Take Five: Overlooked Billy Joel Tracks

Singer, songwriter and pianist Billy Joel has a staggering list of achievements. In addition to winning five Grammy Awards, he was a 2013 recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors; he has been bestowed no less than seven honorary doctorates; he placed two albums on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time countdown. And the New York City native has countless other well-earned honors. His flawed debut album, Cold Spring Harbor was released in 1971; a speed-corrected version was released just over 40 years ago, in December 1983.

After a massively successful career as a recording artist, some 30 years ago Billy Joel left behind the part of his career that focused on pop music recording; after releasing 1993’s River of Dreams; he turned his focus to live performance; prior to “Turn the Lights Back On,” a new track that debuted in February 2024, his only release of new music since that time has been Fantasies & Delusions, a 2001 collection of original classical compositions.

The 4th best selling recording artist of all time, Joel has landed more than 30 songs on the U.S. Top 40 charts (as well as many hit singles abroad), and at least 20 of his albums have gone Platinum (1 million or more units sold) or better in the U.S. But even against that high profile backdrop, there are great songs in Billy Joel’s catalog that are sometimes overlooked. Here are five songs from the “piano man” that you might have missed.

“She’s Got a Way” from Cold Spring Harbor (1971)
One of Billy Joel’s most beloved non-hit single tracks, “She’s Got a Way” would be a highlight of his 1981 live release, Songs in the Attic. But the tune was originally featured as the opening track on Joel’s solo debut, the critically-maligned Cold Spring Harbor. That record didn’t sell, in part because of a mastering error that raised the key of the music, making Joel sound (in his words) “like the Bee Gees.” But the song itself was strong enough to remain in Joel’s live set.

“Souvenir” from Streetlife Serenade (1974)
Billy Joel’s third studio album sold modestly in comparison to its predecessor, 1973’s Piano Man. By most stands, though, it was still a major commercial success, earning the Platinum designation in 1997 (some 23 years after its release). The album would provide a bounty of beloved songs that found their way into Joel’s live set; for many years he closed his concerts with this brief and lovely number.

“Summer, Highland Falls” from Turnstiles (1976)
Often cited among serious Joel fans as one of their favorite of his albums, Turnstiles was in fact his poorest-selling release, reaching only #122 on the U.S. album charts. Only his pre-fame debut Cold Spring Harbor fared worse in the marketplace. But Turnstiles still managed to earn a Platinum disc, and it contains some of his best songwriting. A highlight of the record is this song, with a rapid-fire stream of emotionally resonant lyrics set to a delightful melody.

“Get it Right the First Time” from The Stranger (1977)
Joel’s breakthrough album, The Stranger sold so well that it pulled much of his back catalog back onto the cart in its wake. Four singles would be released from The Stranger, and every one of them found their way onto the U.S. Top 40 singles chart. In light of the album’s success, it’s counter-intuitive to single out an “overlooked” song, but this song, placed near the end of the original LP’s second side and also featured as the b-side to the smash hit single “Just the Way You Are” isn’t nearly as well-known as the a-side singles from the record.

“Pressure” from The Nylon Curtain (1982)
A facile and expressive keyboardist, Billy Joel’s skill on instruments other than the piano are sometimes overlooked. His catchy and memorable Prophet-5 synthesizer lines on this tune off the smash LP The Nylon Curtain deserve praise. Joel hasn’t always been the most credible rocker – he’s more of a balladeer/troubadour – but this foray into new-wave-leaning styles works for him. “Pressure” was indeed a hit – soaring to #20 on the Billboard singles chart – but it was somewhat overshadowed by an even bigger smash hit single from the album (“Allentown”) and a track that came in for notable critical praise (“Goodnight Saigon”).