Billy Joel envisioned the year 2017 way back in 1976
A newspaper headline inspired the Piano Man.
On October 30, 1975, the New York Daily News ran five infamous words across its front page. FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD, the headline blared. The Big Apple was going bankrupt, and on the prior day, President Ford had given a speech denying federal assistance to the metropolis.
Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, rising pop songwriter Billy Joel was living in Los Angeles. The Bronx native had recently finished an album in sunny Southern California, Streetlife Serenade, which failed to live up to the success of his breakthrough, "Piano Man." He was keeping an eye on his hometown as it headed towards default.
As he recalled in a behind-the-music performance at the University of Pennsylvania in 2001, Joel was angered by the response of Los Angelenos. "Ha, ha, ha-ha, ha! New York's going to go down the tubes," he recalled them joking. "A lot of these [people were] ex–New Yorkers," he added. If New York was going to go down the tubes, Joel figured he'd might as well move back home.
This is the backstory to "Miami 2017 (I've Seen the Light Go Out on Broadway)," which would become the closing track on his following album, Turnstiles. It is an apocalyptic song that paints a dark picture of the upcoming year.
The Empire State building has fallen, churches are burning in Harlem and a naval ship has been sent to pick up the Yankees. Bridges have blown up, power has gone out and people have been driving underground. Meanwhile, most citizens have moved to Miami and "the Mafia took over Mexico."
Bleak stuff for a Billy Joel album! However, over the years, the song became a defiant anthem for the enduring strength of New York City, as Joel has performed it in tribute concerts following 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.
The Piano Man was not alone in his pessimistic vision of 2017. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1987 film The Running Man also takes place in the year, when Richard Dawson will be hosting deadly game shows. But no worries. Billy Joel, a regular presence on MeTV FM and MeTV Music is not especially known for his psychic abilities. Besides, on the same album, he offered up his classic ode to his city, "New York State of Mind." You can safely expect to hear both songs when he plays Madison Square Garden in the spring.