On New Year’s Eve, Billy Joel made news by doing something he’s done literally hundreds of times in the past 40 years: He performed “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway)” for an audience of graying, beer-hoisting “Piano Man” fans. Written in 1975 and released the following year on his fourth studio album, Turnstiles, “Miami 2017” was conceived by Joel as “a science fiction song” accented with proggy synth wails and apocalyptic lyrics that enumerate various calamities laying waste to New York City: Buildings crumble, churches burn, the Yankees leave the Bronx. (Also, in the song’s looniest lyric, the mafia takes over Mexico.) While it was never released as a single, the anthemic “Miami 2017” — aptly described by Joel as a “great stadium song,” given its dynamic “baroque balladry to bombastic rock” structure — has long been a concert favorite and one of Joel’s most underrated jams.
But since 9/11, many people have actually considered “Miami 2017” to be prophetic. Joel performed “Miami 2017” at the Concert For New York in 2001, shortly after buildings truly did fall in Manhattan. When Joel revived “Miami 2017” again 11 years later at the 12/12/12 concert, he altered the lyrics to integrate references to Hurricane Sandy.
Perhaps that’s why media outlets who normally wouldn’t report on the latest stop of Joel’s never-ending greatest hits tour took time to note that Joel played “Miami 2017” this week in the song’s titular city right at the dawn of its titular year. People were already talking about the prescience of “Miami 2017” in social media — where doomsday talk has been pervasive since at least the presidential election — as the new year loomed. The implicit suggestion here seems to be that Billy Joel, classic rock’s ersatz Nostradamus, knows something, and we can learn from him if we just study this classic-rock deep cut closely enough. At the very least, “Miami 2017” seems poised for a revival as a meme whenever something bad happens this year. Be prepared.