Getty Images Billy Joel

On May 19, 1976, Billy Joel released Turnstiles, his fourth studio album, which featured a song that gave New York its battle cry, "Miami 2017: (Seen The Lights Go Out on Broadway)."

Joel, a Long Island native, had moved to Los Angeles earlier in the decade to jumpstart his music career, but in 1975, he decided it was time to come home. He wrote Turnstiles (which includes "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" and "New York State of Mind") before and after his move, releasing the album when he was back settled in New York.

At the time, Joel was part of a rare breed moving into New York City, which was on the verge of default. In October 1975, President Gerald Ford condemned the idea of providing federal assistance to New York, inspiring the iconic Daily News headline, "Ford to City: Drop Dead."

"As soon as I saw that headline, 'I said, wait a minute. If New York's going down the tubes, I'm gonna go down with it," Joel said earlier this year.

Such anti-Big Apple rhetoric inspired Joel to write, "Miami 2017," which Joel describes as a science fiction outlook on an apocalyptic New York City.

The song's protagonist, who has been displaced to Miami, tells his grandchild about the glory that was New York City. Joel picked 2017 because it was far enough in the future that he would be an old man (he's 68). "Miami" and "2017" are never actually mentioned in the lyrics. The track tells the story of New Yorkers fleeing a crumbling city. While some citizens express sadness and nostalgia, others turn their back and leave for better lives elsewhere. Skyscrapers crumble, churches burn and bridges are blown up. Manhattan is the center of the wreckage.

After 41 years, his lyrics are worth analyzing.

"I've seen the lights go out on Broadway
I saw the Empire State lay low
And life went on beyond Palisades
They all bought Cadillacs
And left there long ago"

What he meant then:

Joel opens with a dark image of post-apocalyptic New York. While New Yorkers thought their city was essential to America before the apocalypse, they now see the world continues to churn without its help. The Palisades are cliffs along the Hudson River that serves as a border between New York and New Jersey. The "Cadillacs" reference suggests those who could fled New York in cars. As Genius says, "New York City was pretty much the only city in America where it was normal for people to be proud about not owning a car. In the rest of the country, not having a car meant you were poor, or infirm."

What it means now:

The lights never went out on Broadway, and as Alicia Keys said in "Empire State of Mind" in 2008, "Street lights, big dreams, all looking pretty." However, "I saw the Empire State lay low" did become relevant again. One month after September 11, 2001, Madison Square Garden hosted "The Concert for New York City." Joel played "Miami 2017" and said, "I wrote that song 25 years ago. I thought it was gonna be a science-fiction song. I never thought it would really happen. But unlike the end of that song, we ain't going anywhere!" If there was ever an image to describe New York "laying low," it would probably be the rubble in Ground Zero after 9/11.

New Yorkers still don’t drive cars. Even this year, public transit expanded to include a Second Avenue subway line. There is no sign of New York becoming a car-required city any time soon.

"We held a concert out in Brooklyn
To watch the Island bridges blow
They turned our power down
And drove us underground
But we went right on with the show."

What he meant then:

Brooklyn is connected to Manhattan by a handful of bridges, with the Brooklyn Bridge being the most famous. Joel gives New Yorkers a sense of hope and pride by saying they "held a concert" despite this destruction and "went right on with the show." He shows that New Yorkers have not lost faith even as they watch the horror unfold from Brooklyn where the skyline of Manhattan can be seen from almost any point. 

What it means now:

The bridges are still standing, but the dynamic between Manhattan and Brooklyn has changed. More businesses have shifted to Brooklyn, and the Williamsburg section of the borough, for better or for worse, has become an upscale center of hipster culture. A major concert in Brooklyn would have been unlikely in the 1970s. Today, Brooklyn is known for its cultural offerings, with Barclays Center becoming a necessary stop for high-profile artists. Manhattan did not need to fall for Brooklyn to rise.

"I've seen the lights go out on Broadway
I saw the ruins at my feet
You know we almost didn't notice it
We'd seen it all the time on 42nd Street."

What he meant then:

This suggests the collapse of New York should not have been a shock. Parts of the city were dilapidated before the 1970s, but locals turned a blind eye. In 1972, Gail Sheehy of New York magazine wrote that Times Square featured "the landlords of Hell's bedroom." The center of the city was entangled in corruption, prostitution, crime and general poor hygiene.

What it means now:

By no means is Times Square an example of cleanliness, but it has come a long way since 1976. In the 1990s, with David Dinkins and then Rudy Giuliani serving as mayor, New York City crime rates dropped significantly. The city and such large corporations as The Walt Disney Company took possession or bought property in Times Square, sparking considerable renovations. Times Square's notorious pornographic theaters were forced out and replaced with a Madame Tussauds and AMC Theaters. In the 1970s, Joel would have seen Times Square as a symbol of urban depravity. Today, it is the most congested tourist area in the city and perhaps in the entire nation.

"They burned the churches up in Harlem
Like in that Spanish Civil War
The flames were everywhere
But no one really cared
It always burned up there before."

What he meant then:

This is one of the deeper stanzas of the song. Harlem was a predominantly black neighborhood that turned into a venue for cultural progress during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. The Great Depression hobbled Harlem and left it with a reputation of crime and poverty. Frank Lucas, the Harlem heroin dealer who served as the basis to the 2007 film American Gangster, was convicted in 1976, the same year "Miami 2017" came out.

Joel imagines Harlem being taken down by fire, as opposed to the blasts that took down the bridges. During the Spanish Civil War, the Republicans burned churches as a way of diminishing the power of the Catholic church. Joel sees this as a burning of Harlem's historical significance. Although this should be a huge deal, Joel acknowledges many people will not and have not ever cared about Harlem due its racial demographics.

What it means now:

In the 1990s, Harlem began a revival and a reboot of its cultural significance. Landmarks such as the Apollo Theater have been renovated in the past two decades (Showtime at the Apollo lasted 21 years) and new real estate development brought more people into the community. Bill Clinton opened his office in Harlem after leaving the White House. The new Harlem is more diverse, while still maintaining an African-American majority of 54.4 percent in 2010. Much of Harlem's current community revolves around art and culture, with both traditional and modern influences.

"I've seen the lights go out on Broadway
I watched the mighty skyline fall
The boats were waiting at the Battery
The union went on strike
They never sailed at all."

What he meant then:

New York's Battery Park sits at the southern tip of Manhattan. Boats leaving from this area can go east to Brooklyn or west to New Jersey. In this scenario where New Yorkers need to escape Manhattan fast, boats could provide a mass exodus. However, with no workers present, the ships go unused (this can also be an observation about New Yorkers not having such outdoors skills as boating). According to Genius, "This is likely a reference to the 1966 New York City transit strike, which shut down all trains and buses in New York City."
 
What it means now:

The Battery has become mostly a tourist destination. City Pier A, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places, would have likely been the pier Joel described in 1976. The pier is no longer active today. Likewise, the nearby South Street Seaport docks five historical vessels and includes malls and nightlife options. New York still features a variety of piers with active ships docked, with many on the West Side facing New Jersey and Ellis Island.


"They sent a carrier out from Norfolk
And picked the Yankees up for free
They said that Queens could stay
They blew the Bronx away
And sank Manhattan out at sea."

What he meant then:

What he meant then:

This is perhaps the verse casual fans know best. Naval Station Norfolk is a massive U.S. Navy base in Virginia that, in this case, is called upon to lead the exodus of boats stuck at the Battery. Joel, a famous Mets fan, says the Yankees would be preserved as a team, likely because of their high national value. Another interpretation of this line suggests New York is so depleted, the owners are willing to sell the franchise for no profit. When Joel played Shea Stadium's final live concert before being demolished, he changed the following line to "They said the Mets could play, one more game at Shea."

The Queens and Bronx comparison could again be seen as racial. The 1940 Census Bureau revealed the Bronx to be 98.3 percent white and 1.7 percent black. In 1970, it was 24.3 percent black. Queens was also becoming less white but at a slower rate, which meant it could stay while the Bronx is eliminated. Throughout this song, Joel seems to label Long Island as a safe destination for those leaving New York City.

What it means now:

The Yankees are still the most valuable MLB franchise and they still play in the Bronx. The Bronx and Queens continued their dramatic cultural shift, and whites make up less than half of the population in both boroughs. Starting in the 1970s, Queens would see a rapid immigration of Asians into the community, which still features the Mets but they no longer play at Shea.

"You know those lights were bright on Broadway
But that was so many years ago
Before we all lived here in Florida
Before the mafia took over Mexico
There are not many who remember
They say a handful still survive
To tell the world about
The way the lights went out
And keep the memory alive."

What he meant then:

While Joel never actually says "Miami" in the lyrics, he does mention "Florida" for the first time here. South Florida is a common retirement destination for New Yorkers, and Joel selects it as the destination for the protagonist. He laments that in 2017 there are only a small portion of New York exiles still alive to the story of the city's heyday and downfall.

It is worth noting Joel's father was a Holocaust survivor. Even in 1976, American Jews feared the world would lose preservation of Holocaust stories and artifacts. In 2017, only a handful of Holocaust survivors still survive to tell the world about the time their world burned in the 1930s and 1940s

While the protagonist moves to Florida, the mafia, which long held certain powers in New York, reolocates to Mexico. According to Genius, this is a reference to the mafia "switching from butcher shops" to "selling drugs and illegal weapons" in the 1970s.

What it means now:

Florida is still a hub for retired New Yorkers, and when grandchildren come to visit, they are usually coming from New York or another Northeast city. The lights never went out on New York, and children and grandchildren can see for themselves what made New York so great in the 20th century. Joel did not end up moving from Los Angeles to Miami. He moved back to New York, and he still makes his primary residence on Long Island today. Since January 2014, Joel has held a residency at Madison Square Garden, performing one concert each month right in the middle of Manhattan.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.

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