By Gabrielle Lamontagne
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” by Billy Joel was a hit in 1980, written as a reaction to punk, funk, and new wave music of the late 70s and was inspired by a magazine article about a band when he realized he didn’t know the band’s sound.
The song presents a young man’s confusion in an altering world, which I think relates to new generations today and developments in social media and technology. As part of the “Youth” category, we’re supposed to have higher adaptability to change, but that doesn’t mean we always feel that way. Sometimes we just feel awash in a sea of change that can be overwhelming, frightening, or just annoying. Occasionally we catch ourselves feeling just like the people we consider “old fogies” who resist transition at every turn. This song is here to say: that’s okay.
This song is not about being ‘stubborn’, though that’s how it may appear, but about staying true to what you love and what you grew up with. It’s also a message about not conforming to society or buckling under peer pressure. For example, he stresses the fact that being a “straight A student” is uncool because it involves “think[ing] too much”, which is the opposite of blindly conforming to social norms.
The lyrics of the tune express confusion at new types of music, new ways of dressing, and new technology which are themes that are constantly evolving and could throw anyone off balance with speed and intensity of their transitions. We all like to think we can adapt easily, but I’m even college students get homesick, which is just one representation of fear of change. Just because that might hurt our pride a little bit, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Yes, it is ridiculous to be so obstinate that you don’t allow change anywhere near you – but it’s okay to accept the fact that change can be a scary, difficult process. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know how to handle it, or anything else, for that matter. Throughout this lively number we hear terms like “New Wave”, a term for the youth and styles of the 1980s, “Whitewall tires”, which were popular from around 1900 to the 1970s, sidewinders were a type of sandals, and Beau Brummell, who was a male fashion icon of the early 1800s. Billy Joel compares the music styles and clothes of the late 70s and early 80s to what he was used to as a teenager and how others would react to his older style, just as we could notice the difference between music and fashion preferences between the 1990s and the 2010s. His use of the phrase “out of touch” is somewhat “old-fashioned” or “outdated”, but goes perfectly with Joel’s catchy use of rhymes.
The music behind these lyrics is upbeat, fun, and relatable. The drum lends a rock feel while the piano adds a jazzy feel, so that the mix is smooth and enjoyable listening material. Joel uses a different tone of voice to show “society” talking to him and mocking him than when he is singing from his own point of view, which helps with distinction about what’s going on. Adding his own signature stylish flare to fade out at end of song lends a personal touch that will give any concert audience a reason to leap roaring to their feet.
When it comes to “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, the message doesn’t really hold true for Mr. Joel anymore, seeing as for the past few years he’s been trying his hand at classical-style music. Billy Joel is a master songwriter, singer, and piano player. Many of his older, Rock-and-Roll works involve messages about society and life. They’re all relatable and many are upbeat or jazzy. Several of his romantic songs even have good advice about living life. For instance, “You May Be Right” discusses spontaneity, “Tell Her About It” advises taking advantage of opportunities and appreciating what you have, “Come Out Virginia” encourages living life to the fullest, if not the purest, and “Italian Restaurant” professes the benefits of moving forward in life and looking to the future. I won’t say that Billy Joel is the King of Rock and Roll – that’s Elvis – but maybe he’s the Royal Vizier.
Gabrielle Lamontagne is a junior majoring in French and business administration.