Album: Glass Houses (1980)
For the first time since Streetlife Serenade I’m about to dig into a complete album’s side of songs that I have never heard before and have no prior opinions about. Side two of Glass Houses is a complete mystery to me which is odd when you consider that there was a vinyl copy of it in my house when I was a kid. Maybe my family didn’t know there was a side two.
Regardless of the reason why I’d never heard the second side of Glass Houses before I’m excited to hear a whole album side for the first time. Despite the fact that we’re decades into the digital age I still love the idea of an album with a distinct side one and side two. Personally I’ve always been drawn to the second sides as they tend to have the more interesting songs. Since most listeners play side one first, that’s where the catchier stuff usually goes leaving side two for more experimental or challenging songs.
Because of my love for album sides I’m trying something different for the next five songs. With all previous albums I’ve listened to the entire record as a whole before writing about any individual song. While I listened to all of side one before writing about a single song I am taking side two on a track by track basis and letting the record unfold a song at a time with only the songs preceding it as context. This may not make a difference to you as a reader but to me it feels like traveling without knowing the destination. After nearly five months of writing about Billy Joel I’m still having fun but I need to mix it up a little bit just to keep it from becoming too routine.
While Billy Joel hasn’t put something like “Sister Ray” at the end of an album I think that the second sides of his records tend to be tonally different from the first sides and usually more introspective. On the opener to side two of Glass Houses “I Don’t Want To Be Alone,” Billy has backed away from the leaner rock sound of side one and come up with something reminiscent of his earlier records. “I Don’t Want To Be Alone” features a more layered arrangement than I’ve heard to this point on Glass Houses. Musically the song calls back to the Caribbean rhythms and sounds that Billy Joel had experimented with in the past but lyrically there’s something different going on here.
While Billy is going over the well worn grounds of love and romance on this song he comes at it from an interesting angle by focusing on a reunion after a time apart. He then begins the song as one half of the couple, telling the story in the second person before essentially switching characters and perspectives by having the original narrator quote the other person. Then it seamlessly jumps back to the original narrator. It’s a neat trick of perspective changing that keeps the song moving forward towards its uneasy resolution. The couple may be getting back together but the song doesn’t make it clear if there chances of lasting are very good.
One of the lessons I’ve learned of the last several months is that it’s foolish to try and get into the songwriters head. What ends up on the record may have begun as something else entirely so looking for a singular inspiration to a song can be a futile search but I’m tempted to wonder if any of Billy Joel’s personal life and relationship with his first wife is being revealed in this song. I believe that at the time of this record’s release Billy and his first wife were in the process of divorcing. This song may not be autobiographical but it’s possible that real life could have served as a leaping off point to tell this story. In the end the flash-point of inspiration fades and all that’s left is the song, which I like. It’s a good start to the mysterious (to me at least) second side of Glass Houses.