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Joel, Billy - 52nd Street - Super Hot Stamper

The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.

Super Hot Stamper

Billy Joel
52nd Street

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Sonic Grade

Side One:

Side Two:

Vinyl Grade

Side One: Mint Minus Minus

Side Two: Mint Minus Minus

  • You'll find seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides of this copy of the best sounding album Billy Joel ever made
  • The sound is rich, smooth, and full - you'll have a hard time finding a better sounding pressing on the planet
  • 4 stars on Allmusic, Grammy award for Album of the Year, and musically Billy Joel's best batch of songs
  • "...he dazzles with his melodic skills and his enthusiastic performances... not only... one of the biggest-selling artists of his era, but one of the most enjoyable mainstream hitmakers"

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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.

This vintage Columbia pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to "see" the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It's what vintage all analog recordings are known for -- this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What The Best Sides Of 52nd Street Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1978
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Billy Joel's Best

The better pressings of this album sound much better than we ever imagined they would. That being the case, we have to give it Top Sonic Honors in the Billy Joel canon.

It's certainly a step-up in class over The Stranger and Songs in the Attic. If there's another Billy Joel album that sounds as good, I'll believe it when I hear it.

On the better copies of the album, the sound of the piano was 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.)

What To Listen For On 52nd Street

This copy has the kind of sound we look for in a top quality Billy Joel record. A few qualities to listen for:

  • Immediacy in the vocals (so many copies are veiled and distant)
  • Natural tonal balance (most copies are at least slightly brighter or darker than ideal; ones with the right balance are the exception, not the rule)
  • Good solid weight (so the bass sounds full and powerful)
  • Spaciousness (the best copies have wonderful studio ambience and space)
  • And last but not least, transparency -- the quality of being able to see into the studio, where there is plenty of musical information to be revealed in this simple but sophisticated recording

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus 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 other 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 recordings.

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.

Not So Rare

We rarely do a shootout with less than a dozen 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 top copies with quiet 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 Minus! That's Columbia vinyl for you.

The Tracklist tab above will take you to a select song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What to Listen For advice.

Other records with track breakdowns can be found here.

A Must Own Pop Record

We consider this Billy Joel album his Masterpiece. It's a recording that should be part of any serious Popular Music Collection.

Others that belong in that category can be found here.

Side One

  • 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 better 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 better copies the piano can really crescendo and throw its weight around. 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

AMG 4 Star Review

Once The Stranger became a hit, Billy Joel quickly re-entered the studio with producer Phil Ramone to record the follow-up, 52nd Street. Instead of breaking from the sound of The Stranger, Joel chose to expand it, making it more sophisticated and somewhat jazzy. Often, his moves sounded as if they were responses to Steely Dan -- indeed, his phrasing and melody for "Zanzibar" is a direct homage to Donald Fagen circa The Royal Scam, and it also boasts a solo from jazz great Freddie Hubbard à la Steely Dan -- but since Joel is a working-class populist, not an elitist college boy, he never shies away from big gestures and melodies.

Consequently, 52nd Street unintentionally embellishes the Broadway overtones of its predecessor, not only on a centerpiece like "Stiletto," but when he's rocking out on "Big Shot." That isn't necessarily bad, since Joel's strong suit turns out to be showmanship -- he dazzles with his melodic skills and his enthusiastic performances.

He also knows how to make a record. Song for song, 52nd Street might not be as strong as The Stranger, but there are no weak songs -- indeed, "Honesty," "My Life," "Until the Night," and the three mentioned above are among his best -- and they all flow together smoothly, thanks to Ramone's seamless production and Joel's melodic craftsmanship.

It's remarkable to think that in a matter of three records, Joel had hit upon a workable, marketable formula -- one that not only made him one of the biggest-selling artists of his era, but one of the most enjoyable mainstream hitmakers. 52nd Street is a testament to that achievement.