Come with me on the Billy Joel Tour of Long Island!
This week we’re looking at Billy Joel’s longest studio track, from his breakout album The Stranger. Joel was inspired by the last half of Side Two of the Abbey Road album, which also involved several shorter songs stitched together into a longer suite. And, as matters would have it, it’s the last half of Side One of The Stranger. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.
The song mentions several places on Long Island that are pretty easy to identify. But the big to-do about this song concerns the location of that restaurant. Billy Joel gave shout-outs to a lot of people and places on Long Island, so what restaurant was he talking about? That’s one of the mysteries we try to answer this week.
Sometimes when I’m looking for a show to cover, I look at any potential patterns I may have been following, just to break out of them. Have I been doing too many hard rock songs? Too many from a given decade? Too many of a specific genre? That sort of thing. I like to use some songs as an entryway to discovering other songs. So, for instance, I know that “Classic Rock” songs tend to pull in the downloads, but I’ve gotten comments from people who tune in to hear about “Another Brick in the Wall” but stay to learn about “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”
So in searching for patterns, I also look for songs I don’t like to see if I can defend them, or make them somehow interesting to me (looking at you, Episode 30), or just get into “What haven’t I done so far?”
And that’s pretty much why I went looking for a song that begins with the letter Q.
But as usual, it turned into one of those things where your basic party song turns out to have a richer history behind it than one would ordinarily suspect. (A lot of times I think I’d like to cover a song and the research turns out to be a bust.) So check out the story behind Gary US Bonds’ song and how its popularity with another hitmaker led to his working on Bonds’ comeback hit:
Incidentally, I’ve started doing the artwork for each episode early in the process, since it makes for a great procrastination project. How am I doing so far?
Let me open up with an apology for the delayed show. Those who know me well know that there was a medical issue in the family that distracted me, and that’s got to come first, right?
For me, “Classical Gas” is one of those songs that passes in and out of my consciousness. I forget about it for a long time, and then I can’t get enough of it for awhile. And when I did that trivia question last week about instrumentals, “Classical Gas” returned to my radar and I said, “Ooh, I gotta do this one!”. Coincidentally, a listener happened to request that I cover the song, and I was only too happy to oblige, having already started the research. (My reply to him was “boy are you in for a surprise.”)
This is the video that Williams re-scored for its use on the Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour. Try to picture it using Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony; I don’t think it works nearly as well. (Also, this video–which was posted to YouTube by Mason Williams–sounds like a slightly different mix, but I could be wrong on that one.)
And I didn’t promise you this in the show, but I’m going to link it here anyway, because I like it so much. This is the cover of “Classical Gas” by Vanessa Mae from 1995:
And here is the episode itself, for those who like to listen or download from here:
So about a million years ago, back in Episode 8 (“Like a Rolling Stone”), I spent a bunch of time during that show talking about the snare shot that opened the song, and how it was practically the Shot Heard Round The World and how it Changed Everything on the rock and roll landscape.
I still believe that, and that particular episode of the podcast remains one of my favorites (if you do nothing else, follow the link to the interactive video and have a blast).
But as it turns out, this past weekend I came across a quotation from Bruce Springsteen that underlines and validates everything I said, and maybe a little more poetically, because, you know, Bruce Springsteen can be a brilliant lyricist and I’m just some guy spouting off. Springsteen was the person who inducted Bob Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and this was part of his speech:
The first time that I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother, and we were listening to, I think, WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind, from “Like a Rolling Stone.” And my mother, who was no stiff with rock & roll, she said, “That guy can’t sing.” But I knew she was wrong. I sat there, I didn’t say nothin’, but I knew that I was listening to the toughest voice that I had ever heard. It was lean, and it sounded somehow simultaneously young and adult, and I ran out and I bought the single. I played it, then I went out and I got Highway 61, and it was all I played for weeks. Bob’s voice somehow thrilled and scared me. It made me feel kind of irresponsibly innocent. And it still does. But it reached down and touched what little worldliness a 15-year-old kid in New Jersey had in him at the time.
See? Bruce Springsteen agrees with me, so I can’t be wrong.
In 1981 Bonnie Tyler had exactly one hit, 1977’s “It’s a Heartache”, so it was no mystery why people were calling her a one-hit wonder. Her record label cut her loose, so she found a new manager and talked Jim Steinman, the guy responsible for Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, into partnering with her for a new album. Steinman wasn’t easily convinced, but ultimately he came to her with a couple of older songs that he thought she could record, and when she agreed to those, he came to her with a nearly complete package: here’s the song, here’s who else is going to be performing on it, you just need to come in and sing your little heart out.
That doesn’t match with the popular narrative, that “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was originally written for Meat Loaf as part of his follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell, but it turns out that the guy responsible for that popular narrative about Meat Loaf was…Meat Loaf. But the story caught on, because if you listen to “Eclipse,” you could easily imagine its huge levels of production as being Meat Loaf-esque. But “Eclipse” wasn’t written for him, nor was the other song (a hit for Air Supply) to which he laid the same claim.