83. Billy Joel

Billy Joel is a very popular American pianist and songwriter. His greatest commercial success occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We can argue about the content of his music, or the emotional weight of his lyrics, but the man has enormous talent. In general, his songs are very melodious, and like many major pop artists, the “niceness” of his music belies a tough and ambitious personality.

Billy Joel on Wikipedia


He became popular at a time when other forms of popular music like New Wave and Punk received greater acclaim. His melodies and sensibilities are more reminiscent of Tin Pan Alley and show tunes; his music also reminds me a great deal of Paul McCartney’s solo career. Sometimes the songs deal with tough issues, but they sound so nice, it’s hard to hear the angst sometimes.

Despite a lack of critical acclaim, Billy Joel’s timeless melodies have sold incredibly well. He is one of the top selling artists (6th?) of all time. One curious fact; I can’t think of a notable cover version of any of his songs. What does that say about his music?

The fact that Billy Joel was so popular, combined with when he became popular, make it easy to find excellent videos of mid-1970s performances, before the marketing wizards perfected the sound of his music and created antiseptic arena rock performances that fail to inspire. Joel is a great pianist, and his early performances are lively and imperfect and endearing.

My favorite Billy Joel song, by far, is “Only The Good Die Young”. He performed the song on Saturday Night Live in February, 1978. I could only find the video in one location, so you have to click on the link to watch it. It is well worth it. Note the expression and sense of triumph Joel shows after completing the song. He is clearly excited about it. Billy Joel rocks out on the national stage:

NOTE: Sorry, not surprisingly this link is no longer available. Saturday Night L:ive keeps close tabs on their music videos.

Former Link to SNL Performance of “Only The Good Die Young”

I found it difficult to compile a collection of Billy Joel’s music. I admire his music more than I like it. As I stated before, major artists had all imperfections scrubbed from their studio performances starting about thirty years ago, and this takes much of the charm out of the music. There’s also a lack of variety among his hit songs, though a later song like “River Of Dreams” is enjoyable for its unique character.

I don’t feel Mr. Joel deserves to have all his hit songs included in my collection, because I want his level of representation to mirror my approximate opinion of his value to popular music history. He’s very good, with beautiful, straightforward songs, but his songs lack that magic quality which compel the listener to dig deep within themselves. There’s also a notable lack of good dance songs, real toe-tappers.

I also wanted to include some second tier songs, ones that are just as good as the hits but just didn’t become radio staples, as those songs sometimes lend greater insight into an artist by presenting fresh, new material to gnaw on. Here’s the list:

Only The Good Die Young, Billy Joel ✭✭✭✭

Piano Man, Billy Joel ✭✭✭
You May Be Right, Billy Joel ✭✭✭
Just The Way You Are, Billy Joel ✭✭✭

The River Of Dreams, Billy Joel ✭✭
She’s Got A Way, Billy Joel ✭✭
Leave A Tender Moment Alone, Billy Joel ✭✭
New York State Of Mind, Billy Joel ✭✭
Rosalinda’s Eyes, Billy Joel ✭✭
She’s Always A Woman To Me, Billy Joel ✭✭
An Innocent Man, Billy Joel ✭✭
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song), Billy Joel ✭✭
The Longest Time, Billy Joel ✭✭
Zanzibar, Billy Joel ✭✭
Uptown Girl, Billy Joel ✭✭
Sometimes A Fantasy, Billy Joel ✭✭
It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me, Billy Joel ✭✭

Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, Billy Joel
Summer, Highland Falls, Billy Joel
Keeping The Faith, Billy Joel

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