Billy Joel – The Stranger (1977)
In 1977, at the height of punk and disco, Billy Joel was (still) considered a bit twee, or wimpy in the eyes of many critics. He was enjoying some commercial success with previous singles like: “Piano Man” and “New York State of Mind”, but this was his breakthrough. And it’s easy to see why. Out of nine tracks, it spawned five singles, (“Just The Way You Are”, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song), “Only The Good Die Young”, “She’s Always A Woman” and “The Stranger”) that became signature Joel songs. Add to that list the fan favourites “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and “Vienna” and you have an album crammed with classics. Billy Joel may have been out of step with the times – he was never really fashionable, or trendy – but he finally found the (mass) audience his songwriting seemed destined for. He’s got an interesting voice, not one you’d call ‘beautiful’ perhaps, but it’s instantly recognisable, and it’s a great pop voice because his voice becomes the ‘everyman’ (or the ‘everyperson’). He never really had any ‘persona’ or ‘stage image’ or gimmick that threatened to eclipse the work, so you’re left with just the voice and the songs. It’s no wonder this album resonated with people, the songs were spirited with: Love, Nostalgia, Memory, Coming-of-Age, Religion, Teen Hormones, Paranoia, Loneliness, Delusion, Destiny, Broken Dreams and Love (again). Everyone can relate to that. And a lot of people did. The album, constructed with the help of legendary producer Phil Ramone, remains one of his best sellers. And he was kind of big for listless suburban teens, like myself, who drunkenly sang along to his tunes at parties with friends. He wasn’t shredding any guitars or thundering any drum-kits or speaking in-code about drugs, but it fit right in with whatever else we were grooving to at the time. They were just great songs. Maybe unconsciously we connected to the innate sense of sadness and quiet desperation in his songs, and his voice. (Suburbia is great for doses of that.) His words dramatise the stories inside the songs perfectly, and something tells me Billy Joel fans don’t need to look at the monitors on karaoke nights, which is a testament to his lyrical strengths. Once you’re a fan, his songs are in your blood for good.
By Decoy Spoon