How the Beatles Inspired Billy Joel’s ‘The Nylon Curtain’


Billy Joel was on a roll as he started making his eighth album.

The singer-songwriter was driving three consecutive multiplatinum triumphs – 1977’s The Stranger, 1978’s 52nd Street and 1980’s Glass Houses – the latter two of which hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The three units had additionally yielded eight High 20 hits on the Billboard Scorching 100. By the point the mud settled (form of), Joel was a worldwide famous person.

What to do subsequent? No more of the identical.

“I positively needed to do one thing just a little completely different,” Joel instructed this author a couple of weeks after the Sept. 23, 1982, launch of The Nylon Curtain. “I used to be fascinated by the nice Beatles albums, particularly Sgt. Pepper‘s and all the nice sonic stuff they did within the studio. I had these sorts of aspirations for this.”

The Nylon Curtain was, certainly, like nothing Joel had launched earlier than.

A pupil of music and nice productions, whether or not it was the Beatles or Brian Wilson or Phil Spector, Joel made certain his nine-song set provided a wealthy soundscape that fleshed out his strong-as-ever melodies with detailed and generally daring nuance. Lyrically it was equally expansive, with Joel providing a state-of-the-world, and infrequently state-of-himself, treatise concerning political and social points such because the economic system (“Allentown”), the legacy of Vietnam (“Goodnight Saigon”) and societal Zeitgeist (“Pressure“) – all pulled as singles. It regarded past the cocktail lounge or the Italian Restaurant down the road or the woman down the block, and out on the world at massive.

Watch Billy Joel’s Video for ‘Allentown’

“That was proper in the course of the Reagan period, and issues have been altering in America,” Joel instructed UCR earlier this yr. “I used to be very conscious of it. It was baby-boomer peaking time, the early ’80s. Issues did change then. I used to be very happy with that album. The songs appear to nonetheless resonate with audiences and with youthful individuals as nicely.” Again then, Joel defined, “I believe individuals my age – the publish World Conflict II infants – are considering the identical issues: No matter occurred to the horn of loads, the limitless horizons? The place’s the clear air? The place’s the clear water? The place is every little thing? Midway via the album, I stated, ‘What am I doing right here? I’ve acquired a music about Allentown, a music about Vietnam … I suppose that is my stab on the nice American novel.”

Joel – who divorced his first spouse, Elizabeth, whereas The Nylon Curtain was being completed – was equally bold on the musical tip, too. “Sooner or later in 1982, Billy stated, ‘I need to make an excellent ‘headphones album’ and use unique instrumentation and layering the best way the Beatles did,'” producer Phil Ramone, who’d been working with Joel since The Stranger, wrote in his memoir, Making Data: The Scenes Behind the Music. “The time for a departure from Billy’s previous work appeared proper. … I noticed Billy’s suggestion as a chance to make a reputable avant-garde assertion.”

Working at A&R and Mediasound studios in New York Metropolis, beginning in late 1981, Joel and Ramone tucked into the duty at hand with enthusiasm. Joel’s band had modified. With the departure of mainstay Richie Cannata, it could be the primary time since 1974 that Joel recorded with out a saxophonist in his band. (Eddie Daniels performs the album’s lone sax half on the closing observe, “The place’s the Orchestra?”)

They employed quite a lot of sound results – helicopter sounds for “Goodnight Saigon,” industrial clangor for “Allentown” and airport atmosphere in “Scandinavian Skies.” “Our palette was huge,” Ramone wrote. “We broke our personal mould with The Nylon Curtain. It was our type of musical expressionism, and the closest we got here to approaching an idea album.”

There have been some pleased accidents, too. The stark bark of the title throughout “Stress” got here after Joel impulsively hit a button within the studio deleting each different sound on the observe for that quick second. And on “A Room of Our Personal,” stylistically a salute to the late John Lennon, drummer Liberty DeVitto by chance started taking part in the beat backward, but it surely sounded so good that Ramone signaled from the management room to maintain taking part in that method.

Take heed to Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’

“I needed to put in writing, I suppose, an actual sonic masterpiece,” Joel stated in an interview for his The Full Album Assortment in 2014. “The Nylon Curtain took an extended, very long time to file. Quite than beginning with simply the fundamental music and including to it, we type of began with the music from the surface and work our method in. We did not actually know what we had till we have been getting near the ultimate combine. There was a lot recorded – completely different devices, sound results, orchestral issues, percussion devices, vocals, synthesizers … I used to be experimenting [with] taking part in the studio as an instrument.

“It was a labor of affection, but it surely was exhausting. I believe by the tip of creating this album I felt like I had nearly died.” Humorous he ought to say that …

On April 15 that yr, Joel was hit by a automobile whereas driving his bike, sending him flying and severely injuring his proper wrist and left hand. He was compelled to put on a solid for a number of weeks, which delayed the album, but it surely did give him a remaining music, “Surprises,” which was impressed by the life-flashing-before-his-eyes expertise of the accident. He recorded “The place’s the Orchestra?” whereas sporting the solid, and through the subsequent tour – which was initially booked tentatively, show-by-show, based mostly on Joel’s recuperation – he performed together with his left thumb taped and his proper wrist wrapped with an ACE bandage.

Followers didn’t obtain The Nylon Curtain as enthusiastically as its predecessors – it peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and went solely double platinum, as in comparison with the multiplatinum earlier data – and Ramone recalled that executives at Columbia Data have been lukewarm once they first heard a playback, failing to listen to a surefire hit single among the many tracks. But it surely was a crucial triumph and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the 12 months in 1983. The three singles have remained staples of Joel’s stay performances ever since. “I take into account this possibly my best-recorded effort,” Joel stated for The Full Albums Assortment. “That is, I believe, important, the fabric I am most happy with and the fabric I am most happy with till [River of Dreams] in 1993.”

Billy Joel Albums Ranked

From ‘Chilly Spring Harbor’ to ‘River of Goals,’ we run via the Piano Man’s LPs from worst to greatest.

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