Listening in Depth to Billy Joel – 52nd Street

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Listening in Depth

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We heard some amazing sound coming from the grooves of 52nd Street, but let’s give credit where credit is due — the recording and mastering engineers involved with this album. Jim Boyer and Ted Jensen can both take great pride in the SUPERB work they have done here.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The first two tracks on side one really tell you everything you need to know about the sound of the side. It’s all about balance.

Big Shot

Big Shot is a big, balls-out rock song that packs a lot of punch. Typically the problem you run into is compression. When you get too much compression, the top end becomes pinched and shrill. You can hear this on Billy Joel’s vocals in the verses and in the guitar solo during the outro. Most copies make those squealing guitar notes rip your head off. The best copies give you a full-bodied Billy Joel; if he doesn’t sound right, what’s the point? Next!

Also, listen to the cymbal crashes throughout the song. They should really sound like cymbals and not like someone making explosion noises through a walkie-talkie. (Believe me, this analogy hurts me too, but they can really sound god-awful on some pressings.)

Honesty

This is such a great album cut! The intro is an ideal test for dynamic contrasts and transparency. On the best copies the piano can really crescendo and throw its weight around. On the best copies I swear you can hear the foot pedals on the piano in action.

During the chorus, when he sings “…is such a lonely word…” it should not be spitty and grainy as is so often the case. On the more dynamic copies that line is loud, powerful and heartfelt, exactly the way he delivered it.

My Life
Zanzibar

Side Two

Stiletto

The horn intro is an immediate test; the sax should be breathy and rich or you in trouble, dawg. Also, listen to the finger snaps when the drums start. They should have a HUGE room around them. The more of the room you hear, the more resolution and transparency your copy has. (Sergio’s Mais Que Nada off the debut album has that same wonderful sound, and it’s key to the best copies of that album as well.) Fresh off the stamper sound? Hey, whatever gets you through the night.

Rosalinda’s Eyes

This intro is a great test for sound with its combination of somewhat quirky instruments. The Rhodes should be delicate and moody with lots of room around it. The bass needs body as well as sweetness higher up to make it sing while interplaying with the keys.

Finally, listen to the marimba and vibes – what a cool sound! They should be harmonically extended up top to give the intro the life it needs to get the track going. Later on in the song you shouldn’t have to strain to hear the vibes; on the best copies they are perfectly placed a bit back in the soundfield, complementing the ensemble feel of the track.

Half a Mile Away
Until the Night
52nd Street