January 30, 2023

The Opus returns on December twenty second with a model new season exploring the legacy of Billy Joel’s star-making fifth album, The Stranger. Forward of the podcast’s launch, take a look at our traditional evaluate of the LP, and hearken to the report right here. For extra of the Piano Man, take a look at the lately launched Stay at Yankee Stadium, capturing Joel’s two nights on the iconic ballpark again in 1990.


With little interruption, Billy Joel has bought out Madison Sq. Backyard as soon as a month since January 2014. He’s at the moment set to proceed doing so by way of not less than Could 2023, which is able to convey the residency’s grand complete to 91 reveals, and mark Joel’s 137th lifetime efficiency on the historic venue. These staggering numbers are unlikely ever to be matched; it’d be like a quarterback topping Tom Brady’s seven Tremendous Bowl rings — you’d simply should be too good for too lengthy to make it possible.

In case you’d instructed anybody in music 45 years in the past that Lengthy Island native William Martin Joel can be that degree of legend, you’d have been mocked out of the business. On the time, Joel was a crucial and business shrug, an aggrieved artist whose work didn’t align together with his perspective. He’d had what he known as a “turntable hit” — a music radio DJs would spin, however didn’t really transfer items — with “Piano Man,” and singles off 1976’s Turnstiles and 1974’s Streetlife Serenade had not less than appeared on the charts. However when a label like Columbia has cash on the road and also you fail to ship an authorized hit after 4 albums, you may wager some exec is readying their scissors to chop the piano strings.

Joel didn’t comprehend it, however his fifth studio LP was his final probability to have a profession. As typical, he was centered extra on delivering his imaginative and prescient of piano-led rock ‘n roll than satisfying unstated label mandates. His Chilly Spring Harbor debut had been botched in manufacturing, whereas 1973’s Piano Man and Streetlife Serenade lacked the “natural really feel” Joel needed as a result of they’d been recorded with studio musicians. Though he lastly bought to usher in his personal guys for Turnstiles, the hassle nonetheless didn’t match what was in his head as a result of he’d ended up producing it himself. “I simply know what I’m searching for, however I don’t at all times know easy methods to get it,” Joel as soon as admitted.

After passing on working with Fifth Beatle George Martin, Joel lastly discovered the fitting particular person to “get it”: producer Phil Ramone. Recognized for his work with artists like Paul Simon, Ramone embraced Joel’s imaginative and prescient, together with bringing his street band — drummer Liberty DeVitto, multi-instrumentalist Richie Cannata, and bassist Doug Stegmeyer — again into the studio. This time with Ramone on the boards as a substitute of Joel, the outcomes had been extra than simply significantly improved — they had been perfected within the type of a single launch with extra traditional songs than different artists may need of their total catalog.

Launched in September 1977, The Stranger would grow to be Columbia’s highest-selling report on the time and launch Joel into a brand new stratosphere of success. A sonic development from his earlier efforts, the gathering additionally noticed Joel sharpening his songwriting chops, redefining what some critics had beforehand seen as garrulous schmaltz as easy poetic genius.

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