In his storied career as lyricist and piano man, Billy Joel has written his share of place-songs. "New York State of Mind" is as loving an ode to that city as any, "Los Angelenos" captures the glitz and depravity of Hollywood, and "Goodnight Saigon" is a wrenching remembrance of the Vietnam War. Somehow, Joel never featured St. Louis in any of his songs. But fear not! B-Sides has taken the trouble to map out a Billy Joel-specific tour of St. Louis, filled with locations that serve as suitable stand-ins for Joel's actual locales. (Hell, it's cheaper than the tickets for his upcoming show.) Just one caution: This is mostly a driving tour, so don't be like Billy. Stay sober behind the wheel.
Allentown: 1982's The Nylon Curtain explored the myth of suburban America and the broken promises of the American Dream, and nothing hit at the heart of that like the smash single "Allentown." In the song, Joel pops the bubble of post-World War II optimism and picket-fence perfection. While the real Allentown is far away in Pennsylvania, you can drive westward on Interstate 44 to Allenton, Missouri (exit number 261), and take a look at the shattered dreams and cheap thrills. The rural land, blighted in 1973, has yet to be redeveloped, while the glimmering amusements of Six Flags beckon from across the highway.
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant: Billy Joel might never have penned a St. Louis-specific ode, but "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" comes close. With its fine storytelling and bittersweet nostalgia, "Scenes" practically asks, "So, where'd you go to high school?" As anyone who's ever been to a class reunion knows, it's hard to recapture the magic of a youthful relationship but the song's protagonists, Brenda and Eddie, make a noble go of it. So call up an old flame and head for Cunetto's or Charlie Gitto's (you know, your old familiar place). Look into your date's eyes and ask, "Bottle of white? Bottle of red? Perhaps a bottle of rosé instead?" If they don't get the reference, you'll have unassailable proof that it was never meant to be, anyway.
Big Shot: The Annals of Joel Arcana tell us that "Big Shot," the lead-off track from 52nd Street, was inspired by a bad date with Bianca Jagger, in which the former Mrs. Mick went on a coke-and-Champagne binge through Manhattan's finer clubs. Discerning listeners need not travel to New York to relive the song's highs and lows; one only needs to pick any of the late-night dance clubs on Washington Avenue. Don't let the civic developments fool you: There are still plenty of bathrooms in which to snort fat rails and quaff budget sparkling wine.
Uptown Girl: This song (less commonly known by its alternate title, "Dude, I Can't Believe I'm with Christie Brinkley, Hooray!") is one of Billy's sweetest ditties. With lyrics that recall the starry-eyed love songs of the late 1950s, "Uptown Girl" is sure to inspire future generations of working-class men to pursue their highbrow dreams. Looking for an uptown girl of your own? Make a beeline toward any of the swanky-chic Clayton bars, where pretty women sip pretty drinks amid pretty environs. We bet some of those ladies are tired of come-ons from stockbrokers and attorneys. C'mon. There's a precedent. Billy Joel snagged Christie Brinkley. Now's your chance "Uptown Girl" will make a heck of a first-dance song at your wedding.
The Longest Time: An Innocent Man is roundly considered to be Joel's nostalgia record it's peppered with nods to early rock & roll, and the a capella single "The Longest Time" is the most striking of them all. Billy sings of waiting for love and the blissfulness of a well-deserved payoff, but you can apply the song to anything worth waiting for: the Interstate 64-40 lane closures, for example. While you're stuck in traffic for what seems like the longest time imaginable, just think of that big, wide-laned payoff that awaits. If you happen to be carpooling, you and your fellow travelers can work on those four-part harmonies. Nothing eases the dull pain of traffic like car sing-alongs, right? Brooke Foster and Christian Schaeffer
8 p.m. Wednesday, April 25. Scottrade Center, South 14th Street and Clark Avenue. $49.50 and $85. 314-241-1888.
On The Download
We haven't had room lately to run Andy Vihstadt's Download column, so to make up for it, here are three installments showing you where to find some smooth tunes online for free!
Writer's block has rarely been a problem for Sage Francis. The slam-poet-turned-rapper crafts his best rhymes out of political angst, and lately he's had plenty of material. His MySpace page is streaming "Civil Obedience," the first single from his upcoming LP, Human the Death Dance, but hit up the media page at his official site for an arsenal of MP3s, including rare tracks, exclusive remixes and plenty of anti-establishment overtones (www.sagefrancis.net, www.myspace.com/sagefrancis).
Step aside, Phil Collins. When we want someone who can front a band from behind a drum kit, we'll look to Sebastien Grainger. Since the demise of his band Death from Above 1979, Grainger has been hard at work on his upcoming solo project. Keep up with his progress at his MySpace, where he has posted a couple of streaming demos and MP3s, including "When You Go Out" from the very limited Foggy Sea, Foggy Dew split EP. But don't be fooled by his vocal contributions to the creepy-yet-somewhat-innocent kiddie cartoon, The Blueberry Boy of Sicily (YouTubed on his page). Anyone who headlines his MySpace page with "FEARGASM" would probably make for a shitty babysitter (www.myspace.com/sebastiengrainger).
The future of online radio is looking bleak the Copyright Royalty Board raised the rates earlier this month but KEXP (90.3 FM) isn't sweating it. The University of Washington-owned station has made the jump from FM to dot-org gracefully, taking home a Webby Award for best radio Web site in the process. Along with streaming its diverse musical programming in high-quality, uncompressed audio, the station has built a solid selection of free podcasts, including a sizable "Live Performances" archive of in-studio sessions featuring bands such as the Long Winters, Beirut and Band of Horses. And, of course, there's the witty banter you've come to expect from public radio (www.kexp.org). Andy Vihstadt