Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]
Artist: BILLY JOEL
Album: THE BRIDGE
By the time Billy Joel released The Bridge in the summer of 1986 he had already created a run of nine consecutive classic albums, from 1971’s Cold Spring Harbor through 1983’s An Innocent Man. Some fans might have a different definition of his prime years but for me that era concluded with The Bridge, which also marked the end of his long-time collaboration with legendary producer Phil Ramone. Starting with 1977’s The Stranger, Ramone helped Joel harness his strengths while expanding the sonic landscapes of his records, making each album sound different than the last while maintaining an unmistakable Billy Joel sound. Much of that had to do with his musicians, who were more than just a backing band or hired guns. To me and many other dedicated fans, the group consisting of drummer Liberty DeVitto, guitarists Russell Javors and David Brown, bassist Doug Stegmeyer and saxophonist Richie Cannata (later replaced by Mark Rivera) was as integral to his sound as the E Street Band was to Bruce Sprinsgteen. The Bridge was the final album to include contributions from all of these world-class musicians (only DeVitto & Brown remained for 1989’s Storm Front), and the two subsequent albums he released prior to his unofficial retirement from pop/rock songwriting were not in the same league as any of his previous work.
Although The Bridge isn’t as consistent from start-to-finish as most of his earlier releases, there are plenty of great songs that have stood the test of time. “Modern Woman” and “A Matter Of Trust” were both Top 10 hits in the U.S. The former is an energetic synth-based tune (which was featured in the hilarious movie Ruthless People that same year), while the latter is a crunchy guitar-based rocker. “This Is The Time” is a classic Billy Joel ballad marred slightly by the line “I’m warm from the memory of days to come.” Ray Charles joins in on vocals & piano for the tribute to their favorite instrument, “Baby Grand,” with Joel clearly relishing every moment with his idol. The horn-drenched “Big Man On Mulberry Street” is a jazzy delight, while album opener “Running On Ice” is a blast of fresh air with some typically impressive drumming from DeVitto. “Temptation” is one of those forgotten songs in his discography, a stunning ballad that could/should have been a hit single. The Bridge closes with two decent-but-forgettable songs that are notable for their guest artists. “Code Of Silence” was co-written by Cyndi Lauper, who also adds her distinctive vocals to the track. It’s one of only two songs in his catalog co-written by someone else (Ludwig van Beethoven was his other “collaborator”). Steve Winwood adds some tasty organ to “Getting Closer,” but that may be the only noteworthy thing about the song. I could write a book, or perhaps a blog series, on Billy Joel’s discography and how much his music and his band have meant to me for nearly 4 decades, but that will have to wait. For now I’m happy to share this look back at the tail end of his incredible 10-album winning streak.
For another take on The Bridge, check out Wardo’s review.