Sunday, January 5, 2014

"Pressure": Welcome To Billy Joel's Nightmare

If you thought the life of a yuppie was all fun and games, well, clearly you never caught "Pressure." Billy Joel's a man who's known something about pressure - songwriting pressure:
The pressure I was writing about in this song wasn't necessarily music business pressure, it was writing pressure. ... At the time, I was saying, "Well, I gotta write some more stuff for the album"; I was about halfway through, and I said, "Well, what am I gonna do? I don't have any ideas, it's gone, it's dead, I have nothing, nothing, nothing. There's nothing." And then the woman who is my secretary came into the house at that point and said, "Wow, you look like you're under a lot of pressure. I bet you that'd be a good idea for a song." And I went, "Thank you!"
Someone give that secretary a raise! However, a modest peak at #20 may or may not have alleviated any mounting commercial pressure from Columbia Records. Sliding along with a keyboard-driven, white funk vibe, at first the pressure in "Pressure" doesn't seem so bad. But then, in comes a baroque synthesizer riff that continues to poke and prod at your eardrums and it feels like a thousand insects are slowly eating away at your brain. The '80s are here - and they're going to drive you insaaaaaayne.
You have to learn to pace yourself
You're just like everybody else
You've only had to run so far
So good
But you will come to a place
Where the only thing you feel
Are loaded guns in your face
And you'll have to deal with

You used to call me paranoid
But even you cannot avoid
You turned the tap dance into your crusade
Now here you are with your faith
And your Peter Pan advice
You have no scars on your face
And you cannot handle

All grown up and no place to go
Psych 1, Psych 2
What do you know?
All your life is Channel 13
Sesame Street
What does it mean?
It means some serious pressure is what it means. "In the 9th, two men out and three men on"? How about a rain delay? I believe I read somewhere that, at one point the pressure got so intense in the recording studio that, right around the 3:56 mark, Billy immediately dropped all the instruments out of the mix and shouted "Pressure!" into the microphone as loud as he could.

But if the music hasn't persuaded you, the video certainly will. Let me just say that you can check out of this video any time you like, but you can never leave. Here's what being a Yuppie is really like: you find yourself trapped in a dark room where you're forced to watch rapid-fire films that berate you with images of MacArthur, Sinatra, Vietnam, atomic bombs, and stamps, while occasionally words like "Mother," "Hate," and "Money" flash across the screen; careless drivers speed right through a puddle and ruin your brand-new suit; your bedroom fills up with sloshing water; seemingly innocuous rugs suck you into their feathery clutches, while the jaded cognoscenti looks on; your childhood self becomes trapped in a bright white maze and/or stuck in The Shining, only to be sucked into a vegetable-devouring television; and you find yourself on a game show where you've managed to win without knowing how you did it or even how you got there in the first place (priceless contestant description: "William Joel, Age: 29, Occupation: Computer Software, Interests: fast bikes, cooking, water sports"). Sesame Street, Time magazine, and Channel 13 aren't going to save you here.


Herr Zrbo said...

Ahhh, I believe this is the very first Billy Joel song I ever remember hearing (or probably 'seeing' as I watched loads of MTV in my youth). There's quite a few visual references, there's the Shining like you said, also a bit of 2001, definitely some Poltergeist, a little 1984, Clockwork Orange perhaps, maybe a little of The Wall? This is definitely Yuppie Rock, how's Billy gonna handle it all??

Little Earl said...

I know, right? I mean, for a Billy Joel video, you've got to admit, this is pretty fucked up.

So you're telling me you saw this as a kid? Zrbo, I think this finally explains everything.

Mario said...

When they play the game-show sequence, after they do the bits on Larry Faber and Marsha Hunt, when Joel's bio comes up, it reads:
AGE: 29


fast bikes,
cooking, water
sports, satellite"

He was actually 33 years old when the album and single were released.

Trivia: There are two real-life stars named Marsha Hunt: one is a 99-year-old actress and philanthropist; and the other is a 70-year-old black actress, singer and novelist who first gained attention as being the mother of Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger's first child, whom she slapped with a paternity suit in 1973.