Monday, August 26, 2013

Billy Joel - Sometimes a Fantasy

By 1980, Billy Joel was a big big star, but the lack of critical acclaim bothered him.  So, he did what any good artist would and poured these frustrations into his seventh solo album.  The resulting effort (Glass Houses) combined Joel's skillful pop melodies with a stronger rock sound and edgier lyrics.  It is my favorite Billy Joel album, and the last of four tremendous LPs (Turnstiles, The Stranger, 52nd Street and Glass Houses) that he made between 1976 and 1980.

The really impressive thing about Glass Houses (and the three other albums) is the strength of the material.  There is nary a bad song on any of these records, and they are quite stylistically diverse, to boot.  They are also impeccably produced by Phil Ramone, which, ironically, may have added fuel to the fire for some critics who viewed it as too polished for rock and roll.

As many readers will know, Joel was anything but an overnight success.  He started playing keyboards with The Echoes in 1965, then quit to join The Hassles in 1967.  In 1969, Joel formed Atilla with The Hassles drummer Jon Small, but the group disbanded after Joel had an affair with Small's wife (Joel would eventually go on to marry her).  Billy Joel's solo career started with the release of Cold Spring Harbor in 1971, and he gradually build a following until the huge success of The Stranger in 1977.

"Sometimes a Fantasy" was the last of five singles released from Glass Houses.  The song reached #36 on the charts, but given Joel's huge success at the time, it is almost a lost classic.  The video (which I don't recall ever seeing back in the day) is the only 'story' video shot from Glass Houses, as the other videos are simply Joel performing on a sound stage (remember, Glass Houses came out a year before MTV launched).  I am particularly partial to the "bad" Billy Joel (the one with the beard) in the video.

Billy Joel would go on to have continued success throughout the 1980's and early 1990's, albeit with mostly weaker material in your humble author's view.  His last rock studio album was 1993's River of Dreams, although he still performs to the present day.  And over time, the critics have warmed up to him -- Allmusic rates the four albums above as 4 stars (on a 5 point scale; actually, all but 52nd Street are 4 1/2 stars).

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