I’ve Loved these Days – a tribute to Billy Joel (encore)

Our friend Jill just highlighted Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” yesterday. It got me reminiscing about an old post that I will repost today. The following highlights some of Joel’s lesser known songs.

So before we end and then begin
We’ll drink a toast to how it’s been
A few more hours to be complete
A few more nights on satin sheets
A few more times that I can say
I’ve loved these days

While the choice is so very hard, this is the end to my favorite Billy Joel song – “I’ve Loved These Days.” It is not his most famous, but like many, it is very pure and heartfelt. I have not written a tribute to Billy Joel before, as it is quite difficult to hone down to a list of songs to highlight. One of these days, I will attempt The Beatles, Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen, but for now let my highlight one of the best songwriters of our time, William Martin Joel.

I like this song for the somber remembrance and the quiet echo of we are mortal, so let’s make the best of it. He has so many songs like this which have both meaning and wonderful music to highlight the words. As with other tribute posts, I am going to stay away from the biggest hits, yet I will mention some below. Another melancholy song along these same lines is “Summer, Highland Falls.” Here is a brief taste of lyrics:

How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies
Perhaps we don’t fulfill each others fantasies
And as we stand upon the ledges of our lives,
With our respective similarities
It’s either sadness of euphoria

This song is a little more unique, as his wordsmithing and tune is catchy, but the words are so powerful. I take away from this song that none of us are perfect, so let’s do the best we can to fulfill each other. The choice is sadness or euphoria.

Another favorite is one of several where he shows his love for New York City. This if from “A New York State of Mind”:

Some folks like to get away,
Take a holiday from the neighborhood.
Hop a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood.
But I’m takin’ a Greyhound on the Hudson River line.
I’m in a New York state of mind.

While many of his songs are reflective and focus on our imperfect humanity (“Honesty”, “Captain Jack”, and “The Stranger”, Joel is quite the romantic and nostalgic person. A wonderfully written song, which needs to be listened to carefully is “She’s Always a Woman”. Here is a very small sample, as you cannot take this song out of context:

But, she’ll bring out the best
And the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself
Cause she’s always a woman to me

The message to me is his lover is her own person. She will think for herself, so it is up to you to understand this and, if you do, then you can have a wonderful, meaningful relationship. If you don’t, then you better get out-of-the-way, as she wants someone who will love her for herself and not who you want her to be.

The romantic comes out in “Just the Way You Are”, “Tell Her About It”, “You’re My Home”, “Uptown Girl” and “She’s Got a Way”. But, the nostalgic songs are great as well. “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, “Only the Good Die Young” and “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” are excellent samples. One of my favorite nostalgic songs is “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” the song about Brenda and Eddie who were the king and queen of the prom, got married but divorced early and could never go back again. The song starts and ends at our favorite Italian place with a melancholy accordion playing in the background:

A bottle of red, and bottle of white
Whatever kind of mood you’re in tonight
I’ll meet you anytime you want
In our Italian Restaurant

Joel is most known for his first, most memorable hit “Piano Man” although he did make the charts earlier with “The Entertainer” an appropriately named song. Piano Man is sung as limerick and tells the tales of grandeur of all of the folks at the bar. The song concludes:

And the piano sounds like a carnival. And the microphone smells like a beer. And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar. And say “Man what are you doing here?”

Sing us a song you’re the piano man. Sing us a song tonight.  Well we’re all in the mood for a melody. And you’ve got us feeling alright

Thank goodness, Joel was given a much bigger platform to sing than this piano bar. I have left off so many songs, many of my favorites. I did not want to make this post a list, as it easily could have been. If you have not truly discovered Joel click here: http://www.billyjoel.com. If you have and want to wax nostalgic, go for a ride on the Hudson River Line with Billy as well. I will leave you with some lines from “Everybody Has a Dream”:

So let me lie and let me go on sleeping
And I will lose myself in palaces of sand
And all the fantasies that I have been keeping
Will make the empty hours easier to stand
I know that everybody has a dream
Everybody has a dream
And this is my dream, my own
Just to be at home
And to be all alone…with you.

Thanks Billy. Like you “I’ve Loved These Days.”

Billy Joel – I’ve Loved These Days (Audio) – YouTube

From Pirates to Parrot Heads – a tribute to Jimmy Buffett (a reprise)

Some of the most loyal fans in music are lovingly referred to as “Parrot Heads,” given the name by the focus of their attention, the wannabe pirate, Jimmy Buffett. The singer, songwriter and pied-piper romanticizes the rebel deep within all of us by envying the pirate lifestyle of few rules and more imbibing. From one of his reflective songs, “A Pirate Looks at 40,” Buffett sings:

Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late
Cannons don’t thunder there’s nothin’ to plunder
I’m an over forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

While it is truly hard to find a Buffett song where imbibing does not occur, his words are extremely reflective of humanity and our imperfections. Like a sailor away from port, he often thinks fondly of people, places and times. Since he is a sailor as well, this may be where his songwriting originates. My favorite Buffett song “He Went to Paris” is one of those reflective songs, where an old sailor retired to the islands recounts his story when prodded. He went off to Paris, full of energy and then… Here are the first few verses:

He went to Paris looking for answers
To questions that bothered him so
He was impressive, young and aggressive
Saving the world on his own

But the warm summer breezes
The French wines and cheeses
Put his ambition at bay
The summers and winters
Scattered like splinters
And four or five years slipped away

Then he went to England, played the piano
And married an actress named Kim
They had a fine life, she was a good wife
And bore him a young son named Jim

And all of the answers and all of the questions
Locked in his attic one day
‘Cause he liked the quiet clean country living
And twenty more years slipped away

This song is extra special to me as I would sing it to my kids as we rocked in the glider before they fell asleepProbably, my second favorite Buffett song and one of his bigger hits is “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude.”  Here are a few of his reflections:

Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again
If it suddenly ended tomorrow
I could somehow adjust to the fall
Good times and riches and son of a bitches
I’ve seen more than I can recall

But, Buffett had a fun side, where he explained his and our own foibles. One of those songs has a fun title “We are the People our Parents Warned about.”

We are the people there isn’t any doubt
We are the people they still can’t figure out
We are the people who love to sing twist and shout
Shake it up baby
We are the people our parents warned us about (do do do dooo)

I also enjoy some of the clever references in many of his songs which provide mental context, such as what Desi Arnaz wore in “I Love Lucy.”  In “Pencil Thin Mustache,” he sings:

That’s why I wish I had a pencil thin mustache
The Boston blackie kind
A two-toned Ricky Ricardo jacket
And an autographed picture of Andy Devine

Oh, I could be anyone I wanted to be
Maybe suave Errol Flynn or the sheik of Araby
If I only had a pencil thin mustache
Then I could do some cruisin’ too

Buffett has a huge inventory of songs that his Parrot Heads can sing word for word. I think that is why he chose the name of his fans. His biggest hits “Come Monday” and “Margaritaville” are surrounded by wonderful songs such “Boat Drinks,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “The Captain and the Kid,” “The Last Tango in Paris,” “Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit,” “Volcano,” and  so on. As this tribute could go on forever, let me end with our sailor theme with words from another classic “A Son of a Son of a Sailor.”

As the son of a son of a sailor
I went out on the sea for adventure
Expanding the view of the captain and crew
Like a man just released from indenture

As a dreamer of dreams and a travelin’ man
I have chalked up many a mile
Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks
And I learned much from both of their styles

I love Buffett’s ability to make us also romanticize, reflect, laugh and sometimes cry. It may be because he dared to be the rebel on occasion, but it his ability to tell us about it that brings us Parrot Heads along for the journey.

In a final note, Parrot Heads exist in all shapes and colors. In my business travels and meetings, I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of Parrot Heads I have met along the way. My favorite story is of a straight laced female HR person who had a picture of her and her husband with Buffett on her credenza. “I did not know you were a Parrot Head?” I asked and we had a much more jovial meeting.

There is drinking with this Buffett

That is Buffett, as in Jimmy Buffett. If you listen to his repertoire of songs, it is very difficult to name one that does not reference drinking. While some are more obvious than others, he will reference imbibing in some form in many of his songs.

Here are a few examples:

“Warm summer breezes and French wines and cheeses, put his ambition at bay…”

“I didn’t ponder the question too long, I was hungry and went out for a bite. I ran into a chum with a bottle of rum and we wound up drinking all night,”

“I think of Paris when I’m high on red wine…”

“…a big Kosher pickle and a cold draft beer well good God almighty which way do I steer.”

“Wasting away again in Margaritaville, searching for my lost shaker of salt.”

“Well I have been drunk now for over two weeks. I passed out and I’ve rallied and I sprung a few leaks.”

“She’s taking care to look for sharks. They hang out in the local bars. And they feed right after dark.”

“Drive in
You guzzle gin
Commit a little mortal sin
It’s good for the soul.”

“And the lady she hails from Trinidad, Island of the spices
Salt for your meat, and cinnamon sweet. And the rum is for all your good vices.”

Then there is that song with getting drunk in the title, but the song does not mention how the first action impairs the second action which I will leave to your imagination and memory.

Now for all you Parrot Heads (full-time or part-time) out there, please name the songs from which the lyrics are derived. For non-fans, Buffett lovingly refers to his fans as Parrot Heads.

For extra credit points, name a couple of songs of his that do not include drinking.

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

I have always appreciated when excellent word smithing matches up with equally marvelous music. And, the pairing need not come from one person, as Elton John and Bernie Taupin demonstrated time and again.

One of their clever songs came off John’s 1972 “Honky Cat” album. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is John’s matching Taupin’s direct lyrics about a time in New York City, when it was less safe than it is today. The story is Taupin heard a gun shot outside his hotel room and penned a song to reflect his angst. John wrote sad, but reminiscent music which he sings so well.

Here is the middle portion of the song including its famous chorus.

“This Broadway’s got
It’s got a lot of songs to sing
If I knew the tunes I might join in
I’ll go my way alone
Grow my own, my own seeds shall be sown, in New York City

Subway’s no way for a good man to go down
Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown
And I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light”

Several references stand out. The commuters of all persuasions not knowing if it is dark or light. While they may have Mona Lisa painted smiles or the hypertension of a Mad Hatter, they do feel safety in numbers or in a cadre of friends who serve as a port in the storm.

The other reference is to Broadway which offers a glitzier image of New York, a polished apple, so to speak. New York has been reborn, but there was a time when the city needed its underbelly to match the hype. It took a lot of effort through leadership and consistency but is once again quite the destination. I am reminded of the story of a paint crew who would paint over graffiti overnight, then do it again. The consistent effort was symbolic revealing more than an attention to detail,

Maybe we should update the song to reflect our Mona Lisa smiles and Mad Hatter hypertension on social media.