#73 – The Downeaster “Alexa”


Artist – Billy Joel
Album – Storm Front
Year – 1989
Genre – Rock

Billy Joel is one of those performers who is gifted with a supreme ability to tell a story, and tell that story with the gusto and emotion of a well trained actor. Unfortunately, his back catalog contains a great deal of under appreciated, underrated, and unknown songs that are still full of emotion. Here’s a perfect example.

“The Downeaster ‘Alexa'” is a gripping story through and through. Lyrically, it tells the story of a struggling fisherman who braves the rough seas and journeys just to support his poor family. The way Joel sings the song is breathtaking, and you can literally close your eyes and picture every detail just through his voice and the instrumentation of the song.

This song is a perfect example of how passionate singing and clever music come together to paint a mental picture. The strings and and keyboards roil like the surf, and with each drum beat you can see the waves crash against the side of the “Alexa.” There’s cool little sound effects that sound like a whistle blowing and seagull calls throughout the song which adds those extra touches to fully create the atmosphere.

Joel’s singing is loud and strong. You can tell that this is a man who’s telling his story to the world. His voice echoes as if crossing the horizon, and when he hits the high notes, you really can tell he’s putting his all into this song. The melody is melancholic, yet strong and almost folk-like. It really is a catchy melody though, and it’s a shame it never took off as much as it could have.

As each facet of the story is explored, Joel’s voice dances up and down, and each waver accentuates the honesty with which he sings. But of course he’s honest, he’s Billy Joel! This song goes above and beyond the normal ballad, and it paints an absolutely lush and all encompassing portrait of a struggling man and his emotions. By the time the song ends with Joel’s primal yelps, I feel that this song deserves to be among his best.

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