Welcome to the first 2023 installment of Song Musings and I hope you’re off to a great start into the new year. In this weekly feature, I’m taking a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick for today is It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel.
Penned by Joel, the song first appeared on his seventh studio album Glass Houses released in March 1980. It also became the album’s third single in May 1980 and Joel’s first no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It stayed in that position for two weeks, spent 11 weeks in the top 10 altogether, and was the seventh biggest hit of 1980.
It’s Still Rock and Roll to me also topped the charts in Canada. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 10 in Australia, no. 11 in Ireland, no. 14 in the UK and no. 21 in New Zealand. The tune is one of Joel’s biggest hits. He only had two other no. 1 songs in the U.S.: Tell Her About It (1983) and We Didn’t Start the Fire (1989).
The lyrics convey Joel’s criticism of the music business and press. It comments on new musical styles and trends, especially new wave, which in Joel’s opinion was a rehash of older musical styles rather than something truly new. Here’s a live version from a show on Long Island, which looks like it was captured at the time the tune came out.
Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:
Around this time [early 1980 – CMM], Joel was often abased in the music press as a provider of middle-of-the-road dreck. Popular artists are often targets for journalist derision, but while most of these artists choose to ignore it, Joel responded in this song. The lines, “It doesn’t matter what they say in the papers, ’cause it’s always been the same old scene” and “There’s a new band in town, but you can’t get the sound from a story in a magazine,” were specifically written to attack the press that was bringing him down. While you can real all you want about a singer or band, the only way you’ll really know what they sound like is by listening.
“Sometimes the press gave me a hard time, and liked giving them a hard time back,” Joel told Howard Stern in 2014. “In my neighborhood, somebody hits you, you hit them right back.” [I wonder whether such criticism may have played a role in his decision to stop releasing new pop music after his 1993 album River of Dreams. Evidently, it hasn’t done much harm to the popularity of Joel who continues to do very well on the concert circuit – CMM]…
…”Miracle Mile,” as mentioned in the line “Should I get a set of white wall tires? Are you gonna cruise a miracle mile?” is a stretch of road (about a mile long) full of various stores in Manhasset, Long Island near where Joel grew up.
After he wrote this song, Joel says he realized that the chords were the same ones Bob Dylan used on “Lay Lady Lay.” [Frankly, I don’t hear it but trust Joel as a professional musician is right about it – CMM].
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube