Song 74: Billy Joel, “Rosalinda’s Eyes” (1978)

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A friend of mine recently said something to the effect of, “Billy Joel sounds like he thinks he has both more and less money than he actually has.” I thought that summed him up pretty well. Sure, Billy Joel is a bazillionaire, but the songs in which he adopts a stately English accent on certain words (“Victor was bohhhn the spring of fauuuhty-fauuuh”) make him sound ridiculous. On the other hand, so do the ones in which he’s hanging with the scrappy lower-to-middle class. Sure, Joel grew up with the scrappy lower-to-middle class before becoming filthy rich, but he doesn’t sound comfortable singing about Brenda and Eddie and their paintings from Sears.

Maybe it’s just that Billy Joel doesn’t seem comfortable in any setting. Just look at that picture: “Oh, hi,” Joel seems to be saying, “I didn’t see you there. I was just standing here in this alley with my trumpet, and you gave me quite a start.” He can’t even pull off standing against a wall.

Then there’s “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” which finds Billy Joel, he of the New York state of mind and Davy who’s still in the Navy, singing about how much he loves the “Cuban skies” in the eyes of a woman named Rosalinda, occasionally rolling his R’s like Alex Trebek. It doesn’t sound right,  but it works.

You may disagree, and I’d understand. It’s a dopey song with some generalized exoticism about Latin America, and it has the line “I’ve got a chance to make it, it’s time for me to take it.” But I love that, after some (to my ears) musically complex verses, the chorus releases some of that tension with a very pretty melody. And I’ll be damned if the corny “Cuban skies” stuff doesn’t work on me, too.

Freaks and Geeks used this song in a really sweet scene about adolescent love, and I thought that was brilliant. The boys in question are especially awkward and nerdy, just like this awkward, nerdy song about loving someone who seems to come from another universe. And love, for all of us, is awkward and nerdy. We’re all trying to impress somebody. We’re all, at one point or another, standing in an alley with a trumpet.

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