7 Best Billy Joel Songs, According To Fans

Billy Joel is undeniably one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time, with a career spanning over five decades. Throughout his illustrious career, Joel has produced an impressive catalog of timeless songs resonating with audiences worldwide. His music has touched the hearts and souls of millions, from heartfelt ballads to catchy rock anthems. With so much past and continued success, we decided to dive deeper into some of the best Billy Joel songs of all time. We will explore the stories behind these iconic tracks and the impact they have had on both the music industry and fans alike!

Of course, any Billy Joel fan will know that he has recently had a resurgence with the release of his first song in 15 years! For those who aren’t aware, Joel’s latest hit, titled “Turn The Lights Back On,” was just released this February to the welcomed surprise of fans. Today, however, we will focus more on Joel’s past. As always, we at StudyFinds have combed through eight expert reviews to bring you today’s list of the best Billy Joel songs you should listen to now! Did we miss one of his greatest hits? We would love to hear from you in the comments below! Now, onto the list. 

Musician Billy Joel performs in concert
UNIONDALE, NY-APR 5: Musician Billy Joel performs in concert at the newly renovated NYCB Live, Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 5, 2017 in Uniondale, New York. (Credit: Debby Wong/Shutterstock)

The List: Best Billy Joel Songs, Ranked

1. “Piano Man” (1973)

You can try to fight it all you want, but “Piano Man” is the epitome of what makes Billy Joel great. No piano riff is as iconic as the opening to this song, and for that reason alone, it earned itself the number-one spot. “As soon as Joel dons the harmonica rig during live shows, you’d better brace yourself,” warns The Music. Plus, that key change? Inspirational! 

For those who don’t know, the song was actually inspired by Billy Joel’s time working at an LA bar, taking requests and playing standards. This song is the result of his time people-watching. For example, “John at the bar, Paul, the ‘real estate novelist,’ the waitress practicing politics,” all were inspired by real-life events, adds WMMR. And like all of Joel’s greatest songs, it resonates because of its honesty. 

It may be hard to believe because of the blunt honesty and almost jaded tone, but Joel was only 24 when he wrote “Piano Man,” yet the lyrics have long resonated with those who feel like just another patron in his bar. “Piano Man expertly conjures a very real mood and a place,” writes The Guardian. The song features haunting lyrics such as “son, can you play me a memory” and energizing moments such as “and the piano, it sounds like a carnival. And the microphone smells like a beer,” all of which make up not only one of the best Billy Joel songs but best songs period. 

2. “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” (1977)

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The number two spot is dedicated to “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.” This seven-minute masterpiece tells the story of Brenda and Eddie as two friends share a bottle of red or perhaps a bottle of white at their usual place. The song, nestled in New York like only the best Joel songs are, takes you on a journey that feels like three songs in one. “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,” writes Vulture.

Ultimate Classic Rock describes this track as one of Joel’s “most ambitious” and even compared it to the Beatles‘ side-two Abbey Road medley. It also serves as a happy medium between his longer story-heavy songs from the beginning of his career and his tighter songs from later. 

Despite never being released as a single, “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” remains one of Joel’s biggest hits, even if it does sound like a compilation of three different songs. “The music is incredible, but the lyrics show Joel’s eye for narrative detail, which we first saw in ‘Piano Man,” says WMMR. The song takes listeners on a journey through different characters and settings, and even without the support of a single release, it remains a favorite track for fans to this day.

3. “New York State Of Mind” (1976)

The song, which was penned while Joel was living in Los Angeles, serves as a gentle anthem for those born and raised in the big city. The lyrics capture the essence of New York City beautifully, with its fast-paced lifestyle and vibrant energy, while Joel’s soulful voice and heartfelt piano melodies transport listeners back to the bustling streets and iconic landmarks. “A New Yorker to the core, the ‘New York State of Mind’ is Billy Joel, and Billy Joel is always in a ‘New York State of Mind,'” writes American Songwriter.  

While Joel had put out a number of albums at this point, none had really performed well on the charts. 1976’s “Turnstiles” wasn’t much different, but it marked a turning point for Joel, says Ultimate Classic Rock. What would come was a different type of songwriting, which would serve him well in the years to come. 

Since its release, the song has earned its own following. It even became the “unofficial anthem for the city,” reports Gold Radio UK. It has become a timeless classic that continues to inspire and unite people from all walks of life, solidifying its status as an iconic representation of being a part of the Big Apple. Billy Joel’s heartfelt lyrics and soulful delivery capture the essence of New York City, portraying both its gritty reality and its indomitable spirit. “New York State Of Mind” is a reminder of the city’s resilience and the dreams it holds for everyone who calls it home.

4. “She’s Always A Woman” (1977) 

One of Joel’s most breathtaking ballads is “She’s Always A Woman,” which was written for his first wife, who ultimately became his manager. The song was him defending her to the cruel world of industry professionals who didn’t treat her that kindly. However, after the couple split, Joel refused to play the song as he didn’t think he could deliver it with the same “passion” as before. However, “after only playing it a handful of times across twenty years, he reintroduced the fan favorite into his concerts once again,” according to Gold Radio UK.

The track describes a type of “modern woman,” specifically someone who isn’t afraid to hurt someone’s feelings but still holds onto her femininity in the eyes of her beloved. In the song, Joel describes a man who “falls in love with the woman for her quirks as well as her flaws,” and it’s a sentiment that still rings true to many today, adds Smooth Radio.

This song is “said to be influenced by the mellow acoustic guitar ballads of Gordon Lightfoot,” according to The Music. It explains Joel’s admiration and love for this strong lady who, at a day when women were often expected to be submissive and attractive, was fearlessly intellectual and daring to voice her opinions. Joel’s lyrics beautifully depict her complexity, describing her as a “temptress” with a “promised smile.” Through this song, Joel pays homage to her strength and resilience, defying societal norms and expectations, making “She’s Always A Woman” a timeless anthem for all people with fearless and extraordinary women in their lives

5. “Just The Way You Are” (1977) 

Next up on our list is “Just the Way You Are,” another beautiful ballad by Joel about his ex-wife Elizabeth. The song serves as one of Joel’s best love songs, with Vulture even describing it as Billy Joel’s version of “Yesterday.” 

Joel took six years and five albums to eventually get success with this classic ’70s song, says Ultimate Classic Rock. It remained one of Joel’s best-written songs in the canon, instantly establishing him as a legendary singer-songwriter and making him a star. Its success not only solidified Joel’s place in music history but also opened doors for him to explore new musical territories and experiment with different genres. 

Joel won two Grammy Awards in 1979 for Record of the Year and Song of the Year with this love song, which was also his first U.S. Top 10 and U.K. Top 20 single, adds Smooth Radio. In the song, he promises his wife that they will always be in love, no matter what problems they encounter in the future. However, like with the previous song, Joel didn’t perform it for many years following their breakup. 

6. “Uptown Girl” (1983) 

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The number six pick is 1983’s “Uptown Girl.” Billy Joel was quite clear about his objectives when he released his album “An Innocent Man.” It was meant to be an homage to the music that shaped his early life, explains Ultimate Classic Rock. And “Uptown Girl,” a Four Seasons homage that was nearly better than the original, perfectly encapsulated that mood (and era). 

“Uptown Girl” is sung from the viewpoint of a working-class “downtown man” who is trying to win over his wealthy girlfriend, writes American Songwriter. He is enamored by her elegance and sophistication, yet he feels insecure about their differences in social status. Despite the obstacles, he remains determined to prove his love and show her that their backgrounds don’t define their compatibility. 

Joel told Howard Stern that he had composed the song after being surrounded by Christie Brinkley, Whitney Houston, and his then-girlfriend Elle Macpherson and was initially named “Uptown Girls,” says Smooth Radio. However, the song ultimately became an ode to his soon-to-be-wife, supermodel Christie Brinkley, and was retitled “Uptown Girl.”

7. “Only The Good Die Young” (1977)

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The final spot on our list is dedicated to the upbeat hit “Only The Good Die Young.” While some argue that the song features a few jabs at Catholic girls, Vulture says, “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.”

The song was definitely controversial when it was released in 1978, and Joel preempts it now by calling it the song that “offends everyone,” says American Songwriter. Still, the star quality of this rock anthem is undeniable. Much like “You May Be Right” and “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” the song almost forces you to get up and dance. 

Joel discussed this hit in a March 2023 interview with the Los Angeles Times. He says that it recently dawned on him that, out of passion, he’s attempting to convince some poor, innocent woman to lose her virginity. “It’s kind of a selfish song,” quotes WMMR. However, Joel does concede that it was a product of its time. Nevertheless, the song remains one of Joel’s most identifiable hits and earns its spot at number seven. 

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