5 great songs by Billy Joel that never made it to No. 1

Billy Joel performing at The 66th Annual Grammy Awards.
Billy Joel performing at The 66th Annual Grammy Awards. /

Singer, songwriter, and Piano Man, Billy Joel released his final pop/rock album, River of Dreams, in 1993. This album was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year with the title song nominated for Song of the Year. While Joel has many top 40 songs, you may be surprised to know only three have made it to No. 1. Check out some of his best songs below that never reached that feat.

Throughout his career, Joel wrote 33 Top 40 hits in the US, with three ranking No. 1: "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me," "Tell Her About It," and "We Didn't Start The Fire." Impressive as those songs are, there are many more classic hits that should have been ranked at No. 1. Let's see if you agree with our list.

“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” from The Stranger (1977)

"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" was the first release from The Stranger. The song's lyrics talk about blue-collar workers striving to separate themselves from their working-class roots by purchasing items that will set them apart like trading up from a Chevy to a Cadillac. Anthony isn't based on a single person but according to Joel encompasses "every Irish, Polish, and Italian kid trying to make a living in the U.S." The song made it to No. 17 on Billboard in 1978.

“An Innocent Man” from An Innocent Man (1983)

Released as the third song from the same-titled album, "Innocent Man" was the third Top 10 song from the album, ranking No. 10 in 1984. The song style is a homage to some of Joel's favorites, Ben E. King and the Drifters. The narrator tries to convince a lover that he is not to blame for the behavior of her ex, adding he is ready to commit to restoring her faith: "But I’m not above making up for the love. You’ve been denying you could ever feel. I’m not above doing anything. To restore your faith if I can."

“Captain Jack" from Piano Man (1972)

"Captain Jack" is featured on the 1973 album Piano Man with a live version on Songs in the Attic, which is the performance that changed Joel's career trajectory when Columbia took notice and signed him. The song tells of a drug dealer "Captain Jack" who lived in a housing project and sold heroin to teens from the suburbs. Joel has been criticized for "pushing drug use and masturbation" but a deeper look into the lyrics reveals that he paints the guy out to be loser, not a hero for his actions.

“Only The Good Die Young” from The Stranger (1977)

While the lyrical content of "Only The Good Die Young" from the Stranger album might be questionable, it is a favorite of many Billy Joel fans. Joel has gone on record to state the song isn't anti-Catholic but rather pro-lust with lyrics, "You Catholic girls start much too late, but sooner or later it comes down to fate. I might as well be the one," referring to a girl the narrator wants to have sex but won't because of her Catholic upbringing. The upbeat tempo is infectious, and structurally, the song is perfection, with most people unaware of the lyrical content. The song ranked No. 24 in 1978.

"The Longest Time" from An Innocent Man (1983)

The doo-wop song "For The Longest Time" was released in 1984 as the fourth single from An Innocent Man. The song is presented in the style of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, featuring Joel on lead vocals, all backing vocals, and percussive sounds such as finger snaps and hand claps. The song would reach No. 14 on Billboard but reach No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary Chart.

Billy Joel is currently playing to sold out shows across the US with his residency at Madison Square Garden ending in July 2024. In February 2024, Joel released his first pop single in years with "Turn The Lights Back On." This is his second pop song in more than two decades.