Depending on your perception, this song is either a touching rumination on the beauty of life and the important moments spent with loved ones, or a piece of mawkish schmaltz. The chorus is about looking back on the good times with appreciation and gratitude, making it a perfect song for proms, graduations, and just about any occasion where memories are shared:
This is the time to remember
'Cause it will not last forever
These are the days to hold on to
'Cause we won't, although we'll want to
The verses are more specific, telling a vague story about a walk on the beach beside an old hotel, and then returning there years later.
When he wrote the song, Joel was married to Christie Brinkley and settling in to domestic life after years of turmoil, which explains the lines:
Did you know that before you came into my life
It was some kind of miracle that I survived
Joel and Brinkley divorced in 1994 after nine years of marriage.
Joel talked about this song in a 1997 interview with Billboard: "One of the most difficult things to maintain is a relationship, and that's really what this song is about: 'Let's remember this good time, because we're going to remember this when times get tough.' It didn't mean I thought we should stay in that moment, because I said, 'It will not last forever.'"
This reached #18 on the Hot 100, but went to #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, Joel's seventh #1 on that tally.
Joel doesn't play this song very often, but he does bring it out for special occasions. At his Madison Square Garden concert on October 21, 2015, he played it with John Mayer.