Pop music icon Billy Joel turns 64 today, but with the continuing relevance of his music, it’s hard to believe it. Joel released his 1980 hit song, “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me” in response to the emergence of New Wave, but with lyrics criticizing the music industry’s excessive concern with image over music, it sounds as if it could have been written yesterday.
Joel released “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me” just as New Wave was climbing to the top of the music scene, and in 1981, the arrival of MTV would push New Wave music to the height of its popularity. Soon after, New Wave bands such as A Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran, and Dire Straits would step into the mainstream. But before all of that, Joel had already become sick of electronics and synthesizers, inspiring “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me.”
“It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me” spent two weeks at #1 of the Billboard Hot 100 and 11 weeks in the top 10, making it one of 1980’s biggest hits. In the song, Joel ironically imitates the style of New Wave music while lyrically slapping the genre in the face. The song depicts an argument between a musician and his publicist. The publicist tries to convince the musician to conform to changes in the music scene, however, the musician refuses, insisting, “Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout the new sound/Funny, but it’s still rock and roll to me.” Joel’s lyrics represent the conflicting nature of the music industry’s desire to evolve while still holding onto its roots, an issue that will remain prevalent for as long as there’s a music industry.