Billy Joel – Code of Silence
Today on Into the Popvoid: When Pop Stars Sing Back Up For Other Pop Stars.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is never not a good thing. Just imagine Steve Winwood’s Higher Love without Chaka Khan’s thrilling “briiiiiiiiiiiing me a higher love” taking it to a level of brilliance it could never have achieved on its own. Then there’s Kate Bush on Peter Gabriel’s Games Without Frontiers. Or the Bangles popping up throughout Cyndi Lauper’s Change of Heart like an amazing
Greek Californian chorus. Or Cyndi Lauper herself dropping by to enliven today’s entry, Billy Joel’s splendid – but at least 50% better by virtue of her presence – Code of Silence.
Code of Silence finds Billy very much in his mid-tempo, muscular mode (see also The Downeaster Alexa from Storm Front), and it’s an anthem for the emotionally repressed – or as I prefer to think of them, Scottish people. “And you can’t talk about it / And isn’t that a kind of madness / To be living by a code of silence / When you’ve really got a lot to say.” That’s pretty much how I’ve lived my life – not for nothing is my personal theme tune Don’t Cry Out Loud by Melissa Manchester.
It’s a world away from the joyous and liberated Uptown Girl and Tell Her About It, and it was apparently a song Billy was struggling to finish until he had the idea of asking Cyndi to help out. For me, this was the masterstroke that brought the much needed balance to what otherwise might have been a bit of a slog of a song, because if there’s one person who isn’t repressed in pop, it’s Cyndi Lauper. Consider what she brought to USA for Africa’s We Are the World: for its first two minutes and fifty-one seconds it coasts along very earnestly – some might say patronisingly – in a kind of strangled benevolence. Everyone’s on their best behaviour and then Cyndi barges in with “WELLWELLWELLWELL …just realise / That a change can only come…”, sounding angry, desperate and a little scary. I’d be willing to bet quite a sum that hers was the moment that caused most people to dig into their pockets.
So yes, Cyndi has form when it comes to transforming a song entirely, and that’s just what she does on Code of Silence. She sort of surfs across the choruses, with every “oooooooo-haaaaaaaaaa” and “no you CAN’T talk” coming across like Billy’s inner monologue screaming to get out. Honestly, it’s totally brilliant – these two native New Yorkers work perfectly together and I wish they’d done more.
More often than not, these collaborations, these almost-but-not-quite-duets, get released as a single, because obviously a bit of extra star power and an additional fanbase makes having a hit that little bit more likely. But for some reason Code of Silence remained as an album track, despite being (to my ear anyway) considerably more catchy than what was actually released from The Bridge – Modern Woman, A Matter of Trust, This is the Time and Baby Grand (with Ray Charles). And because The Bridge had a bit of a whiff of a flop about it in comparison to its predecessor An Innocent Man (none of its singles charted inside the top 40 in the UK), it has never received the recognition I think it deserves. Isn’t that a kind of madness?
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Sia could do the whole thing on her own and it would be quite exciting, I reckon.
I just listened to The Bridge on vinyl while cleaning my house. While the album was released when I was 3, I still can relate (retroactively) to the contrast between this and the ballad metal that began to show up around this time. Big Man on Mulberry Street is my all-time favorite concert memory, but this song is thematically timeless. I know several people who are living by the code because of unfortunate childhood events, so Cyndi Lauper, even though not the main vocalist, provides the most haunting part of the song. Joel provides the objective case while Lauper embodies the soul of people who remain in the background with “a lot to say.” One side note – Downeaster Alexa was from Storm Front, not River of Dreams.
Epic fail on my part, thanks!