Having had a front row seat for Billy Joel’s life by virtue of being his progeny, Alexa Ray Joel names five of her father’s tunes that she digs the most:
“Summer Highland Falls” from 1976’s Turnstiles.
“Every artist can relate to what he’s saying in the song, which is that it’s either sadness or euphoria. As an artist and as a human being, you go through those extreme emotional states. There’s a dichotomy regarding the beauty of it all and he’s so poetic in describing that. It’s really just a brilliant marriage of melody and lyric that happens to be a well-done song.”
“Where’s The Orchestra?” from 1982’s The Nylon Curtain.
“If you really listen to [this one], it sounds like a theater song to me. It sounds like something that Bernadette Peters could sing, yet there’s this melancholy intonation happening. It also feels like there’s a little Beatles element to it. It’s a really clever melding of influences to it. It’s very metaphorical. He’s talking about when people have let him down and he was obviously in a sad state when he wrote it and sometimes the most honest messages come out of darker places. I think he’s just talking about being let down, but he doesn’t speak about it literally. He’s feeling like he missed out on something. I think that echoes a lot of how people feel when they’ve been let down in life and this is sort of a subconscious way of expressing that. I like the fact that there’s so much imagery. You start thinking about a man and he goes to a show and there’s no show. I thought that was really cool.”
“Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)” from 1993’s River of Dreams.
“My father wrote this lush, hymn-like, classic ballad for me when my parents were getting divorced (I was 8 or 9 years old at the time). My father was reassuring me that he would never leave me and that I would forever be a part of him. Still to this day, this song is so unconditionally soothing and comforting for me, and I can’t get through the first verse without getting choked up. The evocative imagery of those lyrics ‘Remember all the songs you sang for me/When we went sailing on an emerald bay’ bring me right back to childhood memories of my father singing me to sleep and of sailing over to Martha’s Vineyard, Shelter Island or Nantucket on The Downeaster Alexa or The Half Shell on a family boat trip.”
“The Longest Time” from 1983’s An Innocent Man.
“My father proposed to my mother with this song!!! So, how could it not be one of my favorites?!? I also love that it sounds like an old doo-wop pop-ditty from the 1950s—like it would’ve been a huge hit for Franki Valli and The Four Seasons. Also, it’s Dad’s only ALL a capella recording to date—using no instrumentation besides his own voice [layering his own harmony parts] accompanied by his own finger-snapping as the percussion. I think the organic, raw production really authenticates the song’s delightfully mushy and romantically hopeful sentiment.”
“Through The Long Night” from 1980’s Glass Houses.
“I think this is one of pop’s more underrated and lesser known works to date. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always gravitated to more hymn-like, vulnerable pieces with warm, nurturing and reassuring undertones—and that perfectly describes this song. I also love the fact that it’s so unabashedly derivative of a Beatles ballad—it could’ve easily been a track Paul McCartney crooned on Revolver. To me, the melody is uncannily reminiscent of “Michelle,” which I’ve always had a soft spot for as my parents used to sing me to sleep with their own little “duet rendition” of the song. And yet, the ballad also evokes the essence of an old Irish hymn or a hummable children’s lullaby. The soft purity and gentility makes this song a too-often overlooked diamond in the rough.”
To read a full feature on Alexa Ray Joel, click here.