Song of the Day #4,359: ‘The Great Wall of China’ – Billy Joel

I didn’t know back in 1993 when I bought Billy Joel’s River of Dreams that it would be the last album of pop songs he’d ever release. Maybe Joel has a surprise in store 27 years later, but it sure seems like this was his swan song.

This is far from my favorite Billy Joel album — a quick glance at his discography suggests I’d rank it at #11 of 12 — but it’s plenty good enough to be my #8 album of 1993.

I have a bit of a soft spot for this album because I remember buying two copies with my then-girlfriend, now-wife, the day it came out. A few years later we would be married and never have to buy separate copies of anything ever again. Of course, the world eventually stopped buying CDs altogether, but that’s a different story.

My future wife and I weren’t the only people buying River of Dreams. The album sold more than 5 million copies and was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy. The title track reached #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100, while other singles ‘All About Soul’ and ‘Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)’ also charted.

‘Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)’ is the album’s best track and a highlight of Joel’s catalog. I don’t know if I’d place any of the album’s other tracks in the Billy Joel Hall of Fame, but I do enjoy ‘The River of Dreams,’ ‘The Great Wall of China,’ ‘Blonde Over Blue’ and ‘Famous Last Words’ quite a bit.

Today’s track is about Joel’s manager (and former brother-in-law) Frank Weber, who reportedly ripped Joel off to the tune of millions of dollars.

(Verse One)

Advice is cheap you can take it from me
It’s yours to keep cause opinions are free
Nobody knows about the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody’s perfect, mister, nobody’s clean
It costs too much and takes too long to find out too late
Some words are not heard ’til after they’re spoken
Your role was protective, your soul was too defective
Some people just don’t have a heart to be broken

(Chorus Version One)

We could have gone all the way to the Great Wall of China
If you’d only had a little more faith in me
In lieu of diamonds, gold and platinum reminders will still shine bright
All the king’s men and all the king’s horses
Can’t put you together the way you used to be
We could have been standing on the Great Wall of China

(Verse Two)

You take a piece of whatever you touch
Too many pieces means you’re touching too much
You never win if you can’t play it straight
You only beat me if you get me to hate
It must be so lonely to think that you have only
Somebody else’s life to live if they let you
I ain’t too selective, but it don’t take no detective
To find out how fast your friends will forget you

(Chorus Version Two)

We could have gone all the way to the Great Wall of China
Now all you’re going to be is history
Help yourself, it’s all you can eat at the Empire Diner tonight
You coulda had class, you coulda been a contender
Charlie, you shoulda looked out for me
You could have been standing, standing on the Great Wall of China

(Verse Three)

This was not your calling, just look how far you’ve fallen
I heard your story, man, you’ve got to be joking
Keep things in perspective, this is my true objective
Why tear this heart out if it’s only been broken?

(Chorus Version One)

We could have gone all the way to the Great Wall of China
If you’d only had a little more faith in me
In lieu of diamonds, gold and platinum reminders will still shine bright
All the king’s men and all the king’s horses
Can’t put you together the way you used to be
We could have been standing on the Great Wall of China

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,359: ‘The Great Wall of China’ – Billy Joel

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    At first I was taken aback by your ranking of this album as second worst as it really is pretty strong , but in thinking further about it, I might rank it similarly with Storm Front being last. The only song I think is really weak is “All About Soul.”

    I so wish Joel would give us one last pop album, but I agree that, after 27 years, that seems highly unlikely.

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