The Essential Billy Joel

May 12, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A good assortment of Billy Joel music for a great price

Cons:Too many missing "essential" songs

The Bottom Line: A good starter CD set for those who are new to Joel, though it is missing too many songs to accurately reflect the title of the album

Without a doubt, Billy Joel will go down as one of the most popular singer/songwriters of all time. With over 150 million albums sold worldwide, Joel is the third highest selling solo artist to come out of the United States. With that kind of success, it isn’t surprising that there have been a bevy of greatest hits-type albums of Joel’s music over the years. One of my least favorite that I have bought over the years is The Essential Billy Joel.

Released in 2001, the album is a two disc CD featuring 36 of Billy Joel’s most “essential” tracks. Since Joel essentially stopped putting out any new music of note in 1993 with the exception of a couple of songs for his 1997 Greatest Hits Volume III album, this should make it possible to get all the truly essential songs from this great artist in one place. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case at all. The tracklist for both disc breaks down as follows:

Disc One
1. Piano Man
2. You’re My Home
3. Captain Jack
4. The Entertainer
5. Say Goodbye to Hollywood
6. Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
7. New York State of Mind
8. She’s Always a Woman
9. Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
10. Only the Good Die Young
11. Just the Way You Are
12. Honesty
13. My Life
14. It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me
15. You May Be Right
16. Don’t Ask Me Why
17. She’s Got a Way
18. Allentown

Disc Two
1. Goodnight Saigon
2. An Innocent Man
3. Uptown Girl
4. The Longest Time
5. Tell Her About It
6. Leave A Tender Moment Alone
7. A Matter of Trust
8. Baby Grand
9. I Go to Extremes
10. We Didn’t Start the Fire
11. Leningrad
12. The Downeaster “Alexa”
13. And So It Goes
14. The River Of Dreams
15. All About Soul (Remix)
16. Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)
17. Waltz #1 (Nunley’s Carousel)
18. Invention in C Minor

Usually, I’d focus on what is right with an album like this, which is the fact that there are so many great songs in one place at a great price. Legitimately, 30 to 32 of the songs on the album can be considered classics of the Billy Joel catalog, with only a couple songs thrown in that most people would have a hard time being considered “essential.” You can even forgive the piano songs at the end as a bit of artistic license on Joel’s part, as most artists try to throw on a new song or two with a greatest hits collection to spice things up. Here, Billy Joel went with some piano playing that just doesn’t seem to fit at all with the rest of the album’s vibe. Again, it is forgivable.

What is not forgivable, however, is the number songs that are left off the album entirely that should have easily made the cut. While you can quibble about songs that I personally love like “To Make You Feel My Love” and “Shameless”, not everyone would agree that they absolutely have to be on the album. I can’t think of a single Billy Joel fan that would consider a greatest hits album complete without “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” or “Big Shot” though. Where is “Pressure”, “The Stranger”, or “The Night Is Still Young?” I can think of at least 10 songs that deserve to be on the CD more than “You’re My Home”, yet they couldn’t seem to find room for them.

With all the negativity that I have towards the album, it is still Billy Joel singing many of his best songs at a great price. As of this review, you could get the whole album for $9.99 on Amazon (though I paid at least twice that a few years back when I got it), which is a heck of a deal for this much great music. The problem is you are just missing too many of the “essential” Billy Joel songs for my liking, especially for the albums title.

Overall, it is hard to find a better price for Billy Joel music, especially if you don’t have any of his songs to begin with. However, if you are a true fan, you already have most of these songs in one form or another. A better and more complete compilation would be the 1973-97 Complete Hits Collection, though it is pricier. Still, you could do worse than to use this as a starting spot for your Joel collection.  

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