The Top 100 Billy Joel Songs

I was driving home from work a couple months ago listening to Billy Joel’s 52nd Street (review forthcoming!), and I thought to myself, “No matter how many times I listen to Billy Joel’s discography, there are always some great songs that I had forgotten about and rediscover.” I am convinced that nobody since 1970 has written more melodic pop than Joel . Most of his many albums are stacked with great tunes, and they provide a compelling portrait of a man in search of meaningful human connections.

Awhile ago, I made a post listing some reasons I consider Joel my favorite musician. But this list provides a simple summary: There are very many good songs by him that I enjoy. In fact, here are 100 of them: specifically, my one hundred favorites, ordered as best as I could. There probably is not another artist or band I could make a list this long for, and there’s probably only a few others that could get a competitive list of 50 from me (The Beatles come to mind).

This ranking is not based on a strict, codified rubric. It’s more of a gut feeling ranking, a summary of the overall effectiveness of the many things that can make Billy Joel songs enjoyable.

I’ve ranked songs based on each song’s best version. I’ve listed which Billy Joel album they first appeared on and, if different, the album containing my favorite rendition.

I’ve excluded instrumentals and covers, because instrumentals and covers are stupid.

Without further ado, my countdown:

EDIT: I made this into a Spotify playlist. It doesn’t have every song (missing 4 tracks off of My Lives, which isn’t on Spotify) and doesn’t have my favorite versions of a few songs, but it’ll do! I added the songs in order from 1 to 100, so they should default sort in to that order.

100. You Can Make Me Free (Cold Spring Harbor, 1971)

This gem is an early-career McCartney impersonation with a strong melody. You can almost hear him listening to “Helter Skelter” before his vocal session.

99. A Room Of Our Own (The Nylon Curtain, 1982)

Best version: 12 Gardens Live, 2006

Joel was never exactly a psychologist, but his take on gender politics paired with an upbeat number proves charming.

98. Leave a Tender Moment Alone (An Innocent Man, 1983)

This sleeper hit shows off Joel’s falsetto aptitude.

97. This is the Time (The Bridge, 1986)

Best version: Live At Shea Stadium (feat. John Mayer), 2008

Any single Joel released became a hit, but this moody ballad’s big success is a bit inexplicable to me — it’s good, but not his most immediate. Some sonic, emotional tension offset its forgettable melody.

96. Nobody Knows But Me (In Harmony 2, 1982)

Available on My Lives, 2005

This song was released on an album of children’s music during Joel’s prime and remained rare until it came out in his box set a few years ago. Too much good stuff here to list in a short paragraph — Joel’s gibberish talk and the, erm, potentially dirty reading of the lyrics are highlights, though.

95. You’re Only Human (Single, 1985)

Billy Joel doesn’t write too many happy songs, which makes You’re Only Human something of an anomaly. The proceeds went to fund teen suicide prevention groups; Joel himself attempted suicide as a young man.

94. Turn Around (Cold Spring Harbor, 1971)

Though Joel hadn’t completely mastered his gift of writing pop melodies when he wrote his first solo album came out, he could still cobble together some impressive songs. This mid-tempo reflection isn’t his catchiest tune, but it’s heartfelt.

93. The Great Wall of China (River of Dreams, 1993)

Best version: 12 Gardens Live, 2006

Joel continued taking small risks throughout his career, and he really stretched himself lyrically for his final album. Though the results were occasionally clunky, the slick tune paired with the allusion-driven lyrics makes Great Wall of China compelling.

92. A Matter of Trust (The Bridge, 1986)

No, no, no, Billy. You’re the piano man, not the guitar man. Regardless, this is a pleasant ballad.

91. The Great Suburban Showdown (Streetlife Serenade, 1974)

I think this is the life Joel imagines he could have had if he didn’t become a musician: hazy, routine, nostalgic, simple. It’s, of course, a vision that does not feel lived in or organic, as it is imagined, but it’s a good melody and an interesting portrait.

90. She’s Right on Time (The Nylon Curtain, 1982)

Best version: 12 Gardens Live, 2006

Joel never released a Christmas song, in part because he’s Jewish and in part out of spite. (Has there ever been anyone more suited to tackle the Christmas standards? If you don’t think he can handle standards, listen to his incredible When You Wish Upon a Star.) The closest he ever came was a live version of “Auld Lang Syne” and this song, which mentions Christmas lights. That’s as deep as the holiday connection runs in any Joel recording.

89. Stop in Nevada (Piano Man, 1973)

Much of the Piano Man album is about disintegrating relationships. Stop in Nevada chronicles a woman’s abrupt ejection from a romance. While most of his songs tend to take the perspective of the sad sack guy, Stop in Nevada puts us in the woman’s shoes and defends her flight.

88. A Minor Variation (River of Dreams, 1993)

The melody of this song bores me compared to most of his songs, but I freaking love the lyrics. Joel aimed too lofty and abstract for most of his final album, but this song is an exception. Joel sounds like a battle-scarred warrior putting up his last fight. “I’m getting to the point where I don’t  feel the pain” — “Don’t even hurt, it’s all a part of a pattern” — stuff’s brutal.

87. Streetlife Serenader (Streetlife Serenade, 1973)

Best version: Songs in the Attic, 1981

The melody is a bit bland, but the live interpretation is appropriately haunting.

86. All For Leyna (Glass Houses, 1980)

Great downbeat song about obsessed love off of a fantastic album.

85. Get it Right the First Time (The Stranger, 1977)

Joel’s obsession with escaping loneliness borders on paranoia here as he struggles with making good first impressions with the people he meets.

84. That’s Not Her Style (Storm Front, 1989)

Weirdly defensive (was the celebrity rumor mill really that cruel to Joel’s wife Christie Brinkley?) but catchy beyond reason. This could easily have been Joel’s biggest smash on the album.

83. C’etait Toi (Glass Houses, 1980)

Glass Houses is a big homage to Rubber Soul, and C’etait Toi is a cross between Michelle and Norwegian Wood, notably mixing French into the lyrics like the former.

82. Scandanavian Skies (The Nylon Curtain, 1982)

This eerie tune is a fan favorite and achieved minor success as a single. The latter half of the song evokes A Day in the Life pretty strongly.

81. Oyster Bay (Demo, ca. 1972)

Available on My Lives, 2005

This demo from Joel’s early years would have fit beautifully on the Piano Man album. In fact, it’s better than a few of the tracks that actually made the cut.

80. James (Turnstiles, 1976)

Joel turned everything he touched to gold during the mid to late ’70s. This simple heart-tugger written to a friend who chose a 9-to-5 over the road is fleshed out with some nice keyboard work.

79. Big Man on Mulberry Street (The Bridge, 1986)

“Why can’t I lay low? / Why can’t I say what I mean?” wonders Joel in the opening lines. He spends the next five minutes neither laying low — employing bombastic production and instrumentation — nor saying what he means.

78. Money or Love (Demo, 1989)

Available on My Lives, 2005

This demo from 1989 is one of the few unreleased tracks from late in Joel’s career that actually meets or surpasses the quality of the tracks that made the albums. Joel has been pretty good about getting his best songs on his albums.

77. Los Angelenos (Streetlife Serenade, 1973)

Best version: Songs in the Attic, 1981

Somehow, Joel makes Los Angeles seem hugely dull, which I don’t think was the intention. Still, in the correct live setting with an excellent drummer, the tune is surprisingly high-energy.

76. Modern Woman (The Bridge, 1986)

Though it exemplifies the production excesses that marred The Bridge and other late albums, as well as encapsulating some of Joel’s most shallow lyrics, Modern Woman excels with a propulsive melody and dynamic vocal performance from Joel.

75. Last of the Big Time Spenders (Streetlive Serenade, 1973)

A fine country-tinged ballad.

74. Easy Money (An Innocent Man, 1983)

Joel rarely delivered more dynamic vocal performances than he did throughout An Innocent Man, and Easy Money is one of its standouts.

73. Two Thousand Years (River of Dreams, 1993)

Best version: 2000 Years – The Millennium Concert, 2000

Joel’s vision of utopia (colored, perhaps too blatantly, by Imagine) is admirable but a bit silly. Fortunately, it’s backed with strong tune, which he brings to life in the excellent live recording.

72. If I Only Had the Words (Piano Man, 1973)

One recurring theme through Joel’s two decades of music is his struggle to meaningfully communicate and connect with other people, and this early song is perhaps his most direct confrontation with that theme. He at least ends it on a sweet, albeit defeated, note: “But I only have these arms to hold you / And it’s all that you can ask of any man”

71. The Downeaster “Alexa” (Storm Front, 1989)

This small hit honored the independent fishermen of the northeast with a folk tune that evokes waves crashing on the side of a boat. Not a lot of fun, but it’s a strong and mostly well-written number (though I still hate the line “I was a bay man like my father was before / You can’t make a living as a bay man anymore”).

70. Zanzibar (52nd Street, 1978)

Joel worked hard to integrate jazz into his follow-up to The Stranger. Zanzibar is perhaps the strangest example of this, mixing some unconventional chords and boppy solos into a song with an otherwise straightforward pop structure.

69. Keeping the Faith (An Innocent Man, 1983)

Dopey, but fun.

68. All About Soul (River of Dreams, 1993)

Billy Joel poured his, well, soul into this song. It’s a hearfelt love letter to Christie Brinkley, and Joel writes treacle well. It’s nice to hear him sound really fulfilled in a relationship after two decades of Sisyphian romantic struggles.

67. Travelin’ Prayer (Piano Man, 1973)

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Joel led off the Piano Man album with this song. The blue grass ditty is very charming, but kind of an anomaly of a song — not really a track I’d use to lure people into listening to the rest of the album because it’s so different from what follows.

66. The Night Is Still Young (Single, 1985)

Best version: 12 Gardens Live, 2006

I’m indifferent to the studio recording, but the live version is something of a revelation: a battle cry for love, almost. Solid late-era Joel.

65. An Innocent Man (An Innocent Man, 1983)

Best version: 12 Gardens Live, 2006

A slightly whiny but impressive ballad that crescendos nicely. It features fantastic vocal work by Joel in both the live and studio versions. I love the snapping in the background – it’s the song’s signature flourish.

64. Christie Lee (An Innocent Man, 1983)

Best version: Demo from My Lives, 2005

This strong upbeat number was written directly to his then-girlfriend, later-wife Christie Brinkley. In 2005, Joel released a fantastic demo of the song that features a Fats Domino-esque piano line and awesome sax work.

63. No Man’s Land (River of Dreams,1993)

No Man’s Land is a good representative of the rest of Joel’s ’93 album: Ambitious, lofty, and melodic if a bit clunky in the lyrics department. Still, No Man’s Land shines with propulsive instrumentation and a dramatic vocal interpretation.

62. Goodnight Saigon (The Nylon Curtain, 1982)

Good for Joel for chronicling the life of a Vietnam soldier in a highly dramatic, occasionally moving, opus of a song. Others might rank this song a bit higher, but I have to be in a patient mood to sit through all seven mopey minutes.

61. Through the Long Night (Glass Houses, 1980)

A short and beautiful song about a wounded lover that caps off the tremendous Glass Houses.

60. Everybody Has a Dream (The Stranger, 1977)

Joel closes his signature album with a statement of one of its dominant themes: The dream of escaping your humble circumstances. Backed with a gospel organ, it’s a stunner ballad.

59. Close to the Borderline (Glass Houses, 1980)

Billy Joel’s Elvis Costello impression mostly just comes across as mean-spirited, but the tune is catchier and more energetic than just about anything Costello ever recorded.

58. Ain’t No Crime (Piano Man, 1973)

This early Joel standout has hints of honky tonk and gospel in it. It’s a sad song about being a no-good lout that features a soulful performance from Joel.

57. All You Wanna Do Is Dance (Turnstiles, 1976)

Every song on Turnstiles is good, including this slightly silly Reggae-infused song that gently chides a party animal.

56. You’re My Home (Piano Man, 1973)

Best version: Songs in the Attic, 1981

One of Joel’s warmest ballads came on his second album. He was still developing as a lyricist, but the tune is fully formed, and the live rendition is downright cozy.

55. Running on Ice (The Bridge, 1986)

One of the better tracks on Joel’s worst album pairs lyrics about getting drowned in modernity with background sounds of tools and modern technology creeping in on Joel’s life. It works well, and is buoyed by the urgent piano backdrop and strong melody.

54. Laura (The Nylon Curtain, 1982)

Sexual antagonism pulses through the veins of this jaded number. This song is notable in part of it’s blatant use of “fucking” in the bridge.

53. We Didn’t Start the Fire (Storm Front, 1989)

Repetitive, idiotic concept, overlong… yet completely ingratiating.

52. Until the Night (52nd Street, 1978)

Joel tucked this stunner of a ballad near the end of 52nd Street. It’s a huge, emotional ballad about postponed love, and it works very well.

51. Sleeping With the Television On (Glass Houses, 1980)

Glass Houses is practically a concept album about the games people play with each other’s hearts. In Sleeping With the Television On, Joel warns a woman that she may end up alone if she doesn’t stop playing them.

50. Half a Mile Away (52nd Street, 1978)

This was a surprising non-single from Joel’s prime. It’s catchy as hell, with an awesome horn part and a memorable refrain.

49. Weekend Song (Streetlife Serenade, 1974)

This honky-tonk singalong from Joel’s country-tinged album is one of his great forgotten gems.

48. The Ballad of Billy the Kid (Piano Man, 1973)

Best version: Songs in the Attic, 1981

A silly, self-mythologizing song that is strongly Copland-inspired. It’s fun enough, and well-performed enough live, to overcome its faux-western premise.

47. This Night (An Innocent Man, 1983)

This is the only song on this list not credited exclusively to Joel, as he lists Beethoven as a co-writer; the melody of the song is ripped from a part of Pathetique. Critics panned the premise and the song, but I disagree; The tune-borrowing is a side note, integrated smoothly without making the song feel novelty or any less “real.” The emotional, throwback ballad explodes into a sax solo and key change that give me chills every time.

46. Leningrad (Storm Front, 1989)

One of Joel’s best “story” songs recounts the life of a Soviet soldier turned circus clown. It presents a nice portrait of a man who finds a way to make a small difference in a brutal world.

45. Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway) (Turnstiles, 1976)

Best version: Songs in the Attic, 1981

This bizarre apocalyptic tale is made great in its explosive live rendition.

44. I’ve Loved These Days (Turnstiles, 1976)

Best version: Songs in the Attic, 1981

When Joel moved back home from California, he wrote this beautiful farewell.

43. Honesty (52nd Street, 1978)

Emotionally charged ballad or self-pitying indulgence? A lot of both.

42. Allentown (The Nylon Curtain, 1982)

This sympathetic portrait of a Pennsylvania mining community is catchy and astutely observed.

41. Shameless (Storm Front, 1989)

Is it really a surprise that Joel writes a lights-out power ballad?

40. The Stranger (The Stranger, 1977)

This near-Gothic number probes Joel’s inner monster that he hides from the world. The beautiful piano solo that bookends the song adds to the gravitas. It’s hard not to feel like you’re sitting in Joel’s confession booth when you listen to The Stranger.

39. All My Life (Single, 2006)

Joel briefly relapsed from retirement in 2006, thirteen years after calling it quits, to release this Tony Bennett-esque song. It’s the lone song he has written, recorded, and released in the past 20 years. Who would have thought he’d write one of his best ballads at age 57?

38. Cross to Bear (Demo, ca. 1972)

Available on: My Lives, 2005

My favorite demo that Joel never released on a studio album comes from a smattering of recordings written between Cold Spring Harbor and Piano Man that are rooted heavily in gospel piano. The album that Joel eventually put out from these writing sessions was strongly produced and thus lost the raw sound of just vocals and piano you hear in the excellent demos. It’s a shame this song never made the cut for a full album, because it’s beautiful.

37. I Don’t Want to Be Alone (Glass Houses, 1980)

A catchy song about a couple hooking up despite their uncertainties at the matching. It’s possible to read this song as either cute or kind of depressing. Given the rest of the Joel’s work, I’m inclined to go with the latter.

36. Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) (River of Dreams, 1993)

As powerful as any song Joel ever recorded, Lullabye elegantly discusses two types of goodnights at once: tucking in his daughter at night and The Big Sleep. Joel wrote it when Alexa Ray, his little girl, started asking big questions about death and God.

35. Sometimes a Fantasy (Glass Houses, 1980)

Best song ever written about phone sex hot lines?

34. Tell Her About It (An Innocent Man, 1983)

This was one of Joel’s three number one singles during his career. And it’s a good one; it perfects the upbeat, throwback premise of the album.

33. I Go To Extremes (Storm Front, 1989)

This workhorse of a pop song features some of Joel’s most virtuosic piano work.

32. Uptown Girl (An Innocent Man, 1983)

One of Joel’s most fondly-remembered (and radio-played) singles mimics The Four Seasons-style pop with great execution.

31. Worse Comes to Worst (Piano Man, 1973)

Best version: Demo, ca. 1972 (available on My Lives, 2005)

Showing both Joel’s pessimism and his romanticism, this early-career gem witnesses Joel’s writing beginning to mature. The demo of this song that Joel released in 2005 surpasses the oddly-produced studio version with naked emotion and stunning piano and vocal work.

30. The River of Dreams (River of Dreams, 1993)

Joel swears the melody to this song came to him in his dreams. I believe it: the tune is a blend of angelic and spunky, while the lyrics discuss Joel’s forays into the subconscious on mystical terms. He tinkered and tinkered with the mix, so you can find several versions of it online or on foreign presses. Each one has the song’s memorable gospel edge.

29. Baby Grand (feat. Ray Charles) (The Bridge, 1986)

If Joel tries hard to make his vocal performance sound bluesy, you can’t blame him. This was a moment he’d been dreaming for his whole life. He lured none other than his idol, Ray Charles, to join him in a duet he penned. The tribute to to his baby grand piano is a perfect composition for these two artists, both defined in large part by their groundbreaking pop work on the instrument.

28. It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me (Glass Houses, 1980)

Best version: 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert, 2000

Joel has released two spins on this song: The studio original, where Joel sounds cool and detached, as if he’s trying to prove a point. That version is paired with a staccato production and sounds slick, almost slight. The version I prefer is found in any of Joel’s live sets: Slowed down, touched up with guitar, and loosened. Here, it sounds like a pop-rock gem and one of Joel’s hardest-hitting songs.

27. Pressure (The Nylon Curtain, 1982)

Experience the anxiety of the dark side of Joel’s psyche in one of his most bitter songs. The most unforgettable aspect of the song is background keyboard, which sounds almost gleeful and Satanic.

26. Big Shot (52nd Street, 1978)

What I love most about Big Shot is the dynamic vocal performance. The composition is not Joel’s most melodic, but he knocks it out of the park with a near-perfect studio recording.

25. Prelude/Angry Young Man (Turnstiles, 1976)

Angry Young Man is perhaps the most apt psychoanalysis of Billy Joel ever written. The first-person lyrics show how Joel sees himself, and the third-person lyrics show how he really is. If you want to understand the man behind the music in about six minutes, listen to this song.

24. Where’s the Orchestra (The Nylon Curtain, 1982)

It’s a thinly-veiled metaphor, but a heartbreaking one. Life is an elaborate show, and Joel can’t seem to find an integral piece of it: the joy and color of it all.

23. The Entertainer (Streetlife Serenade, 1974)

This brutal takedown of the music industry — everyone, from the labels to the artists to the fans, receives some bile — foreshadowed the love-hate relationship Joel would have with show business for the next 40 years.

22. Rosalinda’s Eyes (52nd Street, 1978)

Joel’s most underrated ballad has a light Latin jazz flavor to it, a fantastic melody, and some of Joel’s most heartwarming lines. Writing about his parent’s romance — his mother’s name was Rosalind — Joel composed my favorite lyric ever about beautiful eyes: “I can always find my Cuban skies / in Rosalinda’s eyes”

21. Just the Way You Are (The Stranger, 1977)

The prototypical radio ballad.

20. Stiletto (52nd Street, 1978)

Several of the songs on 52nd Street integrate sounds or riffs from a specific style of jazz. The most successful example of this is the boogie-woogie in Stiletto: It makes Stiletto sound completely unique and energetic. Paired with some clever lyrics and an excellent vocal performance, Joel’s arrangement elevates Stiletto to one of his best songs.

19. Tomorrow is Today (Cold Spring Harbor, 1971)

Best version: Live April 1972 At Sigma Sound Studios, Piano Man Legacy Edition, 2011

This song was adapted from a suicide note Joel wrote before drinking a bottle of furniture polish in 1970. Of course, his attempt at poisoning himself failed, and Joel shared with us this penetrative look at the depression that fueled much of his music. It’s a shame the song has largely faded into obscurity, because it’s one of the most moving songs Joel ever wrote.

18. And So It Goes (Storm Front, 1989)

Best version: 12 Gardens Live, 2006

And So It Goes was written around the time most of the songs on An Innocent Man were. While many of those songs sound like they were written for easy money, And So It Goes is entirely reluctant and pensive, written about his struggle to open up to his unlikely sweetheart, then-teenager Elle Macpherson. Joel released a studio recording of the song in 1989, the original demo in 2005, and a stunning live rendition that Joel used as a concert-closer in 2006.

17. Movin’ Out (The Stranger, 1977)

Hint: Anthony is Billy Joel. Almost all of Joel’s signature songs are at least obliquely autobiographic. Reading into it, Movin’ Out is a proclamation that The Stranger is an attempt at a major break out. Whaddya know; it worked. This song sets an astronomic bar of well-produced, melodic pop for the rest of the album.

16. Souvenir (Streetlife Serenade, 1974)

Best version: Live in Carnegie Hall 1977, The Stranger 30 Year Anniversary Edition, 2007

This two minute track was Joel’s trademark closing track for concerts, and it’s not hard to see why. The melancholy ballad has a finality to it that haunts you down to your core and epitomizes Joel’s struggle to find meaning in every day.

15. Everybody Loves You Now (Cold Spring Harbor, 1971)

This is actually the only song on the superior live collection Songs in the Attic that I prefer in its studio incarnation. Live, this song warms up a bit, but the icy, dramatic reading on Joel’s debut album sticks with me. The way Joel pauses the piano backdrop before the line “so do I” is one of my favorite moments in music.

14. Only the Good Die Young (The Stranger, 1977)

Featuring perhaps Joel’s most irrepressible melody, Only the Good Die Young drew lots of controversy with the way it spits in the eye of Catholic sexual politics. But I hear the song on the radio often enough that I can safely conclude that time has been kinder to the melody-mastery of the song than its pot-stirring, pro-lust lyrics.

13. Say Goodbye to Hollywood (Turnstiles, 1976)

Best version: Songs in the Attic, 1981

Boom. Boom-boom. Crash! If you’re a fan of ’60s pop, you instantly recognize this as the “Be My Baby” beat. Joel appropriates it as something of a battle march, as he kisses off the “heavy machine” of California show business that he hoped would be his breakthrough.

12. Don’t Ask Me Why (Glass Houses, 1980)

One of Joel’s finest bits of pop alchemy, Don’t Ask Me Why is backed by a Latin rhythm and instrumentation. Several music writers have described the song as “McCartney-esque,” and it’s not hard to see why: There’s a zaniness and effortless sonic energy that sounds like it’s straight from a mid/late-Beatles album.

11. Piano Man (Piano Man, 1973)

In a more honest world, Joel might be known as The Melody Man or The Dynamic Vocals Man or The Aimlessly Alone Man. But then if he had pulled off his suicide attempt a few years earlier, he wouldn’t be a famous Man at all. For every sin the song commits — the most major in my eye, I regret to admit, are vastly eclipsing the rest of Joel’s work and giving him a semi-dumb nickname/brand — it has a line or moment or flourish which is beautiful and unforgettable (“They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness / But it’s better than drinking alone”).

10. New York State of Mind (Turnstiles, 1976)

It would be fair to say the lyrics of New York State of Mind don’t do much to illuminate why Joel love The Big Apple. But the busy, bewitching piano backdrop conveys a passion for metropolitan chaos. If there’s a reason Joel should be known as The Piano Man, it’s this track.

9. She’s Always a Woman (The Stranger, 1977)

“She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes” is about as great a lyric as Joel ever wrote, but most of the song matches it. His jaded take on women as bitter, childlike, seductive — and ultimately able to “bring out the best and the worst you can be” — goes down smooth with one of Joel’s gentlest arrangements.

8. She’s Got a Way (Cold Spring Harbor, 1971)

Best version: Songs in the Attic, 1981

Probably the most stark indicator that Joel developed his craft over the years is She’s Got a Way. The difference between the studio version and the Songs in the Attic live recording ten years later is tremendous: The former is cold and unconvincing, while the latter illuminates the song as one of Joel’s best and most heartfelt.

7. My Life (52nd Street, 1978)

Joel’s pen had the magic touch in the late seventies. The lead single and best song off of 52nd Street chronicles one of Joel’s complaints about his new superstardom: everyone wanting to meddle with and participate in his own life. A few stylistic twists — a background choir, a breakdown three minutes into the song, and a compelling piano riff — blend perfectly into the composition.

6. Summer, Highland Falls (Turnstiles, 1976)

Long before Billy Joel “went to extremes,” he struggled to find some middle ground between “sadness and euphoria,” stuck in his own mental hell. This poetic ballad features a serene melody and perhaps Joel’s most eloquent take on his lifelong struggle for intimate connection.

5. The Longest Time (An Innocent Man, 1983)

The idea behind The Longest Time — looping tapes to turn Joel into a one-man doo-wop band from the late ’50s — might have come across as a gimmick if the composition wasn’t so gorgeous. The creative risk of marrying a great piece of writing with a distinct style pays off great dividends, though. The Longest Time is, simply, the prettiest song Joel ever recorded.

4. You May Be Right (Glass Houses, 1980)

Best version: 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert, 2000

Joel’s best radio rocker is as melodic as it is fun, as punchy as it is indecipherable (“Remember how I met you there / alone in your electric chair?”). The memorable refrain — “You may be right / I may be crazy / But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for” — is fantastic by every metric. And the live versions loosen the tune into a downright masterpiece of pop-rock.

3. Captain Jack (Piano Man, 1973)

Best version: Songs in the Attic, 1981

Here’s what I wrote six months ago:

I think of “Captain Jack” as Billy Joel’s version of Dante’s “Inferno,” a spiraling, eight-stanza descent into his darkest demons and addictions. But unlike Dante, Joel refuses to fully reject the sin and temptation he observes.

Joel purges all that suffering in his crown jewel live recording, a harrowing cut off his first concert collection. Joel’s been face to face with suicide, and he lets you know how serious he is that “Captain Jack can make you die tonight.” It’s not for Joel beginners or for those that prefer his lighter side, but it’s hard to rate Captain Jack as anything less than one of his greatest achievements.

2. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (The Stranger, 1977)

This king-sized New York tribute is a four-part reflection on growing up — more specifically, peaking too early: 1) scene of youth in the present, 2) scene of youth reminisced long past, 3) scenes of the tragic transition in between, and 4) a reprise of the first scene. Each of these excellent mini-songs is woven together by some of the best performances and arrangements on any Billy Joel song — most memorably the “my sweet romantic teenage nights” interlude at 2:20 that connects part two and part three.

1. Vienna (The Stranger, 1977)

It’s Joel’s Little Wing or In My Life – a sweet, small song that is infinitely satisfying. The song originates from an encounter Joel had with his father in Austria. Joel began to see Vienna the city as a metaphor for lots of things: aging, crossroads, forgiveness, contentment, serenity, eternity — a vision he desperately wanted to capture. You can hear his “cosmic rationale” in every line of his finest piece of writing. The vaguely central European flourishes (piano runs, touches of strings, accordion solo) add to the feel; the sound of this album track is mystical, almost ethereal. Perhaps strangest of all for Joel, Vienna is an ultimately optimistic song. So many of his songs are about struggling to navigate the challenges of his life and relationships; Vienna is his affirmation that they eventually lead somewhere good.

Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

32 thoughts on “The Top 100 Billy Joel Songs

  1. A great list – I’ll never do my own top 100 so I can’t compare. But listening to Cold Spring Harbor again just now I got the same goosebumps I always get when hearing, “Got To Begin Again.” I’m surprised it didn’t make your top 100 somewhere … not sure where, but surely it beats “You’re only Human” 😉

    • Thanks for the comment, Andy. There’s a whole pack of Billy Joel songs around the tier of Got to Begin Again that I like for different reasons, and only some of them could make the list. I’m having a hard time remembering why I chose the likes of This is the Time above it, though. I agree that it’s a great composition and my only beef is the somewhat plain recording that typified Cold Spring Harbor, as I brought up in my review of the album.

  2. Hello. Towards the end of Only the good dye young, the horn section plays a very nice melody.
    (C,C,F,C,D,A# C,C,E,G,A,F,C,A,G) There was a cigarette commercial- I believe tareyton cigarettes, from around 1969-71 that used that melody almost note for note. Is there anyone that might remember that and have a video or audio clip? Thank you.

  3. Well done on taking the time to compile your top 100 Joel songs and to review Billy’s albums but I have to say I disagree with almost every word you wrote.

  4. Hey Man, I was in the middle of compiling a top 70 (for a spotify playlist for myself) Billy Joel list and was looking for some inspiration when I stumbled across this. First of all, just wanted to say, good job, awesome and comprehensive list. Also, you got my numbers one and two the same, so that’s cool. The only stark omission that I see here and feel the need to mention to you is that “Travelin’ Prayer” is no where on the list. That song is firmly in my top 20 (number fifteen as of now, though I haven’t finished yet. I was just wondering your thoughts on the song and why you don’t have a place for it on your top 100 (also, Leave a Tender Moment Alone is my number three, but at least you have it on here).

    Really cool list dude, thanks for the good read

    • Hey Stevie – Thanks for the comment, man! I’m going to send you an e-mail, because I want to see your list.

      I actually do have Travelin’ Prayer on here – #67, definitely a solid track. I was listening to “Tender Moment” the other day and thinking that I might underrate it. If I ever re-make the list, expect it to be a few spots higher than #98.

      Cheers!

  5. I agree that Vienna is the best song Joel has ever written, but New York State of Mind didn’t make your list? C’mon man.

  6. Great compliation! Just wanted to add my .02. What about Bonde over Blue and The Mexican Connection? Both worthy f at least top 50?

  7. I really enjoyed reviewing your Top 100 Billy Joel songs. I read through each from #100 to #1 I wish I could express myself as eloquently as you did. Your knowledge of Billy Joel’s music goes way beyond your years. I am only guessing by the photos of you. I have used some of your material in compiling a list on a site
    http://www.whichblank areyou.com I created a Which Billy Joel song are you? (personality quiz) I just wanted to drop you a line to acquknolwede your work.

  8. I love that somebody else appreciates the beauty in Vienna. I actually just got “Vienna waits for you” tattooed on my foot, every step I take will hopefully be leading me to my own Vienna! I am also thankful that “where’s the orchestra” made the list. The Nylon Curtain may be one of my favorite albums he’s made. I will have to look for your playlist on spotify!

    • “Vienna” is a damn masterpiece. I love that tattoo idea — very cool. Nylon Curtain is an album I’ve appreciated more and more as I’ve gotten older. Thanks for commenting!

  9. I love about 90% of this list. I’m glad you ranked “Summer, Highland Falls” so high. I agree its one of his best non-single songs.

  10. Billy Joel is seriously an idol of mine. He is incredibly real, and every song of his reflects that. I love every album, and that each one has a specific feel. He’s always playing in my car, and my friends and family can hardly stand it. I dream of seeing him in concert before he stops performing, but decent seats are unrealistic price wise (especially since I wouldn’t want to go alone). Hopefully I get the chance in my life.
    I have decided that I want to get a Billy Joel tattoo – as in a fairly small one with a lyrical phase of about 15 words. The problem is, I can’t decide what lyric. I want to make an excel sheet of every song written by him, and then systematically go through each song’s lyrics and find potential contenders. So, I am wondering if anyone has a list of every song he ever produced? I don’t want to go through every album and type them in if I can avoid it.

    • I went to a Billy Joel concert by myself (though I did bump into some friends there) and had an absolutely great time, but I don’t blame you — tickets are pricey, at least $50 at just about every show.

      I do have a text document that claims to have every Billy Joel lyric. I’ll email it to you.

  11. Very impressive list, Dan! Thanks for putting it together. As for my feedback, I agree Vienna is one of his best, but I would probably not rank You May Be Right and She’s Got A Way quite as high (and the latter is not nearly as good as She’s Always a Woman, IMHO). And while An Innocent Man is a bit long, I would rank it in my top 30; I think #65 is too low.

  12. Great list and explanations Dan. The melodies that came out of this guy were amazingly good, and you can listen to them over and over.

    I think the only additions I would have on my list would be:

    – Got to begin again (cold spring harbor) – hauntingly sad and beautiful song about breaking up.
    – Nocturne (cold spring harbor) – I know you did not include instrumentals, but I think this is one of his most beautiful melodies and it says more to me than some of his other songs with lyrics (I think there is a demo version somewhere out there with words)
    – Blonde over Blue (River of Dreams) – One of the best melodic songs from that album IMHO
    – Siegfried line (Demo, My lives) – great story song and surprisingly catchy melody the more you listen
    – Long long time (demo, search on youtube) – great very early song from Billy, really showed the serious talent he had at a young age

    As far as the top 5 list, mine would be pretty close to yours:

    1) Vienna
    2) She’s always a woman
    3) Longest Time
    4) My Life
    5) Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

    Thanks so much!

  13. Just thought I’d check this out as I am trying to learn how to play some Joel tunes on piano. Thanks for putting this together. Vienna was the first song I learned, and I play it almost every day from memory. In addition to what he’s said on record about the inspiration from meeting his father in Austria, I also kind of interpret Vienna as an homage to all the famous burnouts of musical history (especially Mozart), and yes, of course, partially autobiographical given his failed suicide. Not to mention the little musical ornaments and overall chord structure that connects modern pop songs to 300 previous years of musical history. A great little piece of music!

    Something else worth noting about #54… I believe Billy Joel admitted in a recent interview that “Laura” was actually about his mother (he had previously been vague about that, for good reason). Re-listening to it with this in mind brings an entirely new level of emotion to the song. Very dark and haunting tune.

    Again, thanks for the list!

  14. I agree with you about Vienna. Definitely a top 5 BJ song. What’s interesting is that this song didn’t make it into any of his greatest hits or Essentials compilations. Go figure.

    • I too thought this strange. I think there is big difference between a Billy Joel fan and a casual fan, of which compilations are made for.

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