Billy Joel's Greatest Hits is a collection released in two sets, 12 years apart. The first set, consisting of two discs, titled Volume I and Volume II, was released in 1985. The second, single disc titled Volume III was released in 1997. "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" and "The Night Is Still Young" were new songs and, at the time, only available on this compilation. All songs but the last three on Volume III, "To Make You Feel My Love", "Hey Girl" and "Light as the Breeze" were written by Joel. The other songs appear mostly in order of their release dates and generally represent Joel's most successful singles.
Greatest Hits – Volume I & Volume II
Greatest Hits – Volume I & Volume II has been certified double diamond by the RIAA, selling over 11.5 million copies (23 million units) and is tied with Pink Floyd's The Wall and Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin IV for third most certified album of all time in the US.
The album includes hits from 1973 to 1985 in chronological order with one exception.
Some pressings do not include "Honesty", and instead include "Don't Ask Me Why".
The compilation includes two previously unreleased tracks, "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" and "The Night Is Still Young". These two songs were also available as singles and, in 1989, on the 5-disc box set Souvenir: The Ultimate Collection which included the entire Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II (with "Honesty"). "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" later featured on the compilation The Ultimate Collection released in 2000, and on disc 15, Collected Additional Masters, of The Complete Albums Collection box set, released in 2011. "The Night Is Still Young" was also included on that same disc 15.
Contrary to some sources, the sax solo on "New York State of Mind" was never re-recorded by Phil Woods for the release of Greatest Hits. The only time that Phil Woods performed on a Billy Joel recording was the song "Just the Way You Are" in 1977.
Double LP/Double cassette
Some original pressings omit "Don't Ask Me Why" and place "Honesty" after "Big Shot", pushing "You May Be Right" to the beginning of Side three.
Double CD release
|1.||"My Life" (Radio edit)||52nd Street||3:51|
|2.||"Big Shot" (Radio edit)||52nd Street||3:43|
|3.||"Honesty" (on original release, instead of "Don't Ask Me Why")||52nd Street||3:51|
|4.||"You May Be Right"||Glass Houses||4:09|
|5.||"It's Still Rock and Roll to Me"||Glass Houses||2:54|
|6.||"Don't Ask Me Why" (on second edition, instead of "Honesty")||Glass Houses||2:57|
|7.||"She's Got a Way" (Live version)||Songs in the Attic; originally from Cold Spring Harbor||3:00|
|8.||"Pressure" (Radio edit)||The Nylon Curtain||3:15|
|9.||"Allentown"||The Nylon Curtain||3:48|
|10.||"Goodnight Saigon"||The Nylon Curtain||7:00|
|11.||"Tell Her About It" (Radio edit)||An Innocent Man||3:35|
|12.||"Uptown Girl"||An Innocent Man||3:15|
|13.||"The Longest Time"||An Innocent Man||3:36|
|14.||"You're Only Human (Second Wind)"||Greatest Hits Volume I & II||4:48|
|15.||"The Night Is Still Young"||Greatest Hits Volume I & II||5:28|
There are three versions of the CD available. The initial 1985 release has "Honesty" as the third track on disc 2, second pressings onward had "Don't Ask Me Why" as the third track, and the 1998 remaster has "Don't Ask Me Why" as the fifth track on disc 2. However, the disc with "Honesty" does not have "Don't Ask Me Why" and vice versa.
On the original 1985 releases, five songs are shorter than their original versions: "Just the Way You Are" is only 3:34 long (1½ minute shorter), verse 2 is totally omitted (from “Don’t go trying some new fashion” to “ I want you just the way you are”) and the sax solo at the end fades early; "My Life" is 3:50 long (nearly 1 minute shorter), the intro is slightly shorter with piano notes at 0:25 omitted (before the first words), same notes are omitted between verses 1 and 2, then again after “You wake up with yourself”, piano passage also missing after “But not on my time” and the piano notes omitted several times at the end; "Big Shot" is 3:43 long (the ending with the “big shot… wow” is shortened by ½ minute approx.); "Pressure" is only 3:13 long (1½ min shorter) with more than a verse omitted (from “I'll tell you what it means” to “I read it too, what does it mean?”); "Tell Her About It" is 3:33 long (the end fades approx. 20 seconds sooner, leaving some wording out).
In 1998, the two CD set was digitally remastered and packaged with two bonus videos ("You're Only Human (Second Wind)" and "The Night Is Still Young") on disc 1. All of the songs that were edited in the 1985 package ("Pressure", "My Life", "Big Shot", "Just the Way You Are" and "Tell Her About It") were restored to their original album lengths. Also, the live version of "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" was removed and replaced with the studio version from Joel's 1976 album Turnstiles.
Some limited editions of a three-disc compilation The Greatest Hits Collection, Volumes I, II & III were issued in 1998, to accompany the world tour.
Certifications and sales
Greatest Hits Volume III
The Greatest Hits Volume III album includes hits from 1983 to 1997. Two previously unreleased studio tracks are included, "To Make You Feel My Love" and "Hey Girl", while the third new track, "Light as the Breeze", was originally recorded for a Leonard Cohen tribute album known as Tower of Song in 1995. All three tracks are newly recorded covers (a rare occurrence in his catalogue).
Chronologically, Greatest Hits Volume III slightly continues from where Volume II left off, as the first two tracks, "Keeping the Faith" and "An Innocent Man", first appeared on his album An Innocent Man.
All songs written by Billy Joel except where noted.
- Billy Joel – keyboards, acoustic piano, Hammond B-3, Fender Rhodes, synthesizers, clavinet, accordion, harpsichord, harmonica, electric guitar, lead and backing vocals
- Bob Bailey, Kim Fleming, Yvonne Hodges, Donna McElroy, Chris Rodriguez, Trisha Yearwood, Alex Brown, Jackie Gouche, Monalisa Young, Wrecia Ford, Marion Saunders, B. David Whitworth, Frank and George Simms, Patty Darcy, Frank Floyd, Mick Jones, Joe Lynn Turner, Ian Lloyd, Chuck Arnold (and members of the Hicksville High School Chorus) – background vocals
- Emory Gordy Jr., David Brown, Russell Javors, Dean Parks, Joey Hunting, Mike Tyler, Danny Kortchmar, Tommy Byrnes, Phillip Nowlam, Bob Mann, Dann Huff, Mac McAnally – guitars
- Paul Franklin – pedal steel ("Light as the Breeze")
- Matt Rollings, Ray Charles – acoustic piano
- Steve Nathan – organ
- Robbie Kondor, Randy Waldman – keyboards
- John Mahoney – keyboards, keyboard programming
- Kevin Jones – keyboard programming
- Jeff Jacobs, Jeff Bova – synthesizers
- Doug Stegmeyer, Neil Stubenhaus, Schuyler Deale, T. M. Stevens, Chuck Treece, Jeff Lee Johnson, Will Lee, Willie Weeks, Randy D. Jackson – bass guitar
- Liberty DeVitto, Vinnie Colaiuta, Zachary Alford, Shawn Pelton – drums
- Crystal Taliefero – percussion, backing vocals
- Mark Rivera – percussion, alto and tenor saxophones
- Michael Brecker – tenor sax
- Ronnie Cutler – baritone sax
Certifications and sales
The Complete Hits Collection: 1973–1997
On October 14, 1997, a boxed set was released that included all three Greatest Hits volumes as well as a fourth disc (entitled An Evening of Questions & Answers... & A Little Music) that contains live tracks and a Q&A with Joel.
Originally available in a long box format, the box set is also available in a compact box format.
|1.||"Billy Joel Spoken Intro/Music Concepts" (Live and mostly spoken)||10:18|
|2.||"Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" (Unreleased live version)||7:50|
|3.||"Beatles Influence" (Live and mostly spoken)||5:18|
|4.||"A Hard Day's Night" (Unreleased live version)||2:53|
|5.||"Why Vienna?" (Live and mostly spoken)||9:28|
|6.||"Vienna" (Unreleased live version)||3:41|
|7.||"History Through the Music" (Live and mostly spoken)||4:31|
|8.||"We Didn't Start the Fire" (Unreleased live version)||5:13|
|9.||"Music Source" (Live and mostly spoken)||9:14|
|10.||"The River of Dreams" (Unreleased original studio recording)||5:20|
|11.||"Piano Bar" (Live and mostly spoken)||7:46|
|12.||"Piano Man" (Unreleased live version)||6:31|
Certifications and sales