My love affair with Billy Joel has spanned more than thirty years. He holds a very large and special place in my musical heart. In fact, I’m pretty sure he was my first favorite “band.”
Billy Joel’s high musical status is due to my cousin Laurie, who would bring over her 45s whenever she babysat. Laurie was the most beautiful, glamourous junior high schooler on the planet as far as I was concerned. She knew everything about everything that was important like lipgloss and hair. She had a boyfriend who played hockey and gave her a necklace. She would go to the Northtown Mall with her friends and not her parents. So sophisticated.
And she liked Billy Joel. Specifically, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” We would listen to this record over and over and over again on sunny summer mornings. We’d all sit on the floor next to my parents’ very 70s white stereo and Laurie would play records and tell us about them. I only remember two other songs we’d listen to: REO Speedwagon’s “Take it on the Run” and Blondie’s “The Tide is High.” While I enjoyed those songs it was Billy Joel who captured my heart.
Whenever we’d listen to it while Laurie told us about her glamourous friends and going to Northtown she’d always pause near the end of the song at the last “but it’s still rock and roll to me” you know where each beat is emphasized with the bass drum and cymbal, right before that last “Ooooh Hoo!”? She’d pause there and say, “Shh, if you listen you can hear where he takes a swig of his beer.”
I’d turn my ear to the speaker and listen as hard as good. Though I didn’t hear it, I’m sure I pretended like I could. Drinking beer in the middle of the song? That was the epitome of rock and roll to an eight-year-old.
Fuck yeah, Billy Joel.
In honor of that and of today, Mr. Joel’s 62nd birthday I present to you his 10 greatest songs.
10. You May Be Right: “Turn out the lights, don’t try to save me.” 20something (and 30something and probably 40something) women should just take up that line as a mantra. Any man you have to save probably isn’t worth it. Of course, the rest of the song is all about how she is probably looking for someone “crazy” to spice up her dull life. Still we can all agree on the great use of 80s sax, right?
09. She’s Got a Way: I’m a sucker for dude and a piano music, which probably started with Billy (and bled over to Ben and Rufus). Seriously, dude with guitar is hot, but there is something super extra special sexy and dude that can sit down at a piano and sing. What I like about this song is that it’s all about how much he loves the “she” in the song. How she inspires him and makes him feel and the only nod to her looks is her smile. It’s refreshing in the whole post-“Pretty Woman” and “Wonderful Tonight” world.
08. Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel): Two things: 1.) the first CD I ever bought was in 1993 it was “River of Dreams” by Billy Joel (the second CD? “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” by The Spin Doctors). 2.) Men singing lullabies is so sweet my heart usually can’t even take it and I have to cry at the sweetness of it all.
07. Allentown: Two words — Chromium steel.
06. My Life : Probably the nicest fuck you song ever written. Also, the theme to “Bosom Buddies.” And who the hell didn’t love that show?
0. Piano Man Heresy! I am putting what is probably the best-known Billy Joel song smack dab in the middle of the countdown. Why? Because the song is cute and all, but overplayed. Radio and drunken college students have killed this song. Blame them, not me.
04. We Didn’t Start the Fire: Oh yes. Yes I did include this on the list. Not only did I include it, I put it above “Piano Man.” You can say what you want about this song we all learned a hell of a lot about history from it (which is no surprise for me because my US History teacher made us watch a lot of Sally Field movies in lieu of learning actual history because he thought she was cute).
03. For the Longest Time: I know I will get a lot of shit not just for including this song, but for placing it so high in the list. I like this do-wop sort of song. Plus, I spent about $60 1984 dollars playing this song (along with “Rock the Casbah” and “Run Run Away”) in the jukbox at Capones in the Shakopee Town Mall while playing pinball and Ms. Pacman.
02. Only the Good Die Young: The feminist part of me should abhor any song that tries to coerce an innocent Catholic girl into sex. But the music lover in me can’t resist this one. I have no idea how old I was when I first heard this song, or how old I was when I first “got it.” However, it was one of the first songs where I really understood what was going on in the song, how all the words worked together to create the meaning. And that line about how her mom never said a prayer for him. . . I always loved it. I’m not sure why. (also, more sax).
01. It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me: Did you read the very long introduction to this piece? If not, go back and do that. This should not be a surprise.