Thursday, September 29, 1977

Billy Joel’s The Stranger released

First posted 5/9/2011; updated 11/24/2020.

The Stranger

Billy Joel


Released: September 29, 1977


Peak: 2 US, 24 UK, 2 CN, 2 AU


Sales (in millions): 10.0 US, 0.1 UK, 15.0 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: pop/rock singer-songwriter


Tracks:

Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) [3:30] (3/18/78, 17 US, 7 CL, 40 AC, 35 UK, 11 CN, 99 AU, gold single)
  2. The Stranger [5:10] (12 CL, 59 AU)
  3. Just the Way You Are [4:50] (11/12/77, 3 US, 1 CL, 1 AC, 19 UK, 2 CN, 6 AU, platinum single)
  4. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant [7:37] (7 CL)
  5. Vienna [3:34] (21 CL)
  6. Only the Good Die Young [3:55] (5/13/78, 24 US, 8 CL, 18 CN, platinum single)
  7. She’s Always a Woman [3:21] (8/12/78, 17 US, 6 CL, 2 AC, 29 UK, 12 AU, gold single)
  8. Get It Right the First Time [3:57]
  9. Everybody Has a Dream [9:08]


Total Running Time: 42:34

Rating:

4.490 out of 5.00 (average of 12 ratings)


Awards:

About the Album:

“For better and sometimes worse, Joel’s early albums were stylistic hodgepodges” DB which “blunted interesting songs with a sound that was neither Elton mellow nor Elton attitude.” DH “But this was his most cohesive – and pumped up – record.” DB “The music swung with brash confidence” DB and the album “is generally regarded by critics as his magnum opus.” WK

For The Stranger, “Joel teamed with Phil Ramone, a famed engineer who had just scored his first producing hits with Art Garfunkel's Breakaway and Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years.” AMG “Joel still favored big, sweeping melodies, but Ramone convinced him to streamline his arrangements and clean up the production. The results aren’t necessarily revelatory, since he covered so much ground on Turnstiles, but the commercialism of The Stranger is a bit of a surprise” AMG for “those who had written Joel off as a one-hit wonder.” DH

“None of his ballads have been as sweet or slick as Just the Way You Are,” AMG, a song he almost dropped from the album. “‘Ehh, that’s a chick song,’ he shrugged – but it gave him his first Top 5 hit” DB and won Grammys for Record and Song of the Year.

In addition, Joel “he never had created a rocker as bouncy or infectious as Only the Good Die Young; and the glossy production of She's Always a Woman disguises its latent misogynist streak.” AMG

“Joel balanced such radio-ready material with a series of New York vignettes, seemingly inspired by Springsteen’s working-class fables and clearly intended to be the artistic centerpieces of the album. They do provide The Stranger with the feel of a concept album, yet there is no true thematic connection between the pieces, and his lyrics are often vague or mean-spirited.” AMG

The title song is marked by a “signature whistle line” WK which Joel initially intended just as a fill-in until, as he told Ramone, he found the right instrument to play in its place. Ramone’s response: “No, you don’t. That’s ‘The Stanger,’ the whistling.” WK

“His lyrical shortcomings are overshadowed by his musical strengths. Even if his melodies sound more Broadway than Beatles – the epic suite Scenes from an Italian Restaurant feels like a show-stopping closer – there’s no denying that the melodies of each song on The Stranger are memorable, so much so that they strengthen the weaker portions of the album.” AMG

“Joel rarely wrote a set of songs better than those on The Stranger, nor did he often deliver an album as consistently listenable.” AMG The Stranger “remains a solid introduction to Joel's restless muse at a crucial point in his career.” DH The album invites some “comparisons to Bruce Springsteen” DH but in “a lower middle-class (Eastern Urban) setting, but Joel’s chameleonic, formalist approach to pop wasn't to be so easily pigeonholed.” DH


Notes: In July 2008, a 2-disc 30th anniversary edition was released which added the previously unreleased concert Live at Carnegie Hall 1977.

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Saturday, September 10, 1977

9/10/1977: Styx chart with “Come Sail Away”

First posted 8/6/2020.

Come Sail Away

Styx

Writer(s): Dennis DeYoung (see lyrics here)


First Charted: September 10, 1977


Peak: 8 US, 9 CB, 9 HR, 9 RR, 1 CL, 9 CN (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 18.7 video, -- streaming

Awards:

About the Song:

I discovered “Come Sail Away” retroactively. My first real awareness of Styx was “Babe,” their #1 hit in 1979. The song topped my first personal chart a whopping three years later when I didn’t make much distinction between current and classic hits. That chart also featured the band’s 1978 hit “Renegade” in my top ten and “The Best of Times” at #21. I bought the single for the latter while it was still on the charts in 1981, but didn’t get Paradise Theater, its parent album, until just after I started my charts and joined joined a record club where one gets 13 albums for a penny. I took Styx’s Paradise Theater as one of my selections and “The Best of Times” leapt back on my radar and hit #1 on my chart.

“Come Sail Away” was also on that first chart, although much farther down at a lowly #48. A year later, the song finally reached the top of my chart. Thanks to Paradise Theater and the follow-up 1983 Kilroy Was Here album, I had become a huge Styx fan and was ready to explore earlier work. While on a family vacation that summer, I’d plunked down my allowance for The Grand Illusion, the band’s 1977 album which featured “Come Sail Away.”

The song was Styx’s second trip to the top ten of the Billboard pop charts, following the #4 success of “Lady” in 1975. Thanks to “Come Sail Away,” the band became arguably the biggest band in America for the next few years, achieving four successive multi-platinum albums. The song was a ballad that builds to a “bombastic, guitar-heavy second half.” WK Like “Lady,” it was written and sung by Dennis DeYoung, the band’s primary vocalist. He took the lead on most of the band’s top ten hits, including “Babe,” “The Best of Times,” “Mr. Roboto,” “Don’t Let It End,” and “Show Me the Way.”

The song touches on “nostalgia of ‘childhood friends,’ escapism, and a religious thematic symbolized by a ‘gathering of angels’ singing ‘a song of hope.’” WK It “uses sailing as a metaphor to achieve one’s dreams,” WK DeYoung acknowledges in the song that sometimes one “misses out on the pot of gold, but continues to carry on.” SF He wrote the song after his frustration with not achieving his dream for greater success after the band’s first two A&M albums failed to generate the kind of sales he anticipated after the success of “Lady.” The band had built a decent following, but as a touring act they were always the support act and never the headliner. SF

The song maintained a presence in pop culture by featuring in TV episodes of Modern Family, ER, Glee, Freaks and Geeks, South Park, Community, and The Goldbergs.


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