The Stranger

Album: The Stranger (1977)


  • This song is about how when we think we know somebody, we often hardly know that person at all. "The Stranger" is the collective for the unknown things about people we know: "Although we share so many secrets, there are some we never tell."

    According to Joel, the song can also relate to how we don't always know ourselves. He says that his halfhearted suicide attempt at age 21 (he tried to end his life by drinking furniture polish) was an inspiration for the song, as it revealed a dark side of his personality that wasn't readily apparent. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Adrian - London, England
  • Joel told USA Today July 9, 2008: "After we recorded the song, I remember thinking, 'it needs some sort of introduction. It needs a prelude or a theme, and then it should slam into the song.' I played the theme on the piano to show Phil (Ramone, the album's producer) and whistled along with it, and I said, 'What instrument do you think should do that?' And Phil said, 'You just did it.' I heard it played back and went, 'That's kind of cool, I like that.' It was really the theme to the album because it was born in the studio during the process, and it just kind of captured the mood."

Comments: 11

  • George from EarthBilly Joel's art is defined by HIS life story which has been complicated and somewhat troubled, as have many great song writers and performers. Not everyone's life is complicated requireing many masks. Maybe authenticity should be the goal!
  • Bernie from Bronx, NyMost of Joel’s work is autobiographical. The Piano Man album is one of the greatest albums of all time, every song could be a hit
  • Ken from Louisville, KyAfter the failure of Joel's 1976 album Turnstiles, Columbia Records wanted his next album produced by an expert. They contacted George Martin who said he'd do it, but only if it was recorded in London with Elton John's backing band. Joel rebelled against that, saying he wanted to record in New York with his own band. Columbia gave in and suggested Phil Ramone instead. Ramone and Joel had several meetings and hit it off. Later, after hearing the album, Martin said he wished he had produced it! Joel and Martin did become friends and Martin interviewed Joel for a television series about music.
  • Jstroker from Calgary, AbElements of this song were introduced to a whole new audience when the whistling intro was sampled by rapper Xzibit for his track "The Foundation" (At the Speed of Life, 1996)
  • J.b. from San Jose, CaBilly's interview with "20/20" (ABC) in 1980: "I wrote the main portion of the song, but at the end I thought the stranger,the stranger, hmmm....something's missing, something's missing. I imagined this guy walking down a lonely street with a trench coat over her shoulder, with fog, whistling... and..."

  • Deo from Annandale, VaGreat song. Not my favorite piano piece from Billy, but it is relitivly unknown to the modern world. I do like the message and lyrics. The whistling is cool, I know I could never hit those notes whistling.
  • Chris from Seattle, WaMagnificent, under-appreciated song about the masks we all wear, and how we often don't know what is underneath.
  • Leyna from SpLol, I was reading in his biography that one day, he was peforming live, whistling the intro. When the spotlight shone accross the other band members, they each turned to face him. Turned out, they were all wearing black eye patches and had blackened their teeth. Billy was caught off guard, and he blew the sensitive whistling in front of the whole crowd. Humiliated, he proceeded to play the piano. When his fingers hit the keys, he realized the guys had lined every single one with adhesive tape!! :P:P
  • Pete from Providence, RiThe piano intro to this song is used in an independent film called The Carlson Complex.
  • Melissa Mandall from Long Branch, NjSounds like a sadomasochist to me. lets put on a steel leather mask and show our lover. lol
  • Ken from Louisville, KyBilly Joel told producer Phil Ramone that he thought the song needed an jazz-oriented "into" and "ending" to offset the rocking guitar lead-in and play-out. When Ramone asked Joel if he had any ideas, Joel whistled it to him. He then asked Ramone what instrument should play it and Ramone said he liked it as a whistle, so that's how Joel recorded it.
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