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Piece by Piece – 52nd Street

Piece by Piece - 52nd Street

“52nd Street,” released October 11, 1978, is Billy Joel’s 6th album. Billy Joel wanted to go for a more jazzy sound with this album, hiring multiple jazz artists. The album only has 9 songs, but does consist of a longer runtime with its songs. The album was a follow-up to Joel’s last album, “The Stranger.” “52nd Street” and Billy Joel’s new approach would prove to be successful, with the album becoming one of four to top the billboard charts.

52nd Street, New York

The name is actually a reference to 52nd Street in Midtown Manhattan that flourished musically, beginning during the Great Depression. The recording of the album happened to be recorded on the street, and the label headquarters was on West 52nd Street.

The album begins with “Big Shot,” which was one of three major hits from this album. The album has a more jazzy rock sound with it, with it almost sounding like an earlier 70s rock song. The song is thought to be about an experience that Joel had with Mick and Bianca Jagger. After a dinner with the two, Joel would write the song, imagining Mick singing it to Bianca. I really enjoy it, personally. I can see why it was a hit, but I do believe that there’s another song that tops it.

“Honesty” is the second song in the album, and it features a more sad and slow tone, compared to “Big Shot.” The song was solely written by Billy Joel. According to Chuck Klosterman of The New York Times, “[the song] implies that the only way you can tell that someone really cares about you is if they tell you you’re bad.” “Honesty” has also been done multiple times by multiple artists, such as Beyoncé. I love the slower, more sad tone of the song, and it’s definitely one of his best in terms of emotion.

Next on the album is “My Life.” The song’s musical traits include an upbeat beat and strays a little from the jazz theme. “My Life,” from what I can pick up on, is about possibly dealing with a breakup. The lyrics, such as “I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life,” point towards that idea. This song alone is what introduced me to Billy Joel. “My Life” is definitely one of the best songs featured on the album.

The fourth track on the album is “Zanzibar.” This is my personal favorite from the album. The piano and guitar really deliver the emotion, and the trumpet solos in the song give it a fresh feel every time they come up, as if to help the listener not get bored. “52nd Street,” with its jazz theme, and the mix of slow rock and roll really mend together nicely and helps “Zanzibar” stay memorable yet new when listening to it.

“Stiletto” goes back to its goal of jazz, yet still keeps the slow rock and roll undertones from “Zanzibar” in “Stiletto.” The song seems to be about a woman emotionally manipulating the main character (who I assume is the woman’s boyfriend or lover).

“Rosalinda’s Eyes” turns towards the electric piano and features a pan flute, giving it a Latin sound. The song is written as a hypothetical letter to his mother, from his father who left his family for Cuba (he would also travel to Vienna).

Next up is “Half a Mile Away.” 50s and 60s R&B run rampant in this song. The theme is about being able to run away from life’s worries and struggles, which are a predominant theme in a lot of Billy Joel’s songs.

The eighth song in the album is “Until the Night,” which is an emotional ballad-type song that has a completely different sound than the rest of the album. The story behind “Until the Night” is about a “romance where the couple has to separate each morning so each can go to work. They are insecure about the relationship, but when they get back together in the evening everything is okay,”

The last song in the album is “52nd Street,” featuring the album’s name. In terms of jazz, this is the best. The song is written as a callback to jazz and blues singers from years past.

I love “52nd Street.” I believe that it’s in the top 3 albums written by Billy Joel. Its songs are catchy and full of emotion. I never get bored revisiting this album. It gets a rating of 8.5/10 on the Sweet Sounds Scale.

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About the Contributor
Micah Steffens, Staff Writer
Micah Steffens is a 16 year old sophomore who enjoys music, the outdoors, and food. His favorite hobby is listening to music, and he's a fan of bands such as Weezer, Pearl Jam, and Green Day. Micah has 5 other brothers and 2 dogs. He enjoys talking to people and listening to everyone’s opinion, as everyone has a right to one. He enjoys shows such as Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. Micah does sports such as golf and trapshooting. He hopes to pursue engineering after high school.
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