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  Billy Joel - An Innocent Man - Album Cover Location

The album cover. The album was released by CBS/Columbia Records in 1983. (courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment; cover photos by Gilles Larrain; album cover design by Christopher Austopchuk and Mark Larson)

(Below) The site of the album cover photo location. 142 Mercer Street; on the East side of Mercer Street, just north of the intersection of Mercer and Prince, in the Soho neighborhood of New York City

Superimposing the album over over the present day steps...

And another view, this time without the PopSpots "see-thru" effect. In this particular instance, this works well because of the exact match-up of the steps in the photo and the background.

(courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment; cover photo: Gilles Larrain)

Now, from the back side of the album, here's Billy with the members of his band: (from left to right: Billy, Liberty De Vitto (standing), Russell Javors, David Brown, Doug Stegmeyer and Mark Rivera (standing).

(courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment; cover photo: Gilles Larrain)

And as just a memory of a day over thirty years ago.

(courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment; cover photo: Gilles Larrain)

Soho today is a very fashionable section of town lined with cast-iron buildings, cobblestone streets, and boutiques and art galleries. Here's the view from in front of the steps looking north up the street. The man on the right next to the blue car is siting on the "Innocent Man" steps.

...and looking south, down the street. The movies Unfaithful, Big Daddy, and Ghost were all filmed on or near Mercer Street.

Here's a map of where the photo was taken in the middle of Soho. The location is easy accessible by many subway lines.

My search for the photo shoot location.

From the look of the back cover, where there was more visual information about the stoop, it initially seemed to me that this was once a residential building, from the era just after the Civil War, like one of those brownstones found on the Upper West Side or the Lower East Side and the East Village.

I couldn't figure out, though, why the door would have an industrial gate on it, unless the residential building was in such a run-down area that the building had gone commercial. That pointed more to the Lower East Side than the Upper West Side.

The other clues, circled: were that that it seemed like an ornate building from the swirl on the columns; there was a "flower" pattern on the steps; and there seemed to be stores to the right and left of the stairs, as indicated by the industrial gates that had been shut in those areas.

I also read, on one website, a suggestion that Billy and the Band sat on a stoop in his "old neighborhood" in the Bronx as an homage to his parents. But by Googling the short street called Strong Street, where the Joels lived, there were just plain brick buildings with no stoops.

In addition, Billy moved out to 20 Meeting Lane, Hicksville, Long Island when he was about 1 and 1/2 years old (born March 9th, 1949; moved July 1st, 1950), so he would have been too young to remember hanging on stoops himself. Here's the best picture I could find of it from Street Views.

Billy has noted that the album is a tribute to doo-wop sounds of his youth, so posing on a stoop would be right in character to evoke that era visually. (For a track by track listing of which doo-wop era artist each song is in homage too, look on Wikipedia under, An Innocent Man.

Back to the search.

As you're well aware from TV and the movies, there are countless stoops all over the five New York boroughs. I had to narrow the search down to one. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, but in this case the needle had 10 steps.

So over the next few weeks, when I had a moment, using Google Street Views I would occasionally click my way down certain streets in differnt neighborhoods of Manhattan to see if I could come across a combination of a wide staircase of ten steps, stores on either side of the steps, and swirly columns to each side.

Again and again, the search took me back to the East Village. Here for example are a row of tall steps on St. Mark's Place.

Here's another on St. Marks Place in front of a famous used record shop. But they weren't metal steps and there was a store only to one side.

And this delightful set of steps just across the street had stores to both sides, which made me think I was in the right neighborhood, but nothing else matched up.

Finally I looked up the address of the studio of the photographer, Gilles Larrain, and found that his office was in Soho. I had not given much thought to Soho, because the building beyond the stairs looked so shabby and Soho is very elegant now.

But giving it more thought, I said to myself, "Well Soho is known for being the "cast iron" district (because the front of many of the buildings have elaborate cast iron facades) and maybe the steps are made of cast iron, too."

That coupled with the fact, that, as the rock photographer Godlis brought up recenly in a blog in his website about a photograph of the group Television, a lot of New York City musicians are photographed either near their apartments, near the studio of the photographer, or near a recording studio.

It's like:Time is money. Meet me outside; we'll find a streetcorner or stoop, we'll take some pictures then get caw-fee or a slice.

So with that in mind I started searching Google images and Flickr for decorative metal stairs. Here's a picture of the history of the search that led to the picture. Each entry is a search on FLickr. You should read it from the bottom up where it ends with "stairs Soho".

Bingo! By searching for "stairs Soho," suddenly I staring staight into the Billy Joel Steps, in a photograph of steps in Soho from a woman named Julia Manzerova. (Thank you, Julia, for your beautifully composed and prescient image.)

Here, you can compare them. Same vertical waves. Same "circle" and "flower" pattern along each step.

But where specifically was the photo taken? I wanted to go downtown to see it.

So, looking at the screen with a magnifying glass, I could see the words "bar" and "oyster" on the restaurant on the right, which I could see was down a few steps (another match).

(Photo by Julia Manzerova via Flickr.)

So I went to "Yelp/New York" and searched for "oysters Soho.

"Bingo!" #3 was a restauranut on Mercer Street (one street west of Broadway) in Soho.

So I googled it..and AMAZING! It looked just like the album cover! And it's in SOHO! I was flabbergasted....

...I had been been expecting it to be in some run-down neighborhood. And it turns out to be a block from the Apple Store - in one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the city.

And there's the sign for "oysters" and "cocktails" down on the lower right.

So, that night, I took the subway down to Prince Street...

...found the steps....

...peeked in the restaurant... my first good look at the patterns on the steps (the steps were thinner that I had imagined them to be) ...

...then a closer look...

...then I went up the steps to discover that the dark, old, flourescent-lit factory with the black gate, had been replaced by a men's boutique right out of GQ.

Boy, a lot had changed in that neighborhood since that photo had been taken."

Here's Billy again....

In a tip of the hat to Billy for having hidden this photo-site in plain sight for so long, I sat in the Billy Joel seat, snapped my fingers once doo-wop style (to an audience of no one), and took a picture.

I went back a few days later to see the building in the daylight.

It's got a spectacular cast iron facade, and symmetrically balanced architectural features...

...up close, the cut-out patterns on the stairs looked cool...

...and the whole place is full of memories...of more "innocent" times.

(courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment; cover photo: Gilles Larrain)