Sunday, May 21, 1978

Billy Joel “The Stranger” released as single

The Stranger

Billy Joel

Writer(s): Billy Joel (see lyrics here)

Released: May 21, 1978

Peak: 12 CL, 59 AU, 8 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 0.47 world

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 8.87 video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Born in New York City in 1949, Billy Joel rose to fame in the 1970s as one of the most successful singer/songwriter/pianists of all time. He was already recording music with a band, the Echoes, by the age of 16, and went on to work with the Hassles and Attila before launching a solo career. With his first four albums, he landed four singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including his signature song “Piano Man” at #25.

It was his fifth album, 1977’s The Stranger, that made him a superstar. “Just the Way You Are” went to #3 and was followed by three more top-25 hits in “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” “Only the Good Die Young,” and “She’s Always a Woman.” Each of the songs reached platinum status and propelled the album to #2 and ten million in sales – the most commercially successful studio album of Joel’s career.

The album’s title cut was released as a single, but not in the United States. The song surprisingly went all the way to #2 in Japan – his first chart entry in that country and the most successful song of his career there. It was a top-10 hit in New Zealand, where it was his fourth top-20 hit. The other three hits were also from The Stranger.

Tthe song was an homage to Carl Jung’s definition of “The Shadow,” an unconscious part of the personality – the blind spot of one’s psyche. WK It’s about “how when we think we know somebody, we often hardly know that person at all.” SF Joel said it was partly inspired by his half-hearted attempt to kill himself by drinking furniture polish when he was 21. “It revealed a dark side of his personality that wasn’t readily apparent.” SF

Joel said that after they recorded the song, he thought it still needed some kind of prelude. He played his idea on the piano for producer Phil Ramone and whistled the melody as he played. Joel said, “What instrument do you think should do that?” Ramone responded, “You just did it.” SF

The song was used in 2020 during the end credits of the miniseries The Stand.


Related Links:

First posted 12/25/2022; last updated 12/26/2022.

Friday, May 19, 1978

Dire Straits “Sultans of Swing” released

Sultans of Swing

Dire Straits

Writer(s): Mark Knopfler (see lyrics here)

Released: May 19, 1978

Peak: 4 US, 5 CB, 11 HR, 2 RR, 46 AC, 1 CL, 8 UK, 26 CN, 6 AU, 2 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.6 UK, 0.78 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 794.10 video, 1147.10 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Dire Straits were initially regarded as a new wave band. They landed in this company having come up through the London pub scene with a vaguely gloomy name.” TC They were, “in fact, the perfect representation of the ‘80s – an era of post-modernism. They played long songs that appeared to have flights of improvisation but were tightly scripted. They lyrics had a Dylanesque obscurity but lacked poetry or much meaning.” TC

They did, however, “have their moments. The first of them is ‘Sultans of Swing,’” TC a song which “was a marked change from the waning disco style and the nascent punk movement.” SF “The thing here is the hook that [Mark] Knopfler lays down with fluid and inventive guitar runs while the rhythm section maintains a gentle funk undertow. Knopfler’s voice is etherieal and laid back.” TC

In Dire Straits’ debut single, Knopfler paints a story of protagonist caught up in the music at a jazz club. The band has no pretenses of making it big; “they’re here because they live for this.” PW Critic Paul Williams says “Sultans of Swing” isn’t just “one of the truly great song-poems that is overtly about the love of music…This is a song about values.” PW “Music is our meeting place…What else, apart from sex, is so constistently intimate?” PW

Knopfler got the idea from the song when he ducked into a bar on a rainy night in Ipswich. A band was performing to “maybe four or five drunks” and ended their set “announcing, with no apparent irony, ‘Goodnight and thank you. We are the sultans of swing.’” As Knopfler said, “there was something really funny about it to me because Sultans, they absolutely weren’t.” SF


Related Links:

First posted 7/14/2022; last updated 4/10/2024.