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.
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."