I've started reading the new biography of Billy Joel (that was a gift to me from my sister). A few weeks ago, the list below appeared on Vulture, ranking the complete works of Billy Joel. Of course, I've seen the Piano Man in concert several times, most recently last year at Nationals Park. It is my goal to make it up to Madison Square Garden for one of his shows, where he is the "artist in residence."
From the Vulture article, it points out that "by the measure of hit-making, his stats are staggering." A profile in The New Yorker last year "pointed out that he's had 33 songs in the Top 40. That's about a
quarter of the songs he's written and recorded. Most of those charted in
the era when you had to sell a lot of records to get there, too."
The author of the article points out (and stipulates), "this is all one listener’s opinion. But the ranking draws on 30 years of soaking in these songs, plus multiple repeat playings of every one over the past three months. That said, appreciation does not mean blindness, and Joel himself would agree that not every song on every album catches fire (though he did light it, and we tried to fight it). A close listening to the Joel-ian canon reveals a couple of generous handfuls of greatness, forgotten cuts that deserve to be resurfaced, familiar hits that have aged poorly, and flat-out clunkers."
He further establishes the following "Ground rules: I’ve limited this to the 114 songs Joel wrote and recorded on his 12 studio albums, from Cold Spring Harbor (1971) through River of Dreams (1993), plus seven additional singles he has released over the years. (As fans know, Cold Spring Harbor was butchered on its release; I used the remastered boxed-set version to give those songs a fair shake.) I omitted Fantasies and Delusions, the wordless neoclassical album Joel released in 2001, because another pianist does the playing. I also left out his covers, a few songs he’s written that other people sang, and his recordings with the Hassles and Attila, his early Long Island bands. You gotta stop somewhere."
I've not had a real opportunity to focus on this, until now. My comments in italics.
121. “The Mexican Connection” - An instrumental that sounds like the rights-free music people use in YouTube videos. Fills up side two of the album, and does no more.
120. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” - The biggest problem song for the Billy Joel apologist, because it is highly popular and inescapably bad. So much is wrong here: boomer-generation narcissism, the tri-state-area-news myopia (“hypodermics on the shore”? Bernie Goetz?), the iffy rhymes (“James Dean” with “winning team,” among many others), the double mention of the Dodgers. Why didn’t I put it dead last? It gets one point for its classroom value: I will admit that I had to look up who Syngman Rhee was, and I learned interesting things.
I used this song in my teaching days. Take that for what it's worth. It's also fun to see live - when Billy will admit up front, "this is either going to work . . . or it's going to be a train wreck."
119. “You Look So Good to Me” - A corny ballad, justifiably forgotten. The weakest song on an album even Joel doesn’t think much of.
118. "A Room of Our Own" - The staple standup-comic territory of “Hey, men and women are different, you know?” in convenient pop-song form. Pretty bad, and on a pretty good album to boot.
The first song on the list from the Nylon Curtain, which I feel is one of his best albums and most underappreciated.
117. “All You Wanna Do Is Dance” - One a few songs on this list with misplaced reggae inclinations. Yes, everyone was doing it in 1976, but that doesn’t make it right.
116. “Root Beer Rag” - Yeah, it maybe sounded cool when your friend was banging it out on the music-room piano in the eighth grade, but put it next to the gnarly chords of some actual ragtime, and you quickly realize that a rag built mostly on a C-major triad is pretty weak sauce.
115. “Worse Comes to Worst” - Title tells you most of what you need to know. An album ballad, not worth resurrecting.
114. “You Picked a Real Bad Time” - Very slick, not very good white-guy blues. Sounds like it was cut from River of Dreams.
113. “Shades of Grey” - "Dad rock” is a cheap label, but this is pretty much it; sounds like a lot of session musicians without a center. A song that exemplifies a recurring problem on this list: memorable hook paired with dull verses.
112. “State of Grace” - After more than a few listenings in the past month, not a single lyric from this song stuck with me. Literally forgettable.
111. “Getting Closer” - Repetitive and plodding.
110. “Temptation” - A schmaltzy torch song. Lyrically slack.
109. "C'était Toi (You Were the One)" - Oh man. You hear the first verse, and it’s pretty square but okay — and then he sings it again, in French, and you cringe. (The Beatles’ “Michelle” has the same problem, by the way.)
If you're listening to Billy Joel to learn French, you're doing it wrong.
108. “Running on Ice” - Petulance on parade: “I could never understand why the urban attitude is so superior.” The piano-playing is virtuosic and showy, but the song’s ultimately a less interesting “Pressure.”
107. “The Great Suburban Showdown” - Not-terrible vision of suburban anomie, but the references — crabgrass, sitting around the kitchen — are just too unoriginal. Might’ve been a lot better with a rewrite.
106. “Stop in Nevada” - Why is a guy from Long Island writing a fake-Western song? Inauthentic, and it shows.
105. “Nocturne” - Quasi-Chopin instrumental — though there are unrecorded lyrics — that absolutely refuses to stick in the mind.
104. “Tomorrow Is Today” - Two minutes into a rather quavery M.O.R. song, a bizarre vocal break — he drops an octave and throws in an R&B turn, then snaps back to the sensitive-guy voice — feels like it fell in from Mars.
103. “Turn Around” - Another first-album ballad, probably not worth reviving.
102. “House of Blue Light” The flip side of the “We Didn’t Start the Fire” single is bar-band blues, not much more.
101. “The Great Wall of China” - Another one with a really polished hook and dull verses. Lyrics about broken friendships have a little kick, given that Joel’s had his share.
I don't mind this one
100. “Code of Silence” - Co-written and sung with Cyndi Lauper. Another one that I keep listening to, over and over, trying to like it; can’t tell you a word that stuck with me. A really solid performance of a not very interesting song.
99. “Falling of the Rain” - Screams 1971 in a weird, Pippinish-hippie way that doesn’t seem to come from a natural place for Joel: “misty satin dreams” and “wooded glades”? What would Mama Leone say?
98. “You Can Make Me Free” - An undistinguished song, and then the wildly oversung bit at the end leaves you with a flinch.
97. “The Night Is Still Young” - An odd and unique one-off recording, with Joel’s voice multi-tracked. Very typical big-’80s sound, with synths and echo that haven’t aged well.
96. “Blonde Over Blue” - Nicely written first verse about being lonely at night, but it goes boring after that.
95. “When in Rome” - I’m surprised this didn’t click as a radio hit, because it hits every mainstream note of that era — leaving it sounding a little generic today. Could be Steve Winwood; could be the Traveling Wilburys; could be almost anyone.
94. “That’s Not Her Style” - Another dated-sounding track, but the lyrics are actually pretty okay — this is (presumably) one of his Christie Brinkley songs, several of which are more charming. Might benefit from a remix.
Billy has had many muses, some of the Christie ones are the better ones.
93. “This Night” - A strong vocal performance on a mostly excellent album, but borrowing the Beethoven “Pathétique” for a melodic line was a terrible idea — it reads like a pointless play for respectability — and it weighs down the already-somewhat-leaden lyrics.
92. "She's Right on Time" - Punchy performance, but the lyrics are thin, without much staying power.
91. “Why Judy Why” - Another very early song that sounds like it was made by an entirely different person. Recording is wavery and soft, and I’d be curious to hear a cover version that perhaps brings out whatever the song has in it.
90. “Two Thousand Years” - He’s reaching for something philosophical and trying for a big idea, but it doesn’t quite get there, and the lyrics wander.
89. “All About Soul” - Another from the Depression Series that had many of the ingredients to be a hit but didn’t have the snap to get there.
88. “A Minor Variation” - Somewhat similar to “All About Soul.” More white-guy blues, decently sung, but ultimately, there are so many better blues singers that it’s hard to get excited about this one.
87. “Storm Front” - Surprising that this one didn’t end up in Twyla Tharp’s Movin’ Out, because it’s got a punchy, big sound that would translate well to a Broadway pit. Goes on forever, though.
86. “A Matter of Trust” - Closest thing he’s ever made to a Queen-style stadium anthem to play at sporting events, with a chorus that benefits from a lot of people singing along. Hard not to get swept up, even if it’s kinda bombastic on the album. Fun song in concert; cheesier at home.
Because it really is a matter of trust.
85. “Roberta” - Lonely guy wants to save a stripper who won’t talk to him. Surely that scene could’ve produced a song more interesting than this.
84. “Los Angelenos” - He really didn’t like L.A. very much, did he? Not terrible, but loses a lot of points for the awkward “no one ever has to feel like a refugee,” and the weird rolled-R delivery of “Mexican rrreefers.”
83. “If I Only Had the Words (to Tell You)” - A familiar genre: the longing song. This one doesn’t hold a candle to his other songs on the same turf, like, say, “Just the Way You Are.”
82. “Ain’t No Crime” - Elton-ish record with a lot of backing vocals. Not terrible, but ultimately not very interesting, either.
81. “Easy Money” - Unfortunately evokes nothing so much as Rappin’ Rodney. An extremely commercial song of the ’80s, recorded as a movie theme. An artifact of its time and place.
I agree - the co-optingby Rodney Dangerfield hurts this otherwise good song.
80. "Don't Ask Me Why" - Not bad at all, and very, very, catchy, but makes you wonder: What does this tropical-hotel setting have to do with anything? Was he on vacation?
79. “52nd Street” - Sounds like one of the Ray Charles duets without Ray. Sax licks are a little cheesy, too. But it holds its place on the album — barely.
78. “Somewhere Along the Line” -
An early song from his Depression Canon, this one seems to be about anhedonia — “it’s all going to catch up to you” — but it’s musically a little flat. Might be fodder for the right cover artist.
77. “You’re My Home” - Warm, but also dull.
This was a song that helped me get through some homesickness when I was in France in 1983.
76. “Modern Woman” - Spirited, and sorta fun — you can really picture this as the music behind a quick-cut montage in an ’80s Danny DeVito movie — but the cheese factor is very high. Possibly saved by the “modern woman” throwaway at the end.
75. “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” - One that people argue over. Comes from a good place — Long Island fishermen do indeed have it tough; he probably knows some of those guys, going way back; the whole scene feels honest — but the synths and production have aged terribly. It’s 60 percent of the way to being a great Pete Seeger song, which is not a knock; a lot of people never get close to that.
As a Long Islander, I would like to see this song ranked better on the list.
74. “Christie Lee” - Yeah, it’s dated, but c’mon: If you were reading gossip columns in the heyday of Page Six, the Christie Brinkley songs (of which there are several) are pretty nearly irresistible fun.
73. “Careless Talk” - An album cut that doesn’t rise above, but it has nice bounce. Would be curious to hear it in a cabaret setting.
72. “Tell Her About It” - One of what I refer to as Joel’s Instructional Songs: records aimed directly at young people who need a boost in times of trouble. This one tells guys to risk rejection and be honest and vulnerable with their crushes, and even though you know it probably didn’t go well for some of those nerd-boy listeners, it’s a hard song to hate.
71. “Leningrad” - Yes, it’s kitsch — of course Russian people live ordinary lives too — and the music is gooey. But “We were sold a bunch of nonsense” is a thoughtful lyric in this context. (Benefits by comparison with Sting’s “Russians,” a similar, cheesier record.) Deserves to be revisited.
This song doesn't flow well for me - but I do like its message.
70. "Pressure" - You do, in fact, have to deal with pressure. Unimaginable that it’d be a hit today — this is another one that's totally out of style — but it's a particular weakness of mine, even though it’s not about much of anything besides, y’know, pressure.
One of Billy's songs that is absolutely better live.
69. "Through the Long Night" -
Has a sewing-machine piano line that gets sleepy, but a nice ballad.
68. “Until the Night” - A precursor to An Innocent Man’s doo-wop songs, reaching for Elvis territory. Would have been better shorter — loses steam as the title repeats.
67. “Zanzibar” - A lot of people like this one, and would have ranked it higher. I get mostly overreach here: straining for Steely Dan complexity, in several different directions — jazz, fusion, atmospheric-cinematic — without reaching greatness in any of them.
I'm another of those that would have ranked this one higher.
66. “Souvenir” - Joel’s shortest recorded song. Nice little prelude to ... something.
65. “Travelin’ Prayer” -
Another one that feels like he’s on weird unfamiliar turf, but taken as a product of the early seventies, it’s not bad at all. Fast piano, banjo, even a jaw harp. The false ending is a little cheap. A charming if dated song.
64. “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” - Another buck-up-kid Instructional, and another one that’s got some charm. Not a song you want to turn off.
This and "The Night is Still Young" appeared on one of Billy's Greatest Hits collections. This one is better and its ranking shows that.
63. “Famous Last Words” -
“These are the last words I have to say”: Joel’s last song on his final studio album, apart from some one-off releases. A friendly, affectionate thanks-and-bye-for-now song, and, well, all right, it’s not side two of Abbey Road, but it’s not hateable either.
62. “And So It Goes” - A better song on Joel’s weakest album, maybe because the sentiment isn’t very complicated. Kind of a shrug, in the end, but a pretty one.
61. “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” -
Nicely sung, presumably for his daughter Alexa, who was about 7 when this was recorded. Sweet if not deep; a little out of place on the album, but that’s okay.
60. “Shameless” -
No piano! What? Better known, perhaps, for the Garth Brooks cover version, and if you don’t hate that Nashville sound, a good one.
59. “Get It Right the First Time” - Joel calls this the weak link on one of his best albums, and I’ll admit that it sounds like the theme to a funny-cops sitcom that never happened. But it’s no embarrassment, either.
58. “You May Be Right” - Good straight-up power pop song. “Even rode my motorcycle in the rain” is a pretty dumb line, which pulls it down on the list, and it loses a couple more points for the repeat-and-fade.
This is insulting to have this one in the middle of the pack.
57. "Sometimes a Fantasy" -
He gets major points for trying to write a great phone sex song, but the result has a high ick factor, maybe because “make love long distance,” followed by pervy breathing, comes off gross rather than sexy. The unintentionally hilarious video may be affecting my judgment a little here.
56. “I Go to Extremes” -
As catchy as a single ever was. Not a very interesting idea — essentially “Yeah, I can sometimes be an ass, but I’m fun, too” is a sentiment that covers about three-quarters of the population — but a well-wrought song if you accept that up front.
I would put this one in my Top 10.
55. “Uptown Girl” - It’s shlock, but — as my colleague Jody Rosen has persuasively written — there’s a place for shlock, particularly if, as mentioned above, you were there for the ’80s heyday of the Billy-and-Christie tabloid show. (Never mind that it was reportedly written about his previous supermodel girlfriend, Elle Macpherson.)
Wait, what? It's not about Christie?
54. "Surprises" - One of several Beatles tributes he’s recorded. Does that minor/major/minor/major step-down chord progression that Paul McCartney made his signature, with added George Martin shimmer. Not a song many people think of, but I like it.
53. "Where's the Orchestra?" - The performance on the album is a little low-energy, but it has interesting lyrics, with an unexpected callback to “Allentown” buried in the last verse.
There could have been a single with "Send in the Clowns" on the flip side.
52. "Scandinavian Skies" - A junkie song by a non-junkie: As far as I know, a unique idea. Points for its complexity and opacity; points off for the blatant “I Am the Walrus” echo.
51. "Allentown" - A lot of people think this is a terrible song. I disagree. Yes, the arrangement is heavy, and kind of thuds along; yes, the vocals are weirdly processed, and that shh-ooh-ah quasi-beatbox thing should go. The line “they threw an American flag in our face” is a clunker, badly misaligned with the music. But stare down the rest of the lyrics: They’re plainspoken and pretty okay. “Iron and coke / Chromium steel” is vivid, the change from “we’re living here” to “I’m living here” is thoughtful, and the last line of the verse (“I won’t be getting up today”) takes you out with a strong image.
50. "All for Leyna" - A pretty intense, pretty good stalker song. Electric and well sung, especially on the bridge.
This would be higher for me that the middle of the pack. And no I'm not a stalker.
49. “Elvis Presley Boulevard" - An offcut, rarely heard and better than you’d think; worth seeking out for a listen.
48. “Half a Mile Away” - As tight a commercial-radio song as ever recorded. Sits well on the album, though not super-interesting when taken on its own.
47. “Honesty” - Heart-on-sleeve vulnerability. I kinda like this one, but it does feel like a song a lot of people could have written.
46. “Big Shot” - Arguably the most pissed-off record he ever made, and about what? Hanging around with Bianca Jagger? Seems out of proportion to the problem. Falls down our list for that “nonononono biiiiig shottttttt didnja” line he sings toward the end, which is just ridiculous. But play it in a room full of music snobs, and they know every. Single. Word.
45. “Everybody Has a Dream” - Joel says “Get It Right the First Time” is the weak link on this album, but this is the song nobody remembers. Anthemic, a little soft. Might benefit from a less-dense arrangement with fewer layers.
44. “Weekend Song” - Another one with echoes of Elton John. Not bad at all.
43. “The Entertainer” - The Piano Man finds success! And hates his record company, and writes about it. The synths sound terrible now, and the petulance is creeping in, which does him no favors. But “Gotta have a hit / So they cut it down to 3:05” is clever, for sure.
I would put this much higher on my own list.
42. “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” - Is the end of the song, when he inserts himself, cheesy or charming? Could make a case for either; I like it. The big piano breaks are old-fashioned but not bad. Another one that’s quite a bit better in the live recordings than in the studio.
One that you need to add 10-20 notches for seeing (or hearing live)
41. “Got to Begin Again” - Another small but nicely wrought song that someone should dig up and rerecord.
40. “No Man’s Land” - A guy watches the suburbs rise around him, hates them, but stays there all the same, hating himself. Irritable Billy makes an appearance, but it’s still a solid song.
39. “Keeping the Faith” - A friendly, bright song about his teenhood. Better than you may remember, mostly for the lyrics and the enthusiasm in the vocals.
I would swap this with "The Longest Time."
38. "Goodnight Saigon" - Another argument about authenticity appears. Alright, it’s arguably bogus: He didn’t actually go fight in Vietnam. But it’s a vivid, thoughtful song about guys he clearly knew well. Can we knock it for portraying secondhand experience? It feels honest to me. Wish he’d left out the helicopters, though.
37. "Laura" - A highly conflicted mom song, and the darker counterpart to “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” as it gets at the crueler, more difficult side of Rosalind Joel. Another Beatles tribute, too, this one a gesture to the Magical Mystery Tour era.
36. “James” - Admittedly a little watery, but in the end, it’s a small, personal song about a mysterious broken friendship. Wonder who it was?
Having just started the Billy Joel biography - I can tell you who it was.
35. "Close to the Borderline" - Just about the hardest rocking-out he ever recorded, and he did it pretty well. Does not fail on the angry-young-man front. Mostly avoids the oversinging that hurts songs like “Big Shot” — he sings with more of a straight growl here, and it’s a bit better.
34. “She’s Always a Woman” - People ding this song for being schmaltzy, but I don’t think so — it wouldn’t seem out of place on several Bob Dylan records, and you’d probably think more of it then. The arrangement could, admittedly, be a little crisper.
33. “Rosalinda’s Eyes” - Just about every male singer-songwriter records a mom song; this is a good one. Doubly poignant because his mother didn’t have it so easy, and their relationship was not always smooth (cf. “Laura,” a much less affectionate view).
32. “My Life” - Chipper, maybe a little defensive, impeccably bouncy pop song with dark undercurrent. First verse is the best.
31. “Nobody Knows But Me” - A kids’ record, made for a CTW compilation album. It’s about an imaginary friend, and it’s much better than you’d ever guess.
30. “Big Man on Mulberry Street” - Is he a GoodFella, a restaurateur, just some shmo? Maybe a little too much production going on here, but a memorable, fun, remember-that-guy-Vinnie-we-used-to-know song.
29. “Everybody Loves You Now” - Super-catchy, bouncy piano, sneery. Pretty strong cut for one that few people remember.
28. “I’ve Loved These Days” - One of the better songs on this album, and I’m surprised it hasn’t become more of a standard. Bring it out at your high-school reunion, and watch the couples start to slow-dance.
27. “Summer, Highland Falls” - Everyone but me seems to single out this song as one of his very best, maybe the best. I just don’t hear it — I think it’s pretty but not great. I’ll admit that the live recordings are way better than the studio version. I’ll also give you that the piano performance is among his best. I still say “choose between reality and madness / it’s either sadness or euphoria” is pretentious undergrad stuff. We may have to agree to disagree here.
That these three songs are grouped together is a big "tell" by the author. They are very similar and personally three of my favorites. I agree with him - they are even more extraordinary live - but they should be higher, collectively.
26. “Last of the Big Time Spenders,” Streetlife Serenade
A baby “Baby Grand,” unjustly ignored. Soars nicely in the chorus, especially.
25. “Captain Jack” - Piano Man
Joel has said he’s tired of this one, and it does go on for too long. You can also knock ten points off for that uncomfortable “sit at home and masturbate” line, which has been filling arenas with uneasy giggles for 35 years, especially when “pick your nose” comes along a few lines later. But the big chorus is undeniable — it’s hard not to be swept along when it starts to crest.
24. “The River of Dreams” - Has more of that Innocent Man lightness and exuberance than most of the stuff on his later records, and benefits from it.
23. “Baby Grand” - The big Ray Charles duet, a bookend to “Piano Man.” A great, heartfelt performance from both of them, but the song itself is a weird extended metaphor that doesn’t entirely come off (the only one who sticks by you is your piano … or whatever it is your piano represents).
22. “Stiletto” - Another energetic R&B song. Joel’s recording is not bad at all, but if only someone like Bobby Womack had given it a whirl!
21. “She’s Got a Way” - Is it a little gooey? Is it very pretty? It’s both, and these things can comfortably coexist. A Great American Songbook song, written 20 years too late to have made it into the canon.
One of those songs that Joel wrote about his first wife, the one who took all his money. Still hard to think of anything else, when it comes on.
20. “This Is the Time” - Another ’80s-prom anthem, and I think you have to be a real churl to hate it.
19. “Prelude/Angry Young Man” - That hammered-keyboard intro is one for the ages among show-offy high-school piano students, and the song itself is a slightly more settled guy’s look at his snotty younger self. I like this one, probably more than most people do. I’m guessing that Joel also does because, even though it was never a hit, he still performs it regularly.
This is a signature Joel piece - one he uses regularly to open his shows.
18. "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" - Most fans would put this one much higher on the list. It does have about the purest, cleanest production he ever had. But that whole “Hey, what about me? Why are all those CBGBs acts getting all the love?” attitude is off-putting. It’s saved (of course) by the fact that it’s funny and, here and there, pretty sly (“dance craze / anyways” is a rhyme most people would be afraid to write).
If you listen to this while cruising on the Miracle Mile, move it up 10 notches.
17. “Streetlife Serenader” - Maybe a little too long, and yes, it’s about the emptiness of pop-star-hood — “shoppin’-center heroes” — but, hey, write what you know. A sequel to “Piano Man,” once the protagonist is out of the crummy bar and has a couple of albums under his belt.
16. “The Stranger” - A little self-conscious, a little arty (that whistled intro). On multiple re-listenings, I half-expected to find it annoying, but it’s not. Has aged better than you’d think.
15. “Piano Man” - Scoff if you will, but you’ve probably just heard it too many times. “Real-estate novelist” is a great, vivid three-word characterization. (Although I recently had an argument with someone who claimed that line was junk. I, of course, was correct.)
Add one for every time you've heard this one live.
14. “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” - Poorly recorded — the bass overwhelms it — and the studio cut sounds weak and wan, but underneath all that, there’s a well-wrought pop song in hiding. (He really hated L.A.) Much better in live later recordings, where the piano sounds cleaner, the violins are gone, and he sings it better.
13. “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” - Only the goofy-awkward “heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack” keeps this one out of the top ten. Anthony and Mama Leone and Sergeant O’Leary are New Yorkers of a certain age, people we know well, and this is a fine three-and-a-half-minute radio drama about them.
I disagree here - I think the "ack-ack" are essential to this song and would have pushed it a few notches higher.
12. “All My Life” - The coda to his singer-songwriter career. A mature guy, doing the standards thing — except it’s a standard he wrote himself. No more chip on his shoulder, secure in his talent, out Tony Bennett–ing Tony Bennett. A keeper.
11. “Leave a Tender Moment Alone” - This is a really sweet song that nobody pays attention to. Also, arguably the best vocal recording he ever made: His voice is really supple, midway between his early quavery thing and his later baritone. Holds up, and you should go listen to it again.
10. “The Longest Time” - The most retro song on a retro album, and another affectionate tribute to the doo-wop he heard as a kid. Not profound, but a superior piece of pop craftsmanship. Not the most ambitious song; simple structure, simple lyrics, and there’s nothing bad about it.
9. "I Don't Want to Be Alone" - How’d everyone miss this? It’s an amazingly accurate (and completely unexpected) Elvis Costello pastiche, missing only the organ part. A great next-phase–New Wave pop song, one that deserves to come out of the trunk.
8. “Vienna” - A pretty song, a long metaphor for finding yourself at a crossroads in life, with a nice lilt and a restrained bit of whimsy. Unusually oblique. As a musician I know neatly put it to me the other day, “It’s what I want from him, with few Billy problems.” Cole Porter would have nodded and smiled at a line like “You can get what you want or you can just get old.”
7. “Just the Way You Are” - The straightest of straight-up ballads, I grant you, but this is Billy Joel’s “Yesterday,” and “clevah conversation” makes it all his own, because Long Island.
6. “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” - That date sounded deep in the future back in 1976, didn’t it? New York was, everyone thought, dying; amazing to think that a song could be written from the point of view of a retiree in Florida, remembering when the city collapsed. So he got the future wrong, but something about New Yorkers’ toughness still applies. And wait two years for the be-all-end-all live performance of this one, probably at Sun Life Stadium.
I agree with the author here - I would want to be at the concert in 2017 when this song gets played. Not one you hear a lot on the radio, although one of my favorites
5. “An Innocent Man” - Hard to think of a rock star as an innocent, but he really was — don’t forget that he was repeatedly conned out of millions of dollars by his managers and handlers. Another great vocal performance, on an underrated album that contains several of his best songs.
I like this song, even if he has trouble hitting the high notes anymore
4. "Sleeping With the Television On" - The best Billy Joel song that was never a hit. He still plays it in concert now and then, and has been known to introduce it as “kind of an obscure song”; it shouldn’t be. Clean power, vivid image, supple singing, tight rhythm, well-made, and bulletproof. The TV-sign-off sound effect at the beginning is the only bit of corn here; lop that off and it’s perfect.
3. “New York State of Mind” - Every era produces a couple of standards about New York City, and this one more than holds its own, between Comden and Green on one end and Jay Z and Alicia Keys on the other. Sinatra could’ve recorded it; Tony Bennett did; many others will. Impeccable.
2. “Only the Good Die Young” - None of that sour petulance here; it’s a song by a happy warrior in love and romance. Maybe Catholic girls start much too late, maybe they don’t, but either way, it’s funny as hell.
1. “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” - His longest song — it’s really three songlets, intertwined, a little seven-minute operetta — and, yes, his best. A century from now, if you want a wry but ultimately affectionate look at Long Island middle-class life circa 1976, you could do a lot worse than Brenda and Eddie, their paintings from Sears, and the Parkway Diner.
I can live with this at #1.