Stop in Nevada by Billy Joel

With some money in her pocket
She's a rocket on the fourth of July
And she left a little letter
Said she's gonna make a stop in Nevada
It was perhaps the Beat generation and the likes of Jack Kerouac who romanticized the epic road-trip. There is nothing quite like being in a car with the tires gobbling up the asphalt, the road snaking through ever-changing vistas while the wind whips through your hair and a favorite song blasts on the radio. Years after Kerouac made his controversial journey across the United States documenting his odyssey in what would become the literary classic On the Road, Billy Joel also sang about the great trek west, which so many people make: searching for themselves, for a dream, for something different, if not better.

In 1973, Joel released his second studio album Piano Man. The singles "Piano Man" and "Captain Jack" rocketed up the charts. But it's the second song on Side 2 of the album that speaks to the soul about letting go of an unsatisfying life to embark on an interstate journey towards a brighter future. "Stop in Nevada" tells the story of a woman who leaves her husband with nothing but a little letter before she heads out west to California. This echoes Billy Joel's own migration from the Bronx where he was born to music lounges in L.A. where he sought fame and fortune, and found it with his nostalgic "Piano Man" hit.

The Las Vegas Strip<br>Photo: <a href="" target="_blank">Karlis Dambrans</a>, via Flickr, CC 2.0The Las Vegas Strip
Photo: Karlis Dambrans, via Flickr, CC 2.0
Nevada is the seventh largest state in the US, sharing borders with California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon. This semi-arid state is renowned for its spectacular natural beauty, including the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe, and the Mojave Desert, as well its numerous military bases and covert operations including the infamous Area 51. Although originally the homeland of Paiute Native Americans, the region belonged to Mexico until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Today, the state is on every tourist's must-see list, thanks in part to Las Vegas. Every year, tourists flock to Nevada not only to feast their eyes upon the exquisite landscape, but to take full advantage of the hedonistic pleasures on offer in the neon flooded streets of a city where Elvis is alive and well, and prostitution is legal.

In 1973 when Billy Joel released "Stop in Nevada," neither Interstate 15 nor 80 had been completed yet, making the trek across the desert far more of an adventure than modern infrastructure has made it today. The Silver State – nicknamed for its silver mines – was the last hurdle before travelers found the verdant valleys of California; the last stop before reaching the dream of a better life.

While "Stop in Nevada" was never released as a single from the album and thus never made the charts, Piano Man solidified Billy Joel's status among the legends of rock 'n roll. Piano Man was Joel's breakout album, turning him into an international household name and laying the foundation for a career that would see him become the third best-selling solo artist in the US.

"Stop in Nevada" may not be the first song people think to include on the iPod when planning a road-trip, but the sentiment of the song is an enduring one as every new generation embarks on the search for adventure, for self and for a better life.

Suzanne van Rooyen
August 14, 2015

Comments: 2

  • Yoda from NycKerouac's "On the Road" was published in 1957, when Billy Joel was an 8 year old kid.
  • Quodlibet from New Jersey"The last stop before reaching the dream of a better life" - well, maybe, but I think the point is that she was stopping in Nevada to get a quickie divorce.
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