Born in 1949 in the Bronx, Billy Joel has emerged as one of the most well-known and top-selling singer-songwriters in history. Since the release of his first hit single in 1973, Joel has sold over 100 million pop records, making him the sixth best selling American artist of all-time. His string of Top Ten hits earned him six Grammy Awards, induction into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and a spot in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1992.
After the release of River of Dreams in 1993, Joel stopped recording pop music and shifted to writing and recording classical music. In 2002, he began another new venture-tackling Broadway. With famed choreographer Twyla Tharp, he helped create a Tony-award winning music, Movin’ Out, which featured a dance interpretation of many of his hit songs. Though he has not recorded new pop music in over ten years, he still continues to tour. Joel has toured with Elton John on several occasions. He also went on a mini-tour in 2006, in which he performed at a record of twelve sold-out concerts at Madison Square Gardens.
With over forty hits gracing the American pop charts, it is safe to say that Joel is a music icon. Although each of his hit songs has had an impact, the following are, in my personal opinion, his best efforts to date.
Top Ten Songs by Billy Joel
Piano Man: Though one of the most simplistic melodies Joel has ever written, this semi-autobiographical song has made him the star he is today. Joel penned this song to reflect on the people he met and situations he observed during his early employment in a Los Angeles piano bar.
Just the Way You Are: No American pop artist can be successful without a good love song. This song is Joel’s token sappy ballad. Even though Joel rarely performs the song anymore and it is still, to this day, overplayed on radio, “Just the Way You Are” is one of those songs that just makes you feel warm and fuzzy every time you hear it.
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song): From the famed album The Stranger, this song deals with Joel’s disgust with the behavior of many immigrant families in New York. Joel sings about how some first-generation “macho” mean worked long hours just to purchase material possessions such as houses in Hackensack that would symbolize they had made it in America. Joel sings lines such as “seems like a waste of time,” “working so hard will give you a heart attack,” and “he can’t drive with a broken back” to state his disgust.
Only the Good Die Young: This classic tune discusses that artists’ frustration with those that let religion completely dictate their lives.
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me: Joel’s tribute to the “good old days” of rock and roll is a song loved by the masses, by often reviled by the critics. The beauty of the song is a catchy hook and a little bit of attitude.
New York State of Mind: Joel’s love of his home, New York, is evident in many of his songs, though none as obvious as this classic tune. In mention of the Hudson River Line, Chinatown, the New York Times, and Riverside, Joel speaks that all of his travels have only left him longing for the comforts of his New York home.
Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway): This lesser known, but lyrically remarkable song struck a chord with many New Yorkers after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Though written decades before that fateful day, Joel’s premonitions made this song even more eerie. In this fictitious song, he sings about the destruction of New York as he knows it, with lines such as “I’ve seen the lights go out on Broadway,” “I watched the mighty skyline fall,” and “they sank Manhattan out to sea.”
Leningrad: Joel wrote this song after a tour of the U.S.S.R. in the 1980’s. Shortly after the birth of his daughter, Joel met a circus clown named Victor. The two formed an uncanny friendship that transcended cultural and political differences. This song was written to describe how Americans and Soviets did have things in common, and despite their differences, they could co-exist.
Uptown Girl: Besides music, Joel is most known for his marriage to supermodel Christie Brinkley. This song, written about their relationship, is catchy and reflective of his life.
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant: There are more musical elements in this song than in the entire box set of many other popular artists. Key/tempo changes, countermelodies, and beautiful instrumentation make this song one of Joel’s best pieces of work. The story of Brenda and Eddie and their tumultuous relationship catches the interest of listeners like few other songs throughout history.