‘Vienna’ Lyrics and the Story Behind the Billy Joel Song

Though “Vienna” isn’t one of Billy Joel’s most celebrated songs — far from the realm of “Only the Good Die Young” or “The Stranger” — it remains a favorite among Joel enthusiasts. “Vienna” is one of Joel’s most relatable tunes — about slowing down and taking the time to experience life, for “you can’t be everything you want to be before your time.” So, what are the lyrics to the hit tune, and what inspired the Joel Hit? 

Billy Joel at Piano, 65th birthday at Madison Square Garden
Billy Joel performs onstage celebrating his 65th birthday at Madison Square Garden | Kevin Mazur/WireImage

The lyrics to Billy Joel’s “Vienna” 

Slow down you crazy child

You’re so ambitious for a juvenile

But then if you’re so smart tell me,

Why are you still so afraid? (mmmmm)

Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?

You better cool it off before you burn it out

You got so much to do and only

So many hours in a day (Ay)

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But you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want

Or you can just get old

You’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through (Oooh)

When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?

Slow down you’re doing fine

You can’t be everything you want to be before your time

Although it’s so romantic on the borderline tonight (tonight)

Too bad, but it’s the life you lead

You’re so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need

Though you can see when you’re wrong

You know you can’t always see when you’re right (you’re right)

You got your passion, you got your pride

But don’t you know that only fools are satisfied?

Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true (Oooh)

When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?

Slow down you crazy child

Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while

It’s alright, you can afford to lose a day or two (oooh)

When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?

And you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want or you can just get old

You’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through (oooh)

Why don’t you realize… Vienna waits for you?

When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?

lyrics from MusixMatch

Billy Joel later realized he coped with his feelings surrounding his father through “Vienna”

According to SongFacts, Joel’s parents divorced when the singer was quite young. Joel’s father then returned to Vienna (where he was born), where he met someone new and started a second family. 

During a visit to the Howard Stern show, Joel explained that he doesn’t always know what a song is about as he is penning the lyrics. However, down the line, he came to realize “Vienna” helped him cope with his feelings surrounding his dad. 

Billy Joel once described the message in the lyrics 

During another interview, Joel explained that so many young people, often in their 20s, feel they have to reach the pinnacle of success — the mountaintop of happiness and fulfillment by their 30s.

If that’s the case, why do we have so many years on this planet, Joel pondered. Joel said, “No matter what you do, be good at it, and whenever you get there, you get there,” according to SongFacts.