Tuesday, 29 May 2018
Billy Joel - The Stranger (1977)
Released September 1977
Recorded at A & R Studios, New York City
Billy Joel’s 1977 shot at cracking the big time. He did it too.
A wonderful collection of New York Italian-inspired piano-led rock songs, with organ, saxophone and drums to the fore also, you feel you are at a table with a red check tablecloth and waiting for your pasta arrabiata. This image, of course, is helped no end by the album’s centrepiece, the magnificent story-telling narrative song “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” with its characters Brenda & Eddie and many musical mood swings. From piano balladry to rocking saxophone and back again. Marvellous. Joel’s “A Day In The Life”.
New York references abound in much of this album - either directly as in Sullivan Street or in it’s characters - Anthony, Mama Leone, Mr Cacciatore, Brenda & Eddie, Virginia. Even Joel’s whistling at the beginning and end of the title track and the end of the album (a repeated coda to the album) is like the whistling of a waiter clearing the tables after lunch. Somehow I see this as a “New York in daytime album” as opposed to an evening one. Maybe that’s just how I visualise it. Lunch time in Little Italy.
Highlights are the vibrant. evocative opener “Movin’ Out”, the title track, the afore-mentioned “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, the beautiful “Vienna” and the celebratory rock n roll of “Only The Good Die Young”.
The standard chart-friendly romance of “Just The Way You Are” (covered successfully by Barry White) is not out of place, neither is the beautiful, yearning “She’s Always A Woman”. However “Get It Right The First Time” seems a little superfluous, lacking the sheer chutzpah of all that preceded it.
The final track is a strange inclusion, an old track from 1971 called “Everybody Has A Dream”. No real need for this one in my opinion. It sits a bit oddly with the others, although it is redeemed by the piano and whistling reprise of “The Stranger” at the end.
The live material on CD 2 of the deluxe edition is excellent, both in sound and musical quality. The album is remastered perfectly too. Highly recommended.