Billy Joel – Allentown (1982)

Having gone through Billy Joel’s entire catalog recently (fun fact: his then wife Christie Brinkley, the ultimate shiksa, painted the wonderful album cover of River of Dreams), the song “Allentown” has been stuck in my head for nearly 2 weeks straight. I’ve long known the song, of course, but it has thoroughly lodged itself into my brain.

It is a very well-crafted song, with lyrics as poignant today (even more poignant, actually) than in the early ‘80s. The song’s last line is a chilling anticipation of the White Death.

Well we’re living here in Allentown
And they’re closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they’re killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line

Well our fathers fought the Second World War
Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore
Met our mothers in the USO
Asked them to dance
Danced with them slow

And we’re living here in Allentown
But the restlessness was handed down
And it’s getting very hard to stay

Well we’re waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved

So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coal
And chromium steel

And we’re waiting here in Allentown
But they’ve taken all the coal from the ground
And the union people crawled away

Every child has a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our face

Well I’m living here in Allentown
And it’s hard to keep a good man down
But I won’t be giving up today
And we’re living here in Allentown

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