Top 10 Billy Joel Love Songs
Despite the undeniable quality of Billy Joel‘s love songs, his name has never been one of the hippest to drop in a conversation. Nevertheless, he has carved out a successful career by finding common ground between the Beatles, soul and the Great American Songbook, with a dose of classical piano thrown in for good measure. The decision by Hicksville, Long Island’s most famous son to give up touring robbed the world of a fantastic live performer who led a dynamic and versatile band into arenas for decades. That news, and the 2013 release of a compilation of his ballads, ‘She’s Got a Way,’ got us thinking about the Top 10 Billy Joel Love Songs. Our list includes not only his big hits but also some deep album cuts.
In 1986, Billy Joel got word that his idol, Ray Charles, was interested in recording with him. While trying to come up with the right song, he noticed his piano and the answer was clear. He fashioned the tune in the bluesy style of a classic Ray Charles hit. Although it’s not about a woman, ‘Baby Grand’ is an unabashed love note to the instrument that changed both of their lives, and a fine way to begin our list of the Top 10 Billy Joel Love Songs.
‘Leave a Tender Moment Alone’
Joel’s hit single from ‘An Innocent Man’ is a good piece of advice. Instead of deflecting true sentiment with a cheap joke, he suggests, be true about your feelings because the result is more rewarding. Featuring a great vocal from Joel that makes excellent use of his falsetto, the song is also a spotlight for jazz harmonica legend Toots Thielemans.
Best known as the ‘Nylon Curtain‘ album track on which Joel drops an f-bomb, ‘Laura’ perfectly captures the erotic torment that comes with being involved with a woman who you know is no good for you. “I should be so immunized to all of her tricks / She’s surviving on her second chances,” he sings. But the song is also shows Joel’s love of the Beatles. His vocal delivery on the verses is a clear tribute to John Lennon while the bridge echoes Paul McCartney.
‘This Is The Time’
By the time of ‘The Bridge’ in 1986, Joel had married his second wife, supermodel Christie Brinkley, and the Angry Young Man started to mature. The album’s standout ballad, ‘This Is the Time’ poignantly envisions a future when he and his partner are looking back on their past as the best days of their lives. The song also features beautifully lyrical guitar work by David Brown, whose clean Strat lines bring to mind some of Jimi Hendrix‘s more contemplative moments.
‘Until the Night’
Billy Joel’s ability to draw upon the music of his childhood for inspiration has served him well throughout his career, especially on this cut buried deep on 1978’s ’52nd Street.’ Here, he fashions an homage to the sweeping urban romanticism of Phil Spector‘s work with the Righteous Brothers, including an overdubbed vocal that finds him taking both Bill Medley’s and Bobby Hatfield’s parts with aplomb.
‘She’s Right on Time’
The song that begins the second half of our list of the Top 10 Billy Joel songs is set against the backdrop of Christmas. ‘She’s Right on Time’ captures the moment just before a reconciliation is about to take place. A minor AOR hit, ‘She’s Right on Time’ is much beloved among Billy Joel fans for both its surging chorus and a great drum part by Liberty DeVitto.
‘An Innocent Man’ was a tribute to ’60s pop-soul and one of Joel’s most commercially successful albums. On this lush ballad, the vocals — both the carefully pronounced lead and doo-wop background — echo Little Anthony and the Imperials. But the chorus harkens back to another genre that he grew up with — classical music. He lifted (with proper credit) the melody from Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata to great effect.
‘She’s Got a Way’
Billy Joel’s first live album was 1981’s ‘Songs in the Attic.’ But rather than give in-concert versions of his biggest hits, he focused exclusively on songs that he released before his 1977 breakthrough, ‘The Stranger.’ The album gave an audience to great songs like ‘Summer, Highland Falls,’ ‘Say Goodbye to Hollywood’ and this, which was originally released on his little heard debut, 1971’s ‘Cold Spring Harbor.’
Joel’s father, Howard, was a very talented pianist who, when Joel was a child, divorced his wife, Rosalind, and moved to Vienna. Years later, Joel tried to imagine what would have happened if his father had stayed in New York and made a living with his gift. The result was ‘Rosalinda’s Eyes,’ about a musician playing Latin jazz in bars all night long and coming home to the love of his life.
‘Just the Way You Are’
Billy Joel’s biggest hit has lost some power due to years of mass exposure, bad lounge singer interpretations and a Fender Rhodes keyboard sound that dates the record as stuck in the mid-’70s. So why does it top our list of the Top 10 Billy Joel Love Songs? The answer is simple: because it’s as close as anyone in the rock era has come — including fellow craftsmen Paul McCartney and Paul Simon — to writing a Great American Songbook standard on the level of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern or Harold Arlen.