So what do you do after you release an album that sells 15 million copies in North America, spawns four hit singles, and wins two Grammy awards? Billy Joel solved that problem with 52nd Street, issued in October of 1978. It would sell 11 million copies, win the Grammy for album of the year, produce three more hit singles, and become his first Number One release, holding the top spot for 8 weeks. Rolling Stone would rank it among the 500 greatest albums of all time.
52nd Street would contain a little jazz, a little rock ‘n’ roll, and a lot of pure pop. It would also feature some of the best piano playing of his career. He showed much creative growth while maintaining his commercial appeal, which is difficult at best.
“Big Shot” and “My Life” are both rock oriented up-tempo tracks. The first has an odd cadence and a guitar edge to back his vocal. The second includes some more guitar riffs that support his lyrics of moving on with life.
“Zanzibar” and the title track both have a jazz feel. The first is an excellent character song and features Freddie Hubbard on trumpet. “52nd Street” has a jam-like atmosphere as the guitar and piano provide an interesting counterpoint to each other.
There is a lot of pop. “Honesty” was a hit single. It is a traditional piano based tune for Joel and builds similar to many of the power ballads of the era. The gem of the album is “Until The Night.” It has a 60’s feel to it, a sound which he would explore in more depth later on An Innocent Man. It is one of the more beautiful and expressive love songs of his career and unfortunately is many times lost or forgotten in his vast catalogue. “Rosalinda’s Eyes” has a Latin flavor and his passionate vocal fits the phrasing of the performance well.
It all adds up to one of the most versatile releases of his career. It was a showcase for an artist at the height of his creative power and remains one of his career defining statements.