Good morning! Jim Adams has given us the prompts of “D and J” for this week’s Song Lyric Sunday, asking us to choose a song beginning with the letter “D” and/or “J”. I picked “Dust in Wind” by Kansas and “Just The Way You Are” by Billy Joel. Two gentle songs that I always enjoy whenever I hear them.
Kansas guitarist Kerry Livgren wrote this after reading a book of Native American poetry. The line that caught his attention was, “For all we are is dust in the wind.”
This got him thinking about the true value of material things and the meaning of success. The band was doing well and making money, but Kerry realized that in the end, he would eventually die just like everyone else. No matter our possessions or accomplishments, we all end up back in the ground.
Kerry Livgren wrote this song when he was under pressure to write a follow-up to the group’s hit, “Carry On Wayward Son.” While playing his acoustic guitar exercises, his wife suggested that putting lyrics to the patterns would yield his hit song. “I didn’t think it was a Kansas-type song,” he told Bruce Pollock. “She said, ‘Give it a try anyway.’ Several million records later, I guess she was right.”
Kansas was almost done writing and rehearsing the Point of Know Return album when their producer, Jeff Glixman, asked if they had any more songs. Livgren reluctantly played this song for his bandmates on acoustic guitar, insisting they wouldn’t like it because it was notKansas. To his surprise, they loved the song and insisted they record it. Livgren then fought against his own song, but was overruled. “Dust In The Wind” became their biggest hit, but Livgren never did think very highly of it. “I tend to like the more bombastic things, like ‘The Wall,’ he said in his interview with Pollock.
This slow, acoustic song was not typical of Kansas, whose previous singles included “Carry On My Wayward Son” and “Point Of Know Return.” It put the band in the position of having their best-known song be one that doesn’t reflect their sound
The phrase “dust in the wind” shows up in the Bible:
You are dust, and to dust you shall return
Kerry Livgren became an evangelical Christian in 1980. He says of his songwriting in the ’70s, “I was only expressing my own searching for something,” adding, “If you look at my lyrics, even ‘Dust in the Wind’ is a song about the transitory nature of our physical lives. That falls under the umbrella heading of God.”
This was the second big hit for Kansas, following “Carry On My Wayward Son.” With two hits under their belt, they were able to headline arena rock shows into the late ’70s. Later hits for the band include “Play the Game Tonight” (1982, #17 US) and “All I Wanted” (1986, #19 US).
In the movie Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted go back in time and share philosophy with Socrates, who is impressed when Ted, played by Keanu Reeves philosophizes “All we are is dust in the wind.”
This was the first acoustic Kansas song, and perhaps the most famous acoustic rock song ever recorded. It crossed over to a variety of formats, as Rock, Country, and Adult Contemporary radio statins all played it.
Courtesy of Songfacts
Lyrics Dust in the Wind I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment's gone All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity Dust in the wind All they are is dust in the wind Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see Dust in the wind All we are is dust in the wind Oh, ho, ho Now, don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky It slips away And all your money won't another minute buy Dust in the wind All we are is dust in the wind All we are is dust in the wind Dust in the wind Everything is dust in the wind Everything is dust in the wind The wind Writer/s: Kerry Livgren Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind
My second pick is “Just The Way You Are” – Billy Joel
Joel wrote this song about his first wife, Elizabeth. A pure expression of unconditional love, he gave it to her as a birthday present.Sadly, after nine years of marriage, Joel and Elizabeth divorced in 1982. Joel’s next two marriages didn’t work out either: he was married to Christie Brinkley from 1985-1994, and to Katie Lee from 2004-2010.
“Every time I wrote a song for a person I was in a relationship with, it didn’t last,” Joel said. “It was kind of like the curse. Here’s your song – we might as well say goodbye now.”
This won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the 1979 ceremony. It was a breakthrough for Joel, whose biggest hit to this point was “Piano Man,” which reached #25 in the US.
Joel told USA Today July 9, 2008: “I was absolutely surprised it won a Grammy. It wasn’t even rock ‘n’ roll, it was like a standard with a little bit of R&B in it. It reminded me of an old Stevie Wonder recording.” >>
After Joel recorded this, he didn’t think much of it, considering it a “gloppy ballad” that would only get played at weddings. He credits his producer, Phil Ramone, with convincing him that it was a great song. Ramone brought Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow into the recording studio to hear the song, and of course they loved it, which was good enough for Billy. On Australian TV in 2006, Joel confirmed: “We almost didn’t put it on an album. We were sitting around listening to it going naaah, that’s a chick song.”
Joel’s longtime drummer Liberty DeVitto considers his work on this track his greatest contribution to a Billy Joel song. In his Songfacts interview, DeVitto said: “Me and [producer] Phil Ramone came up with that kind of crazy rhythm that started out as a samba beat, like a bossa nova with a brush and a stick.”
Barry White’s cover version hit #12 in the UK in 1978. The song was also covered by Frank Sinatra and Isaac Hayes, whose version is in 6/8 time with a long introductory rap.
Joel was particularly amused by the Sinatra cover. “When we have a soundcheck we always send up my own material and we do ‘Just The Way You Are’ with this cheesy Las Vegas swing and make a whole joke of the thing and Sinatra did it exactly the same way,” he told Q in 1987. “I screamed when I heard it! You sure this isn’t me singing this, Frankie, or is it a joke or whaaat?”
Joel played a Fender Rhodes electric piano on this track, using the instrument’s phase shifter effect. This same setup can be heard on the Paul Simon song “Still Crazy After All These Years.”
This was the first single off The Stranger, which was Billy Joel’s sixth album
.On a July 16, 2006 blog for the Australian newspaper The Herald Sun, Joel said that he dreamt the melody and chord progression and wrote the lyrics over a few days after the dream recurred. He added that the drum pattern was suggested by his producer at the time, Phil Ramone.
Joel expanded to USA Today: “I dreamt the melody, not the words. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and going, ‘This is a great idea for a song.’ A couple of weeks later, I’m in a business meeting, and the dream reoccurs to me right at that moment because my mind had drifted off from hearing numbers and legal jargon. And I said, ‘I have to go!’ I got home and I ended up writing it all in one sitting, pretty much. It took me maybe two or three hours to write the lyrics.”
This was Joel’s first chart entry in the UK.
In his 2014 appearance on a Howard Stern town hall special, Joel explained that the original sheet music printed for this song was wrong, with an extra chord in the intro. He says that he often hears people playing it the wrong way, and has even corrected some of them when he hears it.
Joel played this on a 1988 episode of Sesame Street where he appeared with the deaf actress Marlee Matlin. They pay a visit to Oscar the Grouch, where Joel sings an altered version of the song to the trash-can dweller while Marlin signs the lyrics. Joel makes it clear that Oscar is fine the way he is, as he sings:
Don’t go changing just to please me
Cause being friendly’s not your style
Don’t want to hear you saying “thank you”
I would hate to see you smile
Just be grouchy
You’ve done it pretty well so far
Paul McCartney delivered high praise for this song, stating in his Club Sandwich newsletter that it’s one of the few songs he wished he had written (“Stardust” was his first selection).
Joel performed this on Saturday Night Live in 1977, three months before it was released.
Courtesy of Songfacts
Lyrics Just The Way You Are Don't go changing, to try and please me You never let me down before Don't imagine, you're too familiar And I don't see you anymore I wouldn't leave you in times of trouble We never could have come this far I took the good times, I'll take the bad times I'll take you just the way you are Don't go trying some new fashion Don't change the color of your hair You always have my unspoken passion Although I might not seem to care I don't want clever conversation I never want to work that hard I just want someone that I can talk to I want you just the way you are I need to know that you will always be The same old someone that I knew What will it take till you believe in me The way that I believe in you I said I love you and that's forever And this I promise from the heart I could not love you any better I love you just the way you are Writer/s: Billy Joel Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., BMG Rights Management Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind
Two awesome songs this week! I had “Dust in the Wind” on 45 and I had the album. Great choice there! 🙂
Thanks Lisa. Yes, two nice gentle songs ☺️
Really a great post, Christine! So loved the backstory on both of these songs! Bellissimo!!
Thank you Chuck. Yes, this is a weekly prompt I really enjoy. Songs lyrics are poetry after all 🥰
Not familiar with Dust in the Wind, but 2 good choices Christine.
Thanks Di. I hope you liked Dust in the Wind? Kansas was a new band to me when I moved here. I don’t think they were ever known in England.
I did very much.
On Ash Wednesday the priest would always make the sign of a cross on our foreheads with ashes and say, “Remember man that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return”. Nice song selections this week Christine and a wonderful write-up on them again as usual.
Thanks so much Jim. ☺️ Yes, dust to dust, that’s all we really are.
Haven’t heard Dust in the Wind in years – I forgot how beautiful this song is! You’ve just made my Sunday😍
Thank you Ella. Yes, an oldie but a goodie 🤣
Oh! Christine, two beautiful choices, both great.💜💜
Thanks Willow 🥰
Dust in the Wind is a favorite!
Thanks Janis ☺️
Both great song choices!
Thanks. I find them both very soothing ☺️