The Entertainer

Album: Streetlife Serenade (1974)
Charted: 34

Songfacts®:

  • This is a semi-autobiographical song about Joel's early career as a musician, knowing that if he didn't continue producing hits, he would soon be forgotten. It's a very pragmatic look at the life of a pop star, covering the unsavory aspects of fame as well as the excitement. Perhaps it was Joel's understanding of the trappings of fame that led to a long and successful career in the music industry.
  • A big inspiration for this song was the music/variety show The Midnight Special, which was hosted by Wolfman Jack. "I found it kind of infantile the way they would present acts," Joel told Howard Stern. "It wasn't very rock and roll. Midnight Special was kind of an assembly line, and it started to bother me. Like we're all interchangeable."
  • The line, "If you're gonna have a hit you gotta make it fit, so they cut it down to 3:05" is a reference to how artists often have to cut down their songs for radio stations, which prefer shorter tracks. "3:05" is industry famous as the length Phil Spector had stamped on the single for The Righteous Brothers "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," which he produced - the song was actually 3:50.

    Joel's experience with truncating a song for radio came a year earlier, when he had to shave more than a minute off of his song "Piano Man" for release as a single.
  • Joel later admitted he was wrong about the line "I won't be here in another year if I don't stay on the charts." His last original non-classical album came in 1993 (River of Dreams), but he remained a huge draw decades later.
  • In the summer of 2016, Joel would sometimes dedicate this song to Donald Trump, who was running for president. On May 27, Trump tweeted: "Thank you @BillyJoel- many friends just told me you gave a very kind shoutout at MSG. Appreciate it- love your music!"

    Joel did indeed mention Trump at the show, but not in flattering context: The song is about a crowd-pleaser who will likely be soon forgotten. Joel typically stays out of politics, but he did later endorse Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump won the election, earning him a lot more time in the public eye.

Comments: 1

  • Joe from Grants Pass, OrOne of the few songs Billy did with a Moog.
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