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This, Billy Joel's breakthrough album, came years after he first made his mark with the novelty-ish "Piano Man". In the meantime, the New York-based songwriter released two lacklustre and stylistically confused platters that blunted interesting songs with a sound that was neither Elton mellow nor Elton attitude. Produced by Phil Ramone, The Stranger
took those who had written Joel off as a one-hit wonder by surprise and it remains a solid introduction to Joel's restless muse at a crucial point in his career. It invited a few comparisons to Bruce Springsteen
, with its prominent sax breaks, hard-edged rebel-rockers ("Only The Good Die Young") and slice-of-life dramatics ("Scenes From An Italian Restaurant"), recounting life in a lower middle-class setting; but Joel's chameleonic, formalist approach to pop wasn't to be so easily pigeonholed. --Don Harrison