Billy Joel – The Stranger: #347 of best 1,000 albums ever!

So why is Billy Joel’s The Stranger on this best 1,000 albums ever thing?

In revisiting The Stranger, it occurs to me how much Billy Joel’s music is deeply embedded into the backdrop of my childhood.

Part of it is geography. Joel is from Long Island, as am I. And in the roughly quarter century I spent living in New York, Billy Joel maintained a popularity that was part local hero, and part singer-songwriting rock god.

And part of it is demographic: the part of Long Island I grew up in has blue collar roots that had in many cases leveled up to middle or upper middle-class status, with a mix of backgrounds that were largely represented by Italian, Irish, and Jewish families who had migrated east from New York City at some point.

All of these thoughts wash over me as I listen to the seven minutes-plus mini-epic that is “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.”

Maybe part of the appeal for me is that Joel is the Long Island kid who came from relatively humble beginnings and made it big time*.

* And it strikes me that even as I have mixed feelings about Long Island culture generally, I especially root for the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Howard Stern, Alec Baldwin, and Billy Joel to do well as fellow native Long Islanders.

Anyway, “Scenes” is a master class of Billy Joel’s songwriting and piano playing skills, and the way that it segues between its pretty and romantic (and ever so slightly shmaltzy) section and upbeat rock and roll middle never fails to entertain me.  

“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” is about as rock as Billy Joel gets, and it works splendidly: it’s catchy, energetic, and fun. What’s great about Joel’s lyrics too is how specific they are, lending them a realism that grounds his songs as tales of blue collar people making their way in the world.

Sergeant O’Leary is walkin’ the beat
At night he becomes a bartender
He works at Mister Cacciatore’s down
On Sullivan Street
Across from the medical center

And on “Vienna,” Joel’s voice shines through. The production on this one is spectacular in showcasing Joel’s vocals over a beautiful piano arrangement. And it’s noteworthy how Joel can flit easily between singer songwriter balladeering and rock and roll crooning.

“Only the Good Die Young” is an exceptional rock song that brings in the doo wop influence that would be explored in greater depth on An Innocent Man (#432 of best 1,000 albums ever).

And I’ve gotten this far without having yet mentioned “She’s Always A Woman,” another gorgeous number that has the feel of some of Paul McCartney’s best songs.

For all of these reasons, The Stranger came in as the best Billy Joel album on the best 1,000 albums ever.

Personal stuff that has something to do with Billy Joel’s The Stranger

One quick further note related to “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.”

The song famously begins with a bottle of red, a bottle white. This reminds me that growing up on Long Island, “red” and “white” were the most common ways that wine was referred to. People would order a “glass of red wine” at a restaurant, and the server would comply, no questions asked.

It was only when I moved to California in the late 1990s that I came to understand that there’s a whole world of wine beyond two colors!

Some stats & info about Billy Joel – The Stranger

  • What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Rock Music, Singer Songwriter, Soft Rock, Album Rock, Contemporary Rock
  • Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – #169
  • All Music’s rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • When was The Stranger released? 1977
  • My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #347 out of 1,000

Billy Joel’s The Stranger on Spotify

A lyrical snippet from Billy Joel’s The Stranger that’s evocative of the album in some way, maybe

A bottle of red, a bottle of white, it all depends upon your appetite.

What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?

Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.

But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective review of what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.