Billy Joel’s 10 Most Memorable Songs!

Billy Joel has blessed audiences’ ears for over half a century thanks to a crop of songs that range from chart-topping toe-tappers to soul-searching deep cuts. Joel recently released his first pop song in nearly 20 years, and that got us thinking, what are some of the more memorable songs of his career?

Joel’s new recording, “Turn the Lights Back On,” hit the #11 spot on Billboard’s US Adult Contemporary chart and was performed by the “Piano Man” at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 4. As Joel steps back into the pop music world, here are our picks for his 10 most memorable songs!

10. “The River of Dreams”

This 1993 single is Joel’s last top-10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 to date and comes from his most recent pop-oriented album, also titled The River of Dreams. Musically, it’s a bit of a different step for Joel, given the extensive choir backing vocals and gospel-like atmosphere. Joel played “The River of Dreams” at the 36th Annual Grammy Awards in 1994, but stopped in the middle song to hilariously protest Frank Sinatra’s lifetime achievement acceptance speech being cut short for advertising.

9. “Big Shot”

Written in more of a hard rock or power pop vein than most of his other notable tunes, “Big Shot” is one those upbeat songs that you can’t help but clap your hands to. Joel apparently wrote it after having lunch with Mick Jagger and his then-wife, Bianca, and imagining the Rolling Stones’ frontman singing it to her. Joel mimicking Jagger’s stage antics in the music video during the second verse all but confirms this.

8. “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”

“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” another one of Joel’s perky piano-based rockers, comments on those who think they’ve “made it” after obtaining material items like a brand new car or house. The socially-conscious lyrics, mixed with the unforgettable vocal repetition on words like “attack,” “Cadillac” and “mind” have allowed the song to become one of five from Joel’s The Stranger album with at least 100 million streams on Spotify.

7. “Only the Good Die Young”

The third of four singles released from The Stranger, “Only the Good Die Young” has long been considered to be among Joel’s most infectious tunes, with Billboard describing it as one of his “strongest and catchiest” numbers in 1978. The song even made an appearance getting covered in Season 2 of Glee, and that version has now amassed more than 1 million views on YouTube.

6. “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”

This nearly three-minute track has Joel singing in a witty tone and is highlighted by a memorable Richie Cannatta saxophone solo. The song also mixes old and new genres by combining elements of both ‘50s rockabilly and the burgeoning new wave era of the ‘80s. Perhaps most impressive is that “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for 21 weeks in a row, the third-longest stay of any Joel song on the charts.

5. “My Life”

It’s hard not to get hooked by “My Life,” as the keyboard riff played by Joel at the beginning of the song can be identified by many within the first few seconds. Former Chicago members Peter Cetera and Donnie Dacus add to the pop music stew with strong backing vocals, emphasizing Joel’s request to “Keep it to yourself, it’s my life.” Appearances in films and shows like The Hangover Part III and The Goldbergs may have helped popularize it in recent years, too.

4. “Vienna”

Unlike any of the other songs on this list, “Vienna” was not immediately popular upon its initial release, being relegated to the B-side of the Just the Way You Are single in 1977. In fact, the song was considered just an album cut — an admittedly strong one at that — and has only grown in notoriety over the years. The song now ranks as Joel’s third highest-streamed work on Spotify, with over 470 million hits, had a solid run on TikTok, and is one of the notoriously self-critical singer-songwriter’s favorite tracks.

3. “We Didn’t Start the Fire”

“We Didn’t Start the Fire,” a four-minute rapid-fire recap of the major historical world events that occurred during Joel’s life (from 1949-89 at that point), might be the biggest “earworm” song in his catalog. The fact that Joel can still reiterate each of the 119 historical references in the song to this day remains an admirable feat, despite the fact that he’s played it over 600 times in concert. Fall Out Boy released their own version last year, putting a new spin on the classic with an updated timeline of events.

2. “Uptown Girl”

While “Uptown Girl” wasn’t a number-one hit in the United States, peaking at number three, it’s Joel’s only chart-topper in the United Kingdom, having spent five weeks in that position in 1983. The song tells the typical story of a boy with a less-than-ideal upbringing, a “downtown man,” trying to woo the highfalutin “uptown girl.” The tune has permeated popular culture throughout the years, gaining more recognition in Family Guy, The Masked Singer, and The Simpsons, as Homer’s favorite “song of protest.”

1. “Piano Man”

At long last, here it is. Not only has “Piano Man” given Joel his longtime nickname and become his signature song, it was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Library of Congress, and even became a well-known meme after its somber harmonica introduction started to get paired with clips of unfortunate events. The autobiographical song, which describes people and places he experienced before making it big, peaked at a respectable, but not specular number 25 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974, but helped kick off Joel’s career into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-worthy one that we know and love today.

About the Author

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Robert Hughes

Robert Hughes is a Junior at Iona University, majoring in media and strategic communications, and an intern at AfterBuzz TV. In his free time, Robert loves to spend hours practicing the bass guitar and hunting for his favorite artists at vinyl record shops.