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Audio files: At the bleeding edges of reality sits the rough-and-tumble pop music hits of William Martin Joel

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So, a friend posted the following Billy Joel video on Facebook the other night.


Most of you who grew up in the U.S. and are over the age of 35 probably know the song well. It’s called “Big Shot,” and Wikipedia has the back-story:

“Big Shot” was the second hit single from Billy Joel’s 1978 album 52nd Street. The song was released in early-1979, just as his other hit single from that same album, “‘My Life”, was peaking at #3. It would soon become his second top-twenty hit of 1979, peaking at #14.

The song is about the protagonist mocking a woman, probably a celebrity (“And the stories of your latest success / Kept ’em so entertained”), with a severe hangover about her intoxicated galavanting around town, making numerous social and verbal faux pas while high on alcohol and drugs (“But now you just can’t remember / All the things you said / And you’re not sure you want to know / I’ll give you one hint, honey / You sure did put on a show!”) The song makes late 1970s cultural references to such nouveaux riche fads such as Elaine’s Restaurant and Halston. At one point, Joel said in an interview that the song was actually about himself (that he was the one who “had to be a big shot.”)

A rumor that the song was based on a bad date with Bianca Jagger is not true. In an interview in 2006, Billy Joel said, “I read that the song ‘Big Shot’ is said to be about a date I had with Bianca Jagger. I never had a date with Bianca Jagger.”

In an interview with Howard Stern on 11/16/2010, Billy Joel admitted that this song was written after having dinner with Mick Jagger and his first wife, Bianca Jagger. Joel told Stern that while writing the lyrics to “Big Shot,” he was thinking of Mick singing the song to Bianca.

A few observations, questions and speculative remarks.

  • The video was filmed at the dawn of the “Music Video Era,” and everyone in the band seems proud to be at the vanguard of this cutting-edge moment in history. In particular, drummer Liberty DeVitto looks like he wants to steal camera time from Joel.
  • Who’s playing piano when Joel jumps up and starts capering about excitedly?

BTW, I don’t mean to inject a lot of snark here. The video is dated and it’s greatly entertaining because of its datedness. Billy Joel remains a rock music king in my eyes.



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6 Responses to “Audio files: At the bleeding edges of reality sits the rough-and-tumble pop music hits of William Martin Joel”

  1. I’m just happy to be seeing more Audio Files.

  2. Thanks, Scott!

  3. Barge to Hell looks kind of mega, in a totally terrible way.

  4. I’d probably check out the Barge. I bet it would make a great music documentary.

  5. I have a pretty high tolerance for Mr. Joel– just about everything up to “The Nylon Curtain,” in particular “Piano Man” and “Turnstiles.” It has to do with what my parents listened to when I was a kid. Parents, listen up: These things matter.

    Maybe I’m misremembering, but didn’t most of his videos feature a hammy drummer, always singing along?

  6. It’s great pop music. And if the Van Buren Boys had sex with Muppets and Sweat Hogs and maybe Sha Na Na, their offspring would look just like Joel’s band…

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