Billy Joel performs at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale...

Billy Joel performs at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale on Dec. 29, 1993. Credit: Todd Kaplan / Atlas

Billy Joel song of the day: "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" (from 1973's "Piano Man"

In concert, Billy Joel is the first to list the song's historical inaccuracies.

"Billy the Kid," aka Henry McCarty, was from New York, not West Virginia. Nothing can run east and west of the Rio Grande because the river runs east and west. He never robbed a bank in Colorado. And he died of a gunshot wound, not from hanging. (There's a joke about that, which Joel tells at concerts, but not in family newspapers.)

Joel has said he wanted to incorporate some country in his music and that the song was about storytelling rather than history. But the final verse -- starting with "From a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island, rode a boy with a six-pack in his hand" -- suggests something even more lighthearted, that the song was a way to amuse a bartender friend. A version of "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" was released as the B-side to "She's Got a Way" in 1981, but it remains one of the most talked-about songs from "Piano Man" and a staple in Joel's concerts.


["The Ballad of Billy the Kid"] is about a bartender from Oyster Bay, a guy named Billy who used to tend bar at a place called Uwe's ... right on South Street. We all ended up at the pub at the end of the day and were entertained by the bartender. He was a very personable guy. It was just an exercise in Western-sounding things -- completely historically inaccurate."

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