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Music / The Stranger

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And if that's what you have in mind
Yeah, if that's what you're all about
Good luck moving up, 'cause I'm movin' out!
Come out, Virginia, don't let me wait
You Catholic girls start much too late
Oh, but sooner or later, it comes down to fate
I might as well be the one

Well, they showed you a statue, told you to pray
They built you a temple and locked you away
Oh, but they never told you the price that you'd pay
For things that you might have done
—"Only the Good Die Young"

The Stranger is the fifth studio album released by American singer/songwriter/pianist Billy Joel. It was released through Columbia Records on September 29, 1977.

After hitting it big with his second album, 1973's Piano Man, and its memorable Title Track, Billy struggled through the next two albums. While both went Platinum in the United States, they only yielded one Top-40 hit between them.

While producing his most recent album, Turnstiles, he formed a new backing band. He wanted the new album to feature said backing band. But he found it difficult to find a producer he felt could get him back to success.

He ultimately turned to producer Phil Ramone. The resulting album took only three weeks to produce, and Billy described the recording process as "a blast". And it shows, as the new album produced four hits; any one of which could be a signature song for him if he didn't already have "Piano Man".


The album was his highest peak yet on the Billboard 200 album chart, hitting #2, and was ultimately certified Diamond by the RIAA. It would hit #4 on the Billboard Year-End chart for 1978, and #18 for 1979.

"Just the Way You Are" would be his highest-charting single yet, hitting #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and being his first to top the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. His other three singles—"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)", "Only the Good Die Young", and "She's Always a Woman"—would also be Top-40 hits. The Title Track, while it didn't chart in the U.S., would become big in Japan, hitting #2 there, and #8 in New Zealand.

"Just the Way You Are" would also win the Grammy Awards for Record and Song of the Year in 1978, giving Billy two of the jewels in that year's Triple Crown.



Side One
  1. "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" (3:30)
  2. "The Stranger" (5:10)
  3. "Just the Way You Are" (4:52)
  4. "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" (7:37)

Side Two

  1. "Vienna" (3:34)
  2. "Only the Good Die Young" (3:55)
  3. "She's Always a Woman" (3:21)
  4. "Get It Right the First Time" (3:57)
  5. "Everybody Has a Dream" (6:28)

"She tropes like a thief, but she's always a woman to me"

  • Anti-Love Song: "She's Always a Woman" is Billy's rant about the worst things that a woman can be, but somehow he still finds a woman to be appealing.
  • Beneath the Mask: The title track is all about this, arguing that everyone puts on personae for others. The album cover also makes a literal reference to this trope.
  • Catholic School Girls Rule: "Only the Good Die Young", in which the narrator attempts to seduce a Catholic classmate. This attracted a fair amount of controversy at the time for allegedly being anti-Catholic, which naturally only made the song that much more successful. Billy himself said, "the song wasn't so much anti-Catholic as pro-lust." He also points out that the narrator of the song, despite his efforts, never actually gets anywhere with the girl.
  • Epic Rocking: "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" (7:37) and "Everybody Has a Dream" (6:28).
  • Genre Roulette: The album goes through a rather massive number of styles over its forty-two-minute running time. The most extreme example, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", goes through about five different musical genres over its seven and a half minutes.
  • Musical Pastiche: The arrangement of "Just the Way You Are", with its prominent Fender Rhodes electric piano and heavily processed background vocals, is heavily inspired by 10cc's massive hit "I'm Not in Love".
  • Recurring Riff: The theme from the beginning and end of the title track reappears at the end of "Everybody Has a Dream".
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: "Movin' Out" deconstructs the idea of New Yorkers wanting to get out of blue collar jobs and chasing bourgeois signs of having "made it", like suburban homes or big cars.
  • Shadow Archetype: "The Stranger", though it also notes that Dark Is Not Evil (necessarily, at least). The song is rife with Jungian imagery throughout its lyrics.
    You may never understand how the stranger is inspired
    But he is not always evil and he is not always wrong
    Though you drown in good intentions, you will never quench the fire
    You'll give into your desire when the stranger comes along
  • Virgin-Shaming: For lack of a better phrase, the singer in "Only the Good Die Young" is trying to pressure a Catholic girl, Virginia, to "put out". Said Virginia was actually a high school crush of Billy's.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: Asked of the subjects in "Movin' Out":
    • Anthony's mother asks him if eyeing a suburban house in Hackensack is worth working too hard at a grocery store.
    • Sgt. O'Leary works a second job as a bartender to buy a Cadillac, but breaks his back as a cop, so he can't drive it now.
  • Yandere: The subject of "She's Always a Woman" is kinda mean, but the singer loves her in spite of her flaws.


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