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Classical Samples in Billy Joel's "This Night"

For my people -- those who can trace their origins back to Long Island, NY -- Billy Joel is religion.  Lots of music snobs write him off as cheesy, some music snobs refer to him as a poor man's Elton John (this is incorrect), Chuck Klosterman has written about Joel as pop music's greatest communicator of loneliness, but for me, Billy Joel means fond memories of my father drumming on the steering wheel to "We Didn't Start the Fire" and of sitting and listening to "Allentown" with my sophomore year college roommate.  The man can still sell out Madison Square Garden for weeks at a time because he is religion.  What Springsteen & Bon Jovi are to Jersey, Joel is to Long Island.  Not to mention that his classical music background has had a massive influence on his songwriting, thus making him a useful in-class listening example.  

“This Night” - Billy Joel

Intro: Considered by many to be an American cultural icon, Billy Joel has sold more than 150 million albums worldwide, achieved Top 40 singles in four separate decades, won 6 Grammys (with 23 nominations), and been inducted into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “This Night” was the fifth single released from Joel’s 1983 album An Innocent Man. The album reached #2 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year. “This Night” failed to chart as a single in the US but did so in Belgium, Japan, and the UK.

Analysis: Although Joel does not use a true sample, the melodic and harmonic material for the chorus of “This Night” are borrowed directly from the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata “Pathetique.” Each of the songs on the album An Innocent Man represent a tribute to a Motown artist Joel listened to as a teenager, and the inclusion of the material from the Pathetique Sonata represents his classical background and training (Joel would go on to specifically write classical music, releasing an album of entirely instrumental classical music in 2001, before returning to tour with his pop oeuvre). 

Considerations for Teaching: A song about dating, the lyrics are not inappropriate on their own. The thematic material might be considered possibly inappropriate, but could even be compared to the song “Tonight” from West Side Story, which features similar thematic content. In many ways, the thematic content is much less important in the song than its musical content. 

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