Love Letter To A Record: Sarah McLeod On Billy Joel’s ‘The Stranger’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Here are their love letters to records that forever changed their lives.

Sarah McLeod: Billy Joel – ‘The Stranger’

To my dearest friend, The Stranger 

You’ll never be a stranger to me. After years of standing in various kitchens hanging on tightly to the inner sleeve of your vinyl jacket, following your words line by line at the top of my lungs, I know you by heart. Through my troubled teenage years you were my comfort, my happiness and my total voice of reason. You made life make sense when nothing and no one else did.

You were my escape, you made life beautiful and the world seem not so big and scary. You taught me how to pace myself and slow down and focus. You taught me that nothing was what it seemed, and to not be jealous of other peoples’ situations until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. You taught me that I’m cool just the way I am. And most of all, you taught me to dream.

You were so warm and open with me that you made me feel like part of your family. You were patient and clever and thoughtful and oh so inspirational. You introduced me to all of your crazy friends and I connected with all of their pain and all of their joy. From Anthony at the grocery store, who wanted more than his surroundings would allow him to imagine. To Seargent O’Leary who worked two jobs to buy himself a Cadillac, that he could never drive because he had a broken back, but he still found great joy in grooming and caring for it regardless. To Brenda and Eddie, the couple that everyone saw with rose-coloured glasses. And then there was Virginia, the purest young Catholic girl that you were so desperate to corrupt. You were so cool and brazen in the way you never gave up, despite the obvious restrictions. These characters became part of my life, part of a family that you created for me.

My friend Jo Walker loved them as well, in fact, that was how her and I became friends, you were the mutual friend that introduced us on a rooftop in Byron Bay after Splendour In The Grass festival, 15 years after you and I became friends. Our mutual love for you provided us with many happy memories. We would sing ‘Scenes From An Italian Restaurant’ together at parties and knew every word, and Christ knows there were a lot of words! You were more than informative and we loved you for that! We would talk about your characters as if they were people from our past, “Oh yeah Brenda and Eddie, I wonder what those scallywags are up to these days?”

You may have also been the catalyst for my drinking problem, but I’m cool with that. A bottle of red, a bottle of white, it all depends upon your appetite. I took that as a bottle of red AND a bottle of white and everything’s gonna be alright tonight! You taught me about the beauty of writing spherically using bookends, beginning and ending a song with the same part that does not appear anywhere else in the arrangement. And most importantly, you taught me how to whistle. Roger Whittaker had tried but he never gave me a melody that stuck, just a hankering for the technique. To this day, whenever I hear the whistle in ‘The Stranger’, I stop in my tracks and attempt to whistle along. Although after 15 years of trying, I’m still not nailing it as well as you do, but I am getting pretty close and my determination to get it perfect has not waned. Some aspire to climb Everest, some the Kokoda trail, mine is to nail ‘The Stranger’ whistle. I think of my youth fondly because of you, you became my reality when my reality was something I did not want to face, you turned my frown upside down and made me see the beauty in the little things. 

Cold beer, hot lights, my sweet romantic teenage nights.

Yours forever,


Sarah McLeod’s new album Rocky’s Diner is out now. The Rocky’s Diner album tour kicks off this month. Head here for details.

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