Billy Joel Susan Elliott - Essay

Susan Elliott

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It's time to find a new tag for Billy Joel. His first and biggest hit of three years ago, Piano Man, has left him with a reputation as the small, power-packed, yet sensitive rocker behind the great big concert grand. Lyrically, the album of the same name and its two successors contained a few potent references to life in the suburbs (e.g. Captain Jack). That seemed pretty unusual for a commercial recording artist these days. Thus was born tag No. 2, "suburban."

It should all change with "The Stranger." While the album is by no means a radical departure, Joel's continued stylistic expansion comes to a new peak here…. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant—the whatever-happened-to tale of Brenda and Eddie, the queen and king of the prom—is the only song that can even remotely be called suburban.

So what's the new tag? Alas, there isn't one. "The Stranger" defies easy classification…. The onomatopoeic lyric of Movin' Out (Anthony's Song) enables him to acidly spit out the lower East Side workingman's gripe while a teasing, driving sixteenth-note ostinato effectively sets off the monotony and frustration of it all.

There are good times here too…. ["The Stranger" is] one of Joel's most thoroughly realized efforts to date. (pp. 135-36)

Susan Elliott, in her review of "The Stranger," in High Fidelity (copyright © by ABC Leisure Magazine, Inc.; all rights reserved; excerpted by permission), Vol. 27, No. 12, December, 1977, pp. 135-36.