Review: “The Stranger: 30th Anniversary Edition,” Billy Joel

In 1977, Billy Joel’s career was floundering. He had recorded four albums with no hits and Columbia Records was thinking of dropping him. So he decided to meet with the greatest producer of all time, George Martin (The Beatles. Enough said). Martin liked Joel’s material, but wanted to use studio musicians. Joel wanted to use his band, so it didn’t work out.

He then set up a meeting with Phil Ramone, who Joel said, produced a lot of records that he liked. He invited him to his concert at Carnegie Hall in early June, 1977, and as they say, the rest is history.

Joel and his band went into the studio in July and finished The Stranger in late August. Nobody knew it would be his breakthrough album, as Joel puts it, “we just liked what we had done.” The first single off the disc was “Just the Way You Are.”

Ramone said Joel needed another song for the disc, and the tune was put on at the last minute. In fact, Joel says the band was sitting around listening to it, and nobody was too impressed. Then singers Phoebe Snow and Linda Ronstadt stopped by the studio and told him that they loved it and that he had to put it on the album. Joel figured if the women liked it, it had a chance. It ended up becoming a monster hit and one of the biggest of his career.

This 30th Anniversary Edition includes the original album, remastered by Ramone, along with a DVD featuring a 30-minute “making of” documentary, two promo videos (Just the Way You Are and The Stranger), and an hour-long BBC concert on “The Old Grey Whistle Test,” with an excellent version of “New York State of Mind. You also get a CD of a previously unreleased concert at Carnegie Hall taped a month before The Stranger sessions began. It also includes a 48-page booklet and Joel’s lyric notebook, which shows “Allentown” was supposed to be part of “Scenes from An Italian Restaurant.”

If you’re a diehard Joel fan, this is a must. If you’re a casual fan, this collection will give you a more in-depth look at the piano man when he became a superstar.

MP3: “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” (Live at Carnegie Hall)

MP3: “Just the Way You Are” (Live at Carnegie Hall)

YouTube: “Miami 2017 (Seen the lights go out on Broadway)

Check out our exclusive interview with Liberty DeVitto.

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