There are several artists who had a big resurgence in the 1980s with the MTV era. It is borderline whether or not this guy belongs on that list, but in general, I definitely prefer the “Pre-Christie Brinkley era” for Billy Joel. A master story-teller and songwriter whose music is very deeply rooted in New York City, today’s album, “The Stranger”, has to be one of his best, if not his best. This album is rated #169 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Side one opens with “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, which is one of those great story-songs, and easily one of my favorite Billy Joel songs. The title track comes next, and it starts with some melancholy chords, before kicking into a high up-tempo rocker. Next comes another big mellow classic, “Just the Way You Are”. The classics continue with the end of side one, a powerful ode to New York, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”. I have had this dialogue with two people, and I have one in agreement and one dissenter. I love the opening reflecting tone of this song, it is gorgeous like a crisp fall day in Manhattan, but I really think the entire middle-piece, a dramatic shift in tempo, should have been broken out as a separate song. I just think the urgency and drama of this middle section takes away from the beautiful opening and closing. However, I do recognize that as a classic collection of “Scenes”, this opinion may not be widely embraced.
An uneventful beginning to side two, we have “Vienna”. The second song, “Only the Good Die Young” always makes me think of my mom. She loved this song when it was released and I think we can all resonate with the sentiment that sometimes life is meant to be enjoyed in the moment.
The most powerful song on this album, for me, is the piano ballad “She’s Always a Woman”. Falling in love is a complicated experience, to say the least. It usually starts with the very best that we see in each other, but as time and life progress, we learn that the person we love, just as much as our own selves, are very imperfect. Sometimes that connection burns out, sometimes it requires a stop and start, and sometimes those flaws become insurmountable. However, if you are fortunate and conscious of your own shortcomings, I fully believe true happiness is attainable. Through all of these trials and tough times, true love is as beautiful and moving as the melody of this song. No matter where you are, that imperfectly perfect person just might be around the next corner. And like Billy Joel, her name might even be Christie… 😊.
The album ends with “Get It Right the First Time” the first time, a simple pop song, and the closer “Everybody Has a Dream”. I love this as a final track, it is a very fitting ending to a magnificent album. It was Billy Joel’s most commercially successful record, and after listening to it several times, it is easy to understand why.