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Category:    Home > Reviews > Rock > Pop > Soul > Jazz > Multi-Channel Music > Billy Joel – The Stranger (1977) + 52nd Street (1978/5.1 Super Audio Compact Disc/SACD/SA-CD Editions)

Billy Joel – The Stranger (1977) + 52nd Street (1978/5.1 Super Audio Compact Disc/SACD/SA-CD Editions)


DSD 5.1 Sound: A-     DSD 2.0 Sound: B     Music: A-



After finding himself in and out of bands since 1964, Billy Joel decided to try for a solo career in 1973 and within a few years, he became one of the most important singer/songwriters in the industry, outlasting many of his Folk competitors and pushing Rock, Pop and even Jazz and Soul into new directions.  One of the few who can take his extraordinary knowledge of music and apply it, he took his New York music sensibilities, combined them with Paul McCartney Pop of the time, and created two masterwork albums that remain enduring classics three decades later and counting:  The Stranger (1977) and 52nd Street (1978).


After hits like The Piano Man and The Entertainer, Joel teamed with Phil Ramone and together, they made American Music history.  Taking a new approach outside of playing the “I have no respect for myself, I’m just the piano player” angle which both knew would quickly wear thin, Joel dug deeper and the result is two extraordinary albums that have rarely been equaled and never been matched in their raw edge and (no pun intended) honesty insight into the male psyche.


The Stranger offered nine tracks, four of which became big hits and to this day, the album is one of Joel’s and Sony/BMG biggest albums of all time in sales.  The songs include:


1)     Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)

2)     The Stranger

3)     Just The Way You Are

4)     Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

5)     Vienna

6)     Only The Good Die Young

7)     She’s Always A Woman

8)     Get It Right The First Time

9)     Everybody Has A Dream



Tracks 3, 1, 6 and 7 respectively became hit singles and remain enduring favorites to this day that set Joel for life and as a formidable artistic and commercial force in the industry until he ran out of music to write for the genre in 1993.  At the time of FM vinyl record album Rock radio, the title song got its share of play, as did Vienna, a fan favorite to this day.  The album rarely misses a beat and Joel is at the top of his game, made more stunning by the fact that he wrote the music and lyrics to every single track.  The result was an album that went over well with Rock fans, Pop fans and at adult contemporary radio where Soft Rock was still the norm.  Many had to wonder if this was just a fluke or if this was all he had to offer.  Doubters were soon to learn Joel was far from over.



52nd Street arrived a year later and repeated the critical and commercial success of the first album.  The songs this time include:


1)     Big Shot

2)     Honesty

3)     My Life

4)     Zanzibar

5)     Stiletto

6)     Rosalinda’s Eyes

7)     Half A Mile Away

8)     Until The Night

9)     52nd Street



The album was louder, broader, bolder and again totally written by Joel.  Also known as the theme song from the Tom Hanks TV show Bosom Buddies, though Joel’s version was never used on the show and later copies (like the dreadful DVDs) are missing the song altogether, My Life was a huge hit that became the first single and propelled the album instantly to the top of the charts.  With back vocals by then Chicago members Donnie Dacus and Peter Cetera, it hit like Just The Way You Are and Joel hit the jackpot yet again.  Though the underrated Big Shot and oft played Honesty did not repeat the previous single’s performance, it did not matter, because everyone was out buying up all of his albums and skipping the singles, which were being played all over the radio.


The album was #1 for two months and continues to be a favorite to this day for good reason.  Dave Grusin even orchestrated the horns on the terrific Half A Mile Away.  The other thing that separates this album from the previous one is that Joel is more confident, more of his New York style comes through and more than any other album he’d ever make, has the perfect balance of all the dynamics that make for a great Billy Joel album.  In this era of shallow, Stalinist, Political Correctness, songs like Zanzibar, Stiletto and Rosalinda’s Eyes are as bold and triumphant as ever.  As the real New York and Times Square has been eclipsed by new commercial development, they are a record as vital as CBGBs in reminding us of the true roots of that city, as well as any other city that was once alive with Industrial America at its peak.


It should be no surprise then that after arriving in so-so 2-channel SACD editions, Sony reissued the albums in 5.1 SACDs and that they are two of the best back catalog 5.1 music discs in this or the DVD-Audio format should surprise no one.



The DSD (Direct Stream Digital) 2.0 Stereo mixes on these discs are fairly good and likely the same as the previous SACDs, but the 5.1 upgrades are nothing short of terrific.  Sure, they can reveal the limits of the tapes in their time, but any such flaws are far outdone by the amazing range and articulation the 5.1 mixes offer.  That is in part because Ramone himself was behind the upgrades and the results are impressive.


Sometimes, he has Joel’s lead vocal only in the center channel, while in other cases, he expands the vocal in ways that make sense and pay off.  It can be like going back in time to the recording in the studio, while also bringing out details and dynamics that actually make these much played songs seem new again.  The results never sound choppy either.  Making Only The Good Die Young 5.1 could have been a disaster, with the vocal sounding mismatched to the beat and rhythm, but instead actually makes it more exciting and delivers more impact.  Half A Mile Away has the big sound you might expect from a Chicago or Earth, Wind & Fire album in 5.1, yet it is Joel and friends all the way.


More so in the 5.1 than 2.0 here, you can also hear what a great vocalist Joel really is, not to mention his stunning command of the piano.  Joel moved on to more Rock oriented Pop (Glass Houses) before trying some period experiment work in revisiting The Beatles (The Nylon Curtain) and vocal groups like Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons or Motown’s best (An Innocent Man) as well as a highly underrated Musical film soundtrack (Disney’s animated Oliver & Company) but The Stranger and 52nd Street remain his crowning achievements.


These discs have no PCM CD tracks, but the DSD signal can be played on Playstation 3 machines, if not to full audiophile levels.  These are the highest performance versions on the market of these albums.  If you have a Super Audio CD player, these are must have discs.  Fortunately, many SACD players are out there at decent prices, also able to play regular CDs and even DVDs.  If you love music, look into it, especially if you love these albums as much as we do.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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