“Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel

At the center of this narrative are two characters. One is the titular “uptown girl”, with the uptown adjective basically meaning that she is from a well-to-do, classy background. Meanwhile the singer himself is a “downtown man” which implies the opposite, that he is a relatively-humble, working-class fellow. And the premise of their entire interaction is that the uptown girl is actually looking for a downtown man. Basically, she wants to date someone from a lower, more street-based class than herself. And the insinuated reason for so is that she is tired of “high-class” dude.

So Billy sees an opportunity. That is to say that he is attracted to this lady.  And in realizing that she is actually searching for a guy like himself, he’s “gonna try” to get her. Or stated otherwise, he feels that he is exactly what she is looking for.

So this track isn’t necessarily a love song as in its lyrics, in their entirety, aren’t really about him adoring this lady. Rather they are more centered on the possibility of the two of them being together. Or all things considered, you can say that he is trying to convince the uptown girl to date him, considering he’s in love with her and all.

Song’s Inspiration

Now with that being established, it is also said that this song is about a particular lady. Billy Joel conceived it upon simultaneously and unexpectedly meeting Elle Macpherson, Christie Brinkley and Whitney Houston (1963-2012). The first two personalities you may already recognize as being famous models.  But also interesting to note is that at the time Whitney was also an up-and-coming model, thus explaining why she would be chillin’ with Ella and Christie.

So anyway, they all approached Joel one day in the Caribbean while he was playing his piano. And this entire experience moved him in such a way that he wrote a song called “Uptown Girls” apparently about them, which later became “Uptown Girl”.

Now as alluded to earlier, Billy is indeed an opportunist. So he took advantage of the luck he experienced meeting these three beautiful ladies by initiating a relationship with Elle Macpherson. And considering that the tune is indeed named “Uptown Girl”, many people contend that it is actually about Macpherson.

However Billy Joel and Elle Macpherson only had a brief, one-year relationship that ended in 1982, before this track was released.  When it did come out, by that time Billy was then dating Christie Brinkley.  And this was definitely the more-significant of the two romances, as they actually went on to marry in 1985 and remained so for nine years. In fact it is Christie who plays the role of the “uptown girl” on the music video itself. So the popular understanding is that this song is actually an ode to Miss Brinkley from Joel, which for the record appears to be the way the singer himself interprets it.

Which of these women is “Uptown Girl” really about?

So in an attempt to put the debate of who this track is about behind us, here is what seems to have actually gone down. At first Joel wrote it, generally speaking, about Whitney H., Elle M. and Christie B.. Then he began dating Elle, and theoretically modified the lyrics to reflect his relationship with her alone. Now it is feasible that by that time he actually recorded the song in 1983, the same year he began dating Christie, he had her in mind when singing. But at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. Because considering the fact that out of the three original “Uptown Girls” she’s the one that he actually married (in addition to she appearing in the music video), people who actually know the background of this tune are logically going to conclude that it is about her anyway, even if she wasn’t necessarily the focus when it was penned.


So here we have a song that is not only pleasing sonically but also has a memorable music video and a history that actually involves three other celebrities outside of the singer himself. And all of this as the result of Billy Joel – your prototypical, working-class dude so to speak – falling in love with a lady who according to the song is in a higher socio-economic class than himself.

Lyrics of "Uptown Girl"

Music Video

The aforementioned music video had Jay Dubin as its director. It is a very-entertaining piece whose choreography emulates the styles of 1960s musicians. In fact this entire song represents an attempt by Billy, who wrote the piece and the track’s producer, Phil Ramone, to replicate the sound of a popular 1960s band called Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. And the song they had in mind in particular is one of their 1964 tunes entitled “Rag Doll”. Interestingly, the song in question also features a theme similar to “Uptown Girl”.

Release Date of “Uptown Girl”

This epic track came out on 29 September 1983. It is the second single from Billy Joel’s multi-Platinum album “An Innocent Man”.

Success of “Uptown Girl”

“Uptown Girl” was a phenomenal success, with many 1980s babies feeling that it is Billy Joel’s signature tune. For example, it topped the music charts in five countries. This includes scoring a number one in Britain (i.e. the UK Singles Chart). And that was the only time Billy had been able to achieve that feat. It has also been certified Gold in the UK. Moreover the track reached number 3 in America (i.e. on the Billboard Hot 100). And generally speaking, it charted in 15 nations, including some as diverse as South Africa and Zimbabwe.

“Uptown Girl” was also nominated for a couple of American Music Awards in 1983. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance – Male in 1994, which it logically lost to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. 

Notable Cover

The famous boy band Westlife also dropped their own rendition of “Uptown Girl” in 2001. Interestingly, their version arguably became more successful chart-wise than even Billy’s.

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