Seemingly retired from the pop scene, the final Billy Joel release of the ‘90s was a compilation. Being a single-disc sequel to the double set from 1985, it got the imaginative title of Greatest Hits Vol. III, cleverly allowing Sony to repackage both together in a box with a fourth “music and conversation” disc. But anyway. Two of the songs (“Keeping The Faith” and “An Innocent Man”) predate the previous hits collection, but as they were actual hits, that’s a good thing. The rest of the program isn’t as obvious. We move chronologically through the albums yet to be anthologized, with eyebrow raisers like “Baby Grand” and “Leningrad” among the more expected radio fodder. “Shameless” is included, most likely as a nod to the Garth Brooks version. Similarly, we suspect “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’”, “And So It Goes” and “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” made the cut for more sentimental than commercial reasons. (Really, would you call any song that missed the top 40 a “hit”?)
The album did offer something new to fans who already had the albums: three new songs, all covers, all on the slow side. “To Make You Feel My Love” was the debut of a new Dylan song, a whole month ahead of Bob’s own version, complete with harmonica solo. (And of course, Garth Brooks had to go ahead and record his own version the following year.) “Hey Girl” is a Goffin/King tune, given a lush blue-eyed soul arrangement. Finally, “Light As The Breeze” recasts a Leonard Cohen song as an R&B showstopper, investing it with way more melody than Leonard could’ve.
If anything, Greatest Hits Vol. III proves that even if Billy Joel didn’t write any more songs himself, he could easily build a cash cow out of covers. Hey, it worked for Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow, to name two. That he hasn’t done so is a big point in the integrity column.
Billy Joel Greatest Hits Vol. III (1997)—3½