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Readers’ Poll: The Ten Best Billy Joel Albums

Picks include ‘Glass Houses,’ ‘River of Dreams’ and ‘Turnstiles’

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Billy Joel spent the first 22 years of his career making pop albums, and the last 20 years performing that music all over the world. Stopping after 1993's River of Dreams means that he never had a true failure (even if Joel is unhappy with Cold Spring Harbor and The Bridge), and he never embarrassed himself with lame latter-day releases. He was never a critic's darling, but in recent years Joel's popularity has remained remarkably solid, and many of his most ardent foes admit maybe they were a little too tough on him. We asked our readers to vote on their favorite Billy Joel album last week. The top album won by an insanely high margin, but it was pretty close after that. Click through to see the results. 

Courtesy Columbia Records

4. ‘Turnstiles’

At its core, Billy Joel's 1976 LP Turnstiles is a celebration of New York City. He's even posing at the Astor Place subway station on the cover. He cut the album after living in Los Angeles for a few years. He was ready to come home, as he made clear on the album opener "Say Goodbye to Hollywood." "Summer, Highland Falls" is a beautiful ode to a small upstate town, while "New York State of Mind" remains one of the definitive songs about the city, up there with "Theme From New York, New York" and "Empire State of Mind." The album even ends with a science fiction song about New York in the distant future after the city has been destroyed, though "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" is really about the resilience of New Yorkers. It's given Joel a great song to sing at benefits for victims of 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy. 

Courtesy Columbia Records

3. ’52nd Street’

The huge success of The Stranger completely changed Billy Joel's career, but when it came time for a follow-up he knew repeating the formula would be a mistake. "We wanted to do something completely different," Billy Joel told Rolling Stone this year. "Phil Ramone had the idea to bring in jazz musicians. I was really enthusiastic about it." 52nd Street didn't quite surpass The Stranger, but it was a huge success. "Big Shot," "Honesty" and "My Life" were enormous radio hits. The latter track had a second life two years later when it was used as the theme to the Tom Hanks/Peter Scolari sitcom Bosom Buddies.

Courtesy Columbia Records

2. ‘Glass Houses’

If 52nd Street was Billy Joel's jazz album, the follow-up LP, Glass Houses, was a rock album. It's evident from the opening sounds of shattered glass followed by the loud guitar on "You May Be Right." The music scene was changing a lot in early Eighties. Punk and disco had left huge marks, and some of the Seventies icons felt a little out of touch. It's no coincidence that Bob Seger wrote "Old Time Rock and Roll" at nearly the same time that Billy Joel write "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me." Of the two songs, Billy's is a little more accepting of the changes. "It's the next phase, New Wave, dance craze, anyways," Joel sings. "It's still rock and roll to me." The album was yet another huge hit, and it got the decade off to a very strong start for the piano man. 

Courtesy Columbia Records

1. ‘The Stranger’

This wasn't even a close contest. The Stranger received three times as many votes as the runner-up, and that's no huge surprise. The Stranger is the album that forever made Billy Joel a superstar. It was his first time working with producer Phil Ramone, and their chemistry was instant. "I wasn't sure what a producer was even capable of before I met Phil," Joel recently told Rolling Stone. "He gets the artist to believe in his own stuff." The album took off like a rocket, and "Just the Way You Are," "Only the Good Die Young," "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" and "She's Always a Woman" were playing everywhere you went in 1977 and 1978. He's recorded many great albums since The Stranger, but he's never quite managed to top it.