1980s: Glass Houses to Storm Front

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Posted on Fri, 10/31/2014 - 10:50am
by John MacMillan

Member since: Tue, 01/07/2014

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The success of his piano-driven ballads like "Just the Way You Are", "She's Always a Woman", and "Honesty" led some critics to label Joel a "balladeer" and "soft rocker". Joel thought these labels were unfair and insulting, and with Glass Houses, he tried to record an album that proved that he could rock harder than his critics gave him credit for, occasionally imitating and referencing the style of new wave rock music that was starting to become popular at the time. On the front cover of the album, Joel is pictured in a leather jacket, about to throw a rock at a glass house (referencing the adage that "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones").

Glass Houses spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and yielded such hits as "You May Be Right" (used as the theme song, covered by Southside Johnny, for the CBS mid-1990s sitcom Dave's World) (#7, May 1980), "Don't Ask Me Why" (#19, September 1980), "Sometimes a Fantasy" (#36, November 1980) and "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me", which became Joel's first Billboard No. 1 song (for two weeks) in July 1980. "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" spent 11 weeks in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and was the 7th biggest hit of 1980 according to American Top 40.

Glass Houses won the Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male. It would also win the American Music Award for Favorite Album, Pop/Rock category. The album's closing song, "Through The Long Night" (B-side of the "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me" single), was a lullaby that featured Joel harmonizing with himself in a song he says was inspired by The Beatles' "Yes It Is".

His next release, Songs in the Attic, was composed of live performances of less well-known songs from the beginning of his career. It was recorded during larger US arenas and intimate night club shows in June and July 1980. This release introduced many fans, who discovered Joel when The Stranger became a smash in 1977, to many of his earlier compositions. The album reached No. 8 on the Billboard chart and produced two hit singles: "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" (#17), and "She's Got a Way" (#23). It sold over 3 million copies. Though not as successful as some of his previous albums, the album was still considered a success by Joel.

The next wave of Joel's career commenced with the recording of The Nylon Curtain. With The Nylon Curtain, Joel became more ambitious with his songwriting, trying his hand at writing topical songs like "Allentown" and "Goodnight Saigon". Joel has stated that he wanted the album to communicate his feelings about the American dream and how changes in American politics during the Reagan years meant that "all of a sudden you weren't going to be able to inherit [the kind of life] your old man had." He also tried to be more ambitious in his use of the recording studio. Joel said that he wanted to "create a sonic masterpiece" on The Nylon Curtain. So he spent more time in the studio, crafting the sound of the album, than he had on any previous album. Work began on The Nylon Curtain in the fall of 1981 although Joel's work on the album was temporary delayed when he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident on Long Island on April 15, 1982. Still, Joel quickly recovered from his injuries, and the album only ended up being delayed by a few weeks.

In 1982, he embarked on a brief tour in support of the album. From one of the final shows of the tour, Joel made his first video special, Live from Long Island, which was recorded at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York on December 30, 1982. It was originally broadcast on HBO in 1983 before it became available on VHS.

The Nylon Curtain went to No. 7 on the charts, partially due to heavy airplay on MTV for the videos to the singles "Allentown" and "Pressure". "Allentown" spent six weeks at a peak position of No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it one of the most-played radio songs of 1982, pushing it into 1983's year-end Top 70, and making it the most successful song from The Nylon Curtain album, besting "Pressure" which peaked at No. 20 (where it resided for three weeks) and "Goodnight Saigon" which reached No. 56 on U.S. charts.

Christie Brinkley, An Innocent Man, and The Bridge

Joel's next album moved away from the serious themes of The Nylon Curtain and struck a much lighter tone. The album An Innocent Man was Joel's tribute to R&B and doo wop music of the 1950s and 1960s and resulted in Joel's second Billboard No. 1 hit, "Tell Her About It", which was the first single off the album in the summer of 1983. The album itself reached No. 4 on the charts and No. 2 in UK. It also boasted six top-30 singles, the most of any album in Joel's catalog. The album was well received by critics, with Stephen Thomas Erlewine, senior editor for AllMusic, describing Joel as being "in top form as a craftsman throughout the record, effortlessly spinning out infectious, memorable melodies in a variety of styles."

At the time that the album was released, WCBS-FM began playing "Uptown Girl" both in regular rotation and on the Doo Wop Live. The song became a worldwide hit upon its release, No. 3 in the U.S. and was Joel's sole No. 1 in the United Kingdom. The music video of the song featured Christie Brinkley as a high society girl, whose car pulls into the gas station that Joel's character is working in. At the end of the video, Joel's "grease monkey" character drives off with his "uptown girl" on the back of a motorcycle. When Brinkley went to visit Joel after being asked to star in the video, the first thing Joel said to her upon opening his door was "I don't dance". Brinkley had to walk him through the basic steps he does in the video. That began a relationship between the two that later led to their marriage. Also, the Wilson Pickett-inspired song "Easy Money" would be featured in the 1983 Rodney Dangerfield film of the same name.

In December, the title song, "An Innocent Man", was released as a single and it peaked at No. 10 in the U.S. and No. 8 in the UK, early in 1984. That March, "The Longest Time" was released as a single, peaking at No. 14 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. That summer, "Leave a Tender Moment Alone" was released and it hit No. 27 while "Keeping the Faith" peaked at No. 18 in January 1985. In the video for "Keeping the Faith", Christie Brinkley also plays the "redhead girl in a Chevrolet". An Innocent Man was also nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy, but lost to Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Joel participated in the USA For Africa We Are The World project in 1985, capping off a series of successful singles.

Following the success of An Innocent Man, Joel was asked about releasing an album of his most successful singles. This was not the first time this topic had come up, but Joel had initially considered "Greatest Hits" albums as marking the end of one's career. This time he agreed, and Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and 2 was released as a four-sided album and two-CD set, with the songs in the order in which they were released. The new songs "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" and "The Night Is Still Young" were recorded and released as singles to support the album; both reached the top 40, peaking at No. 9 and No. 34, respectively.

Greatest Hits was highly successful and it has since been certified double diamond by the RIAA, with over 11.5 million copies (23 million units) sold. To date it is tied for the third-best-selling album in American music history, according to the RIAA.

Coinciding with the Greatest Hits album release, Joel released a two-volume Video Album that was a compilation of the promotional videos he had recorded from 1977 to the present time. Along with videos for the new singles off the Greatest Hits album, Joel also recorded a video for his first hit, "Piano Man", for this project.

Though it broke into the top ten, Joel's next album, The Bridge (1986), did not achieve the level of success of his previous albums, but it yielded the hits "A Matter of Trust" and "Modern Woman" from the film Ruthless People, a dark comedy from the directors of Airplane! (both #10). In a departure from his "piano man" persona, Joel is shown in the video playing a Les Paul-autographed Gibson guitar. The ballad "This is the Time" also charted, peaking at No. 18.

On November 18, 1986, an extended version of the song "Big Man On Mulberry Street" was used on a Season 3 episode of Moonlighting. The episode itself was also titled "Big Man on Mulberry Street".

The Bridge was Joel's last album to carry the Family Productions logo, after which he severed his ties with Artie Ripp. Joel has also stated in many interviews, most recently in a 2008 interview in Performing Songwriter magazine, that he does not think The Bridge is a good album.

Soviet Union Trip

In October 1986, Joel and his handlers started planning a trip to the Soviet Union. He became one of the first American rock acts to play there since the Berlin Wall went up, a fact not lost on history buff Joel. There were live performances at indoor arenas in Moscow, Leningrad and Tbilisi. Joel and his family (including young daughter Alexa) and his full touring band made the trip in August 1987. The entourage was filmed for television and video to offset the cost of the trip, and the concerts were simulcast on radio around the world.

Most of that audience took a long while to warm up to Joel's energetic show, something that had never happened in other countries he had performed in. According to Joel, each time the fans were hit with the bright lights, anybody who seemed to be enjoying themselves froze. In addition, people who were "overreacting" were removed by security. It was during this concert that Joel, enraged by the bright lights, flipped his piano and snapped a microphone stand while continuing to sing the current part of the set. He later apologized for that incident.

The album КОНЦЕРТ (Russian for "Concert") was released in October 1987. Singer Peter Hewlitt was brought in to hit the high notes on his most vocally challenging songs, like "An Innocent Man". Joel also did versions of The Beatles' classic "Back in the U.S.S.R." and Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin". It has been estimated that Joel lost more than $1 million of his own money on the trip and concerts, but he has said the goodwill he was shown there was well worth it.

Storm Front

The release of the album Storm Front coincided with major changes in Joel's career and inaugurated a period of serious upheaval in his business affairs. In August 1989, just before the album was released, Joel dismissed his manager (and former brother-in-law) Frank Weber after an audit revealed major discrepancies in Weber's accounting. Joel subsequently sued Weber for $90 million, claiming fraud and breach of fiduciary duty and in January 1990 he was awarded $2 million in a partial judgement against Weber; in April, the court dismissed a $30 million countersuit filed by Weber.

The first single for the album, "We Didn't Start the Fire", was released in September 1989 and it became Joel's third and most recent US No. 1 hit, spending two weeks at the top; it was also Billboard's second-last No. 1 single of the 1980s. Storm Front was released in October, and it eventually became Joel's first No. 1 album since Glass Houses, nine years earlier. Storm Front was Joel's first album since Turnstiles to be recorded without Phil Ramone as producer. For this album, he wanted a new sound, and worked with Mick Jones of Foreigner fame. Joel is also credited as one of the keyboard players on Jones' 1988 self-titled solo album, and is featured in the official video for Jones' single "Just Wanna Hold"; Joel can be seen playing the piano while his then-wife Christie Brinkley joins him and kisses him. Joel also revamped his backing band, dismissing everyone but drummer Liberty DeVitto, guitarist David Brown, and saxophone player Mark Rivera, and bringing in new faces, including multi-instrumentalist Crystal Taliefero.

Storm Front's second single, "I Go to Extremes" made it to No. 6 in early 1990. The album was also notable for its song "Leningrad", written after Joel met a clown in the Soviet city of that name during his tour in 1987, and "The Downeaster Alexa", written to underscore the plight of fishermen on Long Island who are barely able to make ends meet. Another well-known single from the album is the ballad "And So It Goes" (#37 in late 1990). The song was originally written in 1983, around the time Joel was writing songs for An Innocent Man; but "And So It Goes" did not fit that album's retro theme, so it was held back until Storm Front. Joel said in a 1996 Masterclass session in Pittsburgh that Storm Front was a turbulent album and that "And So It Goes", as the last song on the album, portrayed the calm and tranquility that often follows a violent thunderstorm.

 

Attribution

Billy Joel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia : taken from - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Joel
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/