Only the Good Die Young
|"Only the Good Die Young"|
A-side label of U.S. vinyl single
|Single by Billy Joel|
|from the album The Stranger|
|B-side||"Get It Right the First Time"|
|Billy Joel singles chronology|
"Only the Good Die Young" is a song from Billy Joel's 1977 pop rock album, The Stranger. It was the third of four singles released from the album. The song was controversial for its time, with the lyrics written from the perspective of a young man determined to deflower a Catholic girl.
The song was inspired by a high school crush of 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 premarital sex is sinful. 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.
Attempts to censor the song only made it more popular, after religious groups considered it anti-Catholic, and pressured radio stations to remove it from their playlists. "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 song's critics missed – the boy in the song failed to get anywhere with the girl, and she kept her chastity.
A demo, included in the box set My Lives, is 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 long time drummer, Liberty DeVitto, who hated reggae music.
7" single (1978)
- "Only the Good Die Young" – (3:54)
- "Get It Right the First Time" – (3:32)
- Sagert, Kelly Boyer (2007). The 1970s. New York: Greenwood Press. p. 177. ISBN 0-313-33919-8.
- Dean, Maury (2003). Rock N' Roll Gold Rush. Algora. p. 242. ISBN 0-87586-207-1.
- The Story Behind Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young". PerformerSongwriter.com archive. Retrieved April 24, 2013
- Interview with Oprah Winfrey, The Oprah Winfrey Show, 2008
- Video on YouTube: Billy Joel tells how "Only The Good Die Young" came to sound the way it does crediting Liberty Devitto
- Whitburn, Joel (1999). Pop Annual. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-142-X.