Best academic overreach of the day:
[Billy] Joel’s treatment of the same Beethoven material [the slow movement of the “Pathétique” sonata, in the song “This Night”] is even more literal than that of [Kiss’s] “Great Expectations,” although he withholds the melodic quotation until the refrain. But the song is shot through with wordplay linking Beethoven’s nineteenth-century practice to that of the self-described “piano man” Joel and to the expressive registers of historical doo-wop ballads that the song references. Indeed, the love lyrics at times seem to suggest the solo pianist’s relationship with the keyboard; distortions of musical time and imaginitive space are effected through the utterance of words that possess meaningful implications outside the conventional subject matter of the song. These include “ready for romance” (code word for nineteenth-century repertoire), “only a slow dance” (the slow movement, outside the context of the full sonata), and the notion of an expressive historical musical continuum delivered at the end of the Beethovenian refrain music (“this night can last forever”). Joel sets up the first citation of the theme when his doo-wop rocker persona admits at the end of the verse that he can no longer “remember the rules,” launching the song into a different registral collection from which the melody and harmony of the refrain are borrowed to create an effectively expressive hybrid.
—Michael Long, Beautiful Monsters
(University of California Press, 2008)
Given that he’s just name-dropped Barthes, I was disappointed Long didn’t hit for the textual-analysis cycle with a “Piano/Man” reference.
We can probably thank producer Bob Ezrin for the Beethoven quote in “Great Expectations,” by the way—the demo has no quotation, and in fact reveals that the melody of the chorus was tweaked to more closely echo Beethoven.