Posted on January 7, 2012 at 4:28 pm

The second track on The Stranger is the title track, a song that on the original album bounces in turn from smoky film noir jazz to Steely Dan-style rock to tropical disco and back again over the course of five minutes and fifty-one seconds (with the best drumming and bass playing on the whole album).

As soon as I finished “Movin’ Out,” I started worrying about how to pull this next song together. The biggest issue was the “Stranger Theme” that bookends the song. I didn’t want to keep the two musical ideas separate as Billy had on the original, so I kept putting off recording the song until I had figured out how to integrate them. As you’ll hear, I think I came up with a pretty elegant solution. (One problem that solved itself immediately: my whistling range is about four notes, so I knew I wasn’t going to try to reproduce Billy’s virtuoso whistling solo.)

The original tempo is about 92 bpm, which I bumped up to 107, with a sort of reggae feel. I dropped the key a major third, mainly to accommodate the falsetto stuff I wanted to do in the theme. In the verses, I changed some of the chords just to simplify the harmonic motion since the tempo was so much faster. I also reharmonized sections of the bridge, but that was kind of inadvertent; the way I’m playing it is just the way I’ve heard it all these years, and I was surprised to look at the sheet music and see that it wasn’t really that at all!

The percussion on “Movin’ Out” was provided by the body of my acoustic guitar; the percussion here was actually my guitar case. It’s amazing when you’re recording how everything in the studio starts to look like an instrument.

The Stranger
Music and lyric by Billy Joel (1977)
Jason Robert Brown: piano, percussion and vocal
Recorded at Casa JRB, Los Angeles, CA, 1/7/12

Oh God, the next one is “Just The Way You Are.” All right, follow me on Twitter and I’ll let you know when it’s ready (probably not until February). And Happy New Year!
UPDATE: The next track is now posted here!