“The River of Dreams” by Billy Joel

Billy Joel grew up in a Jewish household and has also dabbled in Christianity as a youth. But by and large he is recognized as an atheist, which is interesting given the religious undertone of this track. But that may be because “The River of Dreams” did in fact come to him while he was asleep. This means that he only had so much conscious influence over its content.  Indeed upon waking up, he tried to actually “wash this song away”, a tune he classified as a “gospel”. But in failing to do so he concluded that it was a song that he had to record.

A Symbolic River

The titular “river” is actually symbolic. And what it apparently represents is an idea akin to spiritual fulfillment. That is in order to achieve this state, the narrator must first cross said river. So in a way it can be classified as an obstacle which is preventing him from reaching this goal.

But more to the point is that traversing the river is something he feels he must do to ‘find out what he’s been looking for’. Or perhaps a more holistic way of encapsulating this whole idea is that once he does actually cross the “river of dreams”, he will discover on the other side the true meaning of life. And this is an inquiry he’s actually been trying to answer. And delving deeper into the song, it can be concluded that the specifics of this search has him trying to ascertain if there is in fact an afterlife. And if indeed there’s one, where does he stand in his relationship with “God”?

But the lyrics also point to the reality behind the creation of this song. For instance, it is said that he did in fact dream about himself ‘walking in his sleep’ in the aforementioned dream. And the title itself, as well as the chorus, seem to deal literally with the singer dreaming as opposed to trying to answer any existential questions. In other words, Joel has described the phrase “river of dreams” as being akin to stream of consciousness, which is a term that is used to basically describe a continuous flow of thoughts.  Therefore these parts of the song focus more on the mental as opposed to spiritual side of human nature.


So there is a lot going on in “The River of Dreams”, and generally speaking the song is metaphysical in nature. But what it all apparently boils down to is that in real life Billy Joel had a very-memorable dream. And the outstanding aspect of said vision is that it led to him attempting to analyze primarily the spiritual side of human existence, particularly in relation to his own life.

Lyrics of "The River of Dreams"

Music Video

The director of the music video to “The River of Dreams” is Andy Morahan.  The clip features famous model Christie Brinkley, whom Billy Joel was married to from 1985 ’til 1994. It also features their daughter, who was seven-years old at the time, named Alexa Ray Joel.

Release Date of “The River of Dreams”

Billy Joel dropped an album called “River of Dreams”, and this is its title track. Both the song and the album were released by Columbia Records on 10 August 1993. “The River of Dreams” also served as the lead single from that project.

“The River of Dreams” at the Grammys

“The River of Dreams” received a nomination for a Grammy Award in 1994.  And whereas Billy Joel did not actually win, he did perform the song during the ceremony. And said performance was particularly notable as he used the occasion to protest against Frank Sinatra being cutoff while receiving an award earlier in the night. And by extension Mr. Joel lambasted the producers of the show.

Chart and Commercial Success

“The River of Dreams” peaked at number 3 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart. It topped music charts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand as well as Billboard’s Adult Contemporary listing in the US.  And it charted in 20 countries altogether.

“The River of Dreams” as also been certified Gold in France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.

Writing Credits

Billy Joel wrote “The River of Dreams” by himself. And the track was produced by Danny Kortchmar.

3 Responses

  1. Han says:

    How billie Joel resolve the issue in his song “River of Dreams”

  2. Nick says:

    He was swept away by the River in the final verse. Showing that “what was lost” is what compels the journey. 😉

  3. Tim says:

    Nick could you please expand on that final verse?
    I don’t understand “what was lost” “is what compels the journey?”
    [email protected].
    Bless You Sir!

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