The Nylon Metaphor

I hadn’t heard Billy Joel’s “Pressure” in a long time: it hit #20 in 1982, but it doesn’t seem to have entered Joel’s canon of hits. So thank you, Sirius-XM ’80s channel. I thoroughly enjoyed the song this time around, even the throbbing synth sound (which sounds more dated than Joel’s ’50s pastiches on An Innocent Man) and the overwrought vocal delivery. But it has what might be his all-time goofiest lyric:

You turned the tapdance into your crusade.

Most Billy Joel lyrics, I either understand what he means, can guess what he was trying for, or can make something up. But this just baffles me, unless it’s taken literally and is supposed to be a tribute to Mr. Bojangles.

(Also: the video, which seemed spooky and portentous when I was fourteen, is now pants-wettingly funny. Plus Joel shaves four years off his age in the game-show segment, presenting himself as 29 when he was 33!)

posted 14 September 2009 in Tasty Bits and tagged , . 4 comments

4 Comments on The Nylon Metaphor

  1. Chris M. Says:

    Billy descending into a floor of styrofoam peanuts, for the win.

    Further proof that Joel is a New York bard, through and through: the line, “All your life is Channel 13 / Sesame Street / What does it mean?” PBS is on Channel 13 only in the New York area; travel as close as Philadelphia, and Sesame Street is on a lower-numbered channel, to say nothing of Boston, Chicago or L.A. Billy just assumes listeners to his song nationwide will equate “Channel 13” with soothing public-TV/kids programming.

    This, along with such earlier pop phenomena in my childhood as Saturday Night Fever, helped deepen my unquestioning belief that I lived in the center of the world.

  2. Tom Nawrocki Says:

    He’s using “tapdance” in the sense of tap-dancing around a subject, or avoiding direct responsibility for anything. It’s the way some people respond to pressure.

    The most dated lyric is “All your life is Time magazine / I read it too.” Nobody reads Time magazine anymore, although once upon a time everyone did.

  3. Scraps Says:

    I agree that the video was neat at the time, but twenty-seven years has not been kind to it. It was directed by Russell Mulcahy — I think he was the first video director that I heard of — and several of them have dated badly. And several of them are fine, not dated badly but simply dated. And he was prolific: Mulcahy videos include “Video Killed the Movie Star”, “Making Plans for Nigel”, “Turning Japanese”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “Rio”, “Betty Davis Eyes”, “I’m Still Standing”, “Allentown”, “True”, “Gypsy”, “Sex (I’m a)”, “Vienna”, “Talk to Ya Later”, “Young Turks”, “Only the Lonely”, etc etc.

    Oh, and the classic bad video, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Do you know the “literal” version, from a few months ago? It’s hilarious:

  4. Gavin Says:

    Love the literal version! Mulcahy was the first video director I heard of too–although now I wonder how.

    Tom’s reading of the tap-dance lyric is probably what Mr. Joel was shooting for, although I still think the line’s pretty gnomic.

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