Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#931 in the Series) is Billy Joel, 52nd Street
While 52nd Street is not Billy Joel’s most popular album, that honor goes to The Stranger with the mega-hits “Just the Way You Are”, “Scenes in an Italian Restaurant”, “Only the Good Die Young”, and the rest, or his most socially aware album, that would certainly be The Nylon Curtain with the brutally honest social commentary of “Allentown”, and “Goodbye Saigon”, and it was by far not the worst, clearly An Innocent Man gets that dubious honor, but it is in some circles, including mine, simply the best.
In the interests of full disclosure, my view of this album may be somewhat influenced by the fact that this was the last album that I waited in the early morning mist with my face plastered to the window, salivating at the site of stacks and stacks of this new release inside the record store just beyond my reach an hour before the store opened to be the first in my village to own the first post Stranger effort by the emerging, ten years in the making, overnight success, superstar piano man.
The record has a little bit of everything. Starting with the bombastic first cut “Big Shot” you are hit between the ears with the combative “in your face” street fighting New York style Billy Joel where he announces that he is here to stay.
There is not a bad song on this album. The song “My Life” could very well be autobiographical where with the lyric “Closed the shop, sold the house, bought a ticket to the west coast, now he does a stand-up routine in LA” you could easily replace in your minds-eye the stand-up comic with an ivory tickler in the Executive Room playing for tips. Did you know Peter Cetera adds background vocals on this one?
The melody for “Zanzibar” was clearly influenced by Royal Scam era Steely Dan, and “Until the Night” is a stunner with Joel lowering his singing register and delivering what might be his best vocal performance in front of a nice string arrangement.
“Stiletto” is a classic scorned by a woman song where Joel gets a little feisty. Long time Joel Sax Blower Richie Cannata gets a nice turn here and there is a brief appearance by the immortal Hammond B-3 Organ in the middle, always a treat.
In the end, this was a more than solid follow-up effort, one of my favorites all-time, sold 7 million copies and won a Grammy for Album of the year.
I only have two questions for Mr. Joel. Why haven’t you released any new material in 18 years, and what is up with you holding a trumpet trying to look like Tom Waits on the album cover?
— Jeremy Wren
- Side one
- “Big Shot” – 4:03
- “Honesty” – 3:53
- “My Life” – 4:44
- “Zanzibar” – 5:13
- “Stiletto” – 4:42
- “Rosalinda’s Eyes” – 4:41
- “Half a Mile Away” – 4:08
- “Until the Night” – 6:35
- “52nd Street” – 2:27
- Billy Joel – piano, Vocals
- Doug Stegmeyer – bass, background vocals
- Liberty DeVitto – drums
- Richie Cannata – saxophones, organ, clarinet
- Steve Khan – electric guitar, acoustic guitar
- Freddie Hubbard – flugelhorn and trumpet on “Zanzibar”
- Mike Mainieri – vibes and marimba on “Zanzibar” and “Rosalinda’s Eyes”
- David Spinozza – acoustic guitar on “Honesty”
- Donnie Dacus – background vocals on “My Life”
- Peter Cetera – background vocals on “My Life”
- David Friedman – orchestral chimes and percussion on “Until the Night”
- Ralph MacDonald – percussion on “Rosalinda’s Eyes” and “Half a Mile Away”
- Eric Gale – electric guitar on “Half a Mile Away”
- Frank Floyd – background vocals on “Half a Mile Away”
- Babi Floyd – background vocals on “Half a Mile Away”
- Zack Sanders – background vocals on “Half a Mile Away”
- Milt Grayson – background vocals on “Half a Mile Away”
- Ray Simpson – background vocals on “Half a Mile Away”
- George Marge – sopranino recorder on “Rosalinda’s Eyes”
- Hugh McCracken – nylon string guitar on “Until the Night” and “Rosalinda’s Eyes”
- Robert Freedman – horn and string orchestration on “Until the Night” and “Honesty”
- Dave Grusin – horn orchestration on “Half a Mile Away”