At the time of its release (1985), “Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II” was the definitive Billy Joel collection. All his major works are covered (no less than 6 compositions are culled from “The Stranger”), and two new tracks were included to appease long-time fans that already had all the hits.
The first disc opens with his by now standard “Piano Man”, and culminates with the highlights from “The Stranger”. Included is “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, a true favorite of Joel’s fans along with the title-track and a song that topped the charts and which Billy doesn’t particularly like: “Just The Way You Are”.
Disc two has the number one hits “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me” and “Tell Her About It”. It likewise has the exceptionally fine “Uptown Girl”, one of his signature tunes along with “My Life” and the foot-stomping “You Might Be Right”. It also includes some of his most pensive and effective compositions this side of “River Of Dreams”, all culled from “The Nylon Curtain”. These are “Allentown”, “Pressure” and a song that I deem as the most poignant commentary regarding Vietnam: “Goodnight Saigon”.
The two new tracks are “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” and “While The Night Is Still Young”. They both charted in the Top 40, and “You’re Only Human” actually hit the Top 10. “You’re Only Human” was written on request – the song deals with teenage suicide, and it aims to encourage youngsters never to give up and face difficulties with a strong resolve. It is a nice and commendable sentiment, but the song ends up coming across as just patronizing. And it sounds very dated production-wise today. “While The Night Is Still Young” is slightly better, if only because it doesn’t sound as cluttered as “You’re Only Human”.
On the whole, this album provides you with a very good overview of the piano man’s career up to that point. He was to release three more albums before taking a prolonged leave of absence from the rock & roll scene. They were “The Bridge”, “Storm Front” and “River Of Dreams”. Now, I would like to compare “Greatest Hits I & II” with a compilation that was released many years later and which also spanned two discs: “The Essential Billy Joel”. Click on this link to proceed to that part of the review.