Billy Joel was born William Martin Joel in the Bronx, NY on May 9, 1949. In 1974, his song “Piano Man” became his first top 20 single, his first gold album and he hasn’t stopped since. Churning out hits throughout the 70s, 80s & 90s, Billy Joel’s songs are the epitome of the fun, danceable feel good music. He’s had so many hits, it was hard to narrow the list to his 10 best songs, but here they are, my Top 10 Billy Joel songs.
10. ”The Longest Time:” Off of Joel’s 1983 album An Innocent Man, this song has Joel crooning about a woman saving him and him not feeling the emotions she’s stirred within him “for the longest time.” Any woman would love to have her man to say these romantic lyrics, which include, “Once I thought my innocence was gone/Now I know that happiness goes on/That’s where you found me/When you put your arms around me/I haven’t been there for the longest time… And the greatest miracle of all/Is how I need you/And how you needed me too/That hasn’t happened for the longest time.” It’s a sweet and loving ballad that shows off Joel’s tender side.
9. ”Leave a Tender Moment Alone:” Another fab track off of Joel’s 1983 album An Innocent Man, has Joel waxing poetic about the fear of saying the wrong thing at an awkward romantic moment. Joel sings about every guy’s worst fear when he wants to make a good first impression on a girl he likes with lines like, “I know the moment isn’t right/To tell the girl a comical line/To keep the conversation light/I guess I’m just frightened out of my mind… Yes I know I’m in love/But just when I ought to relax I put my foot in my mouth/Cause I’m just avoiding the facts.” What guy hasn’t fumbled a joke or a witty anecdote in an effort to impress a girl? With this song, Joel tells those guys that he’s been in their shoes and to just go with the flow and see what happens!
8. ”A Matter of Trust:” From Joel’s 1986 album The Bridge. On this track, Joel sings about letting the woman he loves trust him although she’s been burned before. Married to model Christie Brinkley at the time, Joel goes on about having faith in the one you love despite love sometimes being an illusion with lines such as, “I’ve lived long enough to have learned/The closer you get to the fire the more you get burned/But that won’t happen to us/Because it’s always been a matter of trust/ I know you’re an emotional girl/It took a lot for you to not lose your faith in this world/I can’t offer you proof/But you’re gonna face a moment of truth/It’s hard when you’re always afraid/You just recover when another belief is betrayed/So break my heart if you must/It’s a matter of trust.” With honesty like this, how can you go wrong?
7. ”Only the Good Die Young:” A top 25 hit on the Billboard charts, from his acclaimed 1977 album titled The Stranger. On this track, Joel buzzes about trying to convince a good chaste girl to give a bad boy like him a chance. Joel uses persuasive lyrics like, “Come out Virginia, don’t let me me wait/You Catholic girls start much too late/But sooner or later it comes down to fate/I might as well be the one/They showed you a statue and told you to pray/They built you a temple and locked you away/But they never told you the price that you pay/For things that you might have done…/Only the good die young… They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait/Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t/I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints/Sinners are much more fun…/And only the good die young.” He makes a compelling argument for living life to the fullest while you’re still young and I’m certain many a young man used this song in effort to woo their girlfriend to “go all the way.”
6. ”The Downeaster ‘Alexa’:” Off Joel’s appropriately titled 1989 album Storm Front, this track was written by Joel to showcase the plight of fisherman on Long Island, who work hard but could barely make ends meet. The song also appeared on the soundtrack to the 2011 comedy The Hangover: Part II. The lyrics are replete with New York landmarks and it’s probably no accident that Joel named the boat he sings about in the song after his then four-year-old daughter Alexa Ray. He sings about the tough times fisherman have with lines such as, “We took on diesel back in Montauk yesterday/And left this morning from the bell in Gardiner’s Bay/Like all the locals here I’ve had to sell my home/Too proud to leave I worked my fingers to the bone/So I could own my Downeaster Alexa… I’ve got bills to pay and children who need clothes/I know there’s fish out there but where God only knows/They say these waters aren’t what they used to be/But I’ve got people back on land who count on me.” Though the subject of the song is a sad one, the beat is intense and shows off Joel’s vocal range.
5. ”Uptown Girl:” Off his 1983 album An Innocent Man, on this track, Joel sang about being a downtown guy hoping to win the heart of an “Uptown Girl.” Peaking at #3 on the Billboard charts in the US, Joel said the song was about his relationships with two supermodels, Elle MacPherson and Christie Brinkley, who he would eventually marry. The lyrics talk of a classy girl being tired of her “high class toys” and on the lookout for a downhome, ordinary guy with lines like, “I’m gonna try for an uptown girl/She’s been living in her white bread world/As long as anyone with hot blood can/And now she’s looking for a downtown man/That’s what I am… You know I’ve seen her in her uptown world/She’s getting tired of her high class toys/And all her presents from her uptown boys/She’s got a choice.” Now, we’ve seen this exact scenario at times in Hollywood, where the bombshell falls for an ordinary guy and is happy, and it never fails to amaze how those ordinary guys do it!
4. ”Tell Her About It:” Joel’s second Billboard #1 hit, this track off his 1983 album An Innocent Man, has Joel singing about letting that special girl know how you feel before it’s too late with lyrics like, “Listen boy/Don’t want to see you let a good thing
Slip away/You know I don’t like watching/Anybody make the same mistakes I made… You’re a big boy now/You’ll never let her go/But that’s just the kind of thing/She ought to know.” It seems Joel doesn’t want his male fans to repeat his mistakes and with the catchiness of this tune, his male fans were sure to commit the lyrics to memory.
3. ”We Didn’t Start the Fire:” Another song off Joel’s 1989 album Storm Front, it was the first single off the album and on it Joel sang about the societal conflicts of the time and does a good deal of name-dropping. The song is like a musical time machine as Joel sings lines such as, “Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnny Ray/South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio/Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, Television/North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe… We didn’t start the fire/It was always burning/Since the world’s been turning/We didn’t start the fire/No we didn’t light it/But we tried to fight it… Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Khrushchev/Princess Grace, Peyton Place, Trouble in the Suez… Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British Politician sex/J.F.K. blown away, what else do I have to say?” Nearly every major news event of the time is covered in this song as Joel sings but how we as a society tried to stop the bad stuff but to no avail.
2. ”The River of Dreams:” The title track of Joel’s 1993 album, this track has a religious bend to it as Joel croons about looking for something he lost, metaphorically speaking. Joel goes on about his spiritual journey with lines such as, “In the middle of the night/I go walking in my sleep/From the mountains of faith/To a river so deep/I must be looking for something/Something sacred I lost/But the river is wide/And it’s too hard to cross.” Joel’s voice goes soft at times and at other times, he lets it rip, making fans want to join him on his spiritual odyssey.
1. ”Piano Man:” Joel’s signature song. Off Joel’s 1973 album of the same name, Piano Man showcased Joel’s adeptness on the piano, which he began playing at an early age. The song’s lyrics speak of a typical night at the local piano bar from the point of view of the piano player. Joel sings about typical piano bar patrons and their clientele with lines like, “It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday/The regular crowd shuffles in/There’s an old man sitting next to me/Making love to his tonic and gin…Sing us a song you’re the piano man/Sing us a song tonight/Well we’re all in the mood for a melody/And you’ve got us feeling alright/Now John at the bar is a friend of mine/He gets me my drinks for free/And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke/But there’s someplace that he’d rather be…And the waitress is practicing politics/As the businessmen slowly get stoned/Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness/But it’s better than drinking alone.” The lyrics paint a visual picture in listeners’ minds of this piano bar and the people who go there to drink their troubles away. It’s vivid imagery along with Joel’s proficient piano playing makes this a true musical classic!