Monday, October 21, 2013

Song #394 of 9999 - Movin' Out (Anthony's Song) by Billy Joel

Song #394 of 9999

Title: Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
Artist: Billy Joel
Year: 1977
Album: The Stranger

I had all but settled in to write about a song from Fleetwood Mac's Rumours when I remembered listening to The Stranger earlier in the week and being particularly struck with just how perfectly constructed the opening track is. "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" is one of those songs I think we've all heard a few too many times but to go back and revisit it was really a joy. There are better songs on this record ("Just the Way You Are" comes to mind) but I wonder if there are any that present such a perfectly assembled jigsaw of musical elements such as this.

The chord progression that opens the tune and continues into the verse is simple and straightforward, a so called circle progression (descending 5th root relationship) in the natural minor. But it's the semi-chromatic guitar riff that really catches your attention out of the gate. It's similarity to Maroon 5's "This Love" serves as a reminder of just how influential Billy Joel has been on today's pop artists.

riff:        D'    D             A Ab   G                            D'   C                  E           F             A    C
chords:  Dm (i)  /     /      /      | Gm (iv)   /     /     /      |  C (VII)   /     /     /    | F (III)    /     /     /   |
The rhythmic phrasing and syncopation of the vocal delivery is really masterful in all aspects. Joel sings it spectacularly but it's the setting of the lyric that makes it possible—prosody at its finest. And then of course there is the setup to one of two major hooks in the tune ("heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack"): the chords proceed as with the verse (Dm-Gm) but following the "echo" singing, the progression substitutes Bb-C-Dm (VI-VII-i), an ascension that is known for its grandiosity and is accentuated by Beatle-esque backing vocals. It's a very cool moment...

...only to be outdone by the windup to the even bigger hook. Listen to the sequence in the lead guitar during the chorus ("And it seems such a waste of time...") as it climbs a tonal ladder, literally "movin' up" the scale as the chord progression rises and falls (Bb-C-A7/C#-Dm-Bb-A) before finally settling on the dominant to prepare the titular hook ("movin' out!"). The da capo is peppered with a perfectly placed and purposeful saxophone duet, plugging a hole you didn't even know was there. It's a tremendously clever arrangement. That this all happens within the first minute of the song is a measure of the track's efficiency. There's even enough room left for an instrumental outro in the parallel major mode.

Not sure whether the credit goes to producer Phil Ramone or Joel himself (a bit of both, I imagine) but I reckon this is about as perfect a piano rock track as one can muster. And if it lit a fire under the likes of Ben Folds and Fountains of Wayne and yes, even Maroon 5, all the better.

See you tomorrow in 1987.

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