Aug 022021

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20. Tommy Emmanuel – And So It Goes

If you’re someone who’s jealous of Billy Joel for his having been married to Christie Brinkley, it probably won’t improve your mood to know that before her, he was seeing a teenaged Elle Macpherson. Their relationship was not without its troubles, but if nothing else, it inspired “And So It Goes.” A gorgeous meditation on the aftermath of an argument, the song’s lyrics are matched in beauty only by the song’s music. Tommy Emmanuel, Australian acoustic authority, transferred the melody from piano to guitar. Even if we don’t hear the words anymore, the song’s meaning still comes across, and it can still sweep us away. – Patrick Robbins

19. Garth Brooks – Shameless

In 1997, Billy Joel released the compilation Greatest Hits Volume III, which contained six tracks from his 1989 album Storm Front, including “Shameless.” The song was a minor adult contemporary hit for Joel, but I’ve always reasoned it made the greatest-hits cut because Garth Brooks’ cover was an absolute smash. Brooks recorded the track for his 1991 album Ropin’ the Wind, where it became a number one country hit. The song is an ideal showcase for Brooks’ talents, as he fused elements of ‘70s classic rock with pedal steel guitar and his signature twang. The cover is punctuated by a thunderous outro that features Brooks belting out the words “I’m shameless” again and again, backed by his future spouse Trisha Yearwood. The country-rock classic earned a spot on Brooks’ greatest hits album too. – Curtis Zimmermann

18. The Diamond Family Archive – She’s Always a Woman

“She’s Always a Woman” is one of Billy Joel’s tributes to his first wife, who served as his manager and could fiercely fight for her client. Joel appreciated the tigress, but he knew the tenderness inside her, and the song pays equal tribute to both. Laurence Collyer, of Diamond Family Archive should-be-fame, alters everything but the lyrics. He changes the time signature. He changes the instrumentation. Most importantly, he changes the feel of the song entirely. Now it’s a meditation, a thorough thinking-through of the many facets that make up one very special person. Collyer doesn’t get lost as he navigates her complexities, but don’t be surprised if you do – and if you do, you surely won’t be displeased. – Patrick Robbins

17. Lyman Roger – Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

You’ll find neither a bottle of white nor a bottle of red in this cover. Instead, Roger focuses on the story of Brenda and Eddie. This alternative–maybe you’d even call it pop-punk–take on the song keeps the energy up. Gossiping about people from high school fits perfectly into this genre, and the electric guitar interludes almost sound like video game noises, taking us back to the sounds of teenage youth. – Sara Stoudt

16. OMNI – The Stranger

Recorded in May 2020 as part of Aquarium Drunkard’s Lagniappe Sessions, the Atlanta Post-Pop band OMNI takes Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” from yacht rock to hipster cool at the blink of an ear. Sonically sounding like a long-lost 10cc single played during a Bob Marley listening party, the original DNA of the song is maintained even during the Kraftwerk-inspired interludes. And yes, you will have to wait for it, but the whistling remains intact. – Walt Falconer

15. Willie Nelson – Just The Way You Are

We’ve commented on this cover before, but it stands out in that Nelson has the confidence to put his own spin on the hit. Nelson takes the song at a slightly different rhythm and pace, with fewer “mmm”s. Leaning into the country genre, a harmonica takes over the opening and the saxophone solos (chipper at first, verging on the doleful later on). The guitar joins in with some of the blues. – Sara Stoudt

14. Rowlf the Dog – New York State of Mind

Released nine years after its recording and three years after Jim Henson’s death, Ol’ Brown Ears Is Back would seem at first glance to be one of those novelty albums recorded by members of a not-just-for-children’s program. But Rowlf is a dog of a different color. He was the main Muppet in the ’60s, before Kermit’s star ascended. Being demoted to the supporting cast somehow added pathos to his character, turned him into the ever-smiling pianist who’s seen it all and done half of it twice. That ragged spirit imbues “New York State of Mind,” as Rowlf seeks out the poorer quarters of the Big Apple and reports his findings inside and out. No joke – this is a cover that feels lived in, and if the living has shades of squalor, well, so does the city. A fine, evocative reading that makes you believe its reader is real. Because he is. – Patrick Robbins

13. Beyoncé – Honesty

Beyoncé covering Billy Joel seems like such a contradiction that, to be honest (heh), I was skeptical this was even authentic. Was this like some vestige of the file-sharing era where any half-assed comedy song was labeled “Weird Al” (or the Napster-viral “Gin & Juice” cover supposedly by “Phish” that I – ahem – wrote about in the Cover Me book). But sure enough, she did record it, way back in 2008, before she was the Queen Bee icon she is today, for the oddly-titled Destiny’s Child greatest hits album Mathew Knowles & Music World Present Vol.1: Love Destiny. Real power move to put new solo songs on your band’s compilation album, but to be fair Michelle and Kelly had some too (as did Beyoncé’s non-Child sister Solange, for that matter). I don’t think covering Joel’s schmaltzy “Honesty” played any role in making Beyoncé the coolest pop musician around, but she can belt like no one’s business, and sells the song over a lite R&B backing. – Ray Padgett

12. Laura Zocca – Vienna

Whereas Joel is almost shake-your-head laughing at the ambitious behavior of the person he is addressing in the song, Zocca’s version is a little sadder – but heartfelt just the same. Perhaps she got the message out too late, after the recipient had already burned out. She layers harmonies to emphasize particular words and phrases so that the overall sound ebbs and flows, especially in the chorus. The carnival sound solo is replaced by a simple acoustic guitar, maintaining that mournful air. – Sara Stout

11. Lolo Zouai – She’s Got a Way

If you are not familiar with Lola Zouai, or her oeuvre, you do not stand alone. But stay tuned, as the trajectory is straight North for the French-born American R&B singer with a writing credit on the song “Still Down” from H.E.R.’s self-titled Grammy-winning album. With her complete ownership of “She’s Got A Way,” a gem from Billy Joel’s first studio album, this stand-alone, sparsely produced single spotlights the artist’s subtle phrasing and vocal range to perfection. Should you be searching out the original here, skip by the poorly mixed version from Cold Spring Harbor in favor of the live one from Songs in the Attic that reached #23 on the Billboard charts in 1982. – Walt Falconer

The list wraps up on Page 5.

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  5 Responses to “The 40 Best Billy Joel Covers Ever”

Comments (5)
  1. I’ve always liked Copeland’s version of She’s Always A Woman.

  2. we need a new we didn’t start the fire

  3. Jose Jose – Just The Way You Are

  4. Joel is 200 times the talented artist Springsteen is. His range and versatility beat the repetitive, strident whining of a disaffected malcontent any day.

  5. For me, the greatest Joel cover ever is Dianne Schuur’s reinvention of “New York State of Mind” from her 1984 LP “Deedles.”
    Dave Grusin produced.

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