New York State of Mind: Ranking Billy Joel's 10 Best NY Anthems
Do you know which Italian restaurant is "the" Italian restaurant?
Billy Joel recently made history by becoming the first artist to be booked at Madison Square Garden once a month … for the rest of time.
MSG named Joel as “the Garden’s first entertainment franchise.” That honor entails a logo being created for him, though more importantly, it means that Joel will play a show at the Garden once a month, for as long as a) he’s able to do so, and b) people are paying to watch him.
“Performing at Madison Square Garden is a thrilling experience,” Joel said in a statement. “I ve played different venues all over the world, but there s no place like coming home to the Garden. Since my first show in 1978, I ve always looked forward to the energy of the crowd.”
To celebrate this momentous occasion, we’re counting down the most quintessentially “New York” songs of Joel‘s oeuvre.
10. "Why Should I Worry"
The best part of Oliver & Company, an otherwise middling Disney movie from 1988, “Why Should I Worry” wasn’t written by Joel, but he does sing the hell out of it.
Quintessentially New York Lyrics: “One minute I’m in Central Park, then I’m down on Delancey Street / From the Bowery to St. Marks, there’s a syncopated beat.”
9. "Big Man on Mulberry Street"
“Big Man” was prominently featured in an episode of Moonlighting, in a dream sequence that starred Sandahl Bergman. (And yes, Bruce Willis.)
Quintessentially New York Lyrics: “I cruise from Houston to Canal street, a misfit and a rebel / I see the winos talking to themselves, and I can understand.”
8. "The Ballad of Billy the Kid"
It’s about Billy The Kid, but it’s also apparently about “a bartender who worked in Oyster Bay, by the name of Billy Nastri.”
Quintessentially New York Lyrics: “From a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island rode a boy with a six-pack in his hand / And his daring life of crime made him a legend in his time / East and West of the Rio Grande.”
7. "You May Be Right"
Released in 1980, when it was crazy to walk through Bedford-Stuyvesant, to say nothing of riding one’s motorcycle in the rain.
Quintessentially New York Lyrics: “I’ve been stranded in the combat zone, I walked through Bedford-Stuy alone / Even rode my motorcycle in the rain.”
6. "Big Shot"
No less a New York figure than Woody Allen was also quite taken with Elaine’s, setting a scene in Manhattan at the famous (now closed) diner.
Quintessentially New York Lyrics: “They were all impressed with your Halston dress, and the people that you knew at Elaine’s / And the story of your latest success kept ’em so entertained.”
5. "Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway"
Joel said he wrote this song while living in Los Angeles in 1975 and hearing people deride New York for its financial troubles. He’s since resurrected it – with appropriately altered – lyrics at benefit concerts following 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.
Quintessentially New York Lyrics: “I’ve seen the lights go out on Broadway, I saw the ruins at my feet / You know we almost didn’t notice it, we’d seen it all the time on Forty-second Street.”
4. "Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)"
Certainly a contender for “Best Stuttering Song” (along with “My Generation” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”), “Movin’ Out” was also the title of a Twyla Tharp Broadway dance musical featuring Joel’s music that ran from 2002-2005.
Quintessentially New York Lyrics: “Sergeant O’Leary is walkin’ the beat, at night he becomes a bartender / He works at Mister Cacciatore’s down on Sullivan Street, across from the medical center.”
3. "Captain Jack"
One of the catchiest songs about a drug dealer ever.
Quintessentially New York Lyrics: “So you go to the Village in your tie-dye jeans / And you stare at the junkies and the closet queens / It’s like some pornographic magazine / And you smile.”
2. "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant"
Joel said that he wrote this song about a restaurant across from Carnegie Hall called Fontana de Trevi, though he’s also dedicated it to a restaurant called Christiano’s in Syosset, New York.
Quintessentially New York Lyrics: “Do you remember those days hanging out at the Village green / Engineer boots, leather jackets, and tight blue jeans.”
1. "New York State of Mind"
Seriously, what else did you think it would be? We’re partial to this version, but there’s also a seriously heartrending performance that combines it with “Miami 2017” from “The Concert for New York City,” held just over a month after 9/11.
Quintessentially New York Lyrics: “It comes down to reality, and it’s fine with me ’cause I’ve let it slide / Don’t care if it’s Chinatown or on Riverside / I don’t have any reasons, I’ve left them all behind / I’m in a New York state of mind.”