The Stranger

Billy Joel

Columbia Records, 1977

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


So there I am, sitting with my eight-year-old cousin watching that Jennifer Garner movie 13 Going on 30. The obligatory soul-searching scene comes up, and I hear a voice start singing softly over a beautiful piano intro. I'm thinking to myself, "Hey this is really good, who is this? Sounds familiar." I ask my dad who it is, and he goes, "That's Billy Joel."

Joel has always been a part of my musical consciousness. Every now and then, I get the urge to pop in his greatest hits, and I always end up listening to it for about a week before moving on. This time around, I dug into my CD collection, and pulled out The Stranger.

It's hard to imagine Joel making a better record than this. The songwriting is Joel's usual brand of character specific tracks, Phil Ramone's production is smooth and tight, and the songs are some of his best ever. All that led to my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Stranger reaching number one, and becoming one of Joel's best selling albums.

Everyone knows the singles from this album like the back of their hand; the romantic bonbon "Just The Way You Are," the rocker "Only The Good Die Young" or Joel's anthem for Anthony, "Movin' Out." Those songs are classics, but they aren't even the best tracks on the album. The title track starts out sedately, but kicks it into high gear shortly thereafter, and thus becomes the best rocker on The Stranger. "Vienna" the aforementioned song from 13 Going on 30, has a very catchy refrain underneath a layer of lush orchestral work. The stripped down "She's Always A Woman" still manages to be heartfelt despite the lyrical nature of the song

However the crown jewel of The Stranger is "Scenes from Italian Restaurant." This song is Joel's magnum opus, eight minutes of pure bliss. Split into three sections, each getting progressively better, Joel sings mainly of Brenda and Eddie, two young kids who get married and divorced in a matter of months. The various shifts in tempo and mood help the track gain momentum, and at the end, slow it back down to another brief glimpse of jazz, as Joel asks his love what color wine she'd prefer.

I have to highlight Joel's outstanding lyrics on The Stranger. One of the most appealing qualities to me about Joel's work is how his characters and settings are fleshed out. The feelings and emotions expressed on The Stranger are those felt by regular people. My dad lived in New York until he went off to college, and some of the places Joel mentions throughout the albums he remembers. This album is personal to him because of that. Joel doesn't eschew his roots, but instead embraces them, and I like and respect that.

Make no mistake this is a pop/rock album. This is not the classical sound of Fantasies And Delusions or the somewhat experimental sound of Glass Houses. That does not take anything away from The Stranger. It is still one of the best albums in Joel's catalogue.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A-


After a false start with Piano Man, this is Billy Joel's big comeback album.
If you haven't had the joy of hearing this album it is now out in a remastered edition with a bonus live disc. It only makes this album better than ever. It could just about be released as a greatest hits album. The few songs that don't get radio play are still better than most songs in existence. 20/10.

© 2004 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.