The Piano Man himself, Billy Joel, has given us plenty of incredible tracks that still get played on the radio and are referenced in pop culture today. He’s sold over 160 million albums worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling recording artists and solo artists in US history. In this article, we’ll go over 31 of his best songs that saw him earn a place in the heart of all of his fans.
1. Piano Man
Piano Man is one of Joel’s most famous songs, based on his experiences as a lounge musician and man behind the piano in New York. All of the people described in the track are based on real people he met while on the job. It became his signature song and first-ever hit, peaking at number 25 on the Hot 100 in 1974 and helping him cement himself as a music star. Heck, even The Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Recording Registry for how significant the track was.
2. Only The Good Die Young
This song is at least partially responsible for how common the saying “only the good die young” is today. It was super controversial when it came out since it’s from the point of view of a boy trying to have sex with a Catholic girl who won’t let him because it’s a sin. Censorship was attempted—despite the guy never getting anywhere with the girl—but that only made the track more popular instead of achieving anything. The track would be certified double platinum by the RIAA and peaked at number 24 on the Hot 100.
Hey, we did a pretty interesting article about the real meaning behind this one, wink wink. Vienna serves as Joel’s reminder to everyone to take it slow and enjoy life, because one day, you’re gonna get old. But, unlike most songs with that message, it looks positively at growing older and almost looks forward to it instead of trying to instill fear.
4. Just The Way You Are
Nope, this isn’t the Bruno Mars song. Just The Way You Are was released as the lead single from Joel’s fifth studio album The Stranger, becoming his first US Top 10 hit and UK Top 20 song, making it to number three and 19 on those charts. It was his first gold single in the US, winning two Grammy Awards in 1979 for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
5. New York State Of Mind
New York State Of Mind was never released as a single, but it has always been a fan favorite and one of Joel’s most-played concert songs. It’s become one of his signature tracks to play at benefit concerts in the New York area as well, singing it after the 2001 terror attack and in The Garden for The Concert For Sandy Relief in 2012.
6. It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me
Who’d have thought a song criticizing the music industry would become number one? It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me came out in 1980 and sat atop the Hot 100 for two weeks, spending 11 total weeks in the Top 10 of that chart. According to the American Top 40, it was the seventh biggest hit of the year, which is one of the reasons it’s been used in so many movies and commercials in the years since, and is one of his most recognizable songs.
7. The Longest Time
The fourth single from Joel’s 1984 An Innocent Man album, The Longest Time takes the artist down the doo-wop road. Joel is the singer for the lead vocals and backing vocals and is responsible for all the finger snaps and claps in the song. It made it to number 14 on the Hot 100 and number one on the Adult Contemporary charts that year.
8. Uptown Girl
Uptown Girl features one of the catchiest melodies from the 80s. It describes a typical working-class schlub trying to woo a wealthy woman. The song peaked at number three on the Hot 100, where it sat for five consecutive weeks before falling. It made it to the top spot of the UK charts, becoming his only number one on that side of the pond.
9. She’s Got A Way
She’s Got A Way was one of Joel’s best tracks on his debut album, released as a single in select countries in 1971 before being rereleased as a single for his 1981 live album Songs In The Attic. In 1982, that live version peaked at number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.
10. We Didn’t Start The Fire
C’mon, you’ve heard this song, don’t lie. We Didn’t Start The Fire includes brief references to 119 significant political, cultural, scientific, and sporting events that occurred between 1949 and 1989, all in—mostly—chronological order. It was Joel’s third track to top the Hot 100 and earned a Grammy Award nomination for Record of the Year. This song, above his others, has had ridiculous longevity because it gets used as a parody in TV shows, commercials, and comedy acts.
11. Goodnight Saigon
Goodnight Saigon is a poignant song describing the actions and attitudes of marines going through training before being shipped off to the Vietnam War. It was hailed as a successful protest track that was able to create a meaningful statement in the small confines of a typical pop song, though not everyone loved the stance it took. In the US, it only reached number 56 on the Hot 100, but it topped the charts in Belgium and the Netherlands.
12. You May Be Right
You May Be Right was a bit of an outlier for Joel’s 1980 Glass Houses album. It didn’t chart in the UK like the previous releases from the album, but it did make it to number six and seven on the Canadian and US charts respectively. It’s an energetic song, beginning with a breaking glass sound effect that mirrors the album title, which is fitting since it was the first track on the record.
Honesty was Joel in his natural habitat. The song peaked at number 24 on the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming his 52nd Street album’s third consecutive Top 40 hit. Bizarrely, it was certified gold in Japan, mainly due to the obscene number of downloads the track received from ringtone download sales.
14. A Matter Of Trust
A Matter Of Trust became the second single from Joel’s The Bridge album to reach the Top 10 in the US, but it was insanely popular overseas in the Soviet Union. The government there promoted it on state-sponsored TV in preparation for his upcoming concerts within their borders in 1987.
15. Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) was a bit of a statement song, with Joel lamenting the approach many working-class people took with their jobs. Is it worth it to work crazy hours to have the image that you’ve “made it?” The track is overall upbeat but expresses the overall disgust for that kind of mindset that he had at the time.
16. She’s Always A Woman
Another great song from The Stranger, She’s Always A Woman peaked at number 17 in the US, number 53 in the UK, and re-entered the UK charts in 2010 to reach number 29.
17. You’re My Home
You’re My Home is referencing the fact that home is not always a place but can also be a person. Joel wrote the song for his first wife because he couldn’t afford to buy her a present for Valentine’s Day. It was also actually used for waking up astronauts aboard space shuttle missions in May of 2020, which is kind of nuts and technically makes the song a hit even when it’s not on this planet.
18. A Room Of Our Own
A Room Of Our Own isn’t the sultry and sexy track you might think it would be. It’s really about the differences between men and women, and how annoying those can be when in close proximity, so it suggests they get separate rooms to avoid dealing with those kerfluffles.
19. Everybody Has A Dream
Everybody Has A Dream wasn’t written for The Stranger, it was written well before that album would be conceived. Originally a folk song, it’s sort of a gospel celebration and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that.
20. That’s Not Her Style
That’s Not Her Style was the opening track and the fifth released single from Joel’s Storm Front album. It never cracked the top 70 in the US, making it the lowest-charting song from the album, but that in no way diminishes how good it was.
21. Tell Her About It
Tell Her About It is another one of Joel’s catchiest songs that will make you sing the chorus in your head just from hearing the title. The track took the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983 and was eventually certified gold as a single in the US.
22. I Don’t Want To Be Alone
I Don’t Want To Be Alone seems a bit like a pity relationship to me, where both Joel and the woman in question are seeing each other more because they’re sick of being alone than for any real attraction or affection between the two of them. A bit sad, but masterfully captured by him in this song.
23. Easy Money
Easy Money wasn’t just a doo-wop track slapped onto Joel’s An Innocent Man album, it was the theme song for Rodney Dangerfield’s first movie of the same name. It was one of the tracks that helped propel An Innocent Man to a nomination for the 1984 Album of the Year Grammy Award.
24. Two Thousand Years
The entire theme of the River Of Dreams album was looking to the future. Two Thousand Years took on an optimistic yet sober view of what our future may look like, fully aware that a lot needed to be done to make the promised tomorrow a reality.
25. Streetlife Serenader
Streetlife Serenader was Joel’s tribute to the troubadours, bards, and singers of yesteryear that traveled from town to town, singing and living on the tips of the crowds.
26. The Great Wall of China
Another great track from Rivers Of Dreams, The Great Wall Of China was a scathing barrage directed at his former manager, saying they could have made it to the Great Wall of China together if he had just believed in him.
27. Tomorrow Is Today
Tomorrow Is Today takes on a new meaning when you realize that Joel had written his suicide note into the song. He was going through extreme depression at the time of writing, reflective of his awful deal with Family Productions and his unease at losing control over his career.
28. No Man’s Land
No Man’s Land was released as the second single from River Of Dreams, describing the negative impacts of human expansion on the environment and society as a whole. The song peaked at number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was often used as the opening track of his concerts on his 1994 River Of Dreams tour.
29. Through The Long Night
This song was heavily inspired by The Beatles’ song Yes It Is and describes watching someone sleep and lose their grip on their life. It’s somewhat comforting though, to know Joel will sit through that dark time and wait for it to pass with you.
30. This Is The Time
As the third released single from The Bridge, This Is The Time would go on to reach number 18 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and sit atop the Adult Contemporary Charts. It’s a perfect, doom-filled rock ballad.
The lead track on Joel’s Nylon Curtain album, Allentown eventually became an anthem song for blue-collar Americans since it dives into the frustrations and pride of the working-class people. It made it to number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100, spending six consecutive weeks at that spot and earning a gold certification by the end of the year.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
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