Arrow-right Camera
Subscribe now

Billy Joel cher graphic

Columbia Records

By Charles Apple

Singer-songwriter Billy Joel released his sixth album 45 years ago Wednesday. It would sell more than 7 million copies in the U.S., spend eight weeks at No. 1 and win two Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.

That fall, it would become one of the first 50 LPs available in compact disc format.

The Making of '52nd Street'

After years of writing songs, selling advertising jingles, playing at piano bars and opening for groups like Badfinger, the J. Geils Band and the Beach Boys, Billy Joel finally began to find real success in the mid-1970s.

He became disenchanted with Los Angeles, returned to his native New York and continued to write the strongly personal songs for which he was slowly becoming known: “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and “New York State of Mind” show his state of mind at that point.

In 1977, Joel's label, Columbia Records, brought in famed record producer Phil Ramone to work with Joel for his 1977 album, “The Stranger.” The project would generate four Top 25 hit singles and would outsell Columbia's previous bestselling album, Simon and Garfunkel's “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Re-energized by his not-quite-sudden success, Joel decided he wanted a fresh sound for his next project. He brought in jazz musicians to help build that sound. The title of his next album, “52nd Street” was a reference to an area of New York long popular among jazz musicians. A master pianist, Joel posed for the cover photo holding a trumpet.

52nd Street Album Cover

Released on Oct. 11, 1978, “52nd Street” would sell 7 million albums in the U.S., becoming Joel's first No. 1 album. Three songs would be Top 40 hits — including the lead single, “My Life,” which would peak at No. 3. It would win Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Four years later, “52nd Street” would become one of the first 50 albums released on compact disc when Sony's first CD players went on sale in Japan on Oct. 1, 1982.

And again — 36 years after that, when Sony returned to manufacturing vinyl records — the company made “52nd Street” its very first official vinyl release.

Billy Joel's Album Chart History

Billy Joel's album charting

...And His Top 13 Singles

Just The Way You Are Single Cover

Just The Way You Are

From 1977's The Stranger


My Life Single Cover

My Life

From 1978's 52nd Street


You May Be Right Single Cover

You May Be Right

From 1980's Glass Houses


Its Still Rock And Roll To Me Single Cover

It's Still Rock And Roll To Me

From 1980's Glass House


Tell Her About It Single Cover

Tell Her About It

From 1983's An Innocent Man


Uptown Girl Single Cover

Uptown Girl

From 1983's An Innocent Man


An Innocent Man Single Cover

An Innocent Man

From 1983's An Innocent Man


You're Only Human Single Cover

You're Only Human

From 1985's Greatest Hits


Modern Woman Single Cover

Modern Woman

From 1986's The Bridge


A Matter Of Trust Single Cover

A Matter Of Trust

From 1986's The Bridge


We Didn't Start The Fire Single Cover

We Didn't Start The Fire

From 1989's Storm Front


I Go To Extremes Single Cover

We Didn't Start The Fire

From 1989's Storm Front


The River Of Dreams Single Cover

The River Of Dreams

From 1993's River Of Dreams


Sources: “The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul” by Irwin Stambler, “The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock” edited by Michael Heatley, “Best-Selling Albums of All Time” by Metro Books,, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Recording Academy, Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Billboard magazine, Ultimate Classic Rock,,,

This edition of Further Review was adapted for the web by Zak Curley.