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Honesty (Billy Joel song)

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Honesty single.jpg
Artwork for Dutch, French, and German vinyl releases
Single by Billy Joel
from the album 52nd Street
B-side "The Mexican Connection", "Root Beer Rag"
Released May 1979
Format 7"
Recorded 1978; A&R Recording, Inc., 799 7th Avenue at 52nd Street, New York City
Length 3:53
Label Columbia
Songwriter(s) Billy Joel
Producer(s) Phil Ramone
Billy Joel singles chronology
"Big Shot"
"Until the Night"

"Big Shot"
"Until the Night"
52nd Street track listing
"Big Shot"
"My Life"
Music video
"Honesty" on YouTube

"Honesty" is a song by American singer and songwriter Billy Joel. Columbia Records released the song as the third single from his sixth studio album 52nd Street (1978) in 1979. "Honesty" was solely written by Joel, while production was handled by Phil Ramone. The song was not included on any of Joel's US-released compilation packages; however, it appears on the Dutch and Japanese editions of Greatest Hits Volume 2, replacing "Don't Ask Me Why" (1980). "Honesty" is a piano ballad that talks about the inherent lack of shame.

The song received mostly positive reviews from music critics, who generally praised its lyrics and piano instrumentation. It also received comparisons to other songs by Joel. "Honesty" peaked at number twenty-four on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the album's third consecutive top forty hit. It went to Number 1 in France and has also been certified gold by Recording Industry Association of Japan for ringtone download sales of over 100,000 units. Joel performed the song live several times with Elton John and later with Bryan Adams. "Honesty" has been covered and sampled by various artists, including by American R&B recording artist, Beyoncé.

Background and composition[edit]

"Honesty" was solely written by Billy Joel while production was handled by Phil Ramone.[1] It is the second song from his sixth studio album 52nd Street (1978).[1] The song was also included on South Korean and Japanese edition of Joel's 1985 compilation Greatest Hits Volume 2 as one of the bonus tracks.[2] The song wasn't included on any of Joel's US released compilation packages; however, it appears on the Dutch edition as well as the aforementioned Japanese edition of Greatest Hits Volume 2, instead of "Don't Ask Me Why" (1980).[2] David Spinozza plays the acoustic guitar in the song, Liberty DeVitto plays the drums and Robert Freedman the horn and string orchestration.[1]

"Honesty" is a piano ballad with synthesizer embellishments.[3] It opens with "sad and tender" piano chords.[3] According to Ken Bielen in his book The Words and Music of Billy Joel, Liberty DeVitto's drums and cymbal crashes, remind listeners that "the track is a predecessor of the power ballads of the 1980s and 1990s".[3] It talks about the inherent lack of honesty even in the closest of relationships. In the song Joel sings the lines "Honesty is such a lonely word".[4][5] Joel further sings about wearing his heart on his sleeve in "Honesty".[6] According to Chuck Klosterman of The New York Times, "[the song] implies that the only way you can tell that someone really cares about you is if they tell you you're bad."[7] "Leningrad" (1989), a song from Joel's eleventh studio album Storm Front, has been compared to "Honesty".[8] According to the sheet music published on the website by Faber Music, "Honesty" is a pop rock and classical rock song written in the key of B♭ major.[9] The song is set in common time and performed in a slow tempo of 80 beats per minute.[9] Joel's vocals range from the note of Bb2 to Bb4.[9]


While reviewing 52nd Street Stephen Thomas Erlewine of the website AllMusic noted that "Honesty" was one of Joel's best songs.[10] Timothy White of Billboard magazine called the song a pensive pop hit.[11] A writer of Rolling Stone felt that "The sweet music of 'Honesty' is sabotaged by trite lyrics".[12] The Phoenix's Michael Lawson noted that the song was "well suited for middle-of-the-road tastes".[13] According to Ken Bielen, "'Honesty' is a plea for truth, not only in romantic relationships but also from the politicians who affect our lives."[3] Adam Graham of MTV News described the song as a "big ballad".[14] The song was nominated in the category for Song of the Year at the 22nd Grammy Awards held on February 27, 1980.[15]

"Honesty" peaked at number sixteen on the Canadian Singles Chart.[16] On July 28, 1979 the song debuted at number thirty one on the Dutch Top 40 which later become its peak position.[17] The next week, the song fell seven positions placing at number thirty eight.[17] However, on August 11, 1979, "Honesty" charted at number thirty five before falling out of the chart the next week.[17] In New Zealand, "Honesty" debuted at number forty seven, on June 10, 1979 and later peaked at number thirty eight. After its peak position, the song fell out of the chart.[18] On the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US, the song peaked at number twenty four.[19][20] In May 2009, Joel's version was certified gold by Recording Industry Association of Japan for ringtone download sales of over 100,000 units.[21] It saw its greatest chart peak in France, going all the way to Number 1.

Live performances[edit]

Joel performed the song with Elton John at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey in July 1994. First, they sang "Your Song" (1970) by John and after that they performed "Honesty" while playing on the piano.[22] "Honesty" was also performed by John and Joel on March 29, 1995 in SkyDome, Toronto.[23] The same routine was performed in May 1998 in Dublin.[24] On July 31, 2006, Joel performed the song at a free concert, at the Colosseum, Rome, Italy.[25][26]


There are two video versions; one that uses the album track and another that uses a version slightly different from the album track. Both versions are identical until the last verse (3:20) which uses different vocals (This version is not available on The Essential Video Collection).


Credits for "Honesty" adapted from 52nd Street liner notes.[1]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Honesty" – 3:53
  2. "The Mexican Connection" – 3:38
  • Dutch single/CBS 7150[28]
  1. "Honesty" – 3:53
  2. "Root Beer Rag" – 2:59
  • CBS single
  1. "Honesty"
  2. "My Life"

Charts and certifications[edit]

Cover versions[edit]

Belgian jazz musician, Toots Thielemans, recorded a harmonica instrumental cover version of the song with a five-piece combo at Nippon Columbia's Grand Studio in Tokyo, Japan in 1979.[3] "Honesty" has been particularly popular in South Korea and Japan for decades and covered by East Asian musicians including Hajime Mizoguchi on his album yours;tears (2007),[39] and K on his album The Timeless Collection Vol. 1 (2007).[40] In 1981, Mexican singer David Haro recorded under the title "Sinceridad" from the album Calido.[41] "From Marcy to Hollywood", a song by American rappers Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek and Sauce Money from the soundtrack album The Players Club, (1998) featured a sample of "Honesty".[42] During his auditions for Fox's Glee, Canadian actor Cory Monteith sang "Honesty".[43] Fellow Glee actor Kevin McHale, as his character Artie Abrams, covered the song in the show's 2013 tribute episode "Movin' Out". In 2010, Swedish singer Helen Sjöholm covered the song for her 2010 album Euforia – Helen Sjöholm sjunger Billy Joel under the title "Ärlighet".[44] Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal sings a cover of the song in the 2005 film Happy Endings.

In March 2012, eleventh season contestant of American Idol, Hollie Cavanagh, covered the song. Her performance received mixed reviews from the judges of the show, who said that she was "a little pitchy" and added that she seemed to be "overthinking" the song.[45] Amy Reiter of Los Angeles Times noted that "her clear, crisp tone, crashed and burned on 'Honesty,' missing notes and losing her way".[45] Laura Prudom of The Huffington Post was mixed about her performance writing, "She was occasionally pitchy on this song, and seemed to be overthinking it in parts and allowing the song to overwhelm her... Unusually, she seemed both nasal and pitchy in the early parts of the performance... her choice of a pantsuit was completely baffling, since it made her look nearer 40 than 20."[46] Later, during an interview, Cavanagh revealed that she had difficulties singing the song because she had never heard it before.[47][48]

Russian singer, Roman Leemansky, recorded in 2015 a Russian cover version of the song with title "Искренность" translated by Stanislav Weiss.

Beyoncé Knowles version[edit]

Beyoncé Knowles (pictured; 2008) covered "Honesty" for her album I Am... Sasha Fierce

In 2008, American recording artist, Beyoncé Knowles re-recorded Billy Joel's version of the song produced by Scott Storch for a compilation album of her former group Destiny's Child, titled Mathew Knowles & Music World Present Vol.1: Love Destiny.[49][50][51] The song was later included on the platinum edition of her third solo album, I Am... Sasha Fierce (2008).[52][53][54] Pip Ellwood of Entertainment Focus described Knowles' version of the song as a "turgid" ballad that doesn't "add too much to the record".[55] Serving as the sixteenth track to Knowles' platinum edition re-release of I Am... Sasha Fierce, the song contrasts with previous tracks such as "Why Don't You Love Me".[56] It showcases Knowles' "soulful" voice and "outstanding" vocal range as stated by Hannah Spencer of the website Allgigs.[56] Ken Bielen in his book The Words and Music of Billy Joel wrote, "Backed primarily by an electronic keyboard and an urban rhythm and blues arrangement, she stays faithful to the original ballad with a bittersweet vocal performance."[3] "Honesty" was performed during Knowles' concert at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul on October 20, 2009 as part of her worldwide I Am... Tour (2009–10).[57] The song became very popular on the South Korea Gaon International charts, peaking at number two.[58] It became the 9th and 173rd best-selling single in 2010 and 2011 in South Korea respectively selling over 800,000 digital downloads.[59][60]



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  2. ^ a b Sources for the Dutch and Japanese editions of Greatest Hits Volume 2:
    • Greatest Hits Volume 2 (Dutch Edition). Billy Joel. Columbia Records. 1985. 
    • Greatest Hits Volume 2 (Japanese Edition). Billy Joel. Columbia Records. 1985. 
    • Greatest Hits Volume 2 (South Korean Edition). Billy Joel. Columbia Records. 1985. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Bielen, Ken (2011). The Words and Music of Billy Joel. p. 131. ISBN 9780313380167. Retrieved March 8, 2012. 
  4. ^ Marvez, Alex (March 11, 2011). "Lack of trust hurts NFL talks". Herald Sun. Retrieved August 24, 2011. 
  5. ^ Norman, Matthew (October 20, 2011). "Rugby World Cup 2011: Well done Warren Gatland, you honestly cost Wales the World Cup". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved March 8, 2012. 
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  8. ^ Holden, Stephen (October 18, 1989). "The Pop Life". The New York Times Company. Retrieved August 24, 2011. 
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  23. ^ Sakamoto, John (April 30, 1995). "Concert Review: SkyDome, Toronto – Mar 29, 1995". Jam!. Retrieved August 24, 2011. 
  24. ^ Hooper, Niamh (May 30, 1998). "Polished piano pair serenade fans with face to face concert". Irish Independent. Retrieved August 24, 2011. 
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  26. ^ "Billy Joel, Bryan Adams Perform Free Show". Fox News Channel. Associated Press. August 1, 2006. Retrieved August 24, 2011. 
  27. ^ Honesty (US single, 7"). Billy Joel. United States: Columbia Records. 1979. 
  28. ^ Honesty (Dutch single, 7"). Billy Joel. United States: Columbia Records. 1979. 
  29. ^ . Retrieved October 20, 2017.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  30. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2006). Sisältää hitin – levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972 (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava. p. 263. ISBN 978-951-1-21053-5. 
  31. ^ Okamoto, Satoshi (2006). Oricon Single Chart Book: Complete Edition 1968–2005. Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. ISBN 4-87131-076-0. 
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  33. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1993). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–1993. Record Research. p. 121. 
  34. ^ * Zimbabwe. Kimberley, C. Zimbabwe: singles chart book. Harare: C. Kimberley, 2000
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  36. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1999). Pop Annual. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-142-X. 
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  38. ^ "French single certifications – Billy Joel – Honesty" (in French). InfoDisc.  Select BILLY JOEL and click OK
  39. ^ "Hajime Mizoguchi – yours;tears". CD Japan. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  40. ^ The Timeless Collection Vol. 1 (Compact Disc). K. Studioseven Recordings. 2007. 
  41. ^ Calido (Compact Disc). David Haro. 1981. 
  42. ^ The Players Club (Compact Disc). Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek and Sauce Money. Heavyweight/A&M. 1998. 
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  44. ^ Euforia – Helen Sjöholm sjunger Billy Joel (Compact Disc). Helen Sjöholm. Universal Music Group. 2010. 060252753381. 
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  47. ^ Deerwester, Jayme (May 11, 2012). "Hollie's exit interview: 'Something was just different'". USA Today. Retrieved May 30, 2012. 
  48. ^ Amabile Angermiller, Michele (May 11, 2012). "'American Idol' Castoff Hollie Cavanagh Stands by Her Song Choice, Despite Jimmy Iovine's Criticism". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 30, 2012. 
  49. ^ "Mathew Knowles and Music World Present, Vol. 1: Love Destiny". AllMusic. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  50. ^ "Mathew Knowles and Music World Present, Vol. 1: Love Destiny". Amazon Inc. Retrieved December 20, 2011. 
  51. ^ Mathew Knowles & Music World Present Vol.1: Love Destiny (Compact Disc). Destiny's Child. Columbia Records. 2008. 
  52. ^ "I Am...Sasha Fierce (Platinum Edition)". iTunes Store. Apple Inc. Retrieved April 16, 2011. 
  53. ^ "I Am...Sasha Fierce [Platinum Edition]". AllMusic. Retrieved August 24, 2011. 
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  56. ^ a b Spencer, Hannah. "I Am... Sasha Fierce – Beyoncé Platinum Album Review". Allgigs. Retrieved August 24, 2011. 
  57. ^ Beyoncé Knowles (October 20, 2009). I Am... Tour. Olympic Gymnastics Arena, Seoul, South Korea. 
  58. ^ "Honesty Debuts At Number 2 In Korea". Gaon Chart. Retrieved June 14, 2010. 
  59. ^ a b "Annual South Korea International Chart – 2010". Gaon Chart. Retrieved March 31, 2012. 
  60. ^ a b "Annual South Korea International Chart – 2011". Gaon Chart. Retrieved March 31, 2012. 
  61. ^ "South Korea Gaon International Chart (Week: January 3, 2010 to January 9, 2010)". Gaon Chart. Archived from the original on March 23, 2014. Retrieved March 19, 2012. 
  62. ^ "South Korea Gaon International Chart (Week: July 24, 2011 to July 30, 2011)". Gaon Chart. Archived from the original on August 25, 2012. Retrieved March 19, 2012. 

External links[edit]