The Stranger

I think most people go through a Billy Joel phase at some point in their lifetimes.  Mine has been separated into several smaller segments.  I remember as a kid mi madre had a couple Billy Joel records that she would play a lot.  Neither one was this record though…if I remember right it was Glass Houses and 52nd Street.  I remember loving those records at a very early age.  Then, when I was older and starting to explore music for myself, the Storm Front album came out and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was the big hit.  I think I was in junior high and I’m pretty sure we all knew every word to that song…kinda like R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”.  Then in high school the River of Dreams album came out, and all of us that were in show choir were into it.  In fact, I think we may have done the title track in one our spring shows.  At any rate, I remember adopting “Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)” as an audition piece for awhile.  Then college happened, and surprisingly, Billy Joel was one of the few popular artists that most of the music majors were into.  I remember the King of Tenorland singing “She’s Got a Way” a capella on some talent show, and well, there were countless drunken singalongs to “Piano Man” in various bars around the country (and even a few in Europe).  So then a few years later I started teaching at the ‘Eye and one of the teachers there was a huge Billy Joel fan…she even paid the big bucks to go see Billy and Elton play in the ‘Shoe.  Eventually she got engaged, and I thought of the perfect wedding gift…a bottle of red, a bottle of white, a bottle of rose, and some dried pasta (and probably a jar of sauce too).  Well, she stopped drinking and joined AA before the wedding, so I scrapped that plan…although I suppose I still could have done it with sparkling grape juice.  Oh well, hindsight is always 20-20.  I think I was out of town the weekend of the wedding anyway.

So I’m not saying that Billy Joel is the soundtrack to my life or anything like that…I’m not a New Yorker (and have no desire to be one), so there will always be some level of disconnect.  But he has been sitting there quietly in the background for a lot of the more memorable times in my life.  As such, I was excited to find this album for $3.99 (minus my 10% teacher discount) at the Half-Price Books on Lane Avenue in Upper Arlington.  I had been looking for it for awhile, and while other Billy Joel albums show up frequently, this was the first and only time I had seen it at any of the local HP Books.  The thing is just dripping with New York noir, and when I hear the piano intro to “The Stranger” (which also serves as the album outro), I feel like I should be smoking a cigarette in a dark New York alley wearing a trench coat and a fedora and spying on some guy’s wife who is in a cafe across the street.  The music is that visual and is just oozing that sort of black and white private eye movie noir.  But the real gem on this record is “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, in which Billy Joel pretty much sums up the lives of 90% of the American population (and was oddly prophetic about his own life as well) in 7 1/2 minutes.  An honestly, I think this is what makes Billy Joel a special artist (and often under-appreciated), in that his songs really do voice the feelings and the life stories of the universal common man.  Good stuff.  Oh, and I never realized that “Only the Good Die Young” was about seducing a virgin Catholic girl until I really listened to the lyrics for this blog.  Crazy.

Other lists: Again, Billy is often under-appreciated, and these songs and the piano man himself don’t really seem to factor in anywhere else on these Rolling Stone lists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album was pushed back three spots from its original position of #67 by the rise of Kid A and Off the Wall and the addition of Chronicle.

My favorite track: “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”

Honorable mention: “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”

Quote: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than die with the saints: the sinners are much more fun…”