Only The Good Die Young

Album: The Stranger (1977)
Charted: 24


  • Virginia, as mentioned in the first line ("Come out, Virginia, don't let me wait") is Virginia Callaghan, a girl Billy 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.
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Barry Kesten - Bellmore, United States
  • 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."
  • Joel told USA Today July 9, 2008: "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!"
  • 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."

Comments: 52

  • Ronsha from New JerseyI'm Christian, but I love this song! I just discovered it recently and it sounds quite familiar. My radio might have played this song when I was younger, although it never stuck with me because I used to hate old music.
    Now, I'm only 13, but I love 80s music, maybe even 70s! This song is so damn catchy.
    Although this song doesn't offend me, I can't say it isn't offensive; at least, it would be to other Catholics / Christians / anyone who believes in God, and you can't blame them. It does quite sound like Billy Joel is guilting her for her beliefs, and wants her to give up her virginity, just for his pleasure. I do hope Mr. Joel doesn't actually think like that - probably not, I think Billy's a nice guy - but it does sound like that!
    So anyways, it's an amazing song. There. That's my take on it. Just don't take the song too seriously. I have faith this guy meant no harm :)
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenJoel: "I'm the ultimate male and I'm here to rescue you from your virginity. And if you don't let me, you're an uptight b***h and you'll be sorry."
  • Ken from Louisville, KyBilly points out - rightfully - that at the end of the song he never got the girl. In the song, she turned him down. In real life, though, Joel says he only had a teenage crush on Virginia, that she never know about until the song came out.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhThere is something so right about this lyric: "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?" That is the true hook in the song.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhIt's a stroke of luck that the girl Billy Joel had a crush on was named Virginia as the name is derivative of the word 'virgin' which is the type of girl the lyrics here are written about. I usually like a song like this that is cute and clever, but for some reason it's just average to me. Still, I have to admit the singer uses everything he's got to try to persuade the girl to leave her cloistered, religious upbringing to experience his physical passion for her. Maybe the singer didn't have the goods Virginia was looking for, so she used her Catholic ways as an excuse to put him off. After all, some young, crazy guy all in a hoopla over the challenge of getting a good girl to go bad; some gals see through that.
  • Frank from Sheridan, WyGreat song.
  • Rob from Cape Cod, MaGinny is Virginia C., who lived around the corner from us in Hicksville. It's my understanding that although they went to Fork Lane Elementary together, Ginny went over to Catholic school, either Holy Family (til 8th grade) or Holy Trinity High School, newly opened- both were only blocks from our homes. The song was inspired by this Jr. High School crush- putting all sorts of religious, anti-Catholic meaning into it is simply psychological projection from the listener.
  • Nell from Chatham, NjThey played this song at my friend's Bat Mitzvah.
  • Drew from Birmingham, AlI can't help but make this joke: There is a young girl, a preacher's daughter, battling cancer among other things fatal. She was in tears, sure that she would die in a matter of days. Her father, the preacher, popped in a CD and, after saying "Don't worry," named a song on it that would cheer her up -- and then he played it. The preacher succeeded in comforting his daughter. Her face lit up after hearing "Don't worry... Only the Good Die Young." Well, now I offer that joke to anyone who wants to use it....
  • Chris from Redding, CaOnce again a song connotitive of the religious experience. Poking fun at the established religion who's job it is to keep you sheltered in behind the stained glass curtain, Billy Joel has captured the essence of "dying" to the ego and being "born" of the spirit at an early age in his song. It took me until I was 34 to figure it all out. Wish I could have in my teens like is suggested in the song. So go out there you young people and "die."
  • Joshua from Mont Belvieu, Tx"And here lies the ultimate hypocrisy:
    "You say your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation Ah, she never cared for me, But did she ever say a prayer for me?"
    What respectful, God fearing Catholic mother would ever say a prayer for the boys who like to run wild and want to make it with her daughter?"

    Actualllly what I believe it is saying is that it's very hypocritical for an religious to judge someone and not like them or where they are going.
    Instead of praying for him to turn out right or be better (at least he way they think he should be), the mother only criticizes and judges the individual, in which one isn't supposed to do in religion if I'm correct
    The only hypocrisy here is the mother in the song, a hypocritical religious woman.
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxThe song was a musical version of that inane bumper sticker thet said TO ALL YOU VIRGINS, THANKS FOR NOTHING. I'm not Catholic, but I knew several who didn't appreciate the barbs in the song and I agreed with them.

    The way spotlighed the way certain groups are used as punching bags with impunity, which has become much worse today.
  • Erika from West Band, WiI'm a fairly religious Catholic, and I'm not in the least offended by this song! I love it! I love how fun it is, and I just love the feel of's a simply amazing song. Anyone who is "offended" by this song needs to lighten up! :)
  • Drew from B\'ham, AlSomeone oughtta make a "Vintage 21" video of Jesus telling the Pharisees and Sadducees that "the 'sinners' are all much more fun". That would be a priceless! I'll admit it doesn't beat "What in the name of me" and "I love you Peter; I just don't have time for you." But you must admit it's a pretty close game! Y'all know?
  • Ken from Louisville, KyBilly said recently that he got in touch with Virgina Callahan, just for the hell of it. He said she went on to have a normal life, with a husband, kids and grandchildren. She told him she always got a kick from hearing the song on the raido, but never told anyone the song was about her.
  • Joe from Panama City, Florida, FlCan you imagine the tizzy the supra libs would have gotten if Joel ridiculed Moslems or Jews? In fact Catholics are easy targets, like Geroge Bush, that can be criticised with immunity.
  • Ellen from Chicago, IlRaised Catholic, attended all-girls Catholic high school, was NEVER offended by this song, or thougt it was controversial - it's just plain fun!
  • Drew from B'ham, AlI'm well aware that there are Catholics not offended by this. Sometimes I like to poke fun @ Catholics too just a little bit. I've pondered, though, if Billy Joel truly believes that "the one who, in living life w/ fun, becomes the top of the world is the one who wins". It's just a song @ it's popular. I know that many rock stars didn't wanna make a bunch of hits that would not make them any money. I personally, however, wouldn't make a hit with such a false message. That's what *I* wouldn't do. I'm not making any law that bans everyone else from doing that. I'm just stating that *I* wouldn't.
  • Stormy from Kokomo, InWhen this song became popular, I was dating a couple of Catholic girls. One of them was also an elementary school teacher. She hated this song and also Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall". I, of course, loved both of them and played them CONSTANTLY while we were together. You "church folk" need to lighten up!
  • Riley from Peabody, MaBilly Joel is awesome!
  • Randy from Reading, PaMark for NH Lighten up will you.

    I grew up Catholic and married a catholic girl who loves the song. She was brought up a very strict Catholic and is not offended by it. It is a song.
  • Rodimusben from Harrisonburg, VaI love it when this song makes religious people upset.
  • April from Baltimore, MdI'm a Christian too, and I like this song from an artistic standpoint. Joel is an artist, and music is his way of telling a story like an author or a painter would. It has characters, and wether they are made up or based off someone from his past in inconsequencial to me. I think its a story pure and simple. I don't think he was trying to bash any faith or bring anyone down. He was just telling a story.
  • M from Lennonland, NyVery Interesting song. I really love it. I really want to buy it on iTunes.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyBilly says that when Liberty DeVito heard the orginal reggae-style version, he threw a drum stick at Joel. That was deVito's way of saying that white guys should never try to do reggae!
  • Terry from Le Roy, NyI was a student at Notre Dame when Billy Joel came there for a concert. Notre Dame's Administration sent a letter to him beforehand, suggesting that it would be a good idea if he were to refrain from playing it. He played the regular set and the encore without playing it. Then he came out for a SECOND encore, at which time he played it. He then closed with his standard sign-off line, "Don't take any sh*t from anybody!" I wouldn't say that was the best concert I've ever seen, but without a doubt, 20+ years later, it remains the best ending to a concert that I've ever seen.
  • Deana from Sn Antonio, TxThis song is amazing. I can listen to it over and over and it still doesnt get old. While some people take the song offensive, i find it funny and true. Growing up a Catholic girl and always hearing wait until marrige, the line "You Catholic girls star much too late" is the best line of all!
  • Nora from Small Town , FlI'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, the sinners are much more fun...only the good dye young....great lyrics. If you think about it, you would probably die young if you didnt have excitement, and risks in your life...with out those things....whats worth living ?
  • Ken from Louisville, KyBilly Joel wrote a thank you note to the Cathoic priest who urged the record be banned, asking him to please ban more of his songs.
  • Eric from MaastrichtPremarital sex rules!
  • Andrew from Birmingham, United States"Laughing a bit too loud - that never hurt no one!" I'd say that never hurt ANYONE! That never hurt NO ONE means that hurt someone. But that never hurt anyone. I, however, disagree with everything else about this song. The "sinners" are not the only ones that have fun. "The sinners take in much more fun!" That's just the world's mentality. I'm not a Catholic either; I'm a non-denominational Christian. I know that that Catholic girl was right. And a guy of what religion, denomination, and/or cult who's poking fun at Catholicism? Just so you know, that can get offensive. Mr. Joel, do you really concur with what your classic hit is saying? Or are you just playin' whaz poplar to earn you mre cash? Oh, but I LOVE all your other classic hits. They're all still Rock-And-Roll to me.
  • Mark from Concord, NhAnd here lies the ultimate hypocrisy:
    "You say your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation Ah, she never cared for me, But did she ever say a prayer for me?"
    What respectful, God fearing Catholic mother would ever say a prayer for the boys who like to run wild and want to make it with her daughter?
  • Guy from Woodinville, WaGreat song! So upbeat and humorous and spot-on lyrics and teasing Catholiscism a bit. It's all good! It's good-natured--don't be too thin-skinned. It has some of the clearest, most well-defined lyrics of any popular song out there. However, my Catholic wife is a bit resentful and disapproving when I can't help but sing along with it.
  • John from Fort Worth, TxI've loved the sound of this song since it was released when I was a teenager. I was baptized a Catholic and I learned intensively about the religion when I was a small child. Over the years I continued to like this song because of the (to me) ever evolving "imagery." These days, I most love the lyrics: " /I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints/." I believe that is an important comparison between life and death as opposed to Heaven and...whatever.
    John, 45, TX
  • Mike from Hueytown , AlThis isn't a slap in the face to religion it's a slap in the face to elderly people. hahahaha If an old timer in nursing home hears this song they are going to realize they had a boring uneventful life because they are still here ! hahaha Great Song by the way.
  • Jake from Boston, MaHey, I'm from conservative super-Catholic Boston, but this song rocks! Its one of Joel's more upbeat songs in my opinion; its not long, its fun to sing along with - its a great song! Geez, I just thought of this - wouldn't this be a great song to do karoke with?
  • Bob from Bobtown, CaI also am a Christian, but this song sends out a positive message. Why spend your whole life being good, obeying Christianity? There's an afterlife, but you may be broken off from those you enjoy being with down on Earth, so why be miserable and upset when you could be having fun? You're concerned about how you live your life, that's fine, but the real life is too damn short to spend locked up in a church. Put down the Bible for at least an hour, have a drink and have fun with your friends.
  • Murray from Sydney,nsw/australia, Australiacome on fella's, i'm a devote christian myself but its a great song, sure the lyrics may be a bit controvercial but who cares, its a great song! thats all that matters, its music not a theological essay, c'mon.
  • Bob from Bobtown, Ca"...he used her as the main character in this song about a Catholic girl who won't have premarital sex"
    Matthew, don't tell me you're that naive.
  • Matthew from Milford, MaI can't blame the Church for wanting to ban this. The Bible tries really darn hard to point out that it's the bad people who die young. Only the bad die young! The bad! THE BAD!!!!
  • Jimmy from Birmingham, Mii'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints...the sinners are much more fun!

    great song.
  • N.i. from Baltimore, MdI must disagree with Robert in Waldick, NJ. Putting down Catholic girls is not equivalent to putting down Jewish girls--because Catholicism is purely a religion, whereas there are ethnic aspects to Jewish identity. (Joel himself is Jewish but doesn't practice the religion.) A better analogy would be if the song said "Orthodox Jewish girls start much too late." The song's narrator isn't a racist; he's putting down strict religious practices he doesn't like. I'm not defending either attitude, but it is an important distinction.
  • N.i. from Baltimore, MdWikipedia quotes Joel as saying "the point of the song wasn't so much anti-Catholic as pro-lust." Funny, I never thought the song was pro- or anti- anything. It's just a story about a guy who's trying to get a girl laid and is blunt about it. We needn't assume that Joel necessarily agrees with the song's narrator, who is simply a character in the song's narrative.
  • Dave from Pittsburgh, Pa"Only The Good Die Young" created a bit of a stir within the religious community when it was first released in 1977. Some radio stations even refused to give the song any airtime. It is said that while Joel was doing a show in St. Louis, he had been specifically asked not to perform the song during the show and even received death threats. In response, Joel played it twice.
  • Barry from Hazleton, PaIf you buy the "My Lives" box set you can hear the reggae verson of this song.
  • Dale from Rumford, Mei always thought dis was a love protest song
  • Dylan from Centerport, NyI always figured this song was about a girl from one of the many catholic schools on Long Island such a Our Lady of Mercy Academy or St. Anthony's. Its so great.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThough controversial because of the line "You Catholic girls start much too late", the song is one of Billy Joel's classic hits.
  • Ken from Louisville, KyBilly Joel performed this song and "Just The Way Your Are" when he skipped his high school reunion to perform on on "Saturday Night Live" in 1977.
  • Natasha from Chico, CaHey, just thought I'd add another lil tidbit. This same sorta thing happened with me, except I was dealing with a christian BOY, and there was this other guy, kinda "bad" like Billy Joel -"hung with the dangerous crowd,laughing a bit too loud",etc :)And ya, I'm really close with the latter boy and the other won't speak to me, lol, ;)
  • Natasha from Chico, CaI love this song!I SO relate to it. Going to Catholic school for basically my whole life, and then going to a huge public school helped me realize what a joke a bunch of these "pious" people are, so hypocritical, judging others and not thinking for themselves,(i'm not saying that every religious person, just some)Go Billy Joel!
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