Billy Joel Songs That Are Not Piano Man
Updated: Aug 20
When you think of Billy Joel songs, you likely think of his classic Piano Man, right? A lot of artist's have a single stand out song that leaps to the forefront of people's minds when they think of them. Journey has Don't Stop Beleiving, The Killers - Mr. Brightside, Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody, Neil Diamond - Sweet Caroline, and the list goes on and on. They're great songs, and everyone loves them.
They're also extremely overplayed!
It's one of the reasons many piano bars have a $20 minimum for songs like these that they call their "top shelf" songs. They are almost certain to get played every night and usually more than once. So, I thought I would start a series of blog posts of alternative songs by artists with an extremely popular hit that tends to overshadow other fantastic songs from their discography, and I figured the best place to start was with the Piano Man himself.
Billy Joel has released 13 studio albums with 61 singles and a total catalog of 121 songs; so there are a lot of other options out there. But as with all artists, not every song is a hit, and more than likely, a piano bar singer's going to have somewhere between 4-12 Billy Joel tunes in their repertoire list. Piano Man will obviously be at the top, but there are quite a few others that get a decent amount of play. I'm going to provide a list of other options (in no particular order) as well a few "honorable mentions." So, let's get started!
It's Still Rock and Roll to Me - Glass Houses 1980
I remember listening to this song a bunch as a kid whenever I'd ride along with my mom in the car. The song talkes about changing trends in music, clothes, and attitudes, which is something that because far more noticeable as we age, but how things are still deeply rooted in what came before. Styles may change but they still borrow from the past. It's Still Rock and Roll to Me is still a fun, energetic tune to rock out to.
Uptown Girl - An Innocent Man 1983
Uptown Girl is just a great song with lots of sing-along parts. From the "fi-yi-yine" and "ti-yi-yime" to the "whoas," there are lots of recognizeable parts where the audience can participate. It's energetic and the intro is easily identifiable, catching audience members' attention right away.
Only the Good Die Young - The Stranger 1977
A rather controversial song for its time, Only the Good Die Young is about a young man determined to have to intercourse with a Catholic girl who he believes is only turning him down because of her religious upbringing. Oddly enough, the attempts to censor the song only made it more popular even with many religious groups pressuring radio stations to remove it from their playlists for being "anti-Catholic." Joel said that "the song wasn't so much anti-Catholic as pro-lust." The idea being that while we're here and now, we might as well enjoy the corporeal pleasures before our finite time runs out. Billboard Magazine ended it describing it as one of Joel's "strongest and catchiest" songs.
My Life - 52nd Street 1978
Who doesn't love a song about asserting your independence and individuality? My Life song served as the opening theme to the TV show Bosom Buddies. Although not a very popular request any more, it has still stood the test of time as a great song that still gets some play.
You May Be Right - Glass Houses 1980
You May Be Right kicks of the Glass Houses album with the sound of shattering glass, imitating the the cover art of Billy Joel about to throw a rock at a glass window. The song basically talks about being reckless and, to me, always seemed to portray the sort of foolhardy, quasi-invincible mentality of youth where we take chances to make something more exciting or fun.
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant - The Stranger 1977
Clocking in at an impressive 7:40, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant is a marathon song that's actually a combination of several unfinished tunes that Billy had written earlier. Starting with two old friends (or possibly former lovers) meeting at an Italian restaurant, the song sort of moves through different phases including catching each other up on their current lives -
Things are okay 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...
as well as reminiscing about old times -
Do you remember those days hanging out
At the village green
Engineer boots, leather jackets
And tight blue jeans...
before moving on to a sort of flashback story about Brenda and Eddie, that as originally an old song he had written called, The Ballad of Brenda and Eddie. It's never really clear whether the two at the restaurant are Brenda and Eddie or if they were people they both knew, but either scenario kind of fits. Eventually the song changes back to the original key and does a brief recap of the opening.
Tell Her About It - An Innocent Man 1983
One of my favorite songs growing up that my mom would play all the time, Tell Her About It is a fun and upbeat 60's style song with a great horn part and background vocals. The song kind of confronts the difficulty that some men face about opening up about their emotions. The pressure to be a strong and somewhat stoic male figure that society tends to push can be toxic and put a strain on relationship, and Billy Joel talks about how his relationship with Christie Brinkley and the communication they had with each other made him feel as though he had finally found his soul mate.
Movin' Out (Anthony's Song) - The Stranger 1977
Movin' Out is sort of a commentary on the implied pressure of the working class to sort of "pull themselves up by their bootstraps". The song talks about the struggles of working multiple jobs and trying to save money for some semblance of "the American Dream" that is basically always just a little out of reach and more difficult to achieve than what is purported by the media.
In 2014, Joel told Howard Stern: "I've seen friends of mine who were pressured into taking a job to take care of the family, and then they never fulfill themselves - they're doing it because that's where you're supposed to go. Everybody's got something they love to do or they should be doing - a talent. I see people wasting their lives, not putting their talent to that purpose so they could have stuff: you get a Cadillac and then you're fine."
Allentown - The Nylon Curtain 1982
Allentown isn't a popularly requested song but is still a great tune. Originally meant to be about his home town Levittown, Allentown became the title and the lyrics were changed after Billy Joel visited Pennsylvania and learned about the high unemployment rate and the closing of Bethlehem Steel, one of the biggest employers in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which Billy Joel mentions in the song, and the difficulty all of those people were facing at the time.
Big Shot - 52nd Street 1978
Big Shot was apparently written about Bianca Jagger, Mick Jagger's wife, from the Mick's point of view. The song talks about a a socialite who always has to be the center of attention and impress everyone with their stories of grandeur. In 2016, Billy Joel told SiriusXM that the song is also kind of about partying too much and feeling that effect the next day, being hungover after trying to do too much.
Miami 2017 - Turnstiles 1976
This one's a bit of an oddity. Taking a futuristic, science-fictiony approach, the song is about an old man who moves to Florida in future 2017 (remember this song is from 1976) after New York is destroyed in an apocalypse. The song starts with a very identifiable piano lick and is a great tune that slowly builds in energy.
Captain Jack - Live in the Studio - Sigma Studios 1972
Captain Jack is another longer song with a 7:15 running time. The song describes a drug dealer who lived near Billy Joel in Oyster Bay, New York. Despite talking about marijuana, Captain Jack actually has anti-drug sentiments and describes how people use it to alleviate difficulties in their life while never actually solving the issues and instead often creating more. He describes that apathy that the drugs can create and while the high may feel great, it's only temporary and not a fulfilling experience.
Oh but still you're aching for the things you haven't got What went wrong?
And if you can't understand why your world is so dead, Why you've got to keep in style and feed your head
The Entertainer - Streetlife Serenade 1974
The Entertainer is a bit of an autobiographical song that talks about the difficulty of staying relevant in the music industry and the issues that musicians have to deal with to get their music played, including the quirky or out-there personas that some artists adopt to keep themselves in the news, because as they say, "any press is good press." It's a high-energy song that's rather poignant but doesn't get requested too often.
New York State of Mind - Turnstiles 1976
The title kind of tells it all. Influenced by Ray Charles, New York State of Mind is a jazzier tune that describes Billy's love for New York, where he grew up, after returning from living in L.A. for four years. It's a fantastically beautiful song and gets requested fairly often.
And So It Goes - Storm Front 1989
And So It Goes is a slower break-up song that never gets requested. Written about his relationship with Elle Macpherson, the song describes a relationship in which the singer knows it is likely to fail but is willing to still commit to having his heartbroken.
Vienna - The Stranger 1977
Not even released as a single, Vienna is a fairly popular request in the piano bar scene. From its opening melody to its unique chord progression, Vienna has found a place in hearts of Billy Joel's fans despite being a B-side. Joel has said that the song is a metaphor for old age, and I think has a similar subject matter to John Mayer's Stop This Train, as we get older and think about life retrospectively as well as what lies ahead. Although it's a slower song, I think that it still works well, and people seem to enjoy it.
Summer, Highland Falls - Turnstiles 1976
I'm following Vienna with this one because Billy Joel said that it along with Vienna are two of his favorite songs, and it's also a favorite of mine that hardly ever gets requested. Summer, Highland Falls was track 2 on Turnstiles and is kind of a darker and unusual song. For starters, the title never appears in the lyric and there's no chorus. Billy Joel said that the song is about manic depression and stated: "It was more about manic depression than depression. That song was about a relationship that wasn't really working out. It was very disappointing - you want everything to work out and when it doesn't, how do you deal with that?"
She's Always a Woman - The Stranger 1977
She's Always a Woman was Billy Joel's way of writing how he felt about his wife Elizabeth, who was also his manager. At a time when women were prominent in that role, Billy wanted to write a song about how she may be many things, but he still loves her and respects her.
She's Got a Way - Cold Spring Harbor 1971
Written about Joel's first wife Elizabeth, She's Got a Way is a slow love ballad describing the characteristics of a woman who has completely mesmerized the singer, and yet he can't quite explain what it is exactly that has made him so enthralled by this person. It's a beautiful song with some great chords changes and a soft but elegant melody.
Just the Way You Are - The Stranger 1977
Another love song written about Joel's first wife Elizabeth, Just the Way You Are was written for her as a birthday present. Although the two eventually divorced in 1982, the song describes a sort of unconditional love. Starting with the lyrics -
Don't go changing, to try and please me...
Billy Joel explains she's perfect the way she is and will never need to change anything about herself to make him love her any more. Although she was intelligent and charismatic, Elizabeth was also very manipulative and brought her brother Frank into the fold of their business dealings. When they filed for divorce in 1982, Billy tried to reconcile but it was to no avail when Billy was presented with a contract asking Joel to sign over everything he had to her after getting into a motorcycle accident in which he damaged his hands. It was later discovered that Frank, Elizabeth's brother, had also siphoned nearly $30 million dollars in earnings from Joel while he was working for him.