In late 1975, New York was in the throes of a horrendous financial crisis and was denied any assistance from the federal government. The city's fate was in serious doubt. At the time, Billy Joel was still living in Los Angeles. The sentiment among Angelenos was virtual schadenfreude, as if to say good riddance to New York.
On the contrary, Joel said "If New York is going down the tubes, I'm going back to New York." And back to New York he went. He moved to Highland Falls and recorded Turnstiles, released in 1976. The album includes the homage to the Ronettes, "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," as well as several songs devoted to his hometown including "Summer, Highland Falls," "New York State of Mind," and the sci-fi, post-apocalyptic track, "Miami 2017."
The original cover portrays personifications of the songs on the album all crowded in the Astor Place subway station entrance. A dancing couple represents "I've Loved These Days." A studious man carrying books represents "James." A girl wearing headphones represents "All You Wanna Do Is Dance."
Now I'm too young to have had firsthand experience, but my father has always told me New York was a pretty scary, run down place in the 1970's and 1980's. In redesigning this cover, I wanted to do a better job portraying that grunge than the original cover did. I found some great, uncredited photos of people on the subway in the late 70's and used one as the backdrop. The black bar, white stripe and typography are meant to mimic MTA signage. Finally, the four colored dots represent the colors of the wayfinding for the 1, 9 (now defunct), 7 and 6 trains in New York to connote 1976.
1977's The Stranger is largely considered Billy's "magnum opus" or great work. It was his fifth studio album and the one that thrust his career into the stratosphere. In today's world of manufactured pop music, most artists would not get the chance to make five albums before they got a hit. Fortunately, the record industry in the 1970s was a bit more patient and their patience paid off for everyone.
The original cover depicts Billy sitting in a dark bedroom alone on some ruffled sheets, staring at a theater mask. The album contains four of Billy's biggest hits (Movin' Out, Just the Way You Are, She's Always a Woman, Only the Good Die Young) as well as the epic novel-in-miniature, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," and the beautiful "Vienna." But of course, the title track is "The Stranger," a song about the secret lives we live and never share, even with those closest to us.
The music on the album is so strong and brilliant that I wanted to design a cover for it that was extremely minimalistic so as not to steal the show. The design harkens to the original cover and captures the solitude of being "The Stranger."
In 1980, Billy Joel came out with Glass Houses, an album many critics argue is his only true rock and roll album. The album starts off with the sound of glass shattering as the intro to the power pop classic "You May Be Right." Then Joel follows it up with the punk sound of "Sometimes a Fantasy," a song banned by many radio stations at the time for it's risque content. The album also includes the more vintage Joel, Afro-Cuban styled track "Don't Ask Me Why," but then packs a punch with the snarky "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" and the powerful "All for Leyna."
Overall, the album is arguably Joel's hardest hitting rock album. The original cover features Joel brandishing a rock with his arm cocked back and ready to throw as he stands in front of the predominantly glass house he lived in at the time on Long Island.
In approaching the redesign, I felt the original missed an opportunity to capitalize on powerful typography to represent the overall mood and sound of the album. While harkening to the beginning of "You May Be Right" with a background of shattered glass, I designed type that fits together like a puzzle, made up entirely of sharp edges and skewed, acute angles.
After releasing a live album in 1981, Billy Joel went back into the studio and spent a full year creating what he hoped would be his ultimate masterpiece or his "Sergeant Peppers," as he puts it. In 1982, The Nylon Curtain was released. After putting out a jazz album in '78 and a power pop/rock album in '80, Joel once again reinvented himself with this album. The album contains very obscure sounding songs with a lot of influence from the Beatles.
Though not a huge hit album, there were a few tracks that gained mainstream popularity, such as "Allentown," the social commentary song about the plight of the midwestern factory worker and the very intense "Pressure," with its signature, Tchaikovsky-esque organ riff. The album also contains some more psychedelic sounding tracks such as "Surprises," and "Scandinavian Skies" which is about Joel's own experience the one time he tried heroin.
The album title is presumably a play on The Iron Curtain as a reference to the USSR with a nod to the prevalence of nylon in all facets of life. The overall themes of the album are the decline of the American dream and the tension of the Cold War. The original cover portrays an illustration of cookie cutter, track housing with an almost nuclear orange sky. In redesigning this cover, I wanted to create a look that embodied the tensions and now outdated modernity of the time. I researched computers from the early 1980s and came across an advertisement for the Heathkit H89 All-In-One computer. The general dullness of the ad conveys perfectly the themes of the album. The track housing on the screen is an homage to the original cover.