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A Look Back On West 52nd Street

We came across Bob Egan’s online study of Billy’s album cover, 52nd Street, and his efforts to find the actual photo location. Bob’s historical analysis takes us back to the summer of '78 when the photograph was taken, outside the service entrance at street level, downstairs from A&R Recording Studios. Good work Bob.

A&R was once located at 799 7th Avenue, at 52nd Street, New York City, when Billy recorded his fifth album for Columbia Records in July and August of 1978.

The Stranger also was recorded at A&R in studio 1A, the year before. There was a second A&R studio, which Phil Ramone, Billy, and the band referred to as “the other side,” and it was located at 322 West 48th Street. 322 was used for mixing and over dubs, with 799 employed as the primary “tracking” room, for its unique acoustics.

Billy Joel 52nd Street photo shoot

Columbia Records once owned the studio, as you’ll see in Bob’s research, and yes, Bob Dylan did record “The Times They Are A Changing” there. The studio was sold to Phil Ramone and his partners at A&R in 1968. They commenced an extensive renovation, and equipment upgrade, which took about eight months before the studio opened for its first session. Sadly, the building was sold and the studio closed in the early '80s and was demolished in 1983 to make way for The Equitable Building, which occupies the location today.

Regarding the trumpet Billy is holding in the photos, Billy offers this correction of a long-standing myth. Because of his amazing trumpet solo, legend has it that the trumpet Billy holds in the photographs was Freddie Hubbard’s, offered as a prop after or before Hubbard’s timeless solo on “Zanzibar.” Could this be true? We asked Billy for verification, and here’s his reply: ”Freddie Hubbard wouldn't let anyone touch his trumpet with a ten foot pole. That was an old horn that Phil Ramone had laying around.” Myth busted!

Conn Constellation trumpet

Carl Fischer, who plays horns in the Billy Joel Band, identified the old horn as a Conn Constellation. “It’s a very distinctive shape,” Carl said. “Mayard Ferguson gave me his 1961 Conn Constellation when I played in his band. It’s one of my prized possessions.”

The photos used in the 52nd Street artwork were all shot with a Polaroid camera by Jim Houghton. Billy wanted Jim to keep the photos simple, suggesting “snap shots” of moments in and around the recording studio. The album package was designed by John Berg, an art director at Columbia Records.

Check out the music videos for “My Life” and “Big Shot,” which offer a rare glimpse of A&R Recording Studios back in the day. And for more information about the history of A&R Studios and producer Phil Ramone, check out Phil’s book, “Making Records: The Scenes Behind The Music.”
 

 

 

Making Records: The Scenes Behind The Music