Billy Joel’s The Stranger and 52nd Street are actually the same album, and I can prove it. Sure, one came out in 1977 and the second one came out the next year, and the songs are all (mostly) different, but check this out.
Each album had nine songs, distributed four on Side A and five on Side B. And now let’s look at the structure, put together for you in handy chart form by yours truly.
And each album is damn-near a pop masterpiece. In fact, The Stranger is so good, Joel would have been an idiot not to call “One more time!” for its followup.
But we’re supposed to play a song here at some point, so I guess I’d better get to it.
Coming out of The Stranger and an incredibly popular (and profitable) supporting tour, Joel and producer Phil Ramone were given a blank check before going into the studio to make 52nd Street. And that album came out so slick and so polished, that I’m pretty sure they spent every penny.
Big bunches of those pennies must have been spent on jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, who soloed twice on tonight’s track, “Zanzibar.” It’s about a small-time musician making a move on a cocktail waitress at the joint where he plays. Joel gives you great big piano power chords from the start, but the bridge and the long fade are pure jazz, with Hubbard working furiously alongside Joel’s longtime bassist, Doug Stegmeyer. You might have heard it a time or three, if you’re about my age or older.
But then a few years ago, Joel released the “unfaded” version of Zanz. It’s more than 90 seconds longer than the album cut, and all that extra goodness is Hubbard’s full solo. As it would turn out, Ramone had left most of Hubbard’s best stuff on the cutting room floor. (The same thing happened to saxophonist Karl Denson’s solo work on the radio edit of Lenny Kravitz’s “Let Love Rule.” Criminal. Just criminal.)
Hubbard’s solo kicks in at the 3:04 mark. Then he comes back for more — much more — after the last repeat of the chorus. This is great work, and deserves to be turned up to 11. And left unfaded.