A Term Paper on Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Volume I by Steven Stadalnik; Berklee College of Music Songwriting Major


Here we will discuss the greatest hits of Billy Joel, in an effort to prove the fraudulent nature of his entire catalog.

Billy Joel has sold millions of records, and has millions of adoring fans around the world. But take a closer look at the celebrated songwriter's works and I believe the house of cards begins to fall.

For example, all of the song lyrics on his Greatest Hits Vol 1 album begin to unravel into an incoherent mess when one examines them more closely. Let's dissect some of the selections..

Piano Man

"It's nine o'clock on a Saturday/the regular crowd shuffles in/there's an old man sitting next to me/making love to his tonic and gin". 

One can accept the premise that it's nine o'clock on a Saturday. That's the only part of this stanza that makes any sense. But why, if Billy Joel is playing the piano, is there an old man sitting next to him? Pianos are not normally situated in a way that drunk old men can just have a seat at them when there's a piano player sitting there.

This is followed by the extremely cheap rhyme, "making love to his tonic and gin". Nobody calls a gin and tonic a tonic and gin. You always name the base alcohol first; that is a stone cold fact, sir.

And this old man is "making love" to his drink? Is it being suggested here that this individual is fucking his cocktail? Even if you grant Billy Joel poetic license here, it's a stretch. It's just not something people say. "Hey Stan, quit fucking your daiquiri over there and give me a hand with this charcoal".

"He says 'son can you play me a memory'/I'm not really sure how it goes".

Billy Joel knows how to play someone's memories? Memories that belong to a man that says he's not sure how it goes, meaning he can't remember it? How is a memory a memory if you can't remember it?

"But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man's clothes". 

Where is this guy from? "I knew it complete"? Who talks like that? Then you realize that this old man weirdo seated on at the piano next to Billy Joel could have been wearing a younger man's clothes yesterday afternoon and it's just another cheap rhyme.

"Sing us a song you're the piano man"

Even this famous line doesn't really make any sense. If one is known for playing the piano to the extent that he has even been dubbed "piano man", why would people ask him to sing? Wouldn't they ask 'play us the piano, you're the piano man'? It's a bit like saying "Flute us a song, you're the cellist". Or "paint us a fence, you're the plumber".

Let's skip ahead a bit past a couple less offensive stanzas, ignoring the fact that there are tenses that don't match and other incongruities, to this gem:

"Now Paul is a real estate novelist"

Paul is a real estate novelist? A novelist that writes about real estate? I imagine fiction about real estate would stand very little chance of ever getting published. That occupation does not exist, sir. It's just pure laziness to make up an occupation when there are literally hundreds to choose from that have the right cadence for this line.

(side note: watch the video they made for this song in the 80's. Think about this while you watch it: most of the extras in that video were convinced they were going to be famous. Think about that. How many became famous? Zero. I assume anyway, maybe George Clooney or someone is in there somewhere, it's hard to say.)

Skip ahead again:

"Now the waitress is practicing politics"

The waitress is practicing politics. You see that all the time, waitresses practicing politics. So many times I have to say "hey waitress, quit practicing politics and bring me my lasagna!".

Captain Jack

"Saturday night and you’re still hangin’ around/Tired of livin’ in your one-horse town/Like to find a little hole in the ground/For a while"

If you're tired of living in a one horse town, why would you aspire to instead live in a hole in the ground? Is that preferable? The only answer is the same answer to any question as to why Billy Joel says what he says: it rhymes.

"So you go to the village in your tie-dye jeans"

Now it is revealed that the one horse town is in fact New York City. I think we can safely count those who hold the opinion that New York City is a one horse town at one: Billy Joel.

"And you stare at the junkies and the closet queens/It’s just like some pornographic magazine"

That would be some pretty disappointing porn. I can't imagine they would sell much of that magazine, if it somehow even got by the publisher in the first place. "Hey Stan (everyone is named Stan) have you seen this issue of "Junkie Porn"? I'm thinking we shelve this and not send it to press. Seems like a bad idea".

"Captain jack will get you high tonight/And take you to your special island/Captain jack will get you by tonight/Just a little push and you’ll be smilin’"

This apparently is a reference to heroin. Heroin doesn't really make you smile though, does it? No one ever says "that Dave, always smiling. It must be the heroin".

"Your sister’s gone out. she’s on a date/You just sit at home and masturbate"

Now you're back home masturbating, thinking about your sister on a date. You certainly are unique. Shouldn't you be out looking for a hole in the ground to live in?

"So you stand on the corner in you new English clothes/And you look so polished from your hair down to your toes"

Again here is a quality that is not normally associated with a heroin addict. In this case it is looking "polished". "Dave is such a polished looking fellow, especially for a heroin addict. And always smiling."

Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)

Right off the bat the title of this song is ridiculous. Why is it parenthetically titled "Anthony's Song" when there's like 7 different characters in it? Is it because parenthetically titling songs "_____'s Song" was fashionable for a hot minute in the 70's? Yes.

Sergeant O'Leary is walkin' the beat/At night he becomes a bartender

That's a difficult premise to go with: a policeman, a sergeant no less, moonlighting as a bartender. I won't say it's never happened, but I imagine being a Sergeant in the New York City area keeps you pretty well busy, not to mention well compensated. (they make 6 figures easy)

Yeah and [Sergeant O'Leary is] tradin' in his Chevy for a Cadillacacacacacacacac/You oughta know by now

We oughta know what by now? That Sergeant O'Leary is trading a Chevy for a Cadillac? I think Billy Joel overestimates how many of us are familiar with Sergeant O'Leary and his car ambitions. 

And if he can't drive with a broken back/At least he can polish the fenders 

That makes very little sense. How has Sergeant O'Leary broken his back in such a way that it prohibits him from driving, but not from polishing the fenders of his Cadillacacacacacacacac? And why would you polish only your fenders? That would be the last area of polishing focus for most people I imagine. I am starting to get angry now. 

Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

Again, if you're not violently vomiting from the title of this song alone, you have an iron constitution, sir. The amount of times Billy Joel says "Brenda and Eddie" in this song is in itself infuriating. Billy Joel just wants to write songs with characters in them because he fancies himself as a Bob Dylan, but he doesn't bother to make them interesting enough to care about in any meaningful way. And they always have to have to stupid names like Brenda and Eddie. Really have you ever met anyone named Brenda? BRENDA!?!?!? Where are the Stans? I am going to figure out where Billy Joel lives and stab him in the asshole.

New York State of Mind

This song is Billy Joel saying that he, unlike some folks who vacation in Hollywood or Miami Beach, prefers to vacation in New York City. To make this point he goes on to say that he is "taking a Greyhound on the 'Hudson River Line' " which is a Greyhound line that doesn't exist and never has and doesn't really make any sense anyway since he follows it up by pointing out that he doesn't "care if [his eventual destination] is Chinatown.." - Chinatown is not on the Hudson River; it's on the other side of Manhattan closer to the East River, not to mention the fact that it would be a TERRIBLE vacation spot by nearly any standard. "You know where I want to go on vacation? Somewhere there's no trees that smells like piss and grease, and I'm more likely than not to get mugged." The song is a mess. It's an absolute mess. The fury I am feeling. It's indescribable.

Only The Good Die Young

Starting with yet another stupid, shallow character named Virginia (because she's a virgin, get it?) who is one of those "Catholic girls", we somehow get to this:

Well, They showed you a statue, told you to pray/They built you a temple and locked you away

Temples are not structures normally associated with Catholicism.  I don't think Catholics normally lock young girls away either; someone probably would have blown the whistle on that a long time ago. IT'S NONSENSE.


I could go on. But now I am going to go back to working on my own brilliant and criminally under-appreciated masterpieces, and then I might take a Greyhound out to Billy Joel's house on the Hudson River Line and throw my poop at his windows.

- Jake Zavracky 2011