‘Zanzibar’ wasn’t a hit at the time but it became a staple of Joel’s concerts and is a fan favorite. It’s a perfect representation of the jazz style Joel introduced to his pop rock for this album. Just check out those horn solos.
Just the other day I proposed a theme week on Billy Joel songs that would make good fodder for a Netflix anthology show. And she serves up ‘Half a Mile Away,’ a very strong candidate. With street smart characters like Little Geo and Angelina circling our restless narrator, this song could make for a great little New York-set character sketch.
Our first battle faces off a couple of legendary New Yorkers: Billy Joel and Paul Simon. Joel defeated Michael Penn in Round One, Frank Sinatra in Round Two and Van Morrison in Round Three. Simon took out Elton John, Sting and Lucinda Williams. I voted for both of them every step of the way. Continue reading
I’ve always considered this jazzy rock classic one of the quintessential New York City albums, from its cover photo of Joel leaning against a wall on 52nd Street and Seventh Avenue to city settings like Zanzibar and the Herald Square of ‘Rosalinda’s Eyes.’
52nd Street – Billy Joel (1978)
I’ve never understood why Billy Joel gets such a bad rap. Just the other day I happened upon a Slate article titled ‘The Worst Pop Singer Ever: Why, Exactly is Bill Joel So Bad?’
That’s the sort of garbage that only gets written about artists who are beloved by “the masses” and therefore un-hip.
Billy Joel followed up The Stranger with an album just as strong if not as iconic, 52nd Street. This jazzy collection boasts such hits as ‘Big Shot,’ ‘Honesty’ and ‘My Life’ but it’s the other, lesser-known tracks that make it one of Joel’s finest efforts. ‘Zanzibar,’ ‘Stiletto,’ ‘Rosalinda’s Eyes,’ ‘Half a Mile Away,’ ‘Until the Night’ and the title track, which (in order) finish off the album after the first three hit tracks, are among the best songs Joel has ever written.
My personal favorite is today’s track, ‘Stiletto,’ and for one primary reason: the piano-bass interlude that starts at 2:08 and launches into that unreal horn part at 2:27 before easing back into the staccato piano and drum bit that precedes the next verse. That’s just quality stuff.