Only the Good Die Young

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"Only the Good Die Young"
Single by Billy Joel
from the album The Stranger
B-side "Get It Right the First Time"
Released 1977
Format 7"
Recorded 1977
Genre Rock
Length 3:55
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Billy Joel
Producer(s) Phil Ramone
Billy Joel singles chronology
"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"
"Only the Good Die Young"
"She's Always a Woman"

"Only the Good Die Young" is a song from Billy Joel's 1977 pop rock album, The Stranger. The song was controversial for its time, with the lyrics written from the perspective of a a young man determined to deflower a Catholic girl who is a virgin[1]

Song information[edit]

The song was inspired by a high school crush of Billy Joel's, Virginia Callahan. The boy/narrator believes that the girl is refusing him because she comes from a religious Catholic family and that she believes sex before marriage is sinful.[2] He sings,

"You Catholic girls start much too late,
but sooner or later it comes down to fate.
I might as well be the one."

The song became a prototypic example of the Streisand effect when religious groups perceived it as "anti-Catholic",[3] and pressured radio stations to remove it from their play lists.[2] "When I wrote 'Only the Good Die Young', the point of the song wasn't so much anti-Catholic as pro-lust," Joel told Performing Songwriter magazine. "The minute they banned it, the album started shooting up the charts." In a 2008 interview, Joel also pointed out one part of the lyrics that virtually all the critics missed – the man in the song failed to get anywhere with the girl, and she kept her chastity.[4]

Demo version[edit]

A demo, included in the box set My Lives, features a slower, reggae version of the song. Joel reprised the song's motif in this version with a church organ. Joel has stated publicly that he changed the reggae beat to a shuffle beat at the request of his longtime drummer, Liberty DeVitto, who hated reggae music.[5]

Track listing[edit]

7" single (1977)[edit]

  1. "Only the Good Die Young" – (3:54)
  2. "Get It Right the First Time" – (3:32)

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1977) Peak
Canadian Singles Chart[6] 18
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[2] 24


  1. ^ Sagert, Kelly Boyer (2007). The 1970s. New York: Greenwood Press. p. 177. ISBN 0-313-33919-8. 
  2. ^ a b c Dean, Maury (2003). Rock N' Roll Gold Rush. Algora. p. 242. ISBN 0-87586-207-1. 
  3. ^ The Story Behind Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young”. archive. Retrieved April 24, 2013
  4. ^ Interview with Oprah Winfrey, The Oprah Winfrey Show, 2008
  5. ^ Video on YouTube: Billy Joel tells how "Only The Good Die Young" came to sound the way it does crediting Liberty Devitto
  6. ^

External links[edit]