The Longest Time

Album: An Innocent Man (1983)
Charted: 25 14
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Songfacts®:

  • This song would be considered "next-to" a cappella - it contains only one actual instrument, that being a bass guitar. Everything else is voice, finger snaps and claps.

    The song is a tribute to the doo-wop sounds of the '50s that Joel loved, complete with lyrics about being crazy in love with a girl. The song began, however, as a classical piano piece Joel was working on, which is also how his song "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)" came about.
  • Joel did all the vocal tracks himself, which required him to cover a lot of range. The original plan was to bring in a vocal group to sing it with him, but that didn't work out. Joel's producer, Phil Ramone, told Billy their best option was for him to do it all himself.

    Joel was hesitant because he didn't want all the voices to sound like they came from one person, so he envisioned himself as various characters and gave them different vocal styles.

    "I did what I call method singing," he told Sirius XM in 2016. "I imagined myself as a skinny Italian kid from Newark, and then I did another voice and I thought of myself as a big Black football player with a real deep bass voice. And then I thought of myself as a Pat Boone kind of singer. Mix all those voices together so it doesn't all sound like one guy.
  • In the music video, directed by Jay Dubin, Joel sits alone after his high school reunion, class of '59, and recalls the good old days with his doo-wop group. Fans have been wondering about the janitor in the clip for years. Was he an old-school doo-wop star making a sly cameo? Dubin told Songfacts the answer, along with an unfortunate reminder of black stereotypes in the '80s:

    "No, that's all bulls--t," he said of the rumors. "This is how that guy gets hired: There was this black guy who got us all this talent on one of the other music videos, I think 'Tell Her About It.' I remember he used to come in the office all the time saying, 'Hey, you got any work for me?'

    [Producer] Jon Small said, 'No, but I need an older guy who looks like a janitor.' He said, 'No problem.' He gets on the phone: 'Uncle Willy? you want to be on TV?'

    'Yeah, Uncle Willy'll do it.' He says to Jon, 'How much?' Jon says, 'A hundred dollars.' He says, 'Uncle Willy, I'll make you fifty dollars!' He took fifty and gave Uncle Willy fifty. That's all I remember about that. [Laughing]

    Who the guy was, I have no idea. Was it racist? Absolutely. Back then, 8 out of 10 janitors at the local schools were black. They wanted to do that.

    All I had to do was make sure the pictures looked good, he was in sync, and it was edited well. That was all I had to do. It was easy."
  • The song got a lot of airplay in Philadelphia, where Joel was always a very popular artist. It was even played on soul stations there, and the song became a favorite of the guys who would later form the vocal group Boyz II Men. When Howard Stern hosted a Billy Joel town hall special in 2014, Boyz II Men performed "The Longest Time" in tribute. They explained that when they were going to high school, most of the selections for a cappella groups were much older songs, but this one was "the most contemporary song we could sing and still be cool."
  • On the TV show Family Guy, this song was used in a flashback to discuss the invention of singing. It show several cavemen sitting around grunting until they all spontaneously break out into this song. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bert - Pueblo, NM
  • This is the only song with the word "Longest" in the title ever to chart on the Hot 100.
  • In The Office episode "Michael's Birthday" from season 2, Dwight plays this on his recorder for Michael. He says it's by "William Joel."
  • Along with Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy," "The Longest Time" opened the gates for a cappella in the '90s. Boyz II Men had a huge a cappella hit with "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" in 1991, which was followed the next year by Shai's "If I Ever Fall In Love." Huey Lewis & the News jumped on board in 1993 with "It's All Right." College a cappella groups suddenly became cool, which didn't seem possible. One of them, Straight No Chaser (from Indiana University), had a viral hit with "Twelve Days of Christmas" and got a deal with Atlantic Records. In the 2010s, Pentatonix leveled up with a more contemporary sound that includes a female vocalist.
  • This is reminiscent of the 1963 doo-wop classic "So Much In Love" by The Tymes. Joel was a big fan of the group and wanted to write a similar song. "I didn't steal their music, let's get this straight," he clarified in a 2016 Sirius XM interview. "I don't steal anybody's music. Sometimes I borrow their style. I'm always trying to sound like someone else."
  • This was also used in these TV shows:

    Moonbase 8 ("Beef" - 2020)
    Fresh Off The Boat ("Pie Vs. Cake" - 2017)
    Madam Secretary ("The Show Must Go On" - 2015)
    How I Met Your Mother ("The Time Travelers" - 2013)

    And these movies:

    True Crime (2020)
    Step Brothers (2008)

Comments: 14

  • Hilltopviewer from Dublin,irelandHi. This is a great tune,especially a nod to Earl 'Speedo' Carroll of the 1950's Doo-Wop group The Cadillacs, were Billy sings a small phrase of 'Gloria' by The Cadillacs as the end of the song fades to a finish, which is a lovely homage to that era, 1954 or 1955. Great stuff!
  • Brian from SocalDoes anyone know who the designer was for those slick glasses Billy was wearing in the beginning of the video? They look Cartier but I can’t seem to find info on any glasses worn by Billy Joel besides his classic Wayfarers.
  • Marsha York from TexasDid Richard Dean Anderson ever appear in a video with Billy Joel?
  • Jim from Lady Lake, FlBilly Joel sang the entire song himself. He recorded and mixed 14 tracks of himself singing. The only instrument on the track is a bass guitar.

    To David Newman, The Beatles didn't right Devil in Her Heart. It was a single released by the girl group, The Donays. The Beatles changed "His to Her" and George Harrison sang lead on it. The Donays' version never had almost no chart success. The Beatles loved to find little known records by little known black artists, and cover them. many of the songs they covered were originally B-Sides.
  • Miles from Vancouver, CanadaPossibly my favorite song of Billy's. He does the multitracked harmonies so well, even if I miss the piano. I first heard this song from a Rockapella parody at the end of Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?, which got me interested in it. Truly a soulful 80's classic. In fact, it's cool that it's followed on the Greatest Hits album by You're Only Human, another uplifting song (matter of fact, I think I'll put it on now). Also, a clarification for David from Chicago, George was the one that sang "Devil In Her Heart". That song was a cover of the one-single wonder The Donays.
  • Mindy from Miami, FlAll the vocal tracks are by Billy Joel just Billy!
  • Teagan from Grand Rapids, MiIn the music video. The band members are the mock election winners. Liberty DeVitto being most handsome, Mark Rivera being most popular, *possibly Doug Stegmeyer as best athlete, *possibly David Brown as most likely to succeed, and Russell Javors as best dressed.
    When the music begins and the camera pans to Billy Joel, you can see on the adjacent wall that Joel was Class President.

    * - Pretty sure Stegmeyer is best athlete, but it is hard to tell with that one and most likely to succeed.
  • Edward from Henderson, NvShe also says "Uptown Girl" is about her.
  • Yitz from Wilmington, DeThe song is about Christie, or at least she says so in an interview.
  • David Newman from Chicago, IlBilly Joel rhymes "chances" and "romance is" as did the Beatles in "She's Got the Devil in Her Heart". Kieth Richards says "steal anything that's good" (or something to that effect). My question is, "Who did Lennon/McCartney steal this rhyme from?"
  • Ken from Louisville, KyThe do-wop backing vocals were done by Billy and some of his band members.
  • Nate from A-town, Vano Hall and Oates were two of the guys singing in this song
  • Olivia from Webster Gro Ves, Moactually some teachers at my school sang this a cappella. honestly it wasn't that bad but not nearly as good as billy joel could ever do
  • Dc from Hilo, HiAren't all the vocals by multi-tracked by Billy Joel himself? Sure sounds like it..
see more comments

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