|Studio album by|
|Released||September 29, 1977|
|Studio||A&R Recording, Inc., New York City|
|Billy Joel chronology|
|Singles from The Stranger|
The Stranger is the fifth studio album by American singer Billy Joel, released in September 1977 by Columbia Records. It was the first of Joel's albums to be produced by Phil Ramone, with whom he would go on to work for all of his albums up until his 1986 album The Bridge.
The Stranger was released a year following Joel's previous studio effort, Turnstiles, which had sold modestly and peaked low on the US charts, prompting Columbia to consider dropping Joel if his next release did not sell well. Joel wanted the album to feature his newly-formed touring band that had formed during the production of Turnstiles, which consisted of drummer Liberty DeVitto, bass player Doug Stegmeyer and saxophonist Richie Cannata. Seeking out a new producer, he first turned to veteran Beatles producer George Martin before coming across and settling on Ramone, whose name he had seen on albums by other artists such as Paul Simon. Recording took place across the span of three weeks, with DeVitto, Stegmeyer and Cannata being featured in addition to other studio musicians filling in as guitarists on various songs.
Spending six weeks at No. 2 on the US Billboard 200, The Stranger is considered Joel's critical and commercial breakthrough. Four singles were released in the US, all of which became top-40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, including "Just the Way You Are" (#3), "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)", "She's Always a Woman" (both #17), and "Only the Good Die Young" (#24). Other songs, such as "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" and "Vienna", have become staples of his career and are frequently performed in his live shows. The album won two awards at the 1978 Grammy Awards, winning Record of the Year as well as Song of the Year for "Just the Way You Are". It remains his best-selling non-compilation album to date, and surpassed Bridge Over Troubled Water to become Columbia's best-selling album release, with more than 10 million units sold worldwide. In 2000 it was voted number 246 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums. It was ranked at No. 70 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Prior to The Stranger, Billy Joel was on the verge of being dropped by his record label, Columbia Records. Despite the unexpected success of Joel's 2nd album, Piano Man, his album efforts had nonetheless failed to reach any impressive sales numbers, with the 1976 release Turnstiles, Joel's latest release, peaking at only 122 on the Billboard 200 charts, meaning that Joel was under the threat of being dropped if his next release didn't do well.
By 1976, Joel had formed a reliable touring band consisting of Doug Stegmeyer on bass, Liberty DeVitto on drums and Richie Cannata on saxophone, flute, clarinet and organ. Joel grew to heavily appreciate this group of musicians, finding that they had a high-energy, rough-around-the-edges feel that Joel hoped to capture in his studio albums. During the production of Turnstiles, Joel had tried working with veteran producer Jim Guercio, who tried to have him work with members of Elton John's band, but was dissatisfied with the results, instead opting to self-produce the album using the same band that he had formed while touring. With a handful of new written material, Joel wanted to use his touring band in the studio for his next album as he had done on Turnstiles, so he sought out a new producer who would be able to cultivate the style that he was looking for. Joel initially looked to famed Beatles producer George Martin; as a long-time fan of The Beatles, he wanted him to produce his new record. Martin showed interest after the two had met, but did not want to use Joel's band, wishing instead to bring in session players. Joel, who had mostly worked with session players for his first three albums with only scattered contributions from his own backup musicians and strongly disliked the polished sound that they gave off as a result, was adamant in making use of his newly-formed band, and ultimately declined. Ultimately, Joel turned to Phil Ramone, a veteran New York City sound engineer and record producer who had recently worked with Paul Simon, another singer-songwriter, on the album Still Crazy After All These Years. According to Joel, he and Ramone met with each other at Fontana di Trevi, an Italian restaurant located near Carnegie Hall where Joel had been playing at the time. The restaurant would eventually go on to inspire the setting of "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", a song on The Stranger. According to Joel, Ramone expressed an appreciation for Joel's band and their energy, and understood the reasoning behind Joel's attitude towards recording, which ultimately led him to choose Ramone as the producer for his next album.
Production and recording
The recording sessions for The Stranger, described by Joel as "a blast" to be a part of, took place across the short span of three weeks in between July and August 1977. The album contains nine songs, four of which were released as singles in North America. The songs were all recorded with Joel alongside his band which he had formed while touring, in addition to various other musicians who were brought into the studio for specific songs. Despite the formation of Joel's band, the songs on The Stranger didn't feature any consistent guitarists, with different players instead featuring in each song, and according to Joel, the reason for the initial lack of a constant guitarist was because it was hard to find the right one. The photograph on the back cover of the album, featuring Joel, Ramone (donning a Yankees shirt at the time of the picture) and each of the band members, was taken at the Supreme Macaroni Company, one of several restaurants where the group would go to "have these crazy lunches and dinners."
The opening song, "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," centers around Anthony, a grocery-store employee from Long Island who "dreams of making it big," receiving pressure from his family to move out and go his own way. Joel stated in a Q&A session that he initially wrote the song's lyrics to the tune of the song 'Laughter in the Rain' by Neil Sedaka, doing so without even realizing the similarity until it was brashly pointed out the next day by drummer Liberty DeVitto. Not wanting to waste all of the words he had come up with, Joel rewrote the song, coming up with a new melody that fit with the lyrics. The album's title track, according to Joel, was written by him without any core themes in mind and could be open up to interpretation, though he stated that it could be seen as a song about a man with schizophrenia.[full citation needed] While composing the song, Joel whistled the track's signature theme for Ramone, claiming that he (Joel) needed to find an instrument to play it. Ramone told Joel that the whistling he did was perfect, and thus it was kept in the final recording. According to Joel in an interview with The Today Show, the percussive rhythm used in the song came about while he was toying around with an Ace Tone Rhythm Ace drum machine, which contained a drum beat that he heard while scrolling through the machine's library of rhythm tracks. After hearing the beat, he thought that the rhythm would be nice to fool around with, and wrote the song shortly afterwards. "Just the Way You Are" was inspired by Joel's love for his wife at the time, Elizabeth Weber. He stated on a SiriusXM broadcast in 2016 that the melody came to him in a dream while he was working on The Stranger. He forgot about the melody shortly afterwards, but it came back to him while he was in a business meeting. Joel originally considered keeping the song off the album, as he dismissed it as a "gloppy ballad" that was out-of-place compared to the rest of the album. Ramone disagreed, and brought Linda Ronstadt and Phoebe Snow into the studio to prove that it was worth including. Upon hearing the song, the two artists both praised it, thus convincing him to feature the song. The seven-and-a-half-minute epic "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", which follows a pair of young lovers from Long Island named Brenda and Eddie who go through a failed marriage, is 3 different, shorter songs- "The Italian Restaurant Song", "Things Are OK in Oyster Bay" and "The Ballad of Brenda and Eddie." Joel stitched the three songs together, inspired by the similar approach taken with side two of The Beatles' Abbey Road, while Ramone helped intertwine them with backing orchestration.
The song "Vienna", which opens up the album's b-side, got inspiration from Joel's trip to Vienna, Austria, where he went a few years after starting his career in musicianship to visit his father. While there, he found that Austrians had a vastly different outlook on life than the one he was familiar with in America. As he recalls, Joel had this realization after taking notice of an old woman sweeping out on the city streets, telling his father that he pitied the woman for having to do such a menial and unimportant task; Joel's father responded by lamenting that the woman was giving herself a sense of worth by doing a service that helped everyone rather than "sitting at home wasting away." Joel tried to make the song itself Viennese in nature, comparing it specifically to something from a European 3-penny opera. "Only The Good Die Young," which is sung from the point-of-view of a boy trying to appeal to an abstinent Catholic woman, was inspired by a girl named Virginia Davis who Joel had a crush on in high school. According to Joel, he saw Davis looking at him while he was playing in his high school band, The Echoes, which was the event that had him "completely hooked" to the prospect of being a musician. "Only The Good Die Young" was written by Joel while opening for The Beach Boys in Knoxville, Tennessee, at which point it sounded slower-pace and more akin to a reggae tune, with Joel even singing the song's lyrics in a Jamaican accent. The mood of the song was shifted at the insistence of drummer Liberty DeVitto, who reportedly said to Joel "Why are you singing like that? The closest you've been to Jamaica was the Long Island Rail Road!" Ramone suggested that the song be played as a straight-four piece while DeVitto played a shuffle beat, a proposition which Joel found he enjoyed the sound of despite the concept initially seeming "odd and clunky." The song featured guitar playing by Hugh McCracken, a famous session player who Ramone brought in. "She's Always a Woman", like "Just the Way You Are," was written about Elizabeth Weber, described by Joel as "a commentary on women in business being persecuted and insulted." Joel tried to stylize the song as one which would be sung by Gordon Lightfoot. "Get It Right The First Time" is inspired by the challenge of first meeting and confronting a person, highlighting the importance of not flubbing such an encounter and "gett[ing] it right the first time." The album's final song, "Everybody Has a Dream," a gospel-influenced piece, was also inspired by Joel's wife. The song closes the album out with a reprise of the whistled theme from "The Stranger."
The Stranger spent 17 weeks in varying positions within Billboard 200 chart's top 10 albums, first entering the bottom position on January 21, 1978 (around four months after its initial release). A month later, on February 18, the album reached its peak position at number 2 on the chart — only kept from the top spot by the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever — and remained there for six more weeks. The second single from the album, "Just The Way You Are," peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, having received a boost in popularity following Joel's performance of the song on an episode of Saturday Night Live. The other three singles were all top 40 hits, with "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" and "She's Always A Woman" both peaking at number 17. While "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" was the first single released for the album, radio stations put little attention towards it, instead expressing interest in "Just the Way You Are"; thus, the latter song was released just six weeks following the debut of "Movin' Out", after which it achieved far larger success. The single for "Movin' Out" was later rereleased, after which it achieved higher success and ultimately became a hit. According to Joel, "Only the Good Die Young" sold poorly when it was first put out as a single; however, following the song's release, Christian groups and archdiocese areas began calling for the song to be banned on several radio stations across the nation. The controversy helped raise the song's popularity, particularly among rebellious youth according to Joel, and the single thus fared much better as a result, ultimately peaking at number 24 in the US singles chart. The Stranger remains one of Joel's best-selling original studio albums to date, achieving a "Diamond" certification for surpassing sales of 10 million units. At the time, it had surpassed Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge over Troubled Water to become Columbia Records’ best-selling album release.
Reception and legacy
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|The Village Voice||B−|
The Stranger was well-received by critics, particularly in retrospect, with many considering it to display some of Joel's best written material. The Rolling Stone considered The Stranger to be an improvement from Joel's previous studio efforts, praising Ramone's production and the variety of different song types. Rolling Stone went on to include the album on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, placing it at no. 70. Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine christened it as "a concept album of sorts, an ode to the singer’s native New York underscored by his paranoid obsession (and resistance) to change." He called the music "a rejection of the American Dream," and highlighted the pessimism expressed in some of the songs' lyrics. Allmusic called it one of his most consistently enjoyable albums, stating that while the album fell somewhat short lyrically, it was outweighed by Joel's musical flair, and ultimately declared that he had "rarely wrote a set of songs better than those on The Stranger, nor did he often deliver an album as consistently listenable." In a less enthusiastic review of The Stranger, Village Voice critic Robert Christgau held the album slightly above Joel's previous works; speaking specifically of Joel himself, he wrote that the artist had "more or less grown up" with what he considered less egotistical songwriting, and that he's "now as likeable as your once-rebellious and still-tolerant uncle who has the quirk of believing that OPEC was designed to ruin his air-conditioning business." George Martin, who had initially declined to produce using Joel's band, reportedly wrote Joel a letter shortly following the massive success of The Stranger, in which he congratulated Joel and reflected that he was wrong about the band.
As his breakthrough album, The Stranger kicked off a long string of successful albums, which he would release until 1993's River of Dreams. Ramone would also continue to act as Joel's producer for a number of years, working with him on every one of his albums up through 1986's The Bridge. "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" went on to lend its name to a 2002 jukebox musical, featuring several of Joel's songs alongside narrative choreography by Twyla Tharp. The play ran successfully on Broadway for three years, holding its final performance on December 15, 2005 after a total of 1,303 performances. In 2017, to celebrate the album's 40th anniversary, a picture-disc vinyl rerelease of The Stranger with newly-remastered audio was released by Brookville Records on October 20.
Many of the songs from the album went on to become staples in Joel's repertoire. Though never released as a single, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" is a staple of his set of live shows, named by Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield as his equivalent to Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland". Joel stated in an interview that "I don't think I could do a show without performing that song." "Vienna" has also become a popular part of his live set; when letting the audience choose between it and "Just the Way You Are," "Vienna" is most often the winning contender. The song was featured in an episode of the TV show Taxi, and was prominently showcased later on in the 2004 teenage comedy film 13 Going on 30. Joel has cited "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" and "Vienna" as his favorite and 5th-favorite songs that he's written, respectively.
All songs written and composed by Billy Joel.
|1.||"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"||3:30|
|3.||"Just the Way You Are"||4:52|
|4.||"Scenes from an Italian Restaurant"||7:37|
|6.||"Only the Good Die Young"||3:55|
|7.||"She's Always a Woman"||3:21|
|8.||"Get It Right the First Time"||3:57|
|9.||"Everybody Has a Dream" (LP and cassette include a reprise of "The Stranger", however *the 8-track does not include the reprise)||6:38|
8-track tape running order
- "The Stranger" – "Just the Way You Are"
- "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" – "Vienna" – "She's Always a Woman"
- "Only the Good Die Young" – "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (Part 1)"
- "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (Conclusion)" - "Get It Right the First Time" – "Everyone Has a Dream"
30th Anniversary Edition
In July 2008, a special "30th Anniversary Edition" of The Stranger was released. It contains two special editions: a 2-CD Legacy Edition, and a Deluxe Limited Edition (which includes two CDs and a bonus DVD). The limited deluxe edition of The Stranger includes a CD of the original album in its entirety (remastered by producer Phil Ramone), and a second CD of a previously unreleased concert featuring Billy and his band, Live at Carnegie Hall 1977, recorded at the historic Manhattan venue on June 3, 1977, one month before the sessions for The Stranger album. The Deluxe Limited Edition included a DVD showcasing two live promotional videos from The Stranger; and Joel's performance on the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test, a seldom-seen sixty-minute set from 1978 that has aired only once on the UK's BBC2. Also included in this box set is a facsimile poster from the 1977 Carnegie Hall concert, and a facsimile notebook that contains copies of rough draft lyrics for many of the songs that appeared on The Stranger.
Live at Carnegie Hall, June 3, 1977 CD
- "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" – 5:11
- "Prelude/Angry Young Man" – 6:05
- "New York State of Mind" – 8:20
- "Just the Way You Are" – 4:56
- "She's Got a Way" – 3:32
- "The Entertainer" – 6:09
- "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" – 7:35
- "Band Introductions" – 2:02
- "Captain Jack" – 6:51
- "I've Loved These Days" – 4:29
- "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" – 6:45
- "Souvenir" – 2:09
- Live Promotional Videos, 1977
- "The Stranger"
- "Just the Way You Are"
- The Old Grey Whistle Test on BBC1 (First broadcast March 14, 1978)
- "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)"
- "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"
- "New York State of Mind"
- "The Entertainer"
- "She's Always a Woman"
- "Root Beer Rag"
- "Just the Way You Are"
- "Only the Good Die Young"
- "Ain't No Crime"
- 30-minute "Making of The Stranger" documentary
Best Buy exclusive bonus CD (Live at Nassau Coliseum 12/77) (packaged with both the 2-CD Legacy and 2CD/1DVD 30th Anniversary Edition)
- "Just the Way You Are"
- "The Ballad of Billy the Kid"
- "Get It Right the First Time"
- "Summer, Highland Falls"
Target exclusive bonus DVD (packaged with the 2-CD Legacy Edition)
- "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" (Live from Long Island, New York)
- "The Stranger" (Live from Long Island, New York)
- "Only the Good Die Young" (Live from Leningrad, Russia)
- "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" (Live from Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, New York City, New York)
- "Piano Man" (Live from The River of Dreams Tour)
Online store bonus tracks
- "Prelude/Angry Young Man" (Live version) (Version 2) (iTunes Album Only Exclusive Track) – 5:03
- "She's Got a Way" (Live Version) (Version 2) (AmazonMP3 Exclusive Track) – 3:42
- Billy Joel – vocals, acoustic piano, keyboards, synthesizers, Fender Rhodes
- Richie Cannata – organ, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, tuba
- Dominic Cortese – accordion (4, 5)
- Richard Tee – organ (9)
- Hiram Bullock – electric guitar
- Steve Khan – six and twelve string electric guitars, acoustic rhythm guitar, high string guitar
- Hugh McCracken – acoustic guitar (3, 4, 7, 8, 9)
- Steve Burgh – acoustic guitar (3, 7), electric guitar (4)
- Doug Stegmeyer – bass guitar
- Liberty DeVitto – drums
- Ralph MacDonald – percussion (2, 3, 8, 9)
- Phil Woods – alto saxophone (3)
- Patrick Williams – orchestration
- Patti Austin – backing vocals (9)
- Lani Groves – backing vocals (9)
- Gwen Guthrie – backing vocals (9)
- Phoebe Snow – backing vocals (9)
- Phil Ramone – producer, engineer
- Jim Boyer – engineer
- Ted Jensen – mastering at Sterling Sound (New York).
- Kathy Kurs – production assistance
- Jim Houghton – photography
Live at Carnegie Hall June 3, 1977
- Billy Joel – vocals, acoustic piano and synthesizers
- Richie Cannata – saxophones and keyboards
- Howie Emerson – electric and acoustic guitars
- Doug Stegmeyer – Fender bass
- Liberty DeVitto – drums
- Recorded by David Hewitt using Record Plant NY Remote Truck.
Charts and certifications
|Canada (Music Canada)||5× Platinum||500,000^|
|Hong Kong (IFPI Hong Kong)||Platinum||15,000*|
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||Platinum||15,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||100,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Diamond||10,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
|1978||"Just the Way You Are"||Record of the Year|
|1978||"Just the Way You Are"||Song of the Year|
|Media||Release date||Publisher||Catalog Number|
|Vinyl LP||09/1977||Columbia||JC 34987|
|CD 1st Issue Japan||06/03/1982||CBS/Sony||35-DP-2|
|CD Remastered||10/20/1998||Columbia||CK 69384|
|Super Audio CD||07/31/2001||Sony||CS 69384|
|2CD Legacy Edition||07/08/08||Columbia/Legacy||88697 22581 2|
|2CD/DVD 30th Anniversary Edition||07/08/08||Columbia/Legacy||88697 30801 2|
|SACD Remastered||2012||Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab||UDSACD 2089|
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