Song: Scenes from an Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel

 Place: Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York

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Lyrics passage A bottle of white? A bottle of red?
Perhaps a bottle of rosé instead...
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Billy Joel is from a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island, in Nassau County (the county most famous for Massapequa). He was born in 1949, which puts him in high school in the mid to late 1960s. A brilliant storyteller, his longest studio recording, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" – a fan favorite – is Joel’s nod to his teenage years and can be found on 1977’s The Stranger (one of this writer's favorite albums of all time).

Oyster Bay is comprised of 16 separate towns (or villages or hamlets). It was here that Joel grew up and the characters in this tale reminisce about bygone days while sipping wine in a local Italian restaurant. For anyone familiar with the Northeast United States, Italian restaurants can be found on just about every corner from Baltimore to Boston, so it would be easy to claim that Joel’s restaurant is simply a generic reference. However, he did have two specific restaurants in mind when he composed the song.
The first is located in Manhattan, across the street from Carnegie Hall, where Joel performed often. During a meal at Fontana di Trevi his waiter asked the song's opening lyric... verbatim. The second is Christiano’s, an eatery frequented by Joel in his youth located in Syosset, one of the 16 hamlets in Oyster Bay. Before the song’s official release in May ’77, Joel dedicated the song to what can only be speculated as his favorite neighborhood restaurant.

Similarly to "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" is a suite – i.e., three distinct and different movements smashed together into one seven-minute piece of music. The first section, a gentle piano ballad, sets the scene: two old classmates having a reunion together at their old stomping ground. This section serves as bookends to the entire song and Joel visits it during the conclusion.

The second section is the shortest segment that picks up tempo into an up-tempo, swinging jazz explosion. While listening, it becomes hard not to dance, snap your fingers, or at the very least, grin broadly. Next, Joel segues into his more typical rock & roll piano style for the song-within-a-song section, unofficially referred to as Brenda and Eddie.

Brenda and Eddie tells the vignette of two high school sweethearts whose relationship has already run its course and burned out at the other side. They recently split, amicably apparently, however when they tried to return to their old ways, found the teenage lifestyle impossible for adults (it is unclear whether Brenda, Eddie, and the narrator are meant to be in their twenties, thirties, or forties during the song).

Then the king and the queen [of the prom] went back to the green, but you can never go back there again. Again, Joel touting his wisdom here (as he did in "Vienna," both appear on Stranger) as one of the two old classmates who are still chatting in the Italian restaurant, points out what might be obvious to some and not-so-obvious to others: youth is wasted on the young.

A third location mentioned in "Scenes" is the Parkway Diner. Both New Jersey and New York boast a plethora of diners. Every town has at least one, some as many as five or ten. A quick Googlemaps search will show there is technically no Parkway diner in or near Oyster Bay, however there is a Parkway Restaurant in the Bronx and two nearby Parkway Diners: one in Massachusetts and the other in Northern New Jersey. Quite possibly, Joel visited one or both of these diners. It is also likely that he just pulled the name out of hat because it sounded appealing lyrically.

One final interesting fact about Joel’s youth is that while he attended Hicksville High in 1967, he didn’t graduate with his class because of his low attendance. He moonlighted at a piano bar to help his mother with the bills. When the school denied him the opportunity to graduate, he dropped out. He’s quoted as saying, “If I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Records.” He signed with Columbia in 1973.

Good for you, Billy… good for us.

~ Justin Novelli
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 Video: Scenes from an Italian Restaurant


 Place: Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York


 SongFacts


Song : Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

Joel outlined to USA Today how the Beatles inspired this song: "I had always admired the B-side of Abbey Road, which was essentially a bunch of songs strung together by (producer) George Martin. What happened was The Beatles didn't have completely finished songs or wholly fleshed-out ideas, and George said, 'What have you got?' John said, 'Well I got this,' and Paul said, 'I got that.' They all sat around and went, 'Hmm, we can put this together and that'll fit in there.' And that's pretty much what I did."

Album : The Stranger
Released : 1977

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