Wednesday, September 02, 2015
Prior to becoming a platinum selling 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) in 1977, 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 the weapon that would single-handedly bring down the music business.
We all know how that one turned out...
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 favourites on this record are "Miami 2017" where the storyboard paints a lurid picture of future apocalypse and "Prelude/Angry Young Man", featuring dazzling playing from all involved with a sampling of his bitter wit.
Anyone who tells you that Joel is merely a lightweight singer of ballads is extremely misguided.
You would think that with such a stellar set of material, commercial success would have been a certainty. Such was not the case, 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, ambitious arrangements here. 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.