Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Z is for Zanzibar


I suppose, if I were more of the intellectual type, I’d tell you a little bit about the country-ish* place located in Africa.  (*Technically, Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, but they’ve got some partial autonomy.)  It looks like a lovely place, and it seems Freddie Mercury was born there.  Interesting. 

But, if you’ve been around here much, you probably don’t expect a geography/anthropology lesson, and today is not the day I’m going to break form.  No, instead, I’m going to tell you a little bit about a nifty little song of the same name.

“Zanzibar” is a catchy tune off of Billy Joel’s 1978 album, 52nd Street.  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned itBilly Joel 52nd Street before, but Joel most likely holds the title of My Favorite Musician Ever.  I mean, if you’re like me, at any given time there’s someone who’s tops on your playlist, and if someone says, “hey, who’s your favorite singer?”, you might rattle off the name of whoever you’re listening to non-stop at the moment.  But even so, for most of us, there’s someone who’s always on our playlist, someone that we always return to, year after year, who never grows old.  For me, that someone is Billy Joel.

Anyway, “Zanzibar” is an album cut, but I’ve never entirely understood the decision making process in these things.  There are lots of songs I listen to that I think would’ve been hit singles, but they never got released.  Or maybe it’s that I think they should’ve been hit singles, so someone should give them the chance.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that “Zanzibar” is a lively song, with some nice piano work (as you’d expect from Billy), and some less common trumpet playing, that just really works.  It sounds like it ought to be playing in some smoky jazz dive, which is just about exactly what the song is about.  It’s also got some vibraphone and marimba going on, giving it an even more distinct sound than much of Billy Joel’s trademark keyboarding, and making it sound like maybe it could be honoring the African island after all.  And, it’s got some fun lyrics, mixing sports and sex all together with some typical youthful exuberance.  What’s not to like?  But, even with all that, it never got its chance at the fame of radio play, and I think that’s a shame.  Listen here and decide for yourself. 

Over the years, I’ve heard some fans trying to figure out just where the mythical club Zanzibar was located, but none of the ideas I’ve heard floated ever seem to pan out.  There was a disco in New Jersey by that name, but it didn’t open until almost a year after the album debuted, and besides, it was a disco.  A popular opinion seems to be Zanzibar on the Waterfront in Washington, DC, but, again, not in existence at the time of the song’s writing.  And, there used to be a club in Hell’s Kitchen called Zanzibar, which would seem a likely choice, except that I don’t think it was open back in the 70s, either, and if you browse their website (still running, though it seems the place has been closed for a couple of years), it just doesn’t look right.  Pretty sure that’s not the place Billy was singing about.  So, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the place didn’t really exist, at least not by that name.  Given some of the interviews I’ve heard with Joel, and his descriptions of some of the places he played as he was coming up, I’m pretty sure the club was real, even if it was called something else. 

So, that’s a look at the musical version of Zanzibar, one of my favorite non-singles from Billy Joel.  As an aside, there’s another on the same album, “Stiletto”; that’s also pretty darn good.  Really, the whole album is pretty good.  (Not as good as The Stranger, of course, but what is?)  If you’ve never heard it, you ought to do yourself a favor and change that. 

And, in case you’re video-inclined, here’s a live version of Zanzibar.  I didn’t select this one because of its fine quality, but because the performance was more contemporary to the album than some of the others.

And, that, my friends, brings us to a close of ABC Wednesday, at least for me.  I want to thank the fine folks who keep things running over there for giving me something fun and interesting to do here for the past 26 weeks.  Everyone on the team is welcoming, and makes participants feel like they’re part of the group.  And special thanks to Roger, who’s been helming things this time around, and doing a very fine job of it.  They’re already gearing up for the next go-round to begin next week, so if you’re looking for a fun theme day for your blog, I’d encourage you to drop on by and join in. 

For myself, I’ll be taking a break for round 12, though I may drop by again for round 13, if it’s still going on.  (And I have no reason to think it won’t be, since they’ve been at it six years now!)  Next Wednesday will begin a new weekly theme here at Idle Chatter, Weight Loss Wednesday.  As you might guess, this will be a more personal undertaking, chronicling my ongoing struggle to get to a healthier, skinnier me.  I hope to see you around for that.