World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

The Ballad of Billy the Kid

Article Id: WHEBN0008838901
Reproduction Date:

Title: The Ballad of Billy the Kid  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: You're My Home, The Last Play at Shea, Prelude/Angry Young Man, Billy the Kid, Christmas in Fallujah
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Ballad of Billy the Kid

"The Ballad of Billy the Kid"
Single by Billy Joel
from the album Piano Man
B-side "If I Only Had the Words (To Tell You)"
Released April 1974
Genre Rock
Length 5:35
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Billy Joel
Producer(s) Michael Stewart
Billy Joel singles chronology
"Travelin' Prayer"
"The Ballad of Billy the Kid"
"The Entertainer"

"The Ballad of Billy the Kid" is a Billy Joel song from the album Piano Man. It was also issued as a single in the UK backed with "If I Only Had The Words (To Tell You)."[1]

Historical inaccuracies

The song is Joel's fictionalized version of the story of Billy the Kid. In an interview from 1975, Joel admitted, "Basically [the song] was an experiment with an impressionist type of lyric. It was historically totally inaccurate as a story."[2]

Examples of these inaccuracies include when Joel sings that Billy the Kid was "from a town known as Wheeling, West Virginia" and that "he robbed his way from Utah to Oklahoma."[3] But the real Billy the Kid never robbed a bank and although his birthplace is uncertain, no account suggests that he was from West Virginia. The song also says that Billy the Kid was captured and hanged, with many people attending the hanging while in reality, he was shot and killed by Pat Garrett.


In the last verse of the song, the lyrics switch from Billy the Kid to a "Billy" from Oyster Bay, Long Island.[4] The writer Ken Bielen has interpreted the "Billy" in the final verse as being a portrait of Billy Joel himself since Joel was from Oyster Bay.[4] However, in the liner notes to his album Songs in the Attic Joel claims that the "Billy" in the final verse is not himself but rather a bartender who worked in Oyster Bay, by the name of Billy Nastri.[5] In an interview once Billy Joel mentioned that this song was about "record company PR hype". The lyrics may have been inspired in part by the liner notes from his earlier two-man album "Attila", which go on and on about the historic Attila the Hun, and then conclude, "Attila - the hottest band to come along since the Huns sacked Europe".


According to one of Joel's unofficial biographers, Hank Bordowitz, the instrumentation of "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" has details reminiscent of the composers Aaron Copland and Ennio Morricone.[6] Copland himself wrote the music for a ballet titled Billy The Kid.

Live versions

In 1981, Joel's song was released in a live version on the album Songs in the Attic.[5] The live version was used as the B-side to the live single of "She's Got a Way."[7] Another live version of the song was released on Live at Shea Stadium: The Concert in 2011.[8]

Critical reception

Critical response to the song has been mixed. In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide, Paul Evans called "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" one of the "ambitious story songs" on Piano Man[9] and Dennis Hunt of The Los Angeles Times agreed that the song showed Joel's "knack for story songs."[10] But other critics have dismissed the song. For example, The New York Times critic Laura Sinagra called the song a "bombastic throwaway"[11] and Tom Phalen of The Seattle Times was also critical of the song, arguing that Joel's "outlaw" character doesn't match Joel's light, catchy "Marlboro Man melodies."[12] Bordowitz comments on the "interesting, if somewhat jejune parallel" in the lyrics between a teenage rebel in the 1800s American West and in the 1900s American suburbs.[6]

Pop culture reference

"The Ballad of Billy the Kid" is featured during the Family Guy episode "Dial Meg for Murder".


  1. ^ "Billy Joel – The Ballad Of Billy The Kid / If I Only Had The Words (To Tell You)". Discogs. Retrieved 2012-07-18. 
  2. ^ ZigZag, 1975
  3. ^ Joel, Billy. "The Ballad of Billy the Kid". Piano Man. Columbia Records, 1973.
  4. ^ a b Bielen, K. (2011). The Words and Music of Billy Joel. ABC-CLIO. p. 25.  
  5. ^ a b Joel, Billy (1981).  
  6. ^ a b Bordowitz, H. (2006). Billy Joel: The Life & Times of an Angry Young Man. Random House. pp. 75, 202.  
  7. ^ "Billy Joel – She's Got A Way / The Ballad Of Billy The Kid". Discogs. Retrieved 2012-07-18. 
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Evans, P. (2004). Brackett, N. & Hoard, C., ed. The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon and Schuster. p. 434.  
  10. ^ Hunt, D. (January 10, 1987). "Billy Joel Keeps His Cool Despite Success as a Rock Star".  
  11. ^ Sinagra, L. (January 24, 2006). "At Garden, Billy Joel Is Out to Prove He's in Control".  
  12. ^ Phalen, T. (November 26, 1993). "An Ode To Billy Joel -- `River Of Dreams' Tour Is Turning Point For Once-Angry Pop Star".  

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from School eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.