The Ballad Of Billy The Kid

Album: Piano Man (1973)
Play Video

Songfacts®:

  • There really was an outlaw called Billy The Kid, but he wasn't from West Virginia, he didn't rob banks and he wasn't hanged. Joel explained in 1975 to ZigZag: "Basically it was an experiment with an impressionist type of lyric. It was historically totally inaccurate as a story, it wasn't supposed to be listened to as a story. I like writing more soundtrack type things, and I wanted to try something musical. I wrote that song all in one day – it was kind of a spoof on the rock-star type of thing."
  • Joel paid special attention to the arrangement on this song, which helped it capture the Old West vibe. Said Joel: "I wanted it to sound like The Magnificent Seven. Jimmie Haskell wrote it and conducted the string section, but I told him what I wanted. I worked pretty closely with the arrangements on the Cold Spring Harbor album. It was too much on that."
  • This was used on Family Guy in the 2010 episode "Dial Meg For Murder."
  • This was released as a single in the UK, backed by "If I Only Had The Words (To Tell You)," but failed to chart.

Comments: 8

  • Richard from Somerdale , NjAs someone probably said below this, the boy with a six-pack in his hand is not Billy Joel, but a bartender from Long Island. He wrote it in the "Songs in the Attic" notes.
  • Randy from Reading, PaI think some of you take thinks too literally. I read an interview where he said he also wanted to do a movie sountrack but no one every asked him to. So this was his attempt. Yes and he knows the Rio Grande runs East to West, but North to South didn't have the same punch in the context of the lyrics.
  • Charles from Glenside, PaIt appears to me that the Rio Grande runs predominantly from NW to SE, I gleaned this from an Atlas of the USA. Perhaps I'll consult a 'geology book' later on if any conflicts arise regarding any rock formations or strata along it's course.
  • Bill Crawford from Oro Valley, AzThe Rio Grande does flow north to south from southwest Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico.Please update your geology books in NJ and we do drive cars not ride horses here in the west also :)
  • Mike from Hamilton, NjThe song says "East and West of the Rio Grande" but the Rio Grande runs East to West, so it would have to be "North and South of the Rio Grande" to be accurate.
  • Olivia from Webster Gro Ves, MoAll of this is true except this isn't written about billy joel, its written about someone else he knew named billy
  • Jason from Hicksville, OhVery true...the Billy from Oyster Bay is not B.J.! If you look in the liner notes from the "Songs In the Attic" album, you'll see where he talks about that. You know, something interesting about Billy the Kid is that most of his life is a mystery. Very little is known about him! No one knows really where he was born or really what his parents names were. There are theories and such, but nothing factual. Some say BtK was born in Mahattan, others say different. BUT, as inaccurate as the song is, historians have said there was a time when BtK was sentenced to a hanging. On the day of, however, he escaped and moved south! If you're interested in the Kid you can read up on him at wikipedia.com or aboutbillythekid.com as well! Interesting stuff!
  • Me from There, PaNo, the boy from Long Island refers to a bartender Billy used to know named Billy also.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Little Big Town

Little Big TownSongwriter Interviews

"When seeds that you sow grow by the wicked moon/Be sure your sins will find you out/Your past will hunt you down and turn to tell on you."

Incongruent Opening Acts

Incongruent Opening ActsSong Writing

Here's what happens when an opening act is really out of place with the headliner, like when Beastie Boys opened for Madonna.

Marc Campbell - "88 Lines About 44 Women"

Marc Campbell - "88 Lines About 44 Women"They're Playing My Song

The Nails lead singer Marc Campbell talks about those 44 women he sings about over a stock Casio keyboard track. He's married to one of them now - you might be surprised which.

Michelle Branch

Michelle BranchSongwriter Interviews

Michelle Branch talks about "Everywhere," "The Game Of Love," and her run-in with a Christian broadcasting network.

Graham Nash

Graham NashSongwriter Interviews

Graham Nash tells the stories behind some of his famous songs and photos, and is asked about "yacht rock" for the first time.

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou HarrisSongwriter Interviews

She thinks of herself as a "song interpreter," but back in the '80s another country star convinced Emmylou to take a crack at songwriting.