Forty years ago this week, Billy Joel's The Stranger was released.
The Stranger was Joel's fifth album. The critics liked his earlier albums, and they'd sold reasonably well; "Piano Man" had been a radio hit in 1973. The Stranger, though, took his career to a new level. It reached #2 on the Billboard album charts, and sold more than 10,000,000 copies. Only his greatest hits collection would sell more copies.
Under the guidance of veteran producer Phil Ramone, The Stranger had a slicker and more polished sound than Joel's earlier work. The songs he wrote for this album were stories, and his snapshots of working-class New Yorkers drew comparisons to Bruce Springsteen.
Four of the songs from The Stranger were hit singles – "Just the Way You Are," "Movin' Out," "Only the Good Die Young," and "She's Always a Woman." "Just the Way You Are" has become a modern pop standard, covered by artists as wide-ranging as Isaac Hayes and Frank Sinatra. Even some of the tracks that weren't hits at the time – "Vienna," "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" – have become standards at oldies rock radio.
Billy Joel released seven more albums of pop music after The Stranger, all to great success. But for many, The Stranger was the first time they'd heard Billy Joel, and there's never anything quite as exciting as the discovery of something new.
The Stranger is available for streaming or download at Freegal.