Artist: Billy Joel
Release date: 1976
Favorite track: “New York State of Mind”
Billy Joel is certainly one of the best songwriters to grace the earth — right up there with Elton John, Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello.
The diverse album, “Turnstiles,” is a prime example of his skill. I’ve said this before, and I’m 100% biased, but it’s another underrated record.
Joel casually alternates genres and styles and does so with unusually smooth transitions. “Turnstiles” has it all — soft rock, beach-inspired songs, pop and grandiose tracks to set the mood.
I love the album title, because turnstiles are an underused metaphor for slowing people down, gathering people and guiding them in one direction.
“Turnstiles” was dedicated to Joel’s return to New York City, so it makes sense to start with “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” a mid-tempo, theatrical pop-rock track. It’s definitely the kind of song that wouldn’t seem out of place on a rom-com soundtrack.
What’s most interesting about the song is it was inspired by Ronnie Spector and The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” an iconic song from the all-woman band, and Joel didn’t hide it. Spector recorded her own cover version of “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” in 1977 with the E Street Band.
“Summer Highland, Falls” is musically gorgeous, starting with fast-paced piano music that could make angel wings flutter. To add to the song’s refined style, Joel was a wordsmith with the lyrics.
They say that these are not the best of times
But they’re the only times I’ve ever known
And I believe there is a time for meditation
In cathedrals of our own
— “Summer Highland, Falls”
The diversity of the album becomes apparent with the third song, “All You Wanna Do is Dance.” The reggae-natured, nautical-sounding track is one amid many of the same style released in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Admittedly, it’s not a style of which I’m fond.
“New York State of Mind” grandly romanticizes Joel’s return to the Big Apple. This elegant song is a personal favorite. What makes it so exceptional is how the polished vocals, big saxophone sounds and pretty piano music manage to complement each other without overshadowing any one aspect.
The popular song has been covered by many artists, performed live many times and featured on TV and in movies. After researching, I discovered the 2004 film, “Garfield: The Movie,” features a parody of the song, “New Dog State of Mind.” Garfield sings it after his owner, Jon, kicked him out of the house for making a big mess one night. I watched a video of the scene on YouTube, and it’s pretty dang adorable.
“James” is a moody song, featuring smooth vocals. “Prelude/Angry Young Man” drastically shifts the tone, starting the “Prelude” portion with another quick piano riff. In “Angry Young Man,” Joel answers the piano with quickly rattled off lyrics.
“I’ve Loved These Days” has some of the same dramatic build-ups as Joel’s other ballads, but I do feel as if it’s missing something. In my opinion, it’s probably the saxophone. Is there any song that doesn’t sound better with a sax?
The record ends with “Miami 2017 (I’ve Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),” a retrospective song about the collapse of New York City. It’s certainly a dramatic note on which to conclude an album.
This album cover is darling.
A weary looking Joel stands amid a cluster of turnstiles at a train station. He is surrounded by various types of people — a glamorous couple, a woman clutching a child and a man with arms full of books.