Billy Joel - Leningrad (1989)
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"Leningrad" is a 1989 song written and performed by American singer and songwriter Billy Joel. The song was originally ...
"Leningrad" is a 1989 song written and performed by American singer and songwriter Billy Joel. The song was originally released on his album Storm Front on the Columbia Records label, and went on to be released as a single. It was also released on his Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 compilation. The song title is derived from the contemporary name of St. Petersburg, Russia (see Leningrad).
The song was written by Joel about a Russian clown named Viktor Razinov, whom he met while touring the Soviet Union in 1987. Throughout the song, major items of Viktor's and Billy's lives are compared to show the cultural differences and similarities of the United States of America and the Soviet Union.
In the song, Billy describes Viktor's life as one of many Soviet children who lost fathers during World War II, specifically during the siege of Leningrad. He enlisted in the Red Army, drank vodka to fight the pain, and then became a circus clown, bringing joy to Russian children.
Billy described his childhood life as being "born in ‘49, a Cold War kid in McCarthy time." He briefly describes his life living in Levittown, and the fear of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Billy also makes a reference to the Korean War, a proxy war to the Cold War, as well as the Vietnam War.
In the end, the two meet after Billy's Leningrad concert (Viktor had journeyed across Russia to see all six of the Russian concerts), where Viktor draws a laugh from Billy's daughter Alexa. Billy and Viktor embrace afterwards. In the song's last line, Billy sings, "We never knew what friends we had, until we came to Leningrad."
The quote is printed on the single cover, but not on the cover of the 4 track CD, which instead features the titles of the extra songs: "Goodnight Saigon,” "Vienna,” and "Scandinavian Skies.”
In 2015, Viktor traveled to New York to see Billy Joel's concert in Madison Square Garden. For this reunion, Billy played “Leningrad,” which he rarely plays live.
The piano riff that begins and ends the song is a loose quote of the main theme of the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. It may also be that Joel was influenced by Air on the G String by Johann Sebastian Bach. Leningrad's signature opening and closing segments appear to be a nod to Air on the G String's opening passage first heard by the 10th measure of the 1731 composition.