Columbia Records, 1980
REVIEW BY: Paul Hanson
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/25/1998
While Billy Joel searches his new creative impulse in the genre of classical music, the rest of us do not have to suffer. Instead, we can all dig up Joel's classic 1980 gem of a tape called Glass Houses, already 18 years old. This was the second tape I ever bought. The first was the soundtrack to Olivia Newton John's movie "Xanadu." I was in 4th grade so what did I know? I have wore out three copies of Glass Houses and, while it may not get as many turns on my cassette player, it still marks, for the most part, my musical roots.
From the opening track, Joel's truthful "You May Be Right" symbolizes his appeal:
If I'm crazy then it's true
That it's all because of you
And you wouldn't want me
Any other way
Mix in the killer saxophone solo and you get the beginnings of the Billy Joel legend.
Second track, "Sometimes a Fantasy," introduced with the sound of a phone dialing, rocks with its simple guitar rock. Prominent on this track is the electric piano, which, years later, would become Joel's signature sound. But not yet.
On this album, Joel created simple rock and roll. His classic "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me" was introduced here, as track four on a five-song side. Not exactly the pinnacle position for a classic. Combine Joel shouting, "Everyone freak out!" just before the killer saxophone solo and the slick keyboard parts and you get a great rock and roll song.
The shaker and other percussion on "Don't Ask Me Why" are as close to adult contemporary as you can get, which is where Joel's music has landed. He is not considered a rock and roller anymore. Aside from his new classical endeavor, he's considered an "Adult Contemporary" artist or so the music clubs would have you believe.
And that is evident throughout this disc. Aside from "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me," "Close To The Borderline" and "Sometimes A Fantasy," most of these songs are adult contemporary. Joel fell further into that genre with his later albums like An Innocent Man, which my father even liked!
For the record, it was Billy Joel that introduced me to cussing. It was in his song "Close To The Borderline" where Joel proclaims, "I shouldn't bitch." Granted, that is considered tame in this day and age but in 4th grade, it was like owning a copy of "Deep Throat" in high school! My 4th grade class was always telling our music teacher to play that song in class.
But back to the tape. The label "Adult Contemporary" shouldn't scare you away, in this case. (I still shudder when I think about hearing another adult contemporary artist by the name of Michael Bolton. I shudder thinking about it!) Tracks like "All For Leyna" and "Sleeping With The Television On" will never make any of his greatest hits compilations.
Neither will "You Were the One," which is probably my favorite song on this tape. Joel sings the verse in French and then in English. It's a pretty ballad that has the same appeal, for me, as "Piano Man." Why it never caught on as one of his "greatest" tunes is still something about which I wonder.
The influence of Glass Houses is still being felt today. I recently heard a punk band by the name of 30 FootFall (on Fearless Records) do a cover of "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me." Another punk band, the Seasick Pirates (on Nuclear Blast Records) do a cover of "The Longest Time," which was recorded by Joel in 1983. Joel's early rock songs are the foundation of a generation of rockers and, well, music critics. Glass Houses ranks pretty damn high and has stood the test of time as a great rock album.
|A good review of an excellent record. However, I'm pretty sure Billy does not shout 'Everyone freak out' before the sax solo on It's Still Rock and Roll to Me. His saxophonist, Richie Cannata, often goes by his nickname Rico and Billy is saying 'Alright Rico!' or something very similar.|