Billy Joel – Piano Man – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More Billy Joel

Piano Man

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This is the first Super Hot Stamper copy of Billy Joel’s classic Piano Man to ever hit the site! We’ve been trying to find great copies of this one for ages, but it is TOUGH. This copy gets you much better sound than most of them out there — it’s cleaner, clearer and more open with the kind of vocal presence needed to make the title track come to life. So many copies we played were thin, dry and grainy — sonic issues that really gets in the way of enjoying this music.

The vocals are full-bodied and breathy, the bottom end is clean and punchy, and there’s more richness than we heard on practically any of the other copies we played. The overall sound is very lively – you’ll have a very hard time finding a copy that sounds remotely as good.

This copy has the kind of sound we look for in a top quality Billy Joel record: immediacy in the vocals (so many copies are veiled and distant); natural tonal balance (most copies are either bright or dark; ones with the right balance are the exception, not the rule); good solid weight (so the piano and drums sound full and powerful); spaciousness (the best copies have lovely studio ambience); and last but not least, TRANSPARENCY, the effect of being able to see INTO the soundfield all the way to the back, where there is plenty going on in this sophisticated studio recording from 1973.

The Piano Is Key

On the best copies of the album the sound of the piano is solid, full-bodied, with both weight and warmth, just like the real thing. The copies of the album with a piano that sounded lean or hard always ended up having problems with the other instruments as well. (This should not be surprising; the piano was designed to be the single instrument most capable of reproducing the sound of an entire orchestra.) 

Not So Rare

We rarely do a shootout without a big stack of copies of a fairly common title such as this. Let’s face it, this is not a rare record. In fact, we often open sealed copies for such shootouts in hopes of finding good sounding copies with quieter vinyl. We crack them open, clean them up and start dropping the needle on them one by one.

In the case of Billy Joel’s records, not a single one played better than Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus! That’s Columbia vinyl for you.

To Be Clear

No copy of Piano Man will ever be a true Demo Disc, but this is one of the few copies we’ve heard in all these years that brings the music to life and presents it properly. If you’ve been waiting to hear what a serious copy of this album can do, I’m sure you’ll find this one very enjoyable.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Travelin’ Prayer
Piano Man
Ain’t No Crime
You’re My Home
The Ballad of Billy the Kid

Side Two

Worse Comes to Worst
Stop in Nevada
If I Only Had the Words (To Tell You)
Somewhere Along the Line
Captain Jack

AMG Review

Clearly inspired by Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection, not only musically but lyrically, as well as James Taylor, Joel expands the vision and sound of Cold Spring Harbor, abandoning introspective numbers (apart from “You’re My Home,” a love letter to his wife) for character sketches and epics. Even the title track, a breakthrough hit based on his weeks as a saloon singer, focuses on the colorful patrons, not the singer…Piano Man makes it clear that his skills as a melodicist can dazzle.