Billy Joel – Only The Good Die Young

So come on Virginia show me a sign
Send up a signal and I’ll throw you the line
The stained-glass curtain you’re hiding behind
Never let’s in the sun
Darlin’ only the good die young

I still turn this one up when I hear it on the radio.

This is a song from Billy Joel’s 1977 rock album The Stranger. The song was successful but not as successful as I thought. It peaked at #24 in the Billboard 100 and #18 in Canada.

Virginia, as mentioned in the first line is Virginia Callaghan, a girl Joel had a crush on when he first started playing in a band. She didn’t even know he existed until she saw him at a gig, but 13 years later he used her as the main character in this song about a Catholic girl who won’t have premarital sex.

Some radio stations and Catholic schools such as Seton Hall University banned the song from college radio, which helped boost sales of the single.  But Billy said the song is not anti-religion so much as it is “pro-lust.”

Guess what the ban did? As usual, it boosted the sales and helped the song become a hit.

Billy Joel: “Jewish guilt is visceral, it’s in the stomach. Catholic guilt is in the belfry of the cerebrum, it’s gothic and its got incense, bells tolling, and it has all to do with sin. I wanted to write a song about it, about a guy trying to seduce a Catholic girl. I don’t know what all the fuss was about, because she stayed chaste. I remember taking it over to the drummer, Liberty (DeVitto). ‘Well, it’s true,’ he said, ‘but I don’t know how people are going to respond to it!”

From Songfacts

Many musicians join bands to meet girls, but few overachieve the way Joel did, dating models and even marrying one of them (Christie Brinkley). Virginia Callaghan was the first of these girls who thought differently of Joel after seeing him perform. Billy explained to Uncut in 1998: “I originally started in bands just to meet girls – it was round the time The Beatles first hit America – but I didn’t know you could actually make a living out of it. My first gig was in a church, about ’64 – we did Beatles songs, and this girl I had a crush on, Virginia Callaghan, who normally wouldn’t look twice at me, just stared at me through the whole gig. And I thought, ‘This is so cool!’ And then all these other girls were lookin’ at me as well. Then, at the end of the night, the priest comes up and gives us like 15 dollars apiece, which in ’64 was a fortune! Girls and money! Man, I was hooked.”

This song was originally recorded with a reggae groove, which can be heard on some bootlegs that were inadvertently leaked via drummer Liberty DeVitto’s camp. DeVitto didn’t like the reggae beat, which is why Joel changed it. 

This didn’t do very well until church officials around the US heard it and condemned the song. The controversy was great publicity and sent the song up the charts. Joel recalled to the Metro newspaper July 6, 2006 about the controversy stirred up by this number: “That song was released as a single back in 1977, I think. It was not really doing very well, just languishing in the charts. Then it was banned by a radio station in New Jersey at a Catholic university. The minute the kids found out it was banned, they ran out in droves and it became a huge hit. If you tell kids they can’t have something, that’s what they want. I don’t understand the problem with the song. It’s about a guy trying to seduce a girl but, at the end of the song, she’s still chaste and pure and he hasn’t got anything. So I never understood what the furor was about. But I did write a letter to the archdiocese who’d banned it, asking them to ban my next record.”

Melissa Etheridge did a particularly prurient version of this song at a 2014 Billy Joel town hall event hosted by Howard Stern. Etheridge explained that she grew up playing Joel’s songs in piano bars and cover bands, but she never had the chance to perform this one, which was one of her favorites. She explained: “It was the end of the ’70s, and a girl could not sing this song. But of all of his songs, this one really resonated with me. When I was a senior in high school, it hit really close to home. The song is about pure lust. It’s the physical, carnal pleasure: let’s do it.”

Joel’s drummer, Liberty DeVitto, based the opening drum riff on what Mitch Mitchell played at the beginning of the 1967 Jimi Hendrix Experience track “Up From The Skies.”

Only The Good Die Young

Come out Virginia, don’t let ’em wait
You Catholic girls start much too late
Aw but sooner or later it comes down to faith
Oh I might as well be the one

Well, they showed you a statue, told you to pray
They built you a temple and locked you away
Aw, but they never told you the price that you pay
For things that you might have done
Only the good die young
That’s what I said
Only the good die young
Only the good die young

You might have heard I run with a dangerous crowd
We ain’t too pretty we ain’t too proud
We might be laughing a bit too loud
Aw but that never hurt no one

So come on Virginia show me a sign
Send up a signal and I’ll throw you the line
The stained-glass curtain you’re hiding behind
Never let’s in the sun
Darlin’ only the good die young
Woah
I tell ya
Only the good die young
Only the good die young

You got a nice white dress and a party on your confirmation
You got a brand new soul
Mmm, and a cross of gold
But Virginia they didn’t give you quite enough information
You didn’t count on me
When you were counting on your rosary
(Oh woah woah)

They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t
I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
The sinners are much more fun

You know that only the good die young
I tell ya
Only the good die young
Only the good die young

Well your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation
Aw she never cared for me
But did she ever say a prayer for me? oh woah woah

Come out come out come out Virginia don’t let ’em wait
You Catholic girls start much too late
Oh sooner or later it comes down to faith
Oh I might as well be the one
You know that only the good die young

I’m telling you baby
You know that only the good die young
Only the good die young
Only the good
Only the good die young

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

36 thoughts on “Billy Joel – Only The Good Die Young”

  1. I guess what would deem a successful song would be the longevity of it. This track is one of those. Like yourself I’m surprised at the time it didn’t chart higher. By the way thanks for posting those chart positions Max!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No problem Deke…when I can I do…Canada is the hardest for me to find outside of Wiki…their site is NOT user friendly to say the least. I wish I could find a better Canadian chart site.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes RPM is closer…I think I can find things from that site…they make you work lol… But thanks for your help Deke.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I was JUST old enough to have an idea of what it all meant when it was a hit, and I loved it! A great little tune; although it didn’t sell tons as a single I think it helped propel The Stranger to multi-platinum status, and I would guess that it could be one of the say, 50 most played songs from that decade on radio since then.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This son is really great rock ‘n’ roll and yesterday I was writing about a song that I will use for SLS next week called ‘Keep Your Day Job’ where I mentioned that the Grateful Dead song sounds like a cross between ‘U.S. Blues’ and ‘Might As Well’, with a dash of Billy Joel’s ‘Only the Good Die Young’ thrown in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Stranger is an excellent album that I about listened the grooves off of when it first came out. I wasn’t into Billy Joel other than radio songs but my x bought it and I fell in love with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know it was banned in some places.

      Off topic…I’ve been listening to The Replacements today. Of all of the albums…Don’t Tell A Soul is the one I’m most unfamiliar with.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You covered the deets of this song so wonderfully, Max. I didn’t know it started with a reggae beat (I can’t imagine that). My only add would be that he performed this song on Oprah before she unfairly massacred his private life. It’s a brutal YouTube to watch, and I’ve lost respect for her ever since. He has demons, yes, and probably some unresolved resentments that get doused in booze from time to time, but this song is and always was about the music, the rock and roll, and the journey of living through mistakes. Oprah got it all wrong. I was overjoyed to see him perform this live last year, and it’s the one song my wife and I play on repeat in the car practically every week! You actually chose my favorite “William” Joel song, buddy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know it was banned! That sure helped it lol…it always does…When a Beatle song got banned…it did well.
      I didn’t know she did that…wow. She is usually good with guests…that sucks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s a tough interview to watch as she flipped the question expectation on him – it even made his daughter cry. But, he recovered well from it, and this song continues to rock on. Musically speaking, that drum riff after the piano intro has a tricky timing to it. I remember my faculty band had issues with finding the downbeat, haha!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re too kind, my man! And, hey, you’re my closest blogger friend, so I’ll tell yah the big news: Kenzie and I are expecting a baby in December! So, with the baby room being constructed and school prep causing headaches, you gotta keep rocking these rock song reviews. I’ll definitely hit you up when things settle down (late August?), but I appreciate the offer. I miss writing. It’s so cathartic. I gotta catch up on my movies too! My best to you and Bailey! Looking forward to the next one 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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