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.
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.