New York after his time in LA.
That is represented in the first song “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” where he bids a lyrical farewell to a city he never really liked. His affection for his home would come in three songs inspired by New York; “Summer, Highland Falls”, “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go out on Broadway)”, and “New York State of Mind”. That last song has become one of Mr. Joel’s signature songs as well as a musical representative of New York City. Re-recorded by many who also love NYC. I like it better than the other NYC song “New York, New York”.
Another interesting aspect of listening to the Billy Joel Channel is he talks about his playing techniques. I remember seeing him playing “Angry Young Man” in concert. It stars with him using his thumb and forefinger pressed together to attack the piano keyboard in a ferocious staccato. It is one of my favorite intros. In one of the recorded bits it was inspired by the drum solo from the song “Wipe Out” by The Surfaris. Once I heard him say that while both songs were played back-to-back it was impossible not to see it. There is another technique I enjoyed that seemed to especially show up in many of Mr. Joel’s early songs. He had a way of rolling his fingers into a glissando effect on “Turnstiles” you hear it on “Summer, Highland Falls”. He calls it “banjo fingers” because he is trying to emulate the strumming of a banjo on the piano.
If you have access to satellite radio and enjoy Mr. Joel take some time to switch over and listen to one of the great rock musicians talk about his music. It made me go back and spend time outside of the car with it; especially “Turnstiles”.
When I’ve written about perfume brands which I have known since their earliest days I refer to them as “mine”. As in they will always belong to me because I knew them before everyone else. This attitude did not start with fragrance. It started with music. One of the first popular artists who I considered “mine” was Billy Joel.
When Mr. Joel had released his first big studio album “Piano Man” he had modest success mostly based on the title track. In the mid to late 1970’s the storyteller singer-songwriter was in vogue. The song Piano Man was one of the better examples of the form.
Where I became possessive of Mr. Joel came during the next few years as he worked hard putting out two more albums “Streetlife Serenade” and “Turnstiles”. During this time period he toured but there were two sections of the country which fully embraced him. His home town of New York City and Long Island along with South Florida. Because he was so beloved in South Florida I saw him often. Most of the time when he played in Miami he did so in a beautifully intimate Art Deco theatre called Gusman Hall which had been transformed from an old single-screen movie theatre called The Olympia. The hall has been renamed after that theatre these days. Gusman Hall was a perfectly attuned concert hall with the best acoustics in South Florida at the time. Seeing any act there was a treat. Mr. Joel turned it in to his home away from home.
Throughout the 1970’s I attended many shows there as he refined his sound and stage presence. Slowly adding in the members who would become part of the permanent band who still play with him today. What I remember seeing was a musician who loved being a musician. Even back then a sense of jadedness was creeping in to the music business; not for Mr. Joel. His concerts were parties which felt private in the small confines of Gusman Hall and I was one of the attendees. This made him “mine”.
It would all take off in 1977 when he released the album “The Stranger”. Now everyone knew and loved Mr. Joel. As his fame grew he never forgot the support he received from his fans in Florida. As he began his tour supporting “The Stranger” and was selling out arenas everywhere he did something different when he came back to Miami. Instead of playing the local arena he played a string of shows at Gusman Hall over a few consecutive nights. I was there for one of those shows and it was a wonderfully sincere thank you to this group of fans. Before he launched in to his final encore he said as much to the audience.
I own every album he has released and his music has always been special to me mainly because I knew him when he was starting out. Now he is “mine” and many other’s one and only Piano Man.