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21 Billy Joel songs he should play live more often at Madison Square Garden

Billy Joel performs, as he has been doing

Billy Joel performs, as he has been doing monthly, at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 17, 2014. Credit: Cory Schwartz

With Billy Joel's groundbreaking monthly residency at Madison Square Garden hitting the home stretch of its first year, he seems to be hitting his stride in terms of balancing hits and rarities in his setlist.

When he isn't sure, Joel has taken to offering fans a "fielder's choice," letting them pick the next song he plays from two options. We thought it would be fun to turn the tables with a "fielder's choice" of our own.

Sure, we can't get enough of Joel's now-traditional opener "Miami 2017," the set-closer "Piano Man" and the usual finale "Only the Good Die Young." But here's our list of the 21 Joel songs we'd love to hear more of in his set. Feel free to leave yours in the comments.

 

1. "Summer, Highland Falls"

ALBUM "Turnstiles" (1976)

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WHY Not only is Joel self-aware enough to recognize his tendencies to make it "always sadness or euphoria," but he is forthcoming enough to tell people about it. He's also talented enough to tie it to a melody memorable and sturdy enough to support lines like "We are forced to recognize our inhumanity/Our reason coexists with our insanity" in a sing-along.

CHANCES Fair to good. Its inclusion basically depends on his mood. How often are you willing to air your mental issues in public?

 

2. "Vienna"

ALBUM "The Stranger" (1977)

WHY A Joel classic packed with so many layers of meaning - from his issues with his father to thoughts on dreams and aging, it's a miracle it still manages to soar. But it does. Every time.

CHANCES Fair to good. It's been showing up in his set as a "fielder's choice" in recent months, overwhelmingly trampling whatever it is up against.

 

3. "Don't Ask Me Why"

ALBUM "Glass Houses" (1980)

WHY He's amped up the Latin influences of this one in recent years to the point that it's become a highlight of the show whenever he plays it.

CHANCES Good. It's just so much fun.

 

4. "Shameless"

ALBUM "Storm Front" (1989)

WHY A great power ballad so well-crafted that it could work in any number of genres, though Joel's soul-man reading, especially at the end, is a thrill to behold.

CHANCES Slim. Garth Brooks had a smash with it by turning it into a country song, and Joel seems content to let him have it.

 

5. "Leave a Tender Moment Alone"

ALBUM "An Innocent Man" (1983)

WHY It's a gorgeous bit of advice about the awkwardness of love, built around a sweet, simple chorus and a great harmonica solo from Toots Thielemans.

CHANCES Slim to none. Joel has said that it isn't one of his favorites to play.

 

6. "Prelude/Angry Young Man"

ALBUM "Turnstiles" (1976)

WHY It's always amazing to watch Joel's flying fingers during the opening piano solo. Also, people are still angry.

CHANCES Fair to good. Previously a centerpiece of his set, it's been swapped out to make way for other epics.

 

7. "And So It Goes"

ALBUM "Storm Front" (1989)

WHY A tender love song stripped to the bare essentials -- Joel's poignant vocals and the piano.

CHANCES Fair to good. A simple, powerful moment.

 

8. "Sometimes a Fantasy"

ALBUM "Glass Houses" (1980)

WHY Joel taps into the energy of new wave without losing his own specific style, especially when he brings it home at the end.

CHANCES Fair to good. Always a big energy boost in the set.

 

9. "Surprises"

ALBUM "The Nylon Curtain" (1982)

WHY The influence of Paul McCartney on Joel's work is evident in a lot of songs, but this one sounds very much like latter-day John Lennon.

CHANCES Fair. Like much of "The Nylon Curtain," it's very special to Joel.

 

10. "Captain Jack"

ALBUM "Piano Man" (1973)

WHY Its depiction of bored, suburban teen life is so accurate that it's practically an audio documentary, yet generations of boys-turned-men have embraced it as an anthem for momentary escapes.

CHANCES Slim to none. Joel generally only rolls this out in Philadelphia where its live version was a huge hit.

 

11. "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)"

ALBUM "River of Dreams" (1993)

WHY One of Joel's most straightforward songs, a simple piano ballad addressed to his daughter.

CHANCES Fair. In another artist's catalogue this would be a final encore. In Joel's world, it is one of many memorable love songs.

 

12. "Baby Grand"

ALBUM "The Bridge" (1986)

WHY A rare rhythm and blues number that shows how well Joel's voice fits in that world. He even holds his own with the great Ray Charles.

CHANCES Slim to none. Ray Charles really is irreplaceable.

 

13. "Zanzibar"

ALBUM "52nd Street" (1978)

WHY Lounge-iness! Baseball metaphors! The real selling point of this, though, is the amazing jazzy trumpet solo in the middle, which Carl Fischer has been delivering incredibly well during the residency.

CHANCES Good. The jazziness makes for a great change of pace.

 

14. "Where's the Orchestra"

ALBUM "The Nylon Curtain" (1982)

WHY Joel writes a song suited for a Broadway musical, ostensibly about the Broadway experience, but also about the loneliness of being an artist.

CHANCES Slim. Joel clearly loves playing this song, but recognizes that it can change the momentum of a show. When he plays it, it's usually as a "Fielder's Choice."

 

15. "Just the Way You Are"

ALBUM "The Stranger" (1977)

WHY Sometimes you're in the mood for something sweet.

CHANCES Slim. The odds on hearing this used to be way worse since he has rarely played it since the '70s, but Joel dusted it off in September, so anything is possible.

 

16. "The Ballad of Billy the Kid"

ALBUM "Piano Man" (1973)

WHY "From a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island?"

CHANCES Fair to good. The massiveness of the tale and the arrangement fits The Garden so well.

 

17. "Night Is Still Young"

ALBUM "Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 & 2" (1985)

WHY There's a bit of Hall & Oates soul in this sweet love song. There's also a premonition of the current residency as he sings, "I can see a time coming when I'm gonna throw my suitcase out."

CHANCES Slim to fair. It starts small, but grows into an arena-sized love song.

 

18. "Stop in Nevada"

ALBUM "Piano Man" (1973)

WHY I've always thought Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman must have listened to the chorus of this song on a loop when they were doing "Bat Out of Hell" to get the dramatic phrasing just right. This is one of Joel's best character-driven songs, but it's also a rare look at super-sized drama from him.

CHANCES Fair. It goes in and out of the setlist depending on Joel's mood.

 

19. "Weekend Song"

ALBUM "Streetlife Serenade" (1974)

WHY Celebrating time away from your ungrateful, disrespectful bosses feels just as valid today - maybe even more valid considering how workloads have increased in the past four decades.

CHANCES Slim to none. He hasn't played it yet during this residency.

 

20. "All My Life"

ALBUM None. Release as a single in 2007.

WHY Originally written for Tony Bennett to sing, Joel recorded the stylish, jazzy ballad himself after Bennett felt it didn't fit with his project. The arrangement allows Joel to showcase his voice in a different way.

CHANCES Slim to none. He's only played it a handful of times, usually dedicated to his ex-wife, Katie Lee.

 

21. "Goodnight Saigon"

ALBUM "The Nylon Curtain" (1982)

WHY It's become a moving tribute to not just those who serve in the military, but all who dedicate their lives to service. When he performs it now, it usually involves representatives from the military and first-responders singing "We will all go down together" with not just Joel, but with an audience thanking them for their service and promising not to forget them.

CHANCES Slim. It's reserved for special occasions. As it should be.

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