Billy Joel – The Nylon Curtain: #665 of best 1,000 albums ever!

Billy Joel - The Nylon Curtain

Why is Billy Joel’s The Nylon Curtain on my best 1,000 albums ever list?

You have no scars on your face and you cannot handle pressure.

Some stats & info about Billy Joel – The Nylon Curtain

Billy Joel’s The Nylon Curtain on Spotify

What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?

Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.

But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective review of what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.

What does Billy Joel’s The Nylon Curtain mean to me? What does it make me feel? Why is it exciting or compelling?

The Nylon Curtain contains two of Billy Joel’s all time classic narrative songs in “Goodnight Saigon” and “Allentown” – and we’ll get to those soon – but for me my favorite song on this album is “Pressure.”

If you wanted to have one single representative song of the 1980s in the United States – go go commercialism, Ronald Reagan “city on a hill” conservatism, cold war, yuppies over hippies, “greed is good,” baby boomers booming – you could do a lot worse than “Pressure.” Well, along those lines it’s something of a narrative song as well, though much broader lyrically than “Goodnight Saigon” and “Allentown.”

But most importantly, “Pressure” rocks in that finely tuned way that pianist and song writing master craftsman Billy Joel can put on display.

As great a job as “Pressure” does of capturing the zeitgeist of the early 1980s in the U.S., “Goodnight Saigon” does in giving you some small sense of what it would have felt like to be a scared, young American soldier deployed to a warzone halfway around the world. It was also written during a time when the scars of that complex, violent, and contentious era were just starting to heal. And on a song level, it’s incredibly compelling and moving. Very few seven minute songs flow and capture your attention like “Goodnight Saigon.”

And then Allentown takes us into blue collar, coal country in Pennsylvania. It kind of splits the difference in a way between “Pressure” and “Goodnight Saigon” in that it’s a catchy piano-driven rock song but also gives a sense of what it’s like to live in the “rust belt” during an era when manufacturing jobs were starting to dry up.

Personal stuff that’s somehow related to Billy Joel’s The Nylon Curtain

I grew up on Long Island, New York, where local legend Billy Joel was revered (and I’m sure still is). I was very young when The Nylon Curtain came out (I vaguely recall “Pressure” getting played on the radio, perhaps on WPLJ or Z100, home of the morning zoo!), and greatly enjoyed his music growing up.

Then the late ‘80s and early ‘90s hit, I became a teenager immersed in the hard rock of the classic rock era while also actively getting my brain melted on the newer sounds of alternative rock, grunge, college rock, and hip hop. Joel was older by then, and certainly not in vogue as he was during most of the 1980s.

So I think by that point I was a little bit “over” Joel, but it also dovetailed with my being over Long Island and Long Island culture in general. I was ready to break away from my childhood, from my homeland, and from my past (and rebel me made it all the way to Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York, a solid four-hour drive depending on traffic!), and I’m sure I unfairly dumped Billy Joel into the same unwieldy bucket.

Which is all to say it’s so great to come back to art and pop culture that you’ve set aside for “reasons” and rediscover it. To hear music anew in this case.

And, for me, Billy Joel is incredible as an artist, songwriter, and musician. He always was and still is – I just had to do some growing up in between.