June 25, 2010



Prior to becoming a platinum selling, arena filling artist, Billy Joel spent a few years getting his act together, releasing albums that were greeted with the proverbial sound of one hand clapping. "Turnstiles" was his fourth and best collection of songs to date. It met with the same fate as his previous efforts, though this is unfair because of its relative excellence. Despite the fact that it was overshadowed by his breakout LP (The Stranger) the following year, this is a disc that is more than worthy of investigation. I first heard it through a friend, who taped it for me on one of these.

This quaint little artifact was once branded as a weapon that would single-handedly bring down the music business. Well, we all know how that one turned out.

Shitty music eventually turned that trick quite handily.

Back in 1976, all of the elements were coming into place for Joel. The core lineup of his backing band for the next decade was now present and he wrote a stylistically diverse set of songs for which he oversaw production. Most recognizable from this set are "Say Goodbye to Hollywood", which he had recently done for real in moving back to New York from LA, and "New York State of Mind" that celebrates said return. Personally, my absolute favorites on this record are "Miami 2017" , telling a tale of a future apocalypse and "Prelude/Angry Young Man", featuring dazzling playing from all involved, coupled with the most sarcastic lines that he ever wrote.

Anyone who tells you that Joel is merely a lightweight singer of ballads is extremely misguided.

I always wondered why this wasn't a huge success in its time, though there really isn't any measure of what will grab the attention of the masses. In addition to providing a mini-master class on the 88s, his sure touch with melody is married to extremely sharp and ambitious arrangements. While the next few outings would make him a star, "Turnstiles" is one of those esoteric pieces that covers ground he wouldn't visit again until he tackled the edgy songs that comprised the ultimate Beatles wet dream on "The Nylon Curtain".

Now, if you do want ballads, here's one of the finest that he ever did.


James Garcia Jr said...

Thanks for the info. I just recently dug through the Joel library as I was filling my new Ipod like a madman. I'll have to give some of these other songs that I originally ignored another look/listen. Thanks.

E.T.'s Gravity said...

I've always looked up to Billy Joel as one of today's classical pianist like Mozart, Debussy, Chopin, etc. but with a sense of modernity and mind-boggling lyrics and melodies... I love the fact that he's so great with the piano. It's such a shame no one even comes close to his kind of talent these days. I'm stealing all my parent's cassette tapes! lol

Playing Rock Guitar said...

His Uptown Girl was dreadfull, but he made it up with "We didn't start the fire". Great rock song, lyrics and video.

Mike Casey said...

Really enjoyed this post and you bring up a very valid point regarding the way most critics slammed Billy Joel as a lightweight ballad singer. There was a lot more to him than that! I saw him in Denver in Feb. with Elton John...he TOTALLY blew Elton off the stage!

Perplexio said...

Back when Joel released his My Lives box set a few years ago I started revisiting his back catalog a bit more.

I'd say all of his albums up to Glass Houses are pretty strong start to finish and his albums after that still have the ocassional diamonds in the rough but generally lack the overall consistency in the quality of material that the previous albums had.

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