Vienna

Album: The Stranger (1977)
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Songfacts®:

  • On the fourth album of his Greatest Hits boxed set, Joel said he was visiting his estranged father in Vienna, Austria, when he saw an elderly woman sweeping the streets. He commented that it was awful to have an old woman doing that kind of work. His father said something like, "No, it isn't. She's being useful and she's doing a service that benefits everyone. She's not just sitting at home wasting away, and she's got dignity." Joel realized how American culture can push aside the elderly and strip them of their purpose and worth. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Dana - Atlanta, GA
  • Billy's parents got divorced when he was young, and his father, Howard Joel, returned to his homeland of Vienna where he got married and started a new family. When Billy appeared on The Howard Stern show in 2010, Joel revealed that he doesn't always know what a song is about when he writes it, and he came to realize that he was dealing with his feelings about his father in this song.
  • On another Howard Stern appearance Joel said that the song came to him very quickly, in what he called "a Promethean moment." Describing his message in the song, he explained: "It was an observation that you have your whole life to live. A lot of people in their 20s think they have to get it all together by their 30s and they kill themselves trying to get the golden ring. You have an entire life to live. The lyrics, 'slow down you crazy child' - in other words, you have a whole life. We tend to put older people away, and it's all about young people. Well, wait a minute, why do I have this whole lifespan? What's the point of it? Some people will get there sooner, and some people will get there later. Slow down, you're going to be fine. No matter what you do, be good at it, and whenever you get there, you get there."
  • This song plays in a scene where a chastened Jennifer Garner returns to her childhood home in the 2004 film 13 Going on 30. It was also used in the 2006 movie The Darwin Awards and the 2013 episode of Smash, "The Phenomenon."
  • The song grew in popularity in the '00s and '10s. Joel does a bit during concerts where he lets the audience choose among two songs; he often offers up "Vienna," and it usually wins, often beating out a hit.
  • Speaking with Stephen Colbert in 2017, Joel listed "Vienna" among his Top 5 songs.

Comments: 41

  • SamI’ve always interpreted it as a message to people that you should never let someone else tell you what to do. The first time I heard it I was confused because he says “Dream on but don’t imagine it’ll all come true” but also says “You got your passion you got your pride but don’t you know that only fools are satisfied”, having very conflicting statements, one saying that you can dream but the probably won’t come true and the other saying that you should never be satisfied and always look for more. I listened to it a few more times and figured that he was quoting what the people around the subject say to them, but then reassured them that it was their life to live, not someone else’s. My interpretation of this song is basically what I live on, don’t let others control your life and go for your dreams, no matter how impossible they might seem. I’m almost 15 and I plan on traveling Europe and living in Vienna(another reason I like it so much) for a while. Most of my life my grandparents and mother have told me that I shouldn’t have such big ideas and that I shouldn’t leave or they’d miss me, it made me seriously doubt ever traveling and living my life. When my parents divorced I decided to live with my dad and my aunt. They are the most supportive and helpful people I know and now I realize that my dreams and expectations of myself are mine to choose and mine to follow, not someone else’s.
  • Abbie DawsonI have loved this song for a long time but only just now did I truly see the vitality of it’s message. Often I find myself in times of impatience, it could be short term like, “I can’t wait to go on this road trip and really see the world!” Or more exciting things, for instance, I have lots of faith in myself and am sure whatever I decide to pursue in life is completely up to me and I can achieve anything I become determined to do. Furthermore, I sometimes have thoughts such as, “I can’t wait to start my life, why waste my potential by continuing this dependence on my family and parents?” Although days anymore seem to be whole lifetimes, it’s important I soak up the experiences I can while young and perhaps the world or Vienna in this case isn’t done waiting yet.
  • Jasmine Stewart from Orlando, FloridaThis song is my favorite song by far. I've been a fan of billy since I was little and im currently 14. My interpretation of this song is to take life slowly and live in the moment and enjoy it while you can. I often catch myself biting off more than I can chew to achieve my goals, as I want to get a degree in Pharmacy and Neurology and be an officer in the Navy and do so much more. But, this song reminds me that its okay to take a step back and let myself live from time to time.
  • Millicent from The CarolinasThis song always takes my breath away. The lyrics mean so much because to me, everybody's version of "Vienna" is different. We reach a point in our youth where we're "so ambitious for a juvenile". Those ambitions can often times lead young people who have not yet acquired discernment, wisdom and self control to go way too fast down roads that they shouldn't. If they slow down, think, take a close look at what they're doing and the decisions they're making, they'll be able to see that yes, Vienna is waiting for them. Vienna doesn't have to be elaborate or extravagant but once one arrives there, it's home. Arriving there may involve taking the phone off the hook and disappearing for a while. Don't get so ahead of yourself that you forget what you need. Silence the distractions so that you can make good choices that land you ultimately in your "Vienna" and enjoy life in each stage.
  • Connor from MinneapolisSt James.... man. A lot to address there, but I'll just focus on the creepy carnival music thing.
    To me, it sounds like Viennese waltz music, which would fit. And the piano sounds so reflective and almost bittersweet. All that to say, I do see what you mean, but I think the music is appropriate and it fits.
  • Jp from NyDon't know how people can compare Elton John to Billy. Though while a great artist Elton never wrote a lyric in his life. Bernie Taupin. Just saying.
  • Micheal from RochesterLove the comments, but what I love even more is that art can be interpreted in so many different ways depending on the individual. No ones right or wrong, not even Billy himself.
  • Rob from Raleigh, NcHate to burst your bubble there St. James, but at this point in human evolution, every musical style is derivative, even Elton John.
  • St James from Southport I realize I am in the minority here, but may I offer something different please? This song gives me the creeps. In particular it’s the piano music — especially the intro. It’s like deranged carnival music. And it’s a rip off of Marvin Hamlisch’s style. The music doesn’t match the message. While I am at it, I think Joel’s hits are often rip offs of other styles. Like Uptown Girl from Neil Sedaka or the Four Seasons. In the Middle of the Night? What right does he have to steal Black southern gospel? Someone mentioned he is often compared with Elton John. I think Elton’s style is original. You may or may not like it, but he’s not just copying. Elton is an artist. Billy, not so much.
  • AnonymousI really never "heard" the words when it was popular, but in 13 going on 30 I really heard it. Better late than never.
  • Tom from Perth, Western AustraliaI listened to the Howard Stern interview with Joel and the lyric 'Vienna waits for you' became imbued with a depth I'd never considered.

    It could mean that, for the enlightened, there's a 'Vienna' waiting to receive you in your old age... Or, even more affecting, while you may not want to wait for a 'Vienna', Vienna will always wait for you.
  • Eileen Griffin from MassachusettsThis is probably my all time favorite song. I'm 14 and first heard this song in 13 going on 30 and I tot forgot about it. Yesterday I was scrolling through song that my class and I could sing at graduation and this showed up on a list and I listen to it again and I fell in love with it again. It says that take your time and you'll enjoy the ride and just take some time for yourself and relax. Even if you're 8 or 80 you still have your whole life in front of you.
  • Jenn from Bronx, NySome background on Billy - Billy's dad was an accomplished pianist. After Billy's parents divorced, his dad moved to Vienna & was absent for most of Billy's life. His mom encouraged Billy to learn & play piano, to see if he inherited the gift from his dad. Years later after Billy grew up & became a huge success, Billy finally went to Vienna to see his dad & rebuild the relationship.
    When Billy was recently on Howard Stern, Stern asked Billy if this song was about going to Vienna to confront his dad on
    being absent from his life, and finally reaching closure. Billy said "No, that it was about an old woman cleaning the street" (as mentioned above).
    That night, Joel called Stern & said "you know, I never thought about it, but you got me really thinking. Maybe subconsciously, this song is about my father."




  • Matt from Ft. Lauderdale, Fl"Vienna Waits" was also the title of a fourth season episode of "Taxi" in which Alex and Elaine take a trip to Eurpoe. The song plays throughout the episode.
  • Ruthie from Burnley, United KingdomAbsolutely awesome song, beautiful lyrics and an amazing performer. MY FAVOURITE SONG! When I'm dreaming I imagine this to be on the soundtrack to my life! LOL! :) Thankyou Billy - might go to vienna one day! Peace everyone :)
  • Matt from Fishers, Inalso in Breakfast at Tiffany's
  • Noah from Galesburg, IlThis is my favorite Billy Joel song and probably in my top ten overall...I've never understood how this song ended up so underrated, even though it was part of "The Stranger" which I would say is Joel's magnum opus.
  • Richard from Somerdale , NjThis is one of Billy's two favorite songs he wrote, along with Summer, Highland Falls. He said this during an interview and said because his father was in Vienna and the time they spent together there was great.
  • Jepmcfly from Ny, NyThis song reminds me of Holden from the novel, "The Catcher in The Rye".
  • Nishit from Mumbai, IndiaI love hearing this song when I'm feeling down and bogged down
  • Juliet2893 from New York, NyThis song always reminds me of a kid, 16/17, moving so fast in life and missing all of the real important things. Trying to be older and what not. I know i'm taking it extremely literal but thats the image that appears when i listen to this.
    Amazing song.
  • April from Baltimore, MdMy All-time favorite song by anyone ever.
  • Victoria from Budapest, HungaryThis song is one of my favorites because of the beautiful lyrics. But sadly this song and many other similar ones are underrated while they are more meaningful than the newer hits.
  • J.b. from San Jose, CaDEEP LYRICS!!!! GREAT LYRICS!!!!! uses Vienna as a metaphor for the rest of your life.
    Hate to sound old, but the popular music of today is rather EMPTY......
  • Kimmie from Dallas, GaWow. Thanks Billy.
  • Julie from Taylor, TxI lovvvveeee this song. It is a classic. An they say young people don't have good taste in music!
  • Ken from Louisville, KyWhen Joel appeared on Inside The Actors Studio, host James Lipton broadly hinted that this was his favorite Billy Joel song. Lipton told the audience of drama students that "Vienna waits for you".
  • Tracy from Undisclosed, CtI love this song so much - it's easily one of my absolute favorite Billy Joel songs. The "12 Gardens Live" version is great too.
  • Ozzy from Fresno, CaI agree with Kevin and Leyna.
    There's nothing like this song. It's the saddest song I've ever heard along with Imagine and Golden Slumbers. People are always comparing Billy Joel to Elton John, but sometimes people who listen to modern songs and bands like Van Halen and Experience are too blind to understand this kind of stuff.
    Billy Joel is one of the greatest composers of all time, and ever since my dad played this for me when I was about eleven it was and still is my favorite song by him.
    "You got your passion, you got your pride, but don't you know that only fools are satified?"
  • Gen from New York, NyThis is such a beautiful, totally underrated, and since it was never publicized that much, most people don't know of it.
  • George from Salisbury, Ctthis is like the most underrated Joel song ever!
  • Matthew from Milford, MaDid The Fray do a cover of this on their album, "How to Save a Life"?
  • Kristin from Yaphank, NyWow. What a great song. I am listening to it right now.
  • Jackie from San Diego, Cabeautiful, one of my favorites
  • Mark from Des Moines, IaOne of my favorite Joel songs, if not the best! Incredible lyrics, and catchy music. "Too bad that's the life you lead, You're so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need."
  • Caitlin from Upper Township, NjSuch a nice song. it's very deep and meaningful. you just don't see songs like this anymore
  • Ken from Louisville, KyBilly Joel performed this song on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" in 2006.
  • Nick from Boston , MaOne of the better songs. I actually found it by mistake. This and Leningrad are good songs
  • Leyna from From The Middle Of The Ocean, OkBeautiful song. Very inspiring.
  • Kevin from Grosse Pointe, MiThis is my favorite Billy Joel song ever. It's so underrated, I'm suprised that more people don't know about it.

    "Dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true. When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?"
  • Steven from Liverpool, EnglandThis song featured in the movie 13 Going on 30
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