Saturday, March 14, 2015

glass houses

Billy Joel shattered his image as a balladeer with the hard edged arena rock and new wave pop of this borderline blockbuster.  Despite the massive back-to-back success of 'The Stranger' and '52nd Street', Joel had found little credibility among critics.  This, combined with the large stadium shows that he was playing, led him to try something different for his next album.  Joel would reveal:   "It’s a definite temptation to repeat a successful formula. But I have never done the same thing twice. I don’t care what anybody says! After Stranger, I could have done Son of Stranger, but I’ve never done that. To keep me interested, there always has to be something new, something different.  When I come up with a melody, it is not calculated. It’s like an erection: It happens. There’s no formula. I do try to write complete melodies; that’s a constant. Because there are only so many notes and so many combinations, it gets tougher all the time to stay away from what’s been done before. But everything I’ve done is different. The proof is that some people think I’m a balladeer, others think I’m a rock-’n’-roller, still others think I’m the “piano man.” I don’t have a signature. Yes, critics have said I write cleverly and without spontaneity, in cold blood. I don’t. I write in hot blood. If it’s commercial, it just happens to be commercial. If you don’t like my music, fine. But don’t question my motives...It was, 'I’m going to throw a rock at the image people have of me as this mellow balladeer.' We had been doing rock ‘n’ roll before, but there happened to be more of it on this record. The old thing about people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones—I don’t believe it. I think, Why not? Take chances. I really wanted to throw a rock at my own house.  Anyway, playing all that rock ‘n’ roll was fun. One rock-’n’-roll song kicked off another. Also, I’ve started to jump around onstage more. I used to stay behind the piano ... We’d had two or three years of playing in arenas and coliseums, and I recognized that I needed to write bigger music.  Ballads don’t always fly that well in an arena; you need big sound. So I started harder-edged songs, more guitar-based songs...It was fun to do. This was probably the most fun album that I ever made. It happened fairly quickly, the band loved playing it, the audiences loved the material that was on the recording and we were on a roll.”

'Glass Houses' was recorded at A&R Studios with producer Phil Ramone and features  Billy Joel on synthesizers, harmonica, acoustic & electric pianos, accordion, and vocals;   Dave Brown and Russell Javors on acoustic guitar and electric guitar;   Richie Cannata on organ, flute, and saxophone;   Liberty DeVitto on drums & percussion;    and Doug Stegmeyer on bass guitar.  

'Glass Houses' sold more than eight million copies worldwide, going to number twenty-four in Germany; twenty-one in France; twenty in the Netherlands; nine in the UK; six in Japan, New Zealand, and Sweden; four in Austria; two in Norway; and number one in Canada and the US.  The album was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and won for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.  It also won an American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Album.

"It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" laid out the thesis for the album and became his first number one hit in Canada and the US.  Joel says:   "Everybody puts things in categories. Everything has to fit into a certain bag: New Wave, next phase, dance, funk, punk. . . . Call it what you want, but it sounds like the music I heard in the early Sixties. The New Wave isn’t new. It’s just the explosion of a lot of groups, which I think is good...It’s music with a beat. No, that’s not right. It’s music that has passion in it, whether it’s a ballad or whatever. There’s some kind of intensity...Take M.O.R. [middle of the road]: You can hear it and not hear it. That’s how a lot of music is. Rock ‘n’ roll is music you have to hear. People say I’m not rock ‘n’ roll because of my ballads, but that’s not right: Take a song like Yesterday, a ballad created by a member of a rock-’n’-roll band. Is that rock ‘n’ roll? If you’re a rock-’n’-roll snob who hates ballads, you never would have listened to the Beatles. If the Beatles were around today, they would never make the hard-rock stations. You see, elitism of any kind is bad. You’re shutting yourself off. Christ—Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones have done ballads. I think a lot of it has to do with the emotion behind it. If it’s performed with passion and recorded with intensity, and it’s written in some rock form, it’s rock ‘n’ roll. If I like it and I hear it on the radio and it gets me going, stimulates me, it’s rock ‘n’ roll."

What's the matter with the clothes I'm wearing?
"Can't you tell that your tie's too wide?"
Maybe I should buy some old tab collars?
"Welcome back to the age of jive
Where have you been hidin' out lately, honey?
You can't dress trashy till you spend a lot of money"
Everybody's talkin' 'bout the new sound
Funny, but it's still rock and roll to me 
What's the matter with the car I'm driving?
"Can't you tell that it's out of style?"
Should I get a set of white wall tires?
"Are you gonna cruise a miracle mile?
Nowadays you can't be too sentimental
You best bet's a true baby blue Continental"
Hot funk, cool punk, even if it's old junk
It's still rock and roll to me 
Oh, it doesn't matter what they say in the papers
Cause it's always been the same old scene
There's a new band in town
But you can't get the sound from a story in a magazine...
Aimed at your average teen 
How about a pair of pink sidewinders
And a bright orange pair of pants?
"You could really be a Beau Brummel baby
If you just give it half a chance
Don't waste your money on a new set of speakers
You get more mileage from a cheap pair of sneakers"
Next phase, new wave , dance craze, anyways
It's still rock and roll to me 
What's the matter with the crowd I'm seeing?
"Don't you know that their out of touch?"
Should I try to be a straight 'A' student?
"If you are then you think too much
Don't you know about the new fashion honey?
All you need are looks and a whole lotta money"
It's the next phase, new wave , dance craze, anyways
It's still rock and roll to me
Everybody's talkin' 'bout the new sound
Funny, but it's still rock and roll to me

"Don't Ask Me Why" hit number four in Canada and number one on the US adult contemporary chart.

"You May Be Right" was a top ten hit in Canada and the US.

"Sometimes a Fantasy" reached number twenty-one in Canada and broke into the top forty in the US.

"All for Leyna" charted at number forty in the UK.

'Glass Houses' 
full album:

All songs written by Billy Joel.

Side one
"You May Be Right" – 4:15
"Sometimes a Fantasy" – 3:40
"Don't Ask Me Why" – 2:59
"It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" – 2:57
"All for Leyna" – 4:15
Side two
"I Don't Want to Be Alone" – 3:57
"Sleeping with the Television On" – 3:02
"C'était Toi (You Were the One)" – 3:25
"Close to the Borderline" – 3:47
"Through the Long Night" – 2:43

'20/20' interview


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