Angry Young Man

Album: Turnstiles (1976)

Songfacts®:

  • This song tells the story of an intransigent youth who wears his anger like a badge of honor. It's based on a real person. On Sirius/XM radio, Joel explained: "A good friend of mine was my road manager when we were on tour. He didn't have good people skills - he had been to Vietnam and had a tough time adjusting to civilian life. I wanted this guy to be on the road with us and do business with us, but he just couldn't get along with people and it became very problematic. I had to let him go because it just wasn't working out for anybody. When I said, 'I can't continue to hire you, it's just not working out,' he said, 'Oh, so you're just like everybody else. You're like Pontius Pilate, you're washing your hands of me.'

    I felt bad, but then I thought about it: 'If I'm Pontius Pilate that means he thinks he's Jesus Christ.' This is the angry young man. That's what the song is about."
  • The piano figure that opens this song is based on the drums from the 1963 surf-rock classic "Wipe Out." Joel up listening to that sound and like many school kids, he would sometimes pound out the rhythm on his desk. Joel plays a very percussive piano, striking the keys with gusto, so for him it made sense to transpose a drum rhythm to piano.
  • In the bridge, Joel shifts the voice, offering his own perspective:

    I believe I've passed the age
    Of consciousness and righteous rage
    I found that just surviving was a noble fight
    I once believed in causes too
    I had my pointless point of view
    And life went on no matter who was wrong or right


    Joel had fought many personal and professional battles by this point and had gone through bouts of anger and depression. This passage finds him in a place of equanimity that served him well in the battles that were still left to fight.
  • The song opens with a 1:52 instrumental intro called "Prelude" - the song is listed on the album as "Prelude / Angry Young Man."
  • Joel used this to open his concerts for much of his career. The "Prelude" section is a great way to kick things off, bringing lots of energy to the arena and giving the sound mixer time to adjust before the vocals come in.
  • This is one of Joel's most popular songs and a concert favorite, but it was never released as a single. Only two songs from the album were issued as singles: "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" and "James." Neither charted when they were released, although a live version of "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" went to #17 in 1981.
  • Styx released "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)" the following year. That one was Tommy Shaw's musical message to his bandmate, Dennis DeYoung.

Comments: 1

  • Martin G from OrlandoI liked the message behind this song when it first came out and it's even more relevant to today. Somebody once criticized the bridge and he gave a flip answer, like BFD it's just a song.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Part of Their World: The Stories and Songs of 13 Disney Princesses

Part of Their World: The Stories and Songs of 13 Disney PrincessesSong Writing

From "Some Day My Prince Will Come" to "Let It Go" - how Disney princess songs (and the women who sing them) have evolved.

David Gray

David GraySongwriter Interviews

David Gray explains the significance of the word "Babylon," and talks about how songs are a form of active imagination, with lyrics that reveal what's inside us.

Country Song Titles

Country Song TitlesFact or Fiction

Country songs with titles so bizarre they can't possibly be real... or can they?

Lita Ford

Lita FordSongwriter Interviews

Lita talks about how they wrote songs in The Runaways, and how she feels about her biggest hit being written by somebody else.

Album Cover Inspirations

Album Cover InspirationsSong Writing

Some album art was at least "inspired" by others. A look at some very similar covers.

Macabre Mother Goose: The Dark Side of Children's Songs

Macabre Mother Goose: The Dark Side of Children's SongsSong Writing

"London Bridge," "Ring Around the Rosie" and "It's Raining, It's Pouring" are just a few examples of shockingly morbid children's songs.