He’s got a way about him.
He’s playing the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on New Year’s Eve and he already has three dates planned at Madison Square Garden early in 2014. With that and he being the subject of a tribute episode of Glee airing tonight, we still can’t get enough of the legendary Billy Joel. From Piano Man to River Of Dreams, the classics are all there, and even in his earlier and lesser known works still find a big audience even today. This was the hardest Top Ten list to compile so far; there’s way too many songs to enjoy from his decades of recorded music. So, I limited it to singles, specifically those that charted on the Hot 100. It didn’t help as much as I wanted it to, but, the list got done. Here they are, my ten favorites, all ranked in order:
10. “SHE’S ALWAYS A WOMAN” [from The Stranger]
Year: 1978 / Peak: #17
It was the last release from his Diamond-certified album, and though its run was abbreviated due to the release of “My Life”, it’s still a very pretty ballad. I also liked a cover by Fyfe Dangerfield, a top ten U.K. hit in 2010.
09. “UPTOWN GIRL” [from An Innocent Man]
Year: 1983 / Peak: #3
From his 1983 concept album, probably my favorite from him, this song is an ode to the Four Seasons and written about his then-girlfriend and now ex-wife, model Christie Brinkley. It’s still one of his most played hits to date.
08. “GOODNIGHT SAIGON” [from The Nylon Curtain]
Year: 1983 / Peak: #56
This was the only single from Joel’s 1982 album to not go top 40, but it’s certainly the most poignant of them. The ballad written about the Vietnam War touched a lot of veterans and climbed to #1 in several European countries.
07. “THE ENTERTAINER” [from Streetlife Serenade]
Year: 1975 / Peak: #34
One of the more biting songs about the woes of the music industry, this somehow made it as a single, although it cracked the top 40 for just a few weeks. Sometimes songs with a heavy message like this just “don’t stay on the charts.”
06. “MY LIFE” [from 52nd Street]
Year: 1978 / Peak: #3
Produced by the late Phil Ramone, “Life” is Joel’s anthem about independence. It was one of his first big songs to reach the top ten following “Just The Way You Are” in 1978 and solidified his place on the charts for years to come.
05. “I GO TO EXTREMES” [from Storm Front]
Year: 1990 / Peak: #6
Saying sorry for his crazy lifestyle never sounded so good. Joel’s followup to “We Didn’t Start A Fire” was another hit from his 1989 effort and was received well by the critics during the album’s initial release. Apologies accepted.
04. “TELL HER ABOUT IT” [from An Innocent Man]
Year: 1983 / Peak: #1
Here’s another classic song with a classic sound as well. His ode to the Motown era featured a memorable video in which Joel appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, which got a lot of airtime on MTV. The results? A number one hit.
03. “HONESTY” [from 52nd Street]
Year: 1979 / Peak: #24
This tender ballad is a lovely one and receives some attention today on Classic Hits stations. After “Big Shot” failed to go top ten in early 1979, this also missed, though it became a moderate radio record despite its weaker sales.
02. “THE RIVER OF DREAMS” [from River Of Dreams]
Year: 1993 / Peak: #3
This is the first song I can remember hearing from Mr. Joel; my father had the album on cassette in the car for some time. The poppy track was his last big hit around the world, going top five in Australia, Canada and in the States.
01. “SAY GOODBYE TO HOLLYWOOD (LIVE)” [from Songs In The Attic]
Year: 1981 / Peak: #17
It may not be the most popular or the most remembered song of his career, but it’s my absolute favorite from Joel, a song written about his move back to New York City in 1975. The original version was on 1975’s Turnstiles; the hit version ended up on this compilation of live tracks from a summer tour for his previous album, Glass Houses, in 1980. I first heard it on an older radio show and fell in love with it immediately. Now, it’s time to “say goodbye to” this countdown.
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