Album Review: The Stranger by Billy Joel

Zain Beverly, Radio Intern

The Stranger by Billy Joel is the fifth studio album of his and the best selling, non-compilation album he’s ever produced. It sold over 10 million copies worldwide and it possibly saved Joel from being dropped by his record label, Columbia Records. It’s an iconic album from an even more iconic artist. It carries great examples of Joel’s fantastic songwriting with, depending on the track, the swagger or tenderness that Joel is remembered fondly for.


Album cover art for The Stranger by Billy Joel


Track-by-track Review:

  • Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) – The album kicks off with a traipsing riff on the guitar accented by staccato hits from Joel’s piano on Movin’ Out. The iconic track talks about the disillusionment the protagonist faces when seeing the “fruits” of success. The song has a great sound and tells a good story. One more avant-garde choice in the track would be the sound of wheels-spinning and an engine revving near the end. The sounds evoke images of the Cadillac that is referenced in the song, and it’s a small touch that I’ve grown to enjoy as I’ve listened to the song.


  • The Stranger – Up next is The Stranger, a cautionary tale of not expecting to learn about the deep secrets of others when you can’t divulge your own. Joel’s writing takes the stage on this track, weaving this narrative of semi-intrigue when it comes to domestic life, overlaid on a cool and laid-back instrumental. This track is a personal favorite.


  • Just the Way You Are – This track was one of the four singles to be released before the album came out in 1977. It was the most commercially successful of the bunch, and for good reason. It’s a slow, soft-pop love ballad for the ages. The understated instrumental with a muted organ, light drums and guitar, and punctuating sax fills really sets the tone for the piece.


  • Scenes From an Italian Restaurant – The longest song on the album, Scenes From an Italian Restaurant, is a multi-part epic with distinct sections. The first is a slow scene-setter, describing the titular italian restaurant. The next is a much more upbeat section, where two people are catching up in said restaurant. The third is called by Joel himself “The Ballad of Brenda and Eddie.” It chronicles the doomed relationship of two highschool sweethearts and how it sank in a pretty unfortunately common style. It has a great driving beat and it’s large production shines during the mid-to-late sections.


  • Vienna – This track is a sweeping and touching ballad about realizing that you have your whole life ahead of you and you don’t have to ruin your childhood to get done what you can do later on. The songs slow and meandering chords laze about as the song progresses, turning from a melancholic haze into a sweet realization as the chorus ends.


  • Only the Good Die Young – Only the Good Die Young is a fast and finger-snapping ballad meant to get you moving. It holds some critiques of Catholicism and the ways, in Joel’s eyes, that it’s tenets and standards can be oppressive and suffocating for it’s followers. It’s an upbeat romp and in Joel’s own words, “The sinners have much more fun.”


  • She’s Always a Woman – Much like Just the Way You Are, this track is a slow and sentimental love ballad. Joel sings about how even though the woman of his affections has so many negative qualities, that she still holds an untradeable value in his heart. It’s constant ebbing and flowing sound is a delight to listen to and the picture painted is easy to visualize from Joel’s lyrics.


  • Get It Right the First Time – This track has a fun drum beat that I would describe as tropical-adjacent, as in, it sort of sound likes what Americans would think tropical-ish music might sound like. It’s also layered with standard rock guitars, bass, and cowbell. It’s a fun track but nothing special.


  • Everybody Has a Dream – The ending track of the album is a slow building anthem about, ahem, everybody having a dream, if you didn’t read the title and just skipped straight to the review. It’s bluesy, a little soulful, and has a nice chorus of voices backing up the chorus. It gets the job done for what it is, and it’s pretty enjoyable.



Summary: The Stranger by Billy Joel is a fantastic album whose status is reflected by its immense commercial success. If you haven’t heard at least one track off this album before reading this review, then I’d be surprised. Tracks like Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song), The Stranger, and Vienna are must-listens to anyone even remotely interested in 70’s soft-rock and pop. Heck, if I didn’t always only list three songs I liked off the album, I’d probably list four more as must-listens. Alas, I am constrained by the self-imposed laws of consistent self-branding that is the process of writing these album reviews.


Rating: 4.25 / 5 Sails