Uptown Girl - by Billy Joel
"Uptown Girl" is probably Billy Joel's best-known song, taken from his highly successful 1983 album "An Innocent Man". His career had been quite successful over the previous ten years to this point, but "Uptown Girl" really caught the attention of the mass record buying public. The attention "Uptown Girl" recieves has recently been bolstered by the Westlife cover of it in the UK in 2001. This cover was ok, but fails to live up to the original, as with so many covers of great songs.
"Uptown Girl" is one of those easily recognisable songs, particularly with respect to the opening harmonies, which are repeated at various points throughout the song. The song has backing vocal harmonies throughout, which Billy Joel drew inspiration for from Frankie Hall and the Four Seasons, a group Joel loved when he was young. The song is catchy, and easy and fun to sing or whistle along to. The lyrics are also pretty clear and easy to remember. It has a good bouncy beat to it as well.
The song is in the key of E-major, and shifts to the C-major key in the chorus. Despite Billy Joel's phenomenal piano playing skills (when he was young, he would amaze family friends by playing great tunes on a damaged piano with half the keys broken - he would simply "play around them"!), the main piano part to "Uptown Girl" is fairly simple. So simple in fact, it took very little effort for me, a rather poor pianist, to learn pretty much the entire song. The piano is very difficult to hear on the track, as it is drowned out by the full band, but it consists of simple triads played on each beat by the right hand, with left hand bass notes played in slightly syncopated rhythm. The same four bar chord structure is repeated throughtout the body of the song. The structure in the verses is:
|| E || F#m7 || E/G# || A B7 A/B ||
("||" denotes where bars begin and end)
As I said, the 12 bar chorus is in a different key. The rhythm is basically the same, but the chords are different:
|| C || Am7 || Dm7 || G7 ||
|| C || Am7 || Bm7b5 || E7 ||
|| A || F#m7 || Bm7 || B7 ||
Music technicalities aside, "Uptown Girl" is one of several songs Billy Joel wrote based on his relationship with supermodel Christie Brinkley. Other songs based on this relationship are "Leave A Tender Moment Alone", and the beautiful "For The Longest Time" (both from the "An Innocent Man" album). Joel married Christie in 1985, and their daughter Alexa Rae was born. The relationship was ultimately doomed to fail, and they would undergo an amicable divorce in 1994.
The song is about a "downtown man" (Joel) singing about his love for an "uptown girl" (Brinkley). This is really the situation Joel found himself in. It probably seemed beyond his wildest dreams that he could win the affections of such a woman as Christie Brinkley, since Joel may probably be the first to admit that he may have the talent of a superstar musician, but does not have the looks. That's not to say he is ugly, just sort of short and geeky-looking.
Some of my favourite lyircs from this song are;
You know I can't afford to buy her pearls,
But maybe someday when my ship comes in,
She'll understand what kind of guy I've been,
And then I'll win."
This just seems to stike a chord with me for some reason. I guess I'm just a sap!
"Uptown Girl" is a quality song. However, despite it being one of Billy Joel's best known and best loved songs, I think that some of his others are superior. That is not to say that "Uptown Girl" is not good - it's just some of his other work (such as "Piano Man", "She's Always A Woman", and "My Life"), is, frankly, awesome.
Billy Joel Hits 1981-1993, Todd Lowry, Inernational Music Publications Limited, 2003.
The Times, 24th January 2004, "The Eye" suppliment, article by Peter Paphides, page 3.