Song: Elvis Presley Blvd (1982)
Non album track first released as a B-side to the Allentown single
In the liner notes to the R.E.M. B-sides collection Dead Letter Office guitarist Peter Buck described 7 inch singles as “essentially a piece of crap, usually purchased by teenagers.” By the time I purchased that collection in 1988 the 45 RPM single has become a rarity in the pop music world so it felt like Buck was waxing nostalgic about a long ago era.
In reality that era had only just passed, I not only remembered it, I owned 45’s but I thought they were terribly old fashioned compared to cassingles. Later in the same paragraph Buck added: “This is why musicians feel free to put just about anything on the b-side; nobody will listen to it anyway, so why not have some fun. You can clear the closet of failed experiments, badly written songs, drunken jokes, and occasionally, a worthwhile song that doesn’t fit the feel of an album.” and suddenly I was intrigued. I liked the R.E.M. B-sides what about other artist’s B-sides? Thus began a minor obsession with B-sides that continued through my teens and still occasionally pops up today.
When I began this project I intended to rekindle my love of B-sides by digging into Billy Joel’s only to discover, to my great disappointment, that there weren’t many of them. Most of the time he used an album cut as the B-side. While this meant his B-sides were of a certain high quality, it robbed me of the pleasure of the weird experiments. So, I was excited to discover that there was a non album B-side to “Allentown” called “Elvis Presley Blvd.” but in my haste to cover all of the songs on The Nylon Curtain, I neglected to write about it, even thought it was recorded during the same sessions. Thankfully a reader reminded me I had missed it so now it’s time to figure out what kind of B-side is this song: An experiment? A joke? Or something good that just doesn’t fit an album?
Obviously it’s about Elvis Presley, or more to the point, it’s about Billy Joel’s unhappiness about the commercialization of the King of Rock and Roll’s death and the sense that with Elvis gone Billy Joel’s youth was also gone forever. This is an understandable reaction both to the passing of an icon and to the grotesque industry of Elvis Presley that sprung up seemingly the moment his body was found. While musically it sounds like a step down from the other songs on The Nylon Curtain it fits thematically with its A side hit Allentown in the sense that they both describe different ways that modern world can rob us of our humanity be it a collapsing industry town left to fend for itself or one mans life reduced to souvenirs. At least the citizens of Allentown and Bethlehem had a chance to rebuild.
Sorry, I got on a little Elvis rant there. I like Elvis Presley but I don’t care for the business of Elvis. I think Elvis Presley Blvd is an okay song but I have no problems with it being relegated to the B-side of a much better song.