From a town not known as Wheeling, West Virginia, rode a girl with a laptop in her hand. And her witty way of writing made her a legend in her mind, east and west of the Rio Grande…and hopefully in other places too.
It’s Music Monday, and deluded thinking is always fun.
There are two types of songs about legendary stories: the ones that tell the story accurately, and ones that don’t. Today’s song choice is the latter.
If you want something historically accurate, there’s other songs about famous criminals.
“The Ballad of Billy The Kid” is the historically inaccurate (more on that later) story of American outlaw Billy the Kid, performed by Billy Joel and released in April 1974 as the fourth and final single from Joel’s 1973 album Piano Man.
Joel’s telling of the legend of Billy the Kid depicts a young man from Wheeling, West Virginia (not historically accurate), who robbed banks (again, not historically accurate) and met his end by hanging in a public setting (his end was death by gunshot, in the company of one person – Pat Garrett, the individual who shot him).
Hear all about the legend of Billy the Kid, and the things he didn’t actually do, when you click play!
Billy Joel admitted in 1975 that “Ballad of Billy the Kid” was an experiment with an impressionist type of lyric, and not a historical retelling of Billy the Kid’s exploits as a criminal. The Billy from “Oyster Bay Long Island” is about a bartender from Oyster Bay named Billy Nastri. Joel also has said that the song is about “record company PR hype.”
The song has been largely dismissed by critics. To be honest, I’m really not sure I ever heard this song before seeing it in the Family Guy episode “Dial Meg for Murder” (today’s article’s featured image) during this really funny scene…
I found this song to be catchy and totally on par with Billy Joel’s singing storytelling, even if critics did not like it. I’m hardly an expert, but this is such a fun song. The piano parts are super catchy, and the story, even if not accurate, tell a more sensationalized account.
Billy Joel performed the song live between 1974 and 1979, and a live version was released in 1981 on Songs in the Attic.
The album it came from, Piano Man, peaked at #27 on the Billboard 200 between 1974 and 1976, with a year ending 1974 ranking of #56 on Billboard’s Pop Albums chart. I can’t find anything about the song’s charting stats, so like the song takes artistic liberties with the story of Billy the Kid, I’ll take one with its chart performance: it was #1 on (insert chart name here).
This is also Billy the Kid AND Billy Joel.
How’s that for creative liberties?
And now that we’ve heard the fictitious story of a real outlaw, sung by one of the best storytelling singers of all time, we continue Monday on a high note. Besides, we didn’t get strung up in a public forum like Fictional Billy the Kid, so we’re already ahead of the game.
Have a great Monday, and enjoy the music!