Top 20 Billy Joel Songs

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"Piano Man" (1973)

Billy Joel Piano Man
Billy Joel - "Piano Man". Courtesy Columbia

"Piano Man" was Billy Joel's first song to break into the pop top 40. It is a fictional version of Billy Joel's experiences as a piano player and lounge singer for six months at the Executive Room in Los Angeles. The characters in the song are all based on real people. The line, "the waitress is practicing politics," refers to his first wife Elizabeth Weber. "Piano Man" peaked at #25 on the US pop chart and went to #4 on the adult contemporary chart. After the success of Billy Joel's album The Stranger in 1977, "Piano Man" experienced a resurgence in popularity and remains one of the most popular songs in Billy Joel's repertoire.

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"Just the Way You Are" (1977)

Billy Joel Just the Way You Are
Billy Joel - "Just the Way You Are". Courtesy Columbia

"Just the Way You Are" was a breakthrough hit single for Billy Joel. The lead single from his fifth studio album The Stranger, it became his first pop top 10 hit peaking at #3. It went on to win Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The song was inspired by Billy Joel's first wife Elizabeth Weber. After the pair split up, he rarely performed the song live for over a decade. The single version released was a minute shorter than the version on the album and leaves out a verse. Billy Joel performed "Just the Way You Are" live as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live. It went all the way to #1 on the adult contemporary chart.

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"She's Always a Woman" (1977)

Billy Joel She's Always a Woman
Billy Joel - "She's Always a Woman". Courtesy Columbia

"She's Always a Woman" is a song about loving a woman not in spite of her quirks and flaws but because of them. Billy Joel says he was influenced by singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot in writing the song. He wrote it for his then wife Elizabeth Weber. They divorced in 1982. It was released as a single from Billy Joel's album The Stranger. "She's Always a Woman" peaked at #17 on the pop chart but went all the way to #2 on the adult contemporary chart. "She's Always a Woman" became a top 10 pop hit in the UK in 2010 when it was recorded by Fyfe Dangerfield for use in a TV ad by the department store John Lewis.

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"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" (1977)

Billy Joel The Stranger
Billy Joel - The Stranger. Courtesy Columbia

According to Billy Joel, Anthony in his song "Movin' Out" is not based on a specific real person but instead a pastiche of Irish, Polish, and Italian kids he knew growing up. The song is a satire on the upwardly mobile aspirations of blue collar New Yorkers. The song gave its title to the Broadway musical Movin' Out based on Billy Joel's songs. It ran for over 1300 performances on Broadway from 2002 through 2005. "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" peaked at #14 on the pop chart in the US.

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"My Life" (1978)

Billy Joel 52nd Street
Billy Joel 52nd Street. Courtesy Columbia

"My Life" was released as the first single from Billy Joel's album 52nd Street. It is a song about personal independence and climbed to #3 on the pop singles chart. It also reached #2 on the adult contemporary chart. The album 52nd Street was Billy Joel's first to hit #1 on the album chart. It also earned two Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance.

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"Big Shot" (1979)

Billy Joel Big Shot
Billy Joel - "Big Shot". Courtesy Columbia

"Big Shot" is the second single released from Billy Joel's album 52nd Street. Rumors persisted for many years that the song was inspired by a date with Bianca Jagger, but Billy Joel denied that story. Instead he said he did have dinner with the couple Mick and Bianca Jagger, and he wrote the song thinking about what Mick might sing to Bianca. Among the cultural references in the song are the bar and restaurant Elaine's on the upper east side of Manhattan and fashion designer Halston. "Big Shot" peaked at #14 on the pop singles chart.

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"You May Be Right" (1980)

Billy Joel You May Be Right
Billy Joel - "You May Be Right". Courtesy Columbia

"You May Be Right" opens Billy Joel's album Glass Houses with the sound of breaking glass. It is one of the most rock-oriented of his hit singles. The song makes the case for the narrator's insanity perhaps being just what is needed in a relationship. "You May Be Right" climbed to #7 on the pop chart. The rock edge prevented it from climbing any higher than #38 on the adult contemporary chart. The album Glass Houses was released three days after the single and reached #1 on the album chart. The album earned Billy Joel a Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance.

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"It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" (1980)

Billy Joel It's Still Rock and Roll To Me
Billy Joel - "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me". Courtesy Columbia

Billy Joel takes a cynical eye to the music industry in "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me." It was a reaction to new styles of music in particular punk and new wave that were popular in the early 1980s. He states his refusal to change to please a younger crowd. "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" became Billy Joel's first #1 pop hit. It also topped the pop chart in Canada.

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"She's Got a Way" (1982)

Billy Joel She's Got a Way
Billy Joel - "She's Got a Way". Courtesy Columbia

"She's Got a Way" was first recorded and released on Billy Joel's debut album Cold Spring Harbor in 1972. It was included on his first five song demo tape. Billy Joel originally thought the song was corny, but over time he grew more attached to it. He recorded a live version of "She's Got a Way" in 1980 in Boston, and it found its way on to his live album Songs From the Attic in 1982. The live version was released as a single and climbed to #23 on the pop chart. It did better at adult contemporary radio going all the way to #4.

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"Pressure" (1982)

Billy Joel Pressure
Billy Joel - "Pressure". Courtesy Columbia

Billy Joel has stated that the primary pressure he was speaking about in this song is the pressure to write new songs and produce new music. Instead of Billy Joel's usual piano, the song is driven primarily by synthesizer. The accompanying music video uses imagery of water frequently to represent the pressure. It also includes references to movies such as A Clockwork Orange and Poltergeist. "Pressure" peaked at #20 on the pop chart in the US, but it broke into the top 10 at rock radio.

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"Allentown" (1983)

Billy Joel Allentown
Billy Joel - "Allentown". Courtesy Columbia

Billy Joel released "Allentown" in the midst of the 1980s recession that hit particularly hard at industrial regions of the US. It tells the story of blue collar steel workers in Pennsylvania. Allentown, Pennsylvania awarded Billy Joel the key to the city in recognition of his work. "Allentown" only peaked at #17 on the pop chart, but it stayed on the chart for a lengthy period. It also broke into the top 20 on the adult contemporary chart. 

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"Tell Her About It" (1983)

Billy Joel Tell Her About It
Billy Joel - "Tell Her About It". Courtesy Columbia

For "Tell Her About It," the first single from Billy Joel's seven times platinum album An Innocent Man, he paid homage to the Motown sound of the 1960s. However, in later interviews he complained that it sounded more like 70s act Tony Orlando and Dawn than Motown. When "Tell Her About It" hit #1 on the pop chart, producer Phil Ramone knocked himself out of the top spot. He had also produced the previous #1 hit "Maniac" by Michael Sembello. "Tell Her About It" also topped the adult contemporary chart.

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"Uptown Girl" (1983)

Billy Joel Uptown Girl
Billy Joel - "Uptown Girl". Courtesy Columbia

Billy Joel has said that "Uptown Girl" was originally written with supermodel Elle Macpherson in mind. However, it also was inspired by his growing relationship with his future wife supermodel Christie Brinkley. The music of "Uptown Girl" is inspired by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. She appears in the music video. "Uptown Girl" reached #3 on the pop chart and #2 on the adult contemporary chart. It was a #1 pop smash in the UK.

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"An Innocent Man" (1983)

Billy Joel An Innocent Man
Billy Joel - "An Innocent Man". Courtesy Columbia

The title song of Billy Joel's hit album An Innocent Man is a musical homage to Ben E. King and The Drifters. It became the third hit single from the album. "An Innocent Man" reached #10 on the pop chart and went all the way to #1 on the adult contemporary chart. It was also a top 10 hit in the UK.

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"You're Only Human (Second Wind)" (1985)

Billy Joel You're Only Human
Billy Joel - "You're Only Human (Second Wind)". Courtesy Columbia

The very serious subject matter of "You're Only Human (Second Wind)," the first single from Billy Joel's Greatest Hits collection, is teen depression and suicide. Billy Joel once attempted suicide himself and wrote this song to attempt to help others who are struggling with the thoughts. The accompanying music video pays homage to the classic film It's a Wonderful Life. "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" reached #9 on the pop chart and #2 adult contemporary.

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"A Matter of Trust" (1986)

Billy Joel A Matter of Trust
Billy Joel - "A Matter of Trust". Courtesy Columbia

"A Matter of Trust" is distinctive from the majority of his hit songs in that it is built around electric guitar instead of piano. It was released as the second single from the album The Bridge. The music video includes footage of Billy Joel's band performing in the basement of a building in New York City. Eventually a crowd gathers around to watch them perform. Billy Joel's wife Christie Brinkley appears in the video holding their baby daughter Alexa. "A Matter Of Trust" reached #10 on the US pop chart while breaking into the top 20 at both adult contemporary and rock radio. 

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"Modern Woman" (1986)

Billy Joel Modern Woman
Billy Joel - "Modern Woman". Courtesy Columbia

The song "Modern Woman" counts as the first single from Billy Joel's album The Bridge while it also appears on the soundtrack to the hit film Ruthless People. It is his only major hit from a movie soundtrack. Billy Joel has stated that he does not like the song, and it has been left off major compilations of his music. "Modern Woman" peaked at #10 on the pop chart and #7 adult contemporary.

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"We Didn't Start the Fire" (1989)

Billy Joel We Didn't Start the Fire
Billy Joel - "We Didn't Start the Fire". Courtesy Columbia

The primary content of "We Didn't Start the Fire" is a rapid recitation of major news events between 1949, the year Billy Joel was born, and 1989, the year of the song's release. According to Billy Joel, he is a huge "history nut" and that encouraged his writing of the song. He finds it difficult to perform live, because if a single mistake is made it throws the entire song off. "We Didn't Start the Fire" climbed to #1 on the pop singles chart and broke into the top 10 at both adult contemporary and rock radio. It earned a Grammy Award nomination for Record of the Year.

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"I Go To Extremes" (1990)

Billy Joel I Go To Extremes
Billy Joel - "I Go To Extremes. Courtesy Columbia

"I Go To Extremes" was originally written as an apology to Billy Joel's then wife Christie Brinkley. He was concerned about his erratic personality. It was the fourth single released from his album Storm Front. "I Go To Extremes" climbed to #6 on the US pop chart and #4 on the adult contemporary chart while also breaking into the top 10 at rock radio.

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"The River of Dreams" (1993)

Billy Joel River Of Dreams
Billy Joel - "River Of Dreams". Courtesy Columbia

"The River of Dreams" was released as the first single from Billy Joel's 1993 album River of Dreams. It peaked at #3 on the US pop chart, and it is his final top 10 hit before retiring from pop music recording. The single's cover art work is a portion of the larger painting by Billy Joel's Christie Brinkley used for the album cover. The accompanying music video was filmed in Connecticut. Christie Brinkley can be seen painting the artwork in the video and Billy Joel's daughter Alexa appears briefly. "The River of Dreams" went to #1 at adult contemporary and #2 at mainstream pop radio. It was a #3 pop hit in the UK.