Where does one even begin when attempting to rank the albums that Billy Joel has released? Because every album has its distinct taste and because everyone’s perspectives are different, inevitably, there will always be a member of the audience that is dissatisfied with the selections that were made.
During his appearance on The Stephen Colbert Show, Joel makes a passing reference to this topic. Regardless of the circumstances, this sound master is one of the most successful solo artists in the history of music, and he or she is deserving of our appreciation for a creative life well lived.
In this list of the ten best albums by Billy Joel, we are going, to begin with, our least favorite option and work our way up to our top pick.
1. The Stranger
Joel’s entry into the world of mainstream contemporary music was heralded by the release of his fifth studio album, titled The Stranger. This was exactly what he required because the sales of his fourth album did not amount to what Columbia Records anticipated, and they were on the verge of dismissing him from their roster.
The Stranger was released to the public in 1977, to wonderful reviews, and produced such stellar singles as “Only the Good Die Young,” “She’s Always a Woman,” “Just the Way You Are,” and “The Stranger.” This was the first time that producer Phil Ramone was paired with the band for the production of an album.
2. Glass Houses
Once more, we are reminded of how skilled Joel is at switching up styles and modifying them to suit his own needs. Glass Houses breathed new life into Joel’s rock and roll side, while 52nd Street pays homage to the jazz scene in New York City from decades ago.
Joel had been harassed by critics who claimed that he was too “pop” and not enough “rock.” In response to this, Joel released Glass Houses, which resulted in “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” becoming his first single to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
3. 52nd Street
After the critical and commercial success of The Stranger, and with a renewed sense of purpose, Joel entered the recording studio to get started on 52nd Street.
The name of the album, which is 52nd Street, is a reference to a well-known street in New York City that, from the 1930s through the 1950s, was widely regarded as the epicenter of the city’s jazz theater scene.
This album garnered Joel two well-deserved Grammy wins, the first for Album of the Year, and the second for Best Pop Vocal Performance from a male artist. Not only did it reach number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, but it also peaked at number one.
4. Songs in the Attic
In 1981, “She’s Got a Way” was a song that was almost certainly heard by everyone listening to the radio. On Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart, a beautiful song about appreciation and love peaked at number four.
Songs in the Attic, a compilation of live performances, contained this song. It was intended to include songs from Cold Spring Harbor, Joel’s 1971 debut album, and it was his first live recording.
Songs in the Attic also feature the songs “Captain Jack,” “Everybody Loves You Now,” and “Summer, Highland Falls.” It was regarded as his best live album and achieved triple platinum certification after selling over 3,000,000 copies in the US alone.
5. Piano Man
Piano Man, Joel’s second album from 1973, may not have been a huge hit on the charts, but it cemented his reputation as a musician who could write and perform without holding back. Piano Man demonstrates his reckless versatility in handling several genres and modifying them to fit his approach.
However, it was his song “Piano Man” that won over his followers’ hearts and souls. The film “Piano Man” depicts the tale of a man who works as a pianist at the Executive Room Club in Los Angeles.
Joel had this to say about the song: “I played it for about six months just to pay the rent. I was attempting to escape a poor record contract while I was living in Los Angeles. have no idea why that song gained such a following.
6. An Innocent Man
An Innocent Man, Billy Joel’s eighth studio album, was released in 1983. One of Joel’s best albums, it gave him the chance to experiment with the musical idioms of earlier chart-toppers. He has created his versions of the songs he loved as a kid in the 1950s and 1960s.
It was well-liked by the public because it peaked at number four on the US Billboard 200 chart and produced six top 40 hits. The song “Easy Money” was chosen as the theme song for the Rodney Dangerfield-starring movie of the same name.
The future bride-to-be, supermodel Christie Brinkley, appeared in the “Uptown Girl” music video. An Innocent Man is a must-have for any devoted Billy Joel fan. It is romantic, endearing, and full of Joel’s talent as a singer and writer.
There is no suspense here. Turnstiles is unmistakably and unabashedly an album that lauds and glorifies the city of New York. The album was certified platinum and peaked at position 122 on the Billboard 200 chart in the United States.
Joel felt that he didn’t like how James William Guercio’s version of the album was turning out, so he rejected Guercio’s version and began working on the album all over again.
The album was initially produced by Guercio. This would be Joel’s very first effort at creating a record using musicians from his band rather than session musicians. Among the album’s tunes, “New York State of Mind” and “Summer, Highland Falls” stand out as particular highlights.
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8. The Nylon Curtain
We now move on to Billy Joel’s proudest album, The Nylon Curtain. Although it was a difficult decision to make, Joel felt that it was worthwhile because it pushed his musical limits. For instance, the musician Rob Mounsey was invited in to play the synthesizer, marking his first excursion into electronica and digital mixing.
The Nylon Curtain was a pioneer in the field when it was released in 1982 because there weren’t many albums that were digitally generated at the time.
Additionally, Eddie Daniels for saxophone and clarinet, Charles McCracken for cello, and Dave Grusin for string and horn arrangements were added by Joel and veteran producer Phil Ramone. When it was released in 1982, it debuted at number seven on the Billboard album chart and received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.
9. Storm Front
Storm Front, a Grammy nominee, had multiple top-charting hits, including “I Go to Extremes” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Storm Front, which was published in 1989, was a turning point for Joel.
Was he looking for a new start? Nobody is truly certain. To bring in fresh talent, he changed his lineup for this record.
Phil Ramone, Doug Stegmeyer, and Russell Javros, the producer, were replaced by Mick Jones, Joey Hunting, and Tommy Byrnes. However, two of his tracks dominated the charts, establishing Joel as a songwriter of hit songs.
10. River of Dreams
Billy Joel’s twelfth and final album, River of Dreams, was released in August 1993. By this point, Joel was having trouble building relationships with both his family and his business partners. Additionally, it had been four years since the publication of Storm Front, his previous studio album.
Joel was under considerable pressure to live up to the expectations of both his fans and his close friends. Regardless, the album reached its highest point on the Billboard 200 in the United States and seemed to depict a man who reached his breaking point with the world through his final record.
Joel had this to say about the album’s title track: “I thought, Who the hell am I to try to pull off this gospel song, so I took a shower to wash this song away.” I had to do it after singing it in the shower.