Allentown is a quintessential Billy Joel song that came out in 1982 on The Nylon Curtain. Since then the song has invariably featured on all his subsequent compilations. It peaked at #17 on the Billboard Hot Hundred list for 1982. The song was inspired by the slump which the American steel industry was facing at that time. The Pennsylvanian steel industry was down and its impact was felt most strongly in the blue-collared neighborhood of Allentown and Bethlehem in particular, where the Bethlehem Steel Plant was in operation from 1857 to 2003. Another great Billy Joel song depicting the plight of the blue-collar people is “The Downeaster Alexa” which talks about the travails of a fisherman from the Outer Lands.
“Allentown” was inspired by Billy’s performances in the Lehigh Valley region during the period. Allentown’s then mayor Joseph Dandonna called it a gritty song about a gritty city. However; early reaction to the song contained some criticism as well as the residents of Lehigh Valley felt that Long Islander Billy did not really know what he was talking about. They may have had a point because Billy originally started out writing “Levittown” after the place in Long Island where he grew up; the idea remained dormant from the 70′s to ’82 till it got reworked as “Allentown”
Watch this cool video that accompanies Billy’s song – Allentown.
(Photo courtesy of CJ Sorg)