Sunday, September 23, 2012

Billy Joel - The Nylon Curtain

Today (September 23rd) marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release of The Nylon Curtain, the eighth studio album from singer-songwriter Billy Joel. The album hit number 34 in Germany, number 27 in the UK, number 12 in Canada, number 10 in New Zealand, number 9 in Norway, number 4 in Australia, number 2 in Japan and number 1 in the Netherlands. Here in the US, it peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 200. Nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, it generated a trio of chart-climbing singles.

Side one opens with "Allentown", a commentary on the decline of America's steel industry in the later half of the 20th century. As the second single from the record, this one reached number 49 in Australia, number 37 in New Zealand, number 21 in Canada, and number 17 on the US Billboard Hot 100 (a spot it held for six consecutive weeks). Growing up in western New York, just an hour from the Pennsylvania border, we knew all about the blue-collar factory workers in places like Allentown and Bethlehem. Even my own hometown of Dunkirk had a strong dependence on the steel industry. As I was growing up in the 70's and 80's though, our town’s steel plant was struggling with the downturn too and that effected many families of folks I knew. I guess that’s why this song hit’s a particular note with me whenever I hear it.

"Laura" served as the B-side to the first single. This song about a troubled woman who is dragging others down has a Beatles-like quality to it musically

"Pressure" was released as the first single. It peaked at number 20 on the US Billboard Hot 100; around the globe it got to number 78 in Japan, number 24 in New Zealand, number 16 in Australia and number 9 in Canada. Driven by strong synth lines, the song paints a picture of mounting daily stress. Who hasn’t been there before? The hooks in this one getting into your head and resonate long after the final note.

An abbreviated version of "Goodnight Saigon" was released as the third single; it stopped at number 56 on the US Billboard Hot 100 but did go to number 29 in the UK, number 19 in Ireland and number 1 in the Netherlands. The seven minute long album version is a very powerful masterpiece, giving one man's view of the Vietnam War. The opening with the approaching helicopter sets the tone perfectly and transports the listener to the war-torn fields that so many of us kids of the late 60’s and early 70’s only knew from television news images.

Side two starts with "She's Right on Time", a song about a much anticipated holiday coming-home. You can hear the longing and hope in Joel’s voice.

Joel rocks out a bit with "A Room of Our Own", a refreshing change at this point in the album. The lyrics contrast the difference between two people in a relationship who eventually realize they both need their own space.

"Surprises" is one of those songs that I did not like initially but it has slowly grown on me over time.

"Scandinavian Skies", like “Goodbye Saigon” on side one, is another of those pieces that transports the listener to another local across the globe. And, again, the Beatles comparisons come into play here as well. Clearly their later work inspired Joel when working on this one.

"Where's the Orchestra?" closes the album on a simpler note with sparse musical accompaniment. The lyrics speak of a theatrical debut.

Back in the early 80’s, I did not own a copy of The Nylon Curtain though I knew a number of folks in college who had a copy on vinyl. I knew the hit singles and, on occasion, was exposed to the deeper cuts. It would not be until a few decades later that I would come to know better and appreciate this one by Billy Joel.

No comments: