Originally released through Columbia Records and Family Productions in May 1976, Turnstiles was Billy Joel’s fourth studio album and the first to feature his live band (including saxophonist Richie Cannata, drummer Liberty DeVitto, and bassist Doug Stegmeyer) rather than session players. Moving from Los Angeles back to his native New York City in 1975 inspired Joel’s songwriting throughout Turnstiles, as heard in the lyrics of tracks like “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” and “New York State Of Mind.”

Early tracking sessions for Turnstiles were held at famed producer James William Guercio’s (Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears) Caribou Ranch facility in Colorado, with contributions from Elton John sidemen Nigel Olsson and Dee Murray. These recordings remain unreleased to this day, as Joel ultimately chose to take over as producer and recut the album in New York.

In addition to the standard stereo LP, there was also a four-channel quadraphonic release of Turnstiles. CBS had begun to wind down their quadraphonic program by 1976, making Turnstiles one of their very last pop/rock releases to receive a four-channel surround mix. The quadraphonic LP was in print for a short window of time and remains a rarity on the used market today.

Billy Joel Turnstiles Dolby Atmos Quadraphonic

The quadraphonic mix offers a fascinating alternative view of the album, full of radically-different balance and processing choices. For instance–whereas “New York State of Mind” on the original LP sounds as if it’s being performed in a large amphitheater, the quad mix eschews this in favor of a drier, more intimate ‘live-in-the-studio’ experience. The four-channel format is used to fully immerse the listener, with key instrumentation such as Joel’s piano, Cannata’s sax, and even DeVitto’s drums in “Angry Young Man” placed entirely in the rear speakers.

Unlike its predecessors Piano Man (1973) and Streetlife Serenade (1974), the quadraphonic edition of Turnstiles was issued solely on LP with no 8-track tape counterpart. This means that the four-channel mix has only ever been available to listeners in a compromised state (with reduced separation between the front and back channels), due to the imperfect nature of CBS’ SQ matrix encode/decode process used for quadraphonic vinyl delivery.

Though 8-track cartridges certainly had their fair share of issues (poor high-frequency response, speed warble, etc), they did at the very least offer discrete four-channel separation. Assuming the ½-inch four-track master tape still exists, it would be great to see a digital release of this quadraphonic mix on Super Audio CD–as was done for Piano Man earlier this year–or Blu-Ray disc.

Billy Joel Turnstiles Dolby Atmos Quadraphonic

Nearly five decades later, Turnstiles has been remixed once again–this time in Dolby Atmos, by longtime Joel collaborator Bradshaw Leigh. Leigh has already created Atmos mixes of several other classic records from Joel's catalog, including Piano Man, 1978’s 52nd Street, 1982’s The Nylon Curtain, and 1983’s An Innocent Man. The two surround presentations are a fascinating study in contrast, each with their own positive and negative qualities. 

Unlike the quadraphonic edition, the new Dolby Atmos mix faithfully adheres to all the editing, balance, and processing choices made in the original 1976 mix. We’re back to the correct saxophone performance throughout “New York State Of Mind,” and other missing or buried elements in the quadraphonic mix (such as the percussion and piano throughout “Angry Young Man”) have been restored as well.

Acoustic guitars fill up the side surrounds for “Say Goodbye To Hollywood,” with the drums thundering across the front stage and orchestra in the rears. Billy Joel’s voice appears in the front ‘phantom’ center, rather than isolated in the center speaker–as was done on Frank Filipetti’s 5.1 surround mixes of The Stranger and 52nd Street. One clever touch I do miss from the quadraphonic mix is the backing vocals coming from behind during the chorus, whereas they’re kept upfront with the lead vocal in the new Atmos version.

Billy Joel Turnstiles Dolby Atmos Quadraphonic

There isn’t all that much instrumentation to work with in “Summer Highland Falls,” but I still found the Atmos mix rather underwhelming. It’s essentially the stereo mix upfront, with just cavernous reverb filling out the rear, though the short horn break comes largely from the front height speakers. The quadraphonic mix places Joel’s voice in the front speakers and his piano entirely in the rears–which is a bit strange considering he’s singing and playing at the same time–but I do credit the mixer for attempting to make use of the full immersive soundstage.

“All You Wanna Do Is Dance” is definitely a highlight, with the percussion scattered all throughout the listening space. The height speakers even get some action in this track, when the strings pop up from above towards the end. That said, I do miss the short percussion break at around the three-minute mark coming from the back left corner in the quadraphonic mix.

“New York State Of Mind” again keeps Joel and his piano confined to the front channels, while the orchestra gradually creeps in from behind. Like in “Summer Highland Falls,” the quadraphonic mix separates his piano out to the rear. I also felt it made more sense to have Cannata’s sax upfront, rather than blasting from the left rear speaker as in the ‘70s quad mix.

Electric piano fills out the side surrounds for “James,” with backing vocals popping up in the rears to great effect. Whereas the quadraphonic mix places the saxophone solo in the left rear corner, here it’s largely isolated in the center channel. 

Moving into “Angry Young Man,” Joel’s furious piano playing in the “Prelude” section dominates the front stage while an electric rhythm guitar blasts from the side right surround speaker. “I’ve Loved These Days” again features strings coming from the rear surrounds, while the horn solos midway through alternate between the front left and right height speakers. After a fun room-filling electronic intro, electric rhythm guitars burst from the sides for “Miami 2017.”

Overall–despite some entertaining choices made in the ‘70s quad release–I think the new Dolby Atmos mix ultimately provides a better-balanced and more-rewarding audio experience. As always with these streaming-exclusive Atmos releases, I’m hopeful a physical Blu-Ray or hi-res downloadable option will become available at some point in the future. Until then, be sure to check it out on Apple Music, Tidal, or Amazon Music!

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About the Author
Jonathan is an audio engineering enthusiast from New York with a passion for immersive audio, having amassed a formidable collection of multichannel optical discs and quadraphonic vinyl. He earned his undergraduate degree in Television-Radio from Ithaca College and Master's degree in Audio Technology from American University.