March 10, 1980 saw the release of Billy Joel‘s seventh album and his second consecutive US #1 on the album charts. Glass Houses was also my first real introduction to Billy Joel’s brand of rock-and-roll, as my older brother had a copy on vinyl that my younger brothers and I wore out when he wasn’t around. I was seven years old when the album was released, but it seems I was a shade older when we played this album ad nauseum. And sure, I’d heard songs like “Honesty” and “Piano Man” prior to that, but this was the record that I fell in love with.
Essayist Chuck Klosterman wrote a lengthy (but amusing) piece centered around how Billy Joel is not cool. But at the age of eight or ten or whatever, this album was definitely cool. Of course the big hits were ubiquitous; everyone knew “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” and “You May Be Right,” but this might have been the first record, as I was growing up, where I really realized the value of deeper album cuts. While the French-language quoting “C’etait Toi” and the Beatles-esque harmonyfest “Through The Long Night” were a bit snoozy to our pre-teen ears (I’ve since come to fully appreciate both), it was tracks like the dismal (but rocking) “All For Leyna” and the punk-like “Close To The Borderline” that really captured our attention. “All For Leyna” in particular continued to resonate for me for decades as an illustration of the danger and self-destruction inherent in obsession and (to a lesser extent) unrequited love.
I knew my older brother and sister both liked Billy Joel a lot, which was curious because she was more likely to put on an Elton John record and he was more likely to put on a Kiss record, but they both owned a copy of Glass Houses. (Yes, I realize Klosterman made this exact point in his Billy Joel essay, but it just happens to also be true for me.) I also knew that my parents liked and approved of Billy Joel, and I thought this was odd since he was clearly singing about jerking off over the phone with his girlfriend on “Sometimes A Fantasy,” but maybe my parents never got past the radio singles. Well, hell, then I guess I’ve got one up on my parents, too! It’s petty now, but that’s a pretty awesome feeling for a ten year old.
(I had forgotten that this song had a video. Thirty seven years later, it’s unintentionally hilarious.)
This is still a cool record for me. It’s not quite a nostalgia piece because, individually and collectively, the songs are all excellent and the album as a whole is a superb work of art, and I can appreciate the craft that went into composing the songs and the skill that went into playing them. (Liberty DeVitto is still one of the most underrated drummers of all time.) So the songs have an intrinsic value of their own, but I cannot deny that, especially when I listen to the album front to back, it does transport me back to an age of discovery, a vague sneakiness, and the possession of a quiet secret. I still love this record, now maybe more than I did then. Like the best work of art, it really is timeless.