Friday, April 29, 2011

Billy Joel - Glass Houses

On March 10th of 1980, American singer-songwriter and all-around piano man Billy Joel released his seventh studio album Glass Houses. It featured his first number 1 hit single on the Billboard charts, and the album also spent six weeks of its seventy-three week run, on top of the Billboard Album. It ranked number 4 on Billboard’s 1980 year-end album chart.


Around the world, it went to number 27 in Spain, number 24 in Germany, number 21 in France, number 20 in the Netherlands, number 9 in the UK, number 6 in Japan, New Zealand and Sweden, number 4 in Austria, number 2 in Australia and Norway, and number 1 in Canada. It was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year and won a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance Male. Joel was nominated for an American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist, and the album won the AMA for Favorite Pop/Rock Album.

“You May Be Right” kicks off the record with the sound of shattering glass, a symbolic indicator that this album‘s hard-rocking edge was going to break the image critics previously had laid on him, one of a soft-rocking piano crooner. The song then continues with strong guitar instrumentation. This was clearly a new Billy Joel. And fans liked it, for this first single from the album spent eleven weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached number 7. It also charted at number 60 in Japan, number 38 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, number 28 in Australia, number 23 in New Zealand, and number 6 in Canada.

“Sometimes a Fantasy” also has a unique opening, one of a dialing phone. The lyrics tell the story of a frustrated man who tries to convince his significant other to have phone sex with him. The guitars and drums are solid on this one too, creating a driving beat that mirror the excitement of the situation. Joel also plays some synthesizer on this one, showing he was ready to embrace the new sounds of the 80’s. This was the fourth single from the album to hit the Billboard Hot 100 late in the year; it only managed to make it number 36 though.

“Don’t Ask Me Why” was the third single released from the album. It broke the top twenty, landing at number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also went to number 42 in France and the Netherlands, number 4 in Canada, and number 1 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. This track sounds more like previous Joel songs with a lighter sounding melody. It does feature some Latin percussion instruments along with his piano accompaniment. The lyrics talk about the oddities of life that have become obvious over time.

“It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” was the second and most successful single from this release. It stayed on the charts for nineteen weeks, two of which it spent at the number 1 spot. It also reached number 45 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, number 21 in New Zealand, number 14 in the UK, number 11 in Ireland, number 10 in Australia, and number 1 in Canada. The song makes a commentary on the music industry of the day, talking about the various things that studios might suggest an artist do in order to appear “relevant” to modern audiences. Joel’s view is that it’s all still rock and roll and the music is what ultimately matters.

“All for Leyna” was released as a single in the UK where it peaked at number 40; in the US it appeared as a B-side to “Sometimes a Fantasy”. The song tells the tale of a man who meets a girl for a one-night stand and ends up becoming obsessed with her. I really like the music on this one - it all works really well, right down to the urgent piano playing in the chorus.

Side two begins with “I Don’t Want to Be Alone”. It has a slight Latin swing to it. The lyrics talk about the way two people come back together for one more night, just because neither one of them wants to spend another night by themselves. It is the cautionary tale of falling back into an old rut just because it is convenient and familiar.

“Sleeping With the Television On” opens with sounds that only an older generation can now relate to - the fleeting notes of the National Anthem followed by a steady tone. This is how television stations would sign off in the middle of the night (around 1am or 2am, whenever the late show or movie would end) so the station could be off the air until 6am or so. Today’s generations wouldn’t get this - in this day and age of cable TV stations are on 24-7. Not so in 1980. The rest of the song is a nice moving tune, typical Billy Joel fare.

“C'├ętait toi (You Were the One)” features Billy singing a verse or two in French. It is a pretty song even if I have to go and translate the lyrics to figure out what it’s all about.

“Close to the Borderline” gets us back into the rocking sounds. It speaks of how everyday we encounter things that push us a little closer to that edge. This is one of my favorite deep tracks from the record.

“Through the Long Night” closes out the album on a slower note. The organ creates a nice mood to the song.

Here’s the funny personal story about me and Glass Houses. This one came out during the later part of my freshman year of high school. I was very much into buying 45s at the time - they sold for 99 cents apiece which I thought was a good deal (two songs for under a buck - couldn’t beat it). Whenever I got a new 45, I would always listen to both sides - the hit I knew well and the other song which I might not. I wanted to get my money’s worth.

I was also very much into listening to Top 40 radio during those years. As the year progressed, I kept getting the singles from this album. By the time the third one came out, I’d already invested $3. I didn’t want to spend another $7.99 for the rest of it. Luckily the fourth single came out a few months later. Funny thing was this - with four singles I had 8/10ths of the record (thanks to the fact that each B-side was different). So, for my $4 investment, I had nearly the whole record. I think it all worked out pretty good in my eyes.

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