Album Review: The Stranger: 30th Anniversary [Legacy Edition] – 2 CD Set

It’s the 30th anniversary of Billy Joel’s 1977 breakthrough recording, ‘The Stranger’ produced by the legendary Phil Ramone.

The album featured four tunes that became Number 1 hits (“Just the Way You Are,” “Movin’ Out,” “She’s Always a Woman” and “Only the Good Die Young”), and it became Columbia Record’s biggest seller of all time.

Columbia/ Legacy recently released a two-CD set July 8th. It includes one CD featuring the original album of “The Stranger,” and the second CD is “Live at Carnegie Hall, June 3, 1077.” There is also a special edition that features a DVD of other shows.

I have never been a fan of Billy Joel. I had a friend who really liked him and played ‘The Stranger’ for me on an “LP” – okay – I’m dating myself with that statement.  I remember watching the music video of “Uptown Girl” with Christie Brinkley on MTV, and I liked the upbeat song.

This time while listening to the ‘The Stranger,’ I realized that I knew most of the songs, though not the titles. I had never heard the last two tracks, “Get It Right the First Time” and Everybody Has A Dream.”

It was fun to listen to Joel’s songs. There is good songwriting and Joel’s lyrics are straight forward and not mysterious. His tunes are often story songs, and there is great musicianship. I now appreciate the band’s great talent.

The live CD really expresses the excitement of seeing Billy Joel live. There’s lots of energy, on stage and in the audience, with the wonderful music and Billy’s patter with the fans. You feel like you are there, and after 30 years, the music is timeless. 

Some of he live tracks are extended and stretched out. For example, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” is 7 1/2 minutes, yet you don’t mind because the tunes don’t drag, and they are interesting.

Joel introduces the band which includes himself on piano and vocals; Richie Cannata, sax and keyboards; Doug Stegmeyer, bass; Liberty DeVitto, drums; Howie Emerson, electric and acoustic guitars, and the Joe Malin Orchestra, directed by Frank Owens. 

Some of the tracks that I liked were “New York State of Mind” that featured a wonderful sax solo; “Just The Way You Are,” with great underlining drum beats by Liberty DeVitto. “She’s Got a Way” is a ballad with lots of orchestration, “The Entertainer” talks about being a popular musician and the fickleness of the music business.

The track opens with Joel talking to the crowd about smoking in the hall and putting the lights on, and is followed by an acoustic guitar solo to lots of cheering. There are some funky synth noise, and lots of clapping with Joel as he sings “Happy BIrthday” to his long-time sound engineer Brian Ruggles, who turned 25. There are many great saxophone, guitar and piano solos throughout the concert.

In the generous liner notes written by David Fricke, Joel said, “I didn’t know this album would make me a rock star. The important thing was that I’d written it all down and put it on a record.” Joel added, he titled the CD ‘The Stranger’ not because of the song. “Each song on it seemed to have some kind of strangeness, some kind of alienation about it.”

The performer was trying to figure out things in his life at the time he was writing the songs.

This two-CD set is good if you don’t have Joel’s ‘The Stranger’ and the live CD is a treat. Long-time fans will enjoy the live tracks.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.