It’s been only a month since the 41st anniversary of Billy Joel’s most impactful album release, “The Stranger.” To celebrate that accomplishment, and one of the defining artists of a generation, here is a countdown of my top five favorite Billy Joel songs. If you haven’t heard any of these, give them a listen. If you disagree with this top five let us know. That’s half the fun!
By Daniel Mosakewicz
5. Vienna (The Stranger 1977)
“Vienna”is one of those songs that everyone, especially college students, should hear at least once in their life. It’s a beautiful three and a half minute piece about how life doesn’t have to be lived at a the brutally fast pace we often force ourselves to go at. Full of wisdom from a culture far different from our own, Joel was inspired from the song while visiting his father in the city of the same name. All of that purpose packaged into beautiful, heart pulling piano, and you have a masterpiece. So “slow down you crazy child,” relax, and be take the time to immerse yourself in “Vienna.”
4. The Ballad of Billy the Kid (Piano Man 1973)
From an album the would have many defining pieces for a young Joel, this piece stands out for both its ability to give a dramatic western feel with a piano, as well as Joel’s well documented ability to tell a story through song. The magic is in the last few lines, connecting the legacy of Billy the Kid to a boy from Long Island, which just so happens to be where Joel grew up. While some assume the song is autobiographical, Joel has denied this claim (though few really believe him). Regardless, the song still argues that the legacy of the young gun, the renegade, is alive and well. It’s quite the dramatic idea, and one that really makes the song well worth considering and exploring.
3. Miami 2017 (I’ve Seen the Lights go out on Broadway) (Turnstiles 1976)
It should come of no surprise that a song beginning with far out sirens should be one of Joel’s most haunting and powerful works. It has some of the best piano in all of his career, and certainly some of his most challenging lyrics. The protagonist sings of how he saw “the lights go out on Broadway,” a slow process that creeps up on the city with no one noticing until it was to late. He’s not sparing in the acts that come before, saying “they burned the churches up in Harlem,” and “they turned our power down, and drove us underground.” Altogether it’s beautiful, powerful, and absolutely terrifying, a snapshot to what could happen if we don’t look out for one another, and the things we find beautiful. It’s a reminder that nothing we build is guaranteed to last.
2. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (The Stranger 1977)
“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” is just one of those songs that once you hear it, and really listen to it, you can’t unhear it. Everything in this song is fantastic, from the layered storytelling, Joel’s amazing voice, to the downright magical combination of piano and jazz. It’s the story of a man meeting his ex wife in an Italian restaurant, and telling the story of two young lovers the pair knew back in highschool. What’s truly intriguing is that the song is more about divorce than it is about love. The song is a combination of three distinct parts, and is mixed together seamlessly with soulbinding music that complements the story perfectly. This piece deserves its place as one of Joel’s masterpieces, but for me that title goes to…….
1. Piano Man (Piano Man 1973)
This is the song that defines Joel as an artist. It’s a piece centered around his piano, both musically and in its story. The song, based off of Joel’s own experiences, tells of the patrons of a late night bar all coming in to hear the Piano Man play, and help them forget about their problems. Not really acknowledged until later in his career, the song has now become Joel’s concert closer, and the song he is most known for. So if you’re feeling down, or you don’t know what to listen to, find this song, and let the Piano Man sing you a song, and make you feel alright.