Billy Joel's extensive catalog is filled with all kinds of songs: character studies, narrative-driven portraits, silly love song, serious love songs, political statements and songs about what it was like to grow up on Long Island in the late-'50s and early-'60s. But the Top 10 Billy Joel Lyrics reveal more about New Yorkers, and Joel, than a stadium full of bat-wielding Mets and Yankees fans ever could.
'You May Be Right'From: 'Glass Houses' (1980)
"You may be right / I may be crazy / But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for."
Not all of Joel's love songs strike honest, tender moments like the ones expressed in 'Just the Way You Are' and 'She's Always a Woman.' Sometimes his love songs take on more sinister urges or even -- in the case of 'You May Be Right,' from 1980's 'Glass Houses' -- downright crazy ones. You gotta admit, it's one hell of a pickup line.
'New York State of Mind'From: 'Turnstiles' (1976)
"Some folks like to get away / Take a holiday from the neighborhood / Hop a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood / But I'm takin' a Greyhound on the Hudson River line / I'm in a New York state of mind."
Joel's 1976 ode to his hometown has taken on more significance as the years pass. If it takes a national tragedy to make us appreciate the words to Joel's personal tribute, at least he nailed a sentiment back in the day that now connects with thousands of people.
'Captain Jack'From: 'Piano Man' (1973)
"You go to the village in your tie-dyed jeans / And you stare at the junkies and the closet queens / It's like some pornographic magazine / ... Captain Jack will get you by tonight / Just a little push, and you'll be smilin'."
One of Joel's first lyrical triumphs works on a couple of different levels. It's an anti-drug song, but it's also a tale of isolation. Plus, as the above lyrics points out, it's a mighty fine masturbation tune.
'She's Always a Woman'From: 'The Stranger' (1977)
"She'll promise you more than the Garden of Eden / Then she'll carelessly cut you and laugh while you're bleeding / But she'll bring out the best and the worst you can be / Blame it all on yourself 'cause she's always a woman to me."
Joel has written tons of love songs over the years, especially in the late '70s, when his career was taking off. This is his best, a Dylanesque number that celebrates the various shades of love, including the bumps.
'Summer, Highland Falls'From: 'Turnstiles' (1976)
"We are forced to recognize our inhumanity / Our reason co-exists with our insanity / And though we choose between reality and madness, it's either sadness or euphoria."
'Summer, Highland Falls' features Joel in a meditative state of mind. He got weightier and dopier as he got more famous, but this 1976 song, part of a New York City trilogy of songs from the 'Turnstiles' album, finds balance in the madness.
'Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)'From: 'The Stranger' (1977)
"Sergeant O'Leary is walking the beat, at night he becomes a bartender / He works at Mr. Cacciatore's down on Sullivan Street, across from the medical center / And he's trading in his Chevy for a Cadillac."
When Joel's records starting topping the charts, the vivid city portraits that got him through the early part of his career began to disappear. One of the last, 'Movin' Out,' flips through a colorful downtown scene, rattling off a series of equally colorful characters.
'Only the Good Die Young'From: 'The Stranger' (1977)
"You got a nice white dress and a party on your confirmation / You've got a brand new soul and a cross of gold / But Virginia they didn't give you quite enough information / You didn't count on me, you were counting on your rosary."
Basically, Joel is pushing for some T&A here. His sell is a little hard, but he tosses it off with such fun, you can't help but think a dozen girls have heard, and shot down, his pitch.
'Goodnight Saigon'From: 'The Nylon Curtain' (1982)
"We had no cameras to shoot the landscape / We passed the hash pipe and played our Doors tapes / And it was dark, so dark at night / And we held on to each other like brother to brother."
Joel's 1983 album 'The Nylon Curtain' is filled with Big Issue Statements. The biggest, and most moving, song comes in this six-minute epic about Vietnam troops facing the horrors of war together. It's one of Joel's all-time best.
'Scenes From an Italian Restaurant'From: 'The Stranger' (1977)
"Things are OK with me these days / Got a good job, got a good office, got a new wife, got a new life and the family's fine / We lost touch long ago / You lost weight / I did not know You could ever look so good after so much time."
All that time spent playing piano in a bar gave Joel an eye and ear for detail. The conversation in 'Scenes From an Italian Restaurant' flows as smoothly as the bottle of wine the couple is sipping.
'Piano Man'From: 'Piano Man' (1973)
"It's nine o'clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in / There's an old man sitting next to me making love to his tonic and gin / He says, 'Son, can you play me a memory?/ I'm not really sure how it goes / But it's sad and it's sweet, and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man's clothes.'"
The opening lines to Joel's signature song tell you all you need to know about the singer-songwriter. The autobiographical tale, filled with people Joel saw shuffle in and out of the bar, stands as one of the all-time best supporting-character studies.