Is it worth a listen? The Stranger

This week we take a look at Billy Joel’s pop classic 1977’s The Stranger.

The cover for Billy Joels 1977 album, The Stranger.  It depicts Joel longingly staring at a mask that alludes to the title track of the album.

Columbia Records

The cover for Billy Joel’s 1977 album, The Stranger. It depicts Joel longingly staring at a mask that alludes to the title track of the album.

“We didn’t start the fire / It was always burning, since the world’s been turning.” Is the sound that for some who hear it, it brings them chagrin, others some nostalgia, and others it really means nothing to them. To those put through the music classes at Defiance Elementary, we know of Susan Blank‘s love of Billy Joel.

From that I have noticed Joel getting a bad rep with a lot of the students who went through her class. Which is a shame, since Joel is so much more than this ‘cheesy’ “Piano Man.” Joel had a rough start in the music industry, his first album Cold Spring Harbor (1971) had minor successes with singles, “She’s Got a Way” and “Everybody Loves You Now”. His next album would be where he would get a major hit and would be nicknamed after it. Piano Man (1973), with songs like the title track and the epic of suburban life “Captain Jack”.

Billy Joel’s iconic song “Piano Man” came from his less iconic Piano Man album (1973). Only other well known songs from this album are “The Ballad of Billy The Kid” and “Captain Jack.” (Columbia Records )

“Piano Man” is the song that has defined Joel’s entire career, it’s really the only song most people know him for. With the sing along chorus of “Sing us a song you’re the piano man / Sing us a song tonight”. After that he did not find the same success with albums Streetlife Serenade (1974), Turnstiles (1976). He was struggling when The Stranger came. 

For this week’s album discussion we’ve got vacationer and science teacher Collin Trudel. As well as teddy tosser, senior Carter Campbell. Let’s get started. 

The Stranger opens with the iconic “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).” In the song, he criticizes people who put their wellbeing at risk by overworking for status symbols. With punchy lyrics like, “Workin’ too hard can give you / A heart attack (ack, ack, ack, ack, ack) / You oughta know by now (oughta now) / Who needs a house out in Hackensack / Is that what you get for your money?”

Joel has always been talented at doing these poppy lyrics and instrumentals but then “there is so much more to it”,as Campbell told me. You see that with this song you’ve got this infectious chorus you can’t just help not to sing along with and this very upbeat instrumental. The bass is just downright funky in this song. 

Joel has notable love songs in his career ranged from the upbeat “Uptown Girl” to the rocking “All For Leyna” to the doo-wop “The Longest Time” but hands down his most iconic is “Just The Way You Are.” If you have ever been to a wedding reception you probably heard the song and even if you haven’t been to one you probably still know this song.  While some may call it cheesy, the lyrics are genuine.

“We should accept the ones we love as they are instead for what they aren’t”, Trudel told me. It’s a nice, relaxing song with even a sultry saxophone solo as all love songs should have. In the end this is an extremely sweet song that displays Joel’s understanding and sensitive side. “I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times / I’ll take you just the way you are.”

“Vienna” was not one of the chart-dominating tracks from this album but it has become one of Joel’s most celebrated tunes. It’s a song that a lot can relate with, for Campbell “Vienna is like no matter where you go. It’s always waiting for you. So it’s something that you desire, like mine is my family. No matter where I go, no matter what happens. They’re waiting for me.”

Austria made their capital Vienna after Billy Joel’s beloved song, “Vienna” in 1977. Way to go Joel (Chun Yip Wong )

Trudel found the song to be a pleasant and relaxing listen. One thing I never really took heed of with the song is how the instrumental gives you this very Vienna feeling. Trudel pointed out to me that the “The accordion in the song was a nice touch to impart the mood of being in Vienna.”

This is a song that I find myself relating more and more with the older I get. It is easily one of my all time favorite songs. “Slow down you crazy child / You’re so ambitious for a juvenile / But then if you’re so smart tell me, / Why are you still afraid?” Simply put, it’s one of Joel’s most relatable and beautiful songs. 

The Stranger, to me, is Joel’s best album. It encompasses what makes Joel such a good musician, his ability to make music “that can appeal to any listener, regardless of preferences in music style”, Trudel voiced in his thoughts regarding Joel. Despite the album having 4 songs going over the 4 minute mark in length (“The Stranger,” “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” “Just The Way You Are,” “Everybody Has a Dream”) it doesn’t feel dragged out, “the music flowed well” Trudel pitched in. 

The descriptive lyrics that paint these landscapes of people’s lives and the story behind them with songs like “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, the “Bohemian Rhapsody” of the album “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.” Of course one big motif of this album is love, in one way or another. For Trudel he found that the album flowed so that it sang different stages of love, which is actually something that I have never really thought of. This has led me to gaining a greater appreciation of this album, especially with some of the later tracks. 

The upbeat and even educational “Get It Right The First Time” is all about making the right first impression on a first date. To the accepting and at times somber “She’s Always a Woman” which is about loving a woman for everything she is. An iconic track of Joel’s career is “Only The Good Die Young” which as Trudel put it best, “as the theme I gleaned was something that every guy would relate to hahaha”, I can only imagine Trudel doing his iconic chortling as he typed that. 

Billy Joel playing his accordion. Can’t see any reason why a catholic school girl wouldn’t give him the go. (Michael Putland )

This all leads to The Stranger being a very memorable and influential pop album. It assisted the transition from disco to the 80’s pop we all know. Joel stayed at the forefront of pop music consistently for the next decade and while he retired from making new music in 2001 with his final album Fantasies & Delusion. Joel is still performing concerts. 

Campbell saw him this past summer, “He’s a very good performer … I was blown away … He made it funny, but he also did not shy away from the music that people came to see.”  The Stranger is a classic pop album and is the album from him. If you ever wanted to give Joel a shot, this is where you would start. I would have to give this album a solid “Mister Cacciatore”/10. 

If you have any thoughts regarding this album tell me or one of the discussors, we’ll be glad to hear your thoughts on this album. As always I’m looking for new music to try out so if you ever have any suggestions drop me some bread crumbs. Remember, “Vienna waits for you.”