Top ten best deep cuts by Billy Joel

Joel has given us great singles but some of his best songs are ones we do not hear as much.

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“SCENES FROM AN ITALIAN RESTAURANT” from The Stranger (1977)

OK – for the top two songs on this list, a little backstory is required. In 1977, Billy Joel released his fifth album, The Stranger. It would prove to be his major breakthrough, both critically and commercially. It reached number 2 on the charts in the US and remained on the charts longer than any other album he would ever release. It also paved the way for his next two albums to go all the way to number 1. It provided Joel with his first Top Ten single (“Just the Way You Are”), and of the five released singles, four of them landed in the Top 25.

With half the ten songs released as singles, you might think there wasn’t a lot of quality left on the back half of the album. That is largely true of what happens on Joel’s later albums, which is why this list is so heavily weighted toward the 1970s. By the end of the ‘80s, as many as seven of the tracks on multiple albums were in fact released as singles. But on The Stranger, the two best songs were never released as singles.

With “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” that decision was almost entirely related to length. At over seven minutes long, “Scenes…” was not exactly a standard-issue single in the 1970s. (A few years earlier, on “The Entertainer,” Billy had lamented music labels' propensity for cutting every single down to “three-oh-five.”

If “Scandinavian Skies” revealed Joel’s debt to Lennon, “Scenes…” was all Paul McCartney. Around this time, McCartney was experimenting with multi-movement pop songs – suites that would move back and forth between several distinct song motifs while maintaining a coherent throughline. That’s exactly what Billy achieved on “Scenes…”

There are three sections – the romantic nostalgia that opens and closes the song, and the two up-tempo themes that tell the basic story in the middle. “Brenda and Eddie were the popular steadies and the King and the Queen of the prom” is the beginning of a classic mini-movie that runs “from the high to the low to the end of the show for the rest of their lives.”

If you do a quick internet search for Billy Joel’s greatest songs, “Scenes…”, the song that was considered too long to be a single, shares the distinction with the iconic “Piano Man” of being at the top of that list more than any other Billy Joel song. Its reputation is well-deserved.