Tuesday, 3 January 2017

January #10 - Everybody Loves Billy Now

10. Billy Joel - Everybody Loves You Now

I took piano lessons every week from about age 7 to 16. My piano teacher, Mrs. Farrell, was a very patient lady. I was never going to be a natural pianist even though I worked hard in the early years and passed quite a few exams. The older I got though, the less I practised. Whole weeks would go by when I didn't even lift the piano lid at home, then Monday night I'd be back in Mrs. Farrell's drawing room, fumbling through a piece I hadn't even looked at since she'd set it for me to practise during the previous lesson. It became embarrassing, to be honest, but there were too many other things to distract my attention at home and my parents never really forced the issue, even though they were having to fork out every week to pay for the lessons. The thing that frustrated me about playing the piano was that it just never clicked. If I practised and practised and practised, I could learn to play a piece pretty well, but I could never just sit down and vamp. Or ad lib. Or play from the heart. And I always needed the music in front of me. I was never going to be Billy Joel.

But I still loved the piano. I loved the sound it made. I loved the drama of it. The excitement. I think, if I'm brutally honest, I like the sound of a piano more than I like the guitar... and I have swooned before some great guitar solos in my time. But I always love a good piano-based rock song, from Jerry Lee Lewis to Ben Folds (even Elton!), and especially Billy Joel. Once I started buying records, I soon found myself drawn to his albums and by the time I was in my late teens, I had them all. Sadly he gave up writing new music in the early 90s, and hasn't released a new record in nearly 25 years, even though he still tours regularly. (I saw him once in Manchester about 5 or 6 years ago. It was amazing.)

Everybody Loves You Now comes from his very first record, Cold Spring Harbour, although it was one of the last I ever bought. Partly this is because it wasn't available on CD for many years because the original LP had been mixed at the wrong speed, making Billy's voice sound slightly higher than it actually is. Although the master was remixed and re-released on CD in the 80s, Billy's still not too fond of the way the album sounds, even though he regularly plays songs from it live, even today.

There was a two-part special on Radio 2 just before Christmas in which Billy was interviewed by Jamie Cullum. (I realise such a show would be considered anathema to a lot of muso bloggers out there, but if you've read this far, I'm assuming you won't be irked too much.) Because Cullum is both a Joel fan and a musician / pianist himself, he didn't just focus on the big hits, but asked Billy about some of his lesser known tracks too, including Everybody Loves You Now. Billy explained how it's a really difficult piece to play because of its speed, and that he was trying to capture a scratchy guitar sound on the piano, making it a true piano rock song. If I'd ever thought I could have played the piano like this, I'd have practised a lot more. Sorry, Mrs. Farrell.

Anyway. Everybody Loves You Now is an incredible piece of music and I've listened to it a lot again over the last few weeks. I love the break about one minute in, with the Staten Island Ferry.
This is what you wanted; ain't you proud?
Cause everybody loves you now


  1. My history with the piano is uncannily similar to yours Rol, except that my folks went a step further and somehow acquired me an old upright, which stood, largely untouched, in my room for 3 or 4 years. Today I'm truly gutted that I never took advantage of that great opportunity to learn an instrument, but as you say, there are so many other distractions at that age.
    The piano motif in 'Everybody Loves You Now' reminds me of the one employed by Elton John a few years later in his version of 'Pinball Wizard'.

    1. Oh, I had the upright too, Swede... they couldn't squeeze it into my bedroom though so it was in the front room.

      I think Pinball Wizard is a good example of what Billy was talking about - trying to recreate a guitar riff on the piano. Elton was obviously faced with the same challenge when he chose to cover The Who.

  2. As long as you could play Chopsticks...
    I used to have quite an aversion to piano in rock/pop songs, but I think that was some kind of subconscious close-mindedness to anything that wasn't guitar-based, the idea that it was somehow 'dated'. I no longer feel like that though, and agree about its dramatic impact; it can be so evocative, so emotive, and looks incredibly difficult to play! Amanda Palmer is probably the musician who has helped me the most to understand its power.

    1. You know, C, I never did learn Chopsticks!

      Amanda Palmer is a great example of a contemporary artist who uses the piano to terrific dramatic effect.


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