First recorded (as a demo) by Billy Joel (1977).
Hit version by Billy Joel (US #24/CAN #18 1977).
From the wiki: “‘Only the Good Die Young’ was written by Billy Joel for his landmark 1977 album, The Stranger. The original demo recording featured a slower, reggae arrangement (the demo is included in the box set, My Life).
“‘I wrote it as a reggae song,’ Joel recalled. ‘And Liberty [DeVitto], my drummer, is so sick of reggae that he literally throws his drumsticks at me and says, ‘Ugh, I frigging hate reggae! The closest you’ve ever been to Jamaica is when you changed trains in Queens.” It was Joel’s producer, Phil Ramone, who recommended to Joel ‘Don’t play any different than you play on the road — be the rock ‘n’ roll animal that you are.’ The third take of the song in the studio is what appears on the album, The Stranger.
“The song was not without other controversy because of its perceived sacrilegiousness. But, Joel insists ‘Only the Good Die Young’ was more pro-lust than it was anti-Catholic; that the object of Joel’s affections was one Virginia Callahan, an unrequited crush from his high school days in Levittown, Long Island. The song was first banned by radio station WSOU, at Catholic-affilated Seton Hall College. Then it was banned by the archdiocese of St. Louis. And then it got banned in Boston.
“Joel remembers, ‘All these archdiocese areas started putting pressure on radio stations to ban it. The single had been out a short amount of time and wasn’t doing well. The minute they banned it, it starting shooting up the charts, because nothing sells a record like a ban or a boycott.'”
Billy Joel, “Only the Good Die Young” (1977):