Song of the Day #4,151: ‘Big Man on Mulberry Street (Live)’ – Billy Joel

My final pick for the upcoming Billy Joel anthology series is ‘Big Man on Mulberry Street,’ the epic, jazzy centerpiece of Joel’s 1986 album The Bridge. This is one of Joel’s best songs, so different than so much of what preceded it, yet still quintessentially him.

The song features one of Joel’s great characters, a small-time New Yorker with big-time dreams. This guy, with the right writing and acting, could be an incredibly rich character.

I’m very curious to see which songs actually get tapped for the series. I’ll be happy if one of my five suggestions makes the cut, though I promise not to take credit.

Which Billy Joel songs would you like to see turned into a TV episode?

Note: As with yesterday’s post, I have already featured the studio version of this song on the blog. Below is a version from Joel’s historic 1987 tour of Russia.

Why can’t I lay low?
Why can’t I say what I mean?
Why don’t I stay home
And get myself into some boring routine?

Why can’t I calm down?
Why is it always a fight?
I can’t get unwound
Why do I throw myself into the night?

I’m on the outside
I don’t fit into a groove
Now, I ain’t a bad guy
So tell me what am I trying to prove?

Why can’t I cool out?
Why don’t I button my lip?
Why do I lash out?
Why is it I always shoot from the hip?

I cruise from Houston to Canal Street, a misfit and a rebel
I see the winos talking to themselves and I can understand
Why is it everytime I go out I always seem to get in trouble?
I guess I made an impression on somebody north of Hester and South of Grand

And so in my small way
I’m a big man on Mulberry Street
I don’t mean always
Only at night when I’m light on my feet

What else have I got
That I’d be trying to hide?
Maybe a blind spot
I haven’t seen from the sensitive side?

But you know in my own heart
I’m a big man on Mulberry Street
I’ve played the whole part
I’ll leave a big tip with every receipt

I’m so romantic
I’m such a passionate man
Sometimes I panic
What if nobody finds out who I am?

10 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,151: ‘Big Man on Mulberry Street (Live)’ – Billy Joel

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Another great pick. I’ll never forget when this song was used in “Moonlighting” with the fabulous dance scene with Bruce Willis and Cybil Sheppard.

    So, to your question/challenge—here are my five offerings for the anthology:

    1. Stop in Nevada. About a woman making the painful but right decision to leave her man.

    2. The Entertainer. While Piano Man was Joel’s defining descriptive autobiographical story, this less popular follow-up single tells an even more interesting chapter of whether Joel can maintain that success and at what artistic compromise and cost

    3. Souvenir. Also from Streetlife Serenade (the title track would also be a good anthology pick btw), this short song about memories and the passage of time felt sage beyond Joel’s age at the time, but poignant as he and we grow older.

    4. Downeaster Alexa. Describing the changes Joel has seen on the shores of his beloved Long Island and the plight of the fisherman, the sea imagery would make for a great installment.

    5. Keeping the Faith. A joyous look back on Joel’s youth in the 50’s and 60’s, with each verse serving up a descriptive vignette.

    • Clay says:

      All great picks. I had ‘Downeaster Alexa’ and ‘Streetlife Serenader’ on my list before I cut it down to five. I’ll be very curious to see which songs the show actually uses.

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    For those not familiar with my picks or who may just want a refresher:

    Stop in Nevada https://youtu.be/ri786Rt2KwM
    The Enertainer https://youtu.be/ozDSk9XUkrc
    Souvenir https://youtu.be/gizOUq-QDUg
    Downeaster Alexa https://youtu.be/LVlDSzbrH5M
    Keeping the Faith https://youtu.be/ph7oZnBH05s

  3. Peg says:

    I think all these choices are excellent! I’ve always been partial to Just the Way You Are so I would like to see it portrayed by a man who realizes that the woman he is with is the right one 😊 also he could be trying to keep her from becoming a man

  4. Amy says:


    Did you not watch Moonlighting?! As far as I’m concerned, this song has already had the perfect television treatment! 🙂

  5. Amy says:

    Summer, Highland Falls (A few good friends at a music festival contemplate the world, their lives,and the future):
    They say that these are not the best of times
    But they’re the only times I’ve ever known
    And I believe there is a time for meditation
    In cathedrals of our own

    Now, I have seen that sad surrender in my lover’s eyes
    And I can only stand apart and sympathize
    For we are always what our situations hand us
    It’s either sadness or euphoria

    So we’ll argue and we’ll compromise
    And realize that nothing’s ever changed
    For all our mutual experience,
    Our separate conclusions are the same

    Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity
    Our reason coexists with our insanity
    And though we choose between reality and madness
    It’s either sadness or euphoria

    How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies
    Perhaps we don’t fulfill each others fantasies
    And as we stand upon the ledges of our lives,
    With our respective similarities
    It’s either sadness or euphoria

  6. Amy says:

    You May Be Right (just depict the relationship in the song):
    Friday night I crashed your party
    Saturday I said I’m sorry
    Sunday came and trashed me out again
    I was only having fun
    Wasn’t hurting anyone
    And we all enjoyed the weekend for a change

    I’ve been stranded in the combat zone
    I walked through Bedford Stuy alone
    Even rode my motorcycle in the rain
    And you told me not to drive
    But I made it home alive
    So you said that only proves that I’m insane

    You may be right
    I may be crazy
    But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for
    Turn out the light
    Don’t try to save me
    You may be wrong for all I know
    But you may be right

    Remember how I found you there
    Alone in your electric chair
    I told you dirty jokes until you smiled
    You were lonely for a man
    I said take me as I am
    ‘Cause you might enjoy some madness for a while

    Now think of all the years you tried to
    Find someone to satisfy you
    I might be as crazy as you say
    If I’m crazy then it’s true
    That it’s all because of you
    And you wouldn’t want me any other way
    You may be right
    I may be crazy
    But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for
    It’s too late to fight
    It’s too late to change me
    You may be wrong for all I know
    But you may be right

    You may be right
    I may be crazy
    But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for
    Turn out the light
    Don’t try to save me
    You may be wrong for all I know
    But you may be right
    You may be wrong but you may be right
    You may be wrong but you may be right

  7. Amy says:

    Famous Last Words (an author completes the final work of his life as he is dying):
    Sitting here in Avalon, looking at the pouring rain
    Summer time has come and gone, and everybody’s home again
    Closing down for the season, I found the last of the souvenirs
    I can still taste the wedding cake and it’s sweet after all these years

    These are the last words I have to say
    That’s why this took so long to write
    There will be other words some other day
    But that’s the story of my life

    There’s comfort in my coffee cup and apples in the early fall
    They’re pulling all the moorings up and gathering at the Legion Hall
    They swept away all the streamers after the Labor Day parade
    Nothing left for a dreamer now, only one final serenade

    And these are the last words I have to say
    Before another age goes by
    With all those other songs I’ll have to play
    But that’s the story of my life

    And it’s so clear standing here where I am
    Ain’t that what justice is for?
    Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn anymore

    Stack the chairs on the table tops
    Hang the sheets on the chandeliers
    It slows down but it never stops
    Ain’t it sweet after all these years

    And these are the last words I have to say
    It’s always hard to say goodbye
    But now it’s time to put this book away
    Ain’t that the story of my life

  8. Amy says:

    Rosalinda’s Eyes (pretty sure Billy has said this is about his mom? The show could just be the depiction of a woman standing by her music man:
    I play nights in the Spanish part of town
    I’ve got music in my hands
    The work is hard to find
    But that don’t get me down
    Rosalinda understands

    Crazy Latin dancing solo down in Herald Square
    Oh Havana I’ve been searching for you everywhere
    And though I’ll never be there
    I know what I would see there
    I can always find my Cuban skies
    In Rosalinda’s eyes

    When she smiles she gives everything to me
    When she’s all alone she cries
    And I’d do anything to take away her tears
    Because they’re Rosalinda’s eyes

    Senorita don’t be lonely, I will soon be there
    Oh Havana I’ve been searching for you everywhere
    I’ve got a chance to make it
    It’s time for me to take it
    I’ll return before the fire dies
    In Rosalinda’s eyes

    All alone in a Puerto Rican band
    Union wages, wedding clothes
    Hardly anyone has seen how good I am
    But Rosalinda says she knows

    Crazy Latin dancing solo down in Herald Square
    Oh Havana I’ve been searching for you everywhere
    And though I’ll never be there
    I know what I would see there
    I can always find my Cuban skies
    In Rosalinda’s eyes

    COMMENTS

  9. Amy says:

    Code of Silence (could be about any number of secrets, but I’m thinking a sexual assault – Cyndi Lauper would have to have a cameo in this ep, which I bet they will use):

    Everybody’s got a million questions
    Everybody wants to know the score
    What you went through
    It’s something you
    Should be over now

    Everybody wants to hear the secrets
    That you never told a soul before
    And it’s not that strange
    Because it wouldn’t change
    What happened anyhow

    But you swore to yourself a long time ago
    There were some things that people never needed to know
    This is one that you keep
    That you bury so deep
    No one can tear it out

    And you can’t talk about it
    Because you’re following a code of silence
    You’re never gonna lose the anger
    You just deal with it a different way
    And you can’t talk about it
    And isn’t that a kind of madness
    To be living by a code of silence
    When you’ve really got a lot to say

    You don’t want to lose a friendship
    There’ s nothing that you have to hide
    And a little dirt couldn’t hurt no one anyway
    And you still have a rage inside you
    That you carry with certain pride
    In the only part of a broken heart
    That you could never save

    But you’ve been through it once, yo know how it ends
    You don’t see the point of going through it again,
    And this ain’t the place, and this ain’t the time,
    And neither’s any other day
    So you can’t talk about it
    Because your following a code of silence
    You’re never gonna lose the anger
    You just deal within it a different way
    So you can’t talk about it
    And isn’t that a kind of madness
    To be living by a code of silence
    When you’ve really got a lot to say

    I know you well enough to tell you’ve got your reasons
    That’s not the kind of code you’re inclined to break
    Some things unknown are best left alone forever
    And if a vow is what it takes
    Haven’t you paid for your mistakes

    After the moment passes
    And the impulse disappears
    You can still hold back
    Because you don’t crack very easily

    It’s a time honored resolution
    Because the danger is always near
    It’s with you now
    But that ain’t how it was supposed to be

    And it’s hard to believe after all these years
    That it still gives you pain and it still brings tears
    And you feel like a fool, because in spite of your rules
    You’ve got a memory

    But you can’t talk about it
    Because you’re following a code of silence
    You’re never gonna lose the anger
    You just deal with it a different way
    But you can’t talk about it
    And isn’t that a kind of madness
    To be living by a code of silence
    When you’ve really got a lot to say

    Those are my picks. Thanks for allowing me to play along even though I’m tardy!

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