Billy Joel on His Five Greatest Songs
(Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Billy Joel on His Five Greatest Songs
Billy Joel performs onstage at his 31st consecutive show at Madison Square Garden on July 20, 2016, in New York City (D Dipasupil/Getty Images)


Whether you’re a diehard Billy Joel fan or a newcomer to his catalog, there’s a lot of material to work with. While Joel hasn’t put out a pop album since 1993’s River of Dreams, he has kept his catalog alive (and relevant) onstage, performing across the country, most notably at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

In a recent appearance on Colbert, the late-night talk show host asked the legendary musician what he thought his five best songs were. “I actually think about that when I’m on stage,” quipped Joel. Here’s the list he curated for Colbert:


5. “Vienna” from The Stranger (1977) – The song was originally released as a B-side to “She’s Always a Woman“—but doesn’t sound like one at all. The fact that it’s sandwiched between “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” (see below) and “Only the Good Die Young” only makes it burn brighter.


4. “And So It Goes” from Storm Front (1989) – Written about his fling with model Elle MacPherson, Joel made the song his closing track on Storm Front—an album that produced No. 1 single “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The latter couldn’t have come out at a better time (September 1989); two months later the Berlin Wall fell, launching the song and the album skyward. “And So It Goes” managed to crack the Top 40.


3. “You May Be Right” from Glass Houses (1980) – The first major hit single on the list, it reached No. 7 on the Billboard charts, with the album hitting No. 1. Oddly, the glue that holds the melody together is its memorable opening guitar riff—not the first thing you’d think of when listening to a guy known as the Piano Man.


2. “She’s Right on Time” from The Nylon Curtain (1982) – The first track on the second side of Curtain, “She’s Right on Time” didn’t chart, but it sure is a hidden gem: It sounds like a cross between Revolver-era Beatles and the sweeter, less trippy side of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.


1. “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” from The Stranger (1977) – Rare is the Billy Joel fan who has ever stepped foot in a fancy (or scrappy) Italian restaurant and not wanted the waiter to ask this trio of questions: “A bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rosé instead?” Of course, this is the famous opening to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” a fan favorite and familiar live number. It’s actually an operatic medley consisting of three separate songs in the vein of the second side of The Beatles’ Abbey Road or Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s the type of song that makes you want to just head down to Little Italy and waste a day at an outdoor café.


Below, find the full interview between Stephen Colbert and Billy Joel, and at the bottom, his performance of “Miami 2017,” which he recently performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.


—Will Levith for RealClearLife