Honesty

Album: 52nd Street (1979)
Charted: 24
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Songfacts®:

  • This song makes the case that truth is harder to find than love. Joel sings about how he can find someone to comfort him with promises, but honesty is far more rare. You can be in love with someone, but it doesn't mean you're going to have truth.

    It was the third single released from Joel's sixth album, 52nd Street.
  • When Joel started writing this song, he started with the title "Home Again," but was looking for something more appropriate. At his Howard Stern town hall appearance in 2014, he explained: "I didn't have a lyric for it, so my drummer started to sing 'sodomy' - 'sodomy... such a lonely word.' So I had to come up with some lyrics fast."

    The new lyrics worked, but they made Joel feel a bit hypocritical. "'Honesty' is the most bulls--t song I ever wrote," he admitted to SiriusXM in 2016. "I mean, who am I to preach to people, 'You gotta be honest with me.' I haven't always been honest in my life."
  • Beyoncé recorded this song in 2008. It appears on the Platinum Edition of her album I Am... Sasha Fierce.
  • The album was named after the famous street in Manhattan that served as the center of New York City's jazz scene in the '40s and '50s. Joel and his band recorded the album at A&R Recording Inc. on 52nd Street in the summer of 1978. "We didn't realize at the time but we were really leaning more into a jazzy style," he told SiriusXM in 2016. "And the studio was on 52nd Street, just off of 7th Avenue. So we decided, 'Well, hey, The Beatles could call an album Abbey Road, we can call an album 52nd Street."
  • In the 2021 "Too Much Birthday" episode of Succession, Kendall Roy sings a very cringe-y version of "Honesty" at a lavish birthday party he throws for himself while also conniving against his family. This version was included on the season 3 soundtrack of the show.
  • According to Phil Ramone, the album's producer, Chinese food helped him get the sound he wanted. Joel's band loved to eat, and Ramone quickly learned he could use food to keep them in line. "The hands-down favorite among band members was Chinese food, and our debates over which sounded best - the pre-or post-Chinese food take - are legendary," the producer recalled in his 2007 book, Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music. When their delivery order arrived, Ramone would open the control room door and let the aroma fill the studio where the guys were doing takes. After they came out and scarfed down their food, he would immediately send them back to work before they got too comfortable.

    "Everyone would grumble, but they'd go out and pick up where they'd left off. Many songs - 'Honesty' for instance - sounded better after everyone had eaten. The food slowed their metabolism and curbed their aggression, which is exactly what the tempo of certain songs needed."

Comments: 5

  • Tom from Sydney, AustraliaIt is a disappointment that 'Sodomy' was the title prior to 'Honesty'. 'Home Again' is bland but it is better.

    I am questioning truthfulness at the moment. Was there anything happening in Billy Joel's life which inspired the second half of the chorus, "Honesty is hardly ever heard -- and mostly what I need from you"? Wikipedia says the song was recorded in July - August 1978 ('52nd Street' album). His marriage to Elizabeth Small? A reneging on a business contract? False flattery from the public? I request that any answer be the truth i.e. if nothing is forthcoming, I prefer that to something made up. Much appreciated.
  • Groovus Maximus from Boston, MaStunning, staggeringly powerful song -- an all-time favorite among the many works of genius Billy Joel has created. From the lovely simplicity of the opening piano figure, it builds organically into a pop masterpiece of sheer grandeur and magnificence, a plaintive cry from the very soul of us all. The bridge ("I could find a lover... I could find a friend... I could have security until the bitter end") is one of the best encapsulations of human interaction and interpersonal relationships any philosopher could have possibly stated; Billy has an incredible facility with lyrical & musical invention which few could ever hope to duplicate or even come close!
  • Dana from Woodbury, MnThe working title was an inside joke among Joel and the members of his band.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyBilly almost always wrote the music first and added lyrics later. When writing the music, he'd use any words he could think of to fit the meter, before writing the actual lyrics. He said when he wrote Honesty, the working title was "Sodomy"!
  • Matt from Fishers, InShows how honesty is rarely alive in people, he says it is a lonely word because not many obtain this important characteristic.
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