BILLY JOEL — “ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG”

  • Writer: Billy Joel
  • Producer: Phil Ramone
  • Recorded: Spring-summer 1977 at A&R Recording in New York City
  • Released: Fall 1977
  • Players:
    Billy Joel — vocals, keyboards
    Doug Stegmeyer — bass
    Hiram Bullock — guitar
    Liberty DeVitto — drums
    Richie Canatta — woodwinds
    Steve Zahn — guitar
    Patrick Williams — orchestrations
  • Album: The Stranger (Columbia, 1977)
  • Also On:
    Greatest Hits Volume I And Volume II (1973-1985) (Columbia, 1985)
    Kohuept (Live In Leningrad) (Columbia, 1987)
    The Complete Hits Collection 1974-1997 (Columbia, 1997)
    Greatest Hits, Vols. I, II & III (Columbia, 2000)
    2000 Years — The Millennium Concert (Columbia, 2000)
    The Essential Billy Joel (Columbia, 2001)
  • A native of Long Island, New York, Billy Joel tried his hand at boxing before settling on a career in music. He told Billboard, “I became a musician partly because of my physical limitations. I wasn’t tall. I don’t have Cary Grant looks. I had to transcend somehow, so when I’m in the studio and I’m free to move, I’m six-foot-six and I look like Cary Grant.”
  • Joel had been recording for six years before The Stranger album broke through to a mass audience, starting with the hit ballad “Just The Way You Are.”
  • “Only The Good Die Young” is a plea for sexual favors from a “good” Catholic girl. The song didn’t amuse some Catholics, and priests spoke out against the song.
  • Of the controversy surrounding the song, Joel has denied that “Only The Good Die Young” is anti-Catholic. He also says he isn’t religious — “I still feel very much like an atheist in the religious aspect of things. But there are spiritual planes that I’m aware of that I don’t know anything about, that I can’t explain.”
  • “Only The Good Die Young” peaked at Number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains one of Joel’s most popular radio songs.
  • The Stranger peaked at Number Two on the Billboard 200. It was also Joel’s first million-seller, and has sold more than ten million copies.

FAST FORWARD:

  • Joel stopped recording pop music after 1993’s River Of Dreams and has devoted himself to classical and instrumental music ever since, though he did release a one-off pop song called “All My Life” earlier this year. He put out his first classical album in 2001 and has said he’ll continue in that vein.
  • Joel continues to tour periodically, both by himself and with Elton John in their Face To Face concerts.
  • Joel has received career citations from the publishing house ASCAP; the Songwriters Hall Of Fame; the Grammys, which gave him the Living Legend Award in 1990; Billboard magazine, which gave him its Century Award in 1994; and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, when he was inducted by his idol Ray Charles.

A stage production called Movin’ Out, which paired Joel’s music with choreography by Twyla Tharp, had a very successful run on Broadway in New York City. Joel shared the Tony Award for Best Orchestrations with Stuart Malina.