About the song
Honesty is a song by American singer and songwriter Billy Joel, released as the third single from his sixth studio album 52nd Street in 1979. The song was written solely by Joel, while production was handled by Phil Ramone. It is a piano ballad that talks about the lack of honesty in relationships, with Joel singing the lines “Honesty is such a lonely word / Everyone is so untrue”.
The song was a commercial success, reaching the top 40 of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and becoming Joel’s first number one hit in France. It also received positive reviews from critics, who praised its lyrics and piano instrumentation. The song has been covered by various artists, including Beyoncé in 2008.
The song was inspired by Joel’s personal experiences with dishonesty in the music industry and in his romantic relationships. He said in an interview: “I wrote it at a time when I was being lied to a lot. I just wanted somebody to be honest with me.” He also explained that he wanted to write a song that was different from the typical love songs of the time, which he felt were too sentimental and unrealistic.
The song was recorded at A&R Recording Studios in New York City, with David Spinozza on acoustic guitar, Liberty DeVitto on drums and Robert Freedman on horn and string arrangements. Joel played the piano and sang the lead vocals, as well as the backing vocals with Frank Floyd and Doug Stegmeyer. The song features synthesizer embellishments that add a melancholic tone to the song.
The song was released as a single in February 1979, with the B-side “The Mexican Connection”. It peaked at number 24 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the third consecutive top 40 hit from 52nd Street. It also reached number 16 on the Adult Contemporary chart and number 36 on the UK Singles Chart. In France, the song topped the chart for two weeks in June 1979, becoming Joel’s first and only number one hit in that country. It also charted in other countries, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Japan.
The song received two Grammy nominations for Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, but lost to “What a Fool Believes” by The Doobie Brothers and “She Believes in Me” by Kenny Rogers, respectively. The song also won an Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically in 1980.
The song has been praised by critics for its emotional depth and honesty. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic called it “one of Joel’s best songs”. Timothy White of Billboard magazine called it “a pensive pop hit”. Chuck Klosterman of The New York Times wrote that “the only way you can tell that someone really cares about you is if they tell you you’re bad”, referring to the line “I can always find someone / To say they sympathize / If I wear my heart out on my sleeve / But I don’t want some pretty face / To tell me pretty lies / All I want is someone to believe”.
The song has been covered and sampled by various artists over the years. One of the most notable covers was by Beyoncé, who recorded a version of the song for her deluxe edition of her album I Am… Sasha Fierce in 2008. She said that she chose to cover the song because she loved Joel’s music and because she related to the message of the song. She said: “I feel like sometimes people don’t want to hear honesty. They don’t want to hear what you really feel or what you’re going through.” Her version received mixed reviews from critics, some of whom praised her vocal performance and others who felt that she did not capture the original emotion of the song.
Other artists who have covered or sampled the song include Shirley Bassey, Clay Aiken, Richard Marx, Howard Hewett, Kenny Rogers, Julio Iglesias, Mina, John Denver, Frank Sinatra Jr., Brad Mehldau and Glee cast.