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Billy Joel song of the day: He looks back at 'New York State of Mind'

Billy Joel performs at Nassau Coliseum on Dec.

Billy Joel performs at Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 11, 1977, as part of his tour for "The Stranger." That album followed 1976's "Turnstiles," which featured the classic "New York State of Mind." Credit: Sony Music Entertainment / Maillet

TODAY'S SONG: New York State of Mind From Joel's 1976 album, "Turnstiles" The back-in-New York anthem has been covered by everyone from Tony Bennett and Mel Tormé to Barbra Streisand and Shirley Bassey. Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and suddenly it became an anthem for America, a remembrance of what happened here and how the city and the country would continue on defiantly. And it became all Joel's once again.

JOEL SAYS "There's a lot of songs about New York. 'New York, New York,' 'On Broadway,' this was about coming back to this place, which I think it really needed, especially back in the mid-'70s, when it was really kind of crappy.

"A lot of bad things were happening in New York then. There was a lot of crime. Drugs were out of control. The city looked bad, it was really dirty. It almost defaulted financially. It really needed a boost, and I wanted to write an anthem for it ... It actually took on a whole other meaning after, which I felt ... When we did it at that telethon immediately after 9/11, everybody was just about in tears trying to get through the song. We did it as blues, rather than doing it as a standard. We played it kind of downbeat and soft and slow, almost like an elegy. It was difficult to get through. I just kept staring at the fireman's helmet on the piano and I just kept thinking, 'Just look at the helmet, just look at the helmet. Don't think about what you're feeling right now. Think about the guy who wore that helmet and do the song.' "

With Billy Joel set to play the final show at the original Nassau Coliseum next week, closing a significant chapter in the area's musical history, it seemed like a good time to revisit the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Kennedy Center honoree's contributions to the American Songbook and the songs that are part of the fabric of Long Island.

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