Tuesday, December 7, 2010

352. 52nd Street. Billy Joel gives an address to the nation.

Album: 52nd Street
Artist: Billy Joel
Year: 1978
Genre: Rock


  1. Big Shot
  2. Honesty
  3. My Life
  4. Zanzibar
  5. Stiletto
  6. Rosalinda's Eyes
  7. Half A Mile Away
  8. Until The Night
  9. 52nd Street

Billy Joel isn't just a person he's become a kind of musical template. He's a syndrome all his own. People catch Billy Joel. Sufferers start out as angry young men but quickly become middle-of-the-road darlings. Their audience ages and they start performing in venues which have Gold Class tickets so the people in the front rows are their richest fans rather than those dedicated enough to camp out overnight in a ticket line. Today he's given up writing new music for the pop charts and instead writes classical pieces but still tours on the strength of his back catalogue.

Back in 1978 Joel was still interested in Rock and Roll. He was still a songwriter and churned out albums and hit singles. 52nd Street is his sixth album which means he's passed the nervous debut, made his way through the difficult second release, got through albums 3,4 and 5 (the "comfortable albums") and is up to the "Are you still here?" album which is where a lot of people tend to lose their way.

There are three strings to Joel's bow. He's a writer, a singer and a pianist.

As a singer he's fairly well suited to this sort of music. It's fairly gentle rock that doesn't challenge the vocal chords much but needs a stamp of authority to make it work. He's forceful in his vocals and can bring it down a notch to a sweeter level when he has to. He's not going to be anyone's favourite vocalist but he's not embarrassing himself either.

As a pianist he's surprisingly low-key on this album. The prowess he enjoys showing off (like the key-pounding at the start of Angry Young Man) is toned down on this release. If you didn't know much about Joel before you put this on you might not be able to identify which instrument he plays (probably not helped by the fact that guitars are mentioned often in the lyrics and he's holding a trumpet on the cover). The one exception to this song is Stilletto which allows him to cut lose on a grand piano and display his keyboard talents.

As a songwriter this isn't really Joel's finest hour. Stilletto is a good song and while there are those who love My Life it leaves me a bit cold. Most of the other tracks seem like fairly forgettable album-filler material.

Trivia buffs may be interested to know that this was the first ever album released on CD (in 1982). I wonder how many people bought it purely so they had something to play on their new toy?

52nd Street didn't make me sit up and want to hear more Joel but it did remind me that before he was an old guy playing songs to wealthy people he was a young rock and roller, sadly he caught the world's first case of Billy Joel.

Highlight: Stilletto
Lowlight: Rosalinda's eyes.

Influenced by:
The Beatles
Influenced: Ben Folds

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I admit that I was a fan back in my own misspent youth, given as I was to soggy sentimentality, but unlike Billy, I grew up. You will too. Till then, you will probably love this album. "


So are you happy to pay a visit to 52nd street or would you rather give it a wide berth? Let me know below

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