Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)



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Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway) on Wikipedia
"Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)"
Song by Billy Joel
ReleasedMay 1976
RecordedUltra Sonic Studio in Hempstead, NY
WriterBilly Joel
ProducerBilly Joel

"Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" is a song written by Billy Joel which appeared as the final song on the album Turnstiles in 1976. A live version recorded at Madison Square Garden would also be released as the first track on his 1981 collection of live performances of lesser-known songs, called Songs in the Attic.


As the title indicates, the song is written from the point of view of a narrator situated in Miami, Florida in the year 2017. However, the song is itself a fictional retrospective on the closure, or falling, of New York City some years earlier. The narrator recalls attending an unauthorized concert in Brooklyn (so as "to watch the island bridges blow") on the city's final night in existence, which proceeded in spite of official objection ("They turned our power down / And drove us underground / But we went right on with the show"). The spectators witnessed the various measures being taken to close down the city including the burning of churches in Harlem, the sinking of Manhattan, and the tumbling of the "mighty skyline." According to the song's final verse, New York residents were evacuated, or moved to Florida, and in the meantime, the city's Mafia families had relocated to Mexico, making it their new base of operations.


The release of Turnstiles followed Billy Joel's return to his hometown of New York from a brief foray in Los Angeles which resulted in the albums Piano Man and Streetlife Serenade. Several of the songs are linked to this transition, including "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" and "New York State of Mind."

Joel has described it as a "science fiction song" about an apocalypse occurring in New York as a result of discussions that the city was failing in the 1970s.[1] New York was bordering on bankruptcy, and after asking the Federal Government for help, they were denied assistance. This resulted in the famous headline on the New York Daily News, stating "Ford to City: Drop Dead".[2]

Lyrics and imagery

The reasoning behind the decision to destroy New York in the song's narrative is never made explicit, but New York City suffered financial hardships throughout the 1970s, almost experiencing bankruptcy. (See History of New York City (1946-1977)#1970s) The song describes an alternate future history where the city did not recover and as a result was dismantled while the rest of the country remained intact. The narrative makes several allusions to New York City icons, their state at the time of the events in question, and the fate which befalls them. A summary of the description of the night's events follows:

  • Joel states he saw the "Empire State laid low," a reference to New York State, the Empire State falling after its largest city is destroyed, and perhaps also to an actual demolition of the Empire State Building.
  • The bridges to Manhattan are "blown", serving as the backdrop for the concert described in the song.
  • Power is cut off from the city, as demonstrated by the titular extinguishing of the lights in the Broadway entertainment district and the loss of power for the concert described in the song.
  • The narrator notes that the residents "almost didn't notice" the ruins at their feet, as they "see it all the time on 42nd Street."
  • Churches are burned in Harlem, which the narrator likens to the Spanish Civil War. Again he notes the mild impact this had on the residents, as it "always burned up there before."
  • Boats are sent to Battery Park to help evacuate the city, but due to a union strike, none of them sail.
  • After the evacuation boats fail to sail from Battery Park, the song states that Naval Station Norfolk sends a aircraft carrier, which "picked the Yankees up for free."
  • Decisions are made with regard to each of the Boroughs -- "they said that Queens could stay, they blew the Bronx away, and sank Manhattan out at sea."
  • Former New York City residents move to Florida, and an allusion is made to Mafia control of Mexico.
  • Despite the carnage, life goes on "beyond the Palisades".

Significance after September 11, 2001

The imagery of the falling New York City skyline took on particular significance when the fictional story partly came to fruition in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which saw the collapse of the World Trade Center towers (which had only been completed three years before the song was penned), the United States Navy dispatched warships from Norfolk, and docked USNS Comfort at Pier 92.

Shortly after the attacks, Billy Joel participated in a benefit concert on October 20, 2001 in which the song was performed (as well as "New York State of Mind"). Noting the obvious connection, Joel pronounced at the end of the song, "I wrote that song 25 years ago. I thought it was going to be a science fiction song; I never thought it would really happen. But unlike the end of that song, we ain't going anywhere!"[3] His proclamation was met with a raucous standing ovation.

Cover versions

"Miami 2017" was recorded by Richard Marx in 1993, and released as a bonus track on international versions of his album Paid Vacation, and an acoustic guitar oriented version was recorded by Stuart Markus on his CD View From The Side Of The Road.

Notes and references

The song is available as DLC for the rhythm video game Rock Band 3 where it is incorrectly listed as "Miami 2017 (See the Lights Go Out on Broadway).

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Glenn Gamboa (2001). "A Moment to Party Amid the Grief".,0,7752909.column. 

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