Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)

Album: Turnstiles (1976)

Songfacts®:

  • Joel wrote this from the point of view of an old man who moved to Florida in the year 2017 after New York was destroyed in an apocalypse. He figured Miami was a logical setting because that's where people go when they get old.
  • Billy Joel grew up near New York City and always had an affinity for the city. After he moved to Los Angeles in 1972 to establish his solo career, New York fell on hard times with rampant crime, a huge drug problem, and financial problems that put the city in danger of default.

    On October 29, 1975, President Gerald Ford gave a speech where he made it clear that the US government would not bail out New York City to keep it from bankruptcy. The next day, the headline in the Daily News read: "FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD" (Ford never said these words, and the sensationalist headline hurt him in the next election, which he lost to Jimmy Carter).

    Relocated to Los Angeles, Joel found himself around people with little sympathy. "Everybody in LA at the time was like, 'ha, we can't wait to see New York go down the tubes, we hate New York,'" he told Howard Stern in 2014. "And I go, 'I'm going back.' If New York is going down the tubes, I'm going to go back."

    Billy did return to New York in 1975, where he wrote this song thinking of the worst-case scenario: financial collapse, murders, looting - an apocalyptic vision that would look like something out of the Mad Max movies. The story Joel came up with was science fiction, but it was based on very real concerns.
  • This song took on new meaning when New York was attacked by terrorists in 2001, 25 years after Joel wrote this. He considered this a science fiction song, and never thought anything like September 11 would actually happen.
  • Joel performed this, along with "New York State Of Mind," at a benefit concert in Madison Square Garden that Paul McCartney set up to help victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Joel had a helmet from a fallen firefighter on his piano as he played.
  • This is the first track on Songs In The Attic, an album Joel released in 1981 made up of live performances of some of his lesser-known songs.

Comments: 22

  • Caitlin from PennsylvaniaMy daughter (born 2003, well after any of the events associated with the song occurred) is dictating to me:
    "The last verse of the song is true, too. 'There are not many who remember. They say a handful still survive To tell the world about the way the lights went out, And keep the memory alive..."
    "The rescue workers, the people who really saw it, they're all starting to die, too. There are still a lot left, but by the time my friends are big enough to understand and want to know, there won't be many people left who were there to see it, and no one will really understand when they're gone. He got it really right. He must be a seer or something,"
    Yes, she's 12. Yes, she knows more about recent history than she should. Yes, I am more proud than words can say. Yes, she's right. This song has always meant a lot to me, having grown up in central jersey. I know (and knew) people who worked in the Towers. And that made it become all the more special even before BJ sang it at that concert. He may have written it as sci-fi, but I think the kid has it right - he kind of saw it all. This is one of those songs that will speak many things to many generations. Regardless of what it originally was written to mean, it will have a new meaning for each generation as the years go by.
  • Neil from Detroit, MiJoel performed this song at "The Concert for New York City", which was a benefits concert for the victims and their families involved in 9/11. After performing the song, Joel stated "I wrote that song 25 years ago. I thought it was going to be a science fiction song; I never thought it would really happen. But unlike the end of that song, we ain't going anywhere!" This was met with patriotic applauding from the audience.
  • Tacey from New Milford, NjI think I have a different take on this song...First, I have to say, that the lyric "They sent the carriers up from Norfolk" always makes me cry, because upon 9/11, they DID send the carriers up from Norfolk, VA. The whole line about letting Queens stay, and blowing the Bronx away always depicted the rivalry between areas to me. Each person, from each borough of NY and NJ identifies with their specific home turf. It's something that can't be explained to people outside the area, other than saying that we all have a place in our hometown where the "rich" people live, or the "other side of the tracks". When you grow up in New York, or the Tri-State Area, for that matter, each place has it's reputation, and it's loyalties. Each person either resents it, or embraces it. That's kinda just how it gose.
  • David from Minoa, NyIf you are from New York, and you visit your relatives who have retired in Florida, the old people all ask you where you are from. When you tell them New York, the reply sarcastically "I didn't think anybody was left in New York!" They all say it, every one of them. I am sure that after Billy Joel heard this for the hundredth time, he was inspired to write about the day when New York really was empty, obsolete, and scheduled for demolition.
  • Ken from Fort Worth, TxI can't believe people have to look for something racist in everything around them.

    Saw Billy Joel live three times. I remember when I saw him at SMU in Dallas (77?), the Yankees were in the World Series. He kept everyone informed of the score.

    Billy Joel was the second greatest live performer I ever saw. Only Jimi Hendrix was better.
  • Joe from Charlotte, NcLarry, there is a HUGE difference between racial overtones and racist overtones. This song has racial overtones. What happened to NYC in the 70s had racial overtones, too. Really, the song was calling out all the middle-class white (and some black) folks who had left the city and let it rot. "Life went on beyond the Palisades, they all bought Cadillacs, they'd left there long ago." I imagine "Queens could stay" because that's where a lot of the bankers and Mafia bosses lived. Harlem and the Bronx WERE burning away at this time, especially the South Bronx where building owners who couldn't sell their abandoned buildings in mostly abandoned neighborhoods were setting them on fire to collect insurance. So, there's nothing racist about this song.
  • Vito from Bloomfield, NjOk, ok, settle down.It's not racist, it's a stereo-type, or just an opinion. When Bj sings that line about Harlem, it makes sense and moves on. We all know what he means.Not everything is meant "racist".It's an important word,let's not wear it out on trivial things.
    Great song! Kinda dark in it's lyrics.Kinda H.G.Wells story idea. A classic tune. Especially for Joel, but never the less, a classic. that's what makes this one stand out.I,ve seen him perform this live, many times, and the crowd sings along to every word.(Everybody). The same as Piano Man. they love it as well.
  • Randy from Reading, PaHe said that this was a legacy to his unborn grandchildren. Purely fictional, he just wanted to tell them a good story.
  • Dave from Philly, PaYes, I have also heard that his inspiration for this song was the blackout in NYC in the 70's.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyLarry, Billy was born in The Bronx. He moved to Long Island when he was around 10. But he lived in Manhattan after he returned to NYC from LA in 1975.
  • John from New York, Nywell Larry, Billy Joel never mentioned anything about anybody in the cities ethnicity. Also i don't think its racist at all to say that in 1976 Harlem had a high crime rate.
  • Larry from New York City, NyThis is a very interesting song, well-performed, but ultimately ruined by its racist overtones. In the city, we would expect a white Long Islander to write "They burned the churches up in Harlem, but no one really cared; it always burned up there before. They said that Queens could stay; they blew the Bronx away..." What stereotypical bul! Stay on Long Island, Billy! You're not ready for the diversity of New York City.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyBilly Joel performed this song on "Ellen" in 2006. He performed the first verse on his "Inside The Actors' Studio" interview in 1999, but said he couldn't perform the whole song without his band, it needed the guitars, drums and synthisizer to make it complete.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyTo answer the earlier question, in Joel's ficticious scenario, the banks foreclosed on New York City in the 1970's after the city went into default, and rather that try to run the entire city themselves, they - the banks - decided to demolish Manhattan Island. Fortunately, in realk life, the City never actually went into default and that scenario never happened!

  • Ken from Louisville, KyJoel said after releasing "We Didn't Start The Fire" that if he wasn't a musician, he would have liked to have been a history teacher. In "Miami 2017" he showed his historical knowledge by referring to the Spanish Civil War of the 1930's, where government troops would burn churches that were hiding rebel soldiers ("They burned the churches up in Harlem/Like in that Spanish Civil War").
  • Tony from Boston, MaI have more questions about this song than any other Billy Joel Song. Fisrst of all, Peter from Calgary, I like what you have to say. I never thought of it that way. I wish more Canadians were like you! My big questions about this song are these: Why does NYC fall? Who did it? (and) How did Joel come up with this?
  • Laura from Spencerport, NyThis song gives me goosebumps every time i watch him sing it on that 9-11 concert special. just to see the faces in the crowd, and billy humbling himself to the crowd...amazing song
  • Peter from Calgary, CanadaThis song always reminded me of a Civil War, especially with the references to the miltary, losing electric power and how bridges and neighbourhoods were blown away. Perhaps eluding to the real American Civil War, but perhaps this time the "south" won and took vengence on NYC. What makes me think of the south winning, unfortunately, is the burning of the churches in Harlem. Sad but true. That, and the fact that the Carrier from Norfolk came and picked the Yankee's up for free. Could be the baseball team, or it could be the remaining Yankees (as opposed to Dixies) in NYC being evacuated to safer ground.

    Cheers.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyIt couldn't be, since the sone was released in 1976. BTW, In concert, Joel sings "Since the Mafia took over Jericho" (as in Long Island) instead of "Mexico". I always assumed the "they" as in "they said that Queens could stay...they blew the Bronx away" mean the banks that forclosed on New York City after the city defauled on its loans in Joel's fictional scenario. Also - why did a carrier pick up the Yankees and not the Mets? Because "they blew the Bonx away - they said that Queens could stay"
  • Scott from Nyc, NyI'm pretty sure this song was written as a type of social protest song...In 1974, NYC was in big fiscal trouble: it coudln't pay back its loans..etc. Officials from NYC asked the federal government for relief money,and Gerald Ford denied it...the next day, the Daily News headline read "Ford to City: Drop Dead"
    Upon learning of this Billy Joel wrote a song in which the city did in fact "drop dead"
  • James from North Jersey, NjThats what I always thought too, Nicoletta. Nice to finally understand it.
  • Nicoletta from Bronx, Nyha! my dad was wrong, he claims it was about the blackout of '77, and lookin' at the date, he was off by a year... the title always made me wonder why he mentioned miami.
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