For fifty years, Billy Joel has been one of the most popular singer-songwriters across the globe. Joel is known both for his piano ballads and uptempo love songs, in addition to his honest and universally relatable lyrics. Thanks to popular covers of his songs, appreciation for Joel’s musical catalog and songwriting capabilities now spans multiple generations. Here are Billy Joel’s Top Songs:

“Uptown Girl”

One of Joel’s most instantly recognizable songs, this beloved classic was first featured on the 1983 album An Innocent Man. Rumored to be about both his supermodel ex-girlfriend and his supermodel ex-wife, the song is about a working-class guy trying to win over an “uptown” woman. While writing the song, Joel also drew musical inspiration from the popular band Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. Last year, Olivia Rodrigo gave both Joel and “Uptown Girl” a shoutout in her hit “deja vu!”

“Vienna”

Joel has said this introspective piano ballad is about both the city of Vienna, Austria and Joel’s own relationship with his father. In his own words, Vienna is “a metaphor for the rest of your life.” Although the song first appeared on his 1977 album The Stranger, the song gained millennial approval in 2004 after featuring on the 13 Going on 30 soundtrack. It also surfaced again recently as a dance trend on TikTok.

“Piano Man”

Arguably the other most popular Joel song, this mid-tempo ballad kicks off with a burst of harmonica. Joel based this song on his own time as a piano player at a Los Angeles bar, a job he took after his 1971 album Cold Spring Harbor flopped and he needed a break from New York. In addition to frequently appearing on lists like “Top 100 Classic Rock Songs,” “Piano Man” is also a fan favorite at live shows.

“We Didn’t Start the Fire”

First appearing on Joel’s 1989 album Storm Front, this fast-paced number lists a whopping 118 historical events (including mentions of Marlon Brando and the polio vaccine). Although Joel has since stated that he’s unhappy with the song melodically, the song has still stayed remarkably popular. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” has appeared — in either original or parody form — in shows like The Simpsons and Veep, as well as appearing in Coke® commercials and many other places.

“She’s Always a Woman”

This dramatic ballad, written about Joel’s ex-wife, is a bit of a departure from his usual sound. Joel was heavily influenced by folk music during the writing process and made sure to include a fingerpicking guitar. He also kept the production on the song to a minimum, wanting the listener to primarily focus on the guitar and the lyrics themselves. Additionally, the Guillemots’ cover version — recorded for a British department store commercial — brought new attention to the song in 2010.

 

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