When The New York Philharmonic opened music mogul Clive Davis’ NYC Homecoming Concert last Saturday evening, the esteemed orchestra energized the crowd with a medley of New York anthems. Nestled among classic melodies by such legendary composers as George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein was “New York State of Mind” by the pride of Long Island, Billy Joel. His presence in such company was well-deserved: over a 50-year career, Joel has penned enough standards to warrant entry into the pantheon of The Great American Songbook, and while he hasn’t released a new pop album in almost 30 years, he remains as popular as ever. On November 5, the piano man will return to Madison Square Garden to continue his record-breaking residency there, and the same day, his longtime home of Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings will celebrate his five decades of music with a new vinyl box set.
Billy Joel – The Vinyl Collection, Vol.1 is promised to inaugurate a yearlong celebration of Joel’s extraordinary career. The 9LP box set, housed in a slipcase resembling a phonograph playing one of Billy’s records, collects his first six solo studio albums plus his first live album and a box set-exclusive pressing of Live at The Great American Music Hall – 1975, a previously unreleased concert recording on 2 LPs from the famed San Francisco venue. The complete contents are as follows:
- Cold Spring Harbor (1971);
- Piano Man (1973);
- Streetlife Serenade (1974);
- Turnstiles (1976);
- The Stranger (1977);
- 52nd Street (1978);
- Songs in the Attic (Live, 1981); and
- Live at The Great American Music Hall – 1975 (2LP) (previously unreleased).
All of the albums have been sourced from the original master tapes and prepared by Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound. Jensen previously mastered Joel’s entire albums discography for 2011’s limited edition CD release The Complete Albums Collection. The collection includes a 50-page booklet with an essay by Anthony DeCurtis, insights and observations from Billy, tributes from musicians and friends, and numerous archival photos. Note that Cold Spring Harbor is likely to be the 1983 remix, not the 1971 original version, and Live at The Great American Music Hall will not be available on CD or digitally at the present time.
The box includes a 50+ page booklet highlighting Billy’s early career through archival photos, an essay by Anthony DeCurtis, Billy’s personal observations and insights on his songs and albums, and tributes from his fellow musicians, artists and celebrities.
Joel made his solo debut after recording with the band The Hassles and the duo Attila. While the sound of Cold Spring Harbor was raw and embryonic – and Joel was never satisfied with the presentation of his voice, sped up on the original release and only somewhat ameliorated by a 1983 remix – the songs were already remarkably mature including the ballad “She’s Got a Way.” 1973’s Piano Man yielded not only the classic title track and ultimate sing-along anthem (Joel’s first top 40 single) but the beloved rockers “Captain Jack” and “The Ballad of Billy the Kid.” It became his first top 40 album, as well.
Streetlife Serenade again made the top 40 in the U.S. but didn’t fare as well as its predecessor despite the strength of songs including “The Entertainer.” 1976’s Turnstiles initially wasn’t met with much success, but it marked a turning point for Joel. It was the first album to feature his own band including Richie Cannata, Liberty DeVitto, Russell Javors, Howie Emerson, and Doug Stegmeyer. Among its songs were deeply-felt ruminations on Joel’s New York home: “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Down on Broadway),” “Summer, Highland Falls,” and “New York State of Mind.” Columbia labelmate Barbra Streisand was quick to see the potential of the latter, recording it on her 1977 album Superman.
With his band in place and an ever-growing repertoire of timeless songs, Joel was on the verge of superstardom. The final ingredient came with the entrance of seasoned producer Phil Ramone. 1977’s The Stranger, recorded by Ramone at his own A&R Studio in New York, was Billy Joel’s breakthrough. With a tunestack including “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “She’s Always a Woman,” “Just the Way You Are,” and the title track, The Stranger was impossible to ignore. Top-notch songs, powerful playing, and perfectly-suited production led The Stranger to the No. 2 spot on the Billboard 200 where it remained for six weeks; four singles went to the top 40. Ramone and Joel continued their winning streak with 1978’s 52nd Street which added a pronounced jazz influence to Joel’s musical melting pot, and with 1981’s live album Songs in the Attic which was intended to introduce listeners who had recently discovered Joel to his earliest works. The Ramone-helmed album featured fresh live takes of choice material from Cold Spring Harbor (“She’s Got a Way,” “Everybody Loves You Now”), Piano Man (“Captain Jack,” “You’re My Home,” “The Ballad of Billy the Kid”), Streetlife Serenade (“Streetlife Serenader,” “Los Angelenos”), and Turnstiles (“Miami 2017,” “Summer, Highland Falls,” “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” “I’ve Loved These Days”).
Live at The Great American Music Hall – 1975 presents a “pre-fame” set from Joel including the earliest available recordings of “New York State of Mind” and “James” plus Joel’s loving impersonations of Elton John (“Bennie and the Jets”), Leon Russell (“Delta Lady”), and Joe Cocker (“You Are So Beautiful”), and renditions of favorites including “You’re My Home,” “Everybody Loves You Now,” and “The Entertainer.”
Billy Joel – The Vinyl Collection, Vol.1 is due for release from Columbia/Legacy on November 5. You’ll find pre-order links and the track listing for Live at The Great American Music Hall – 1975 below! Watch this space for news of any further releases in Legacy’s Billy Joel 50th anniversary campaign.
Billy Joel – Live at The Great American Music Hall – 1975 (previously unreleased, 2 LPs)
- Somewhere Along The Line
- The Mexican Connection
- Root Beer Rag
- Intro of Band Members
- You’re My Home
- Cocker Imitation/You Are So Beautiful (Interlude)
- Everybody Loves You Now
- New York State Of Mind
- Bennie and The Jets (Interlude)
- Travelin’ Prayer
- Delta Lady (Interlude)
- The Entertainer
- The Ballad Of Billy The Kid
- Ain’t No Crime
- Weekend Song