10 OF THE BEST BILLY JOEL TUNES – SELECTED BY A CASUAL FAN

William Martin Joel was but four years old when his mother insisted he take piano lessons. She would have no way of knowing that over the course of “Billy” Joel’s life and career, he’d end up selling more than 160 million records and become one of the best-selling artists of all time.

Throughout his illustrious career, Billy Joel has penned 33 top 40 hit singles, including the number one hits “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, “Tell Her About It” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. He’s won 6 Grammys from his 23 nominations and has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992) as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999). In 1987, he became one of the first to perform in the Soviet Union after their ban on rock music was lifted.

Beginning in 1994, Joel began touring expensively, working with Elton John and Garth Brooks. In 2023, he and Stevie Nicks are teaming up for a series of concerts beginning in March.

As we’ve done in the past, join us to revive, relive, and relate to the best of Billy Joel. Here we present ten classic tracks we appreciate the most (in no particular order). If you have a favorite that didn’t make our cut, feel free to share those suggestions within the comments at the bottom of this page. We’ll definitely take a listen!

NOTE: CLICK ON THE IMAGES FOR A VIDEO PERFORMANCE OF EACH SONG

YOU MAY BE RIGHT (1980)

Columbia Records

Metaphorically opening up Billy Joel’s 1980 album “Glass Houses” with the sound of shattering glass, “You May Be Right” is a witty and energetic tune that sounds surprisingly fresh yet today, more than 40 years since its release. Along with “Sometimes a Fantasy” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, the album itself veered away from the more introspective feel of 1978’s “52nd Street”. I may be wrong for all I know, but I may be right. 8/10

Peak Position in the US – #7 (Billboard Hot 100)

ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG (1978)

Columbia Records

Rife with controversy in its lyrics describing a young man’s lustful pursuit of sex with his high school Catholic crush, the song is taken from Joel’s own life experience with Virginia Callahan. Attempts to censor the song on radio and pressure from the Catholic church only made it more popular, driving sales as well for its parent album, “The Stranger”. 7/10

Peak Position in the: US – #24 (Billboard Hot 100)

WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE (1989)

Columbia Records

Name-dropping 118 historical events happening over the course of 40 years, Joel’s hit “We Didn’t Start the Fire” became an event in its own right when it hit number one in late 1989. Lifted from his album “Storm Front”, melodically it is not a favorite of the singer/songwriter, but nevertheless is still parodied and used in a number of tv shows, commercials and cover versions. 7/10

Peak Position in the: US – #1 (Billboard Hot 100)

BIG SHOT (1979)

Columbia Records

Chronicling the escapades of a female friend who is suffering from a hangover after a night of drugs and alcohol, this second single from Joel’s Album of the Year Grammy-winning “52nd Street” album featured such memorable lines as “Now you just don’t remember all the things you said, and you’re not sure that you want to know, I’ll give you one hint, honey, you sure did put on a show”. Rumor had it that the song was inspired by Joel’s date with Bianca Jagger, but the singer later noted the “date” in question was actually a dinner date with Bianca & Mick Jagger, with the lyrics an inspired discussion between the two. 8/10

Peak Position in the: US – #14 (Billboard Hot 100)

JUST THE WAY YOU ARE (1977)

Columbia Records

Another single that Joel was not terribly fond of (it was written for his first wife Elizabeth Weber prior to their 1982 divorce), it nearly didn’t make the cut for his 1977 studio album, “The Stranger”. Eventually realizing there wasn’t substantial material to include on the album, the song was added to the final mix. After peaking at #3 as the lead single from the album, it went on to win both Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 1979 Grammy Awards. 7/10

Peak Position in the US – #3 (Billboard Hot 100)

MY LIFE (1978)

Columbia Records

The lead single from “52nd Street” is this infectious hook-laden track produced (as usual) by the great Phil Ramone. Featuring background vocals by Chicago members Peter Cetera and Donnie Dacus, “My Life” was later utilized as the theme song for the Tom Hanks-Peter Scolari comedy “Bosom Buddies”. 9/10

Peak Position in the: US – #3 (Billboard Hot 100)

IT’S STILL ROCK AND ROLL TO ME (1980)

Columbia Records

Inspired by critics who labeled his music “adult contemporary” or “middle-of-the-road” pop in the midst of the new wave insurgency, Billy responded with a song exploring and extolling the way music moves in cycles and that all musical styles are still at the root of it all, rock and roll. After spending two weeks at the top of the charts, the single was dethroned by Olivia Newton-John’s single “Magic” from the soundtrack of “Xanadu”. 9/10

Peak Position in the: US – #1 (Billboard Hot 100)

HONESTY (1979)

Columbia Records

Perhaps this Grammy-nominated Song of the Year entry is part of critic’s reason for labeling Billy Joel’s music as adult contemporary. After spending 8 weeks at number one in France, the single is the 10th biggest hit of the 70s in that country. In 2008. Beyonce recorded her own version of the piano ballad for her album “I Am…Sasha Fierce” 7/10

Peak Position in the: US – #24 (Billboard Hot 100)

UPTOWN GIRL (1983)

Columbia Records

Inspired by supermodels Elle MacPherson and Christie Brinkley as well as the music of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, “Uptown Girl” is the Billy Joel song that tops his most popular songs on Spotify presently. The video featuring Joel as a “downtown” man to Brinkley’s “Uptown Girl” was a staple on MTV for months. 9/10

Peak Position in the: US: #3 (Billboard Hot 100)

PIANO MAN (1973)

Columbia Records

Billy Joel’s first single as well as his signature song, “Piano Man” was inspired by his experience as a lounge singer/musician in Los Angeles in 1972-73. The characters he mentions in the song (John the bartender, and Paul, the real estate novelist) are based upon real people he encountered. 9/10

Peak Position in the: US – #25 (Billboard Hot 100)

Because this is a “casual” listener list, it consists of hits by the artist. There are so many great Billy Joel songs that it truly is hard to narrow them down to ten. What are some of the other songs we “should” have included? Here’s a secondary list:

  • Vienna
  • She’s Always a Woman
  • Say Goodbye to Hollywood
  • New York State of Mind
  • Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
  • The Stranger
  • Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
  • Sometimes a Fantasy
  • Don’t Ask Me Why
  • She’s Got a Way
  • Pressure
  • Allentown
  • An Innocent Man
  • The Longest Time
  • Tell Her About It
  • A Matter of Trust
  • Baby Grand
  • Modern Woman
  • Shameless
  • And So It Goes
  • The River of Dreams

So, there you have it. Our Ten. What would “Your Ten” look like? Leave your thoughts via a comment on the page!

Before you leave, please check out our previous entries in the “Our Ten” series here on Moteventure!

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