SHE’S ALWAYS A WOMAN
Billy Joel wrote “She’s Always A Woman” for his first wife Elizabeth Weber, who was also his business manager. The song contrasts her tenacious exterior with the way he knew her as a lover and wife. In the context of their divorce five years later lines like “she can wound with her eyes” and “steal like a thief” take on weighty new substance.
Rolling Stone called the song “misleadingly tender,” but everything about The Stranger struck a chord in 1977. Another single from the album, “Just the Way You Are,” took a similar (if less snarky) stance, and both were hits. That second tune was an artistic coup de grace for Joel, whose jazz leanings on his early Columbia albums were dismissed by critics, because the legendary Phil Woods played the solo.
Joel wrote “Just the Way You Are” as a birthday gift for Weber. According to the authorized biography by Fred Schruers for which Joel granted hours of interviews, Weber’s response when he played the song for her was calculating: “Do I get the publishing rights, too?”
The success of The Stranger started Joel on a streak which outlasted his first two marriages, but he rarely performed either love song after his divorce from Weber. Joel was generous in the separation until he was laid up in the hospital after a motorcycle accident in which he had badly injured both hands. In the biography he tells Schruers that Weber arrived at the hospital with contacts, asking him to sign over even more to her. Several years later he was forced to sue her brother for siphoning tens of millions out of his earnings.
A muzak version of “She’s Always a Woman” was playing in the plaza between the two towers of the World Trade Center moments before the South Tower collapsed.
John Denver wrote “Annie’s Song” for his wife in 1974, and it was included on his hit album, Back Home Again. That’s Annie Martell next to him on the cover.
Initially,” she explained, “it was a love song and it was given to me through him, and yet for him it became a bit like a prayer.” The song is unique in Denver’s catalog as his only hit in the United Kingdom, although cover versions of other songs he wrote have been successful there. It was so popular there that an utterly dreadful version by flautist James Galway was also a hit.
Readers of Denver’s 1994 autobiography Take Me Home learned that then, and throughout their marriage, he was unfaithful to Annie, and although it was his drug use and infidelity which led to their divorce he flew into a rage over how the couple’s assets were being divided. He describes in detail cutting their bed in half with a chainsaw and choking Annie. “Before I knew it I had her on the kitchen counter and my hands were around her throat. And I stopped. I had almost lost control but didn’t.”