Billy Joel, “Allentown”

As we celebrate Labor Day, it’s only natural to think of songs that honestly and sympathetically depict the working man and woman. In the 1980’s, many of the most successful singer-songwriters, people like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp, wailed about the trials and tribulations of everyday people and their occupations, and a whole genre called heartland rock seemed to spring from those songs. Billy Joel was never really a part of that movement, and he often didn’t enjoy the critical respect of the aforementioned troubadours. Yet you would be hard-pressed to find a song that addressed the plight of the put-upon laborer better than “Allentown,” Joel’s Top 20 hit from 1982. That was the year that Joel released The Nylon Curtain, his most ambitious album, both in terms of the sonics of the music and the subject matter of the lyrics, to that point. For “Allentown,” he reworked a set of lyrics he had previously written about Levittown, New York, becoming inspired when he heard about the struggles of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s steel industry. "I know people who moved to places like this, to these boom towns,” Joel told Billboard magazine in 1983. “They were promised a job, and…

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