Jun 212011

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Billy Joel spent much of the ’80s looking to court music lovers with albums that sounded either retro (An Innocent Man) or ultra-pop (The Bridge, which features a collaboration with Cyndi Lauper). For one glorious record, though, Joel broke from his “piano man” mold. He got angry. He got punk.

Well, punk for him, anyway. 1980’s Glass Houses stands without a doubt as the heaviest record in Joel’s catalog. Have you ever heard Billy Joel actually scream about a girl before? If not, you haven’t heard “All For Leyna,” this record’s fifth track and probably the most pissed-off tune he ever laid down. It’s a fascinating contradiction that an album meant to endear him to fans of cutting-edge acts like Elvis Costello and the Jam ended up giving him his first number one hit, courtesy of album-opener and classic rock radio staple “You May Be Right”.

It’s that very contradiction that self-proclaimed musical “cult” Hussalonia picked up on in 2006, when they/he (details of this entity are sketchy) decided to release a track-by-track tribute to the record. In keeping with their usual M.O., Hussalonia put out the album for free on their website with no fanfare. They don’t promote their music, they argue, because it takes time away from creating more music. That’s too bad, because Hussalonia’s Glass Houses has a lot to love, both for fans of Joel and lovers of pop music in general.

On their site, Hussalonia describes their Glass Houses as “lo-fi, raw, unhinged and full of musical in-jokes.” That’s a pretty accurate description; in their hands, Hussalonia turns the record into a garage rock party with only a couple detours for the more sensitive songs. Check out “You May Be Right,” which features percussive hand-claps as a driving force. Is Hussalonia reconnecting Joel with his beloved The Jam, perhaps? Such techniques certainly recall more bare-bones ’60s/’70s rock, which ends up making Joel’s songs sound fresh again.

Let’s talk about those in-jokes. One assumes you have to know Hussalonia to get them all, but I’ll take a stab at a few. How about the “Iron Man”-style riff that opens the aforementioned “All For Leyna?” It seems Hussalonia also figured “Leyna” was the heaviest song Joel put to disc, so why not associate it with some prototypical metal? Speaking of metal, there’s the amped-up “Close to the Borderline,” which sounds more like a hair track than Joel ever intended, complete with a blazing guitar solo. Fans of pop culture pundit Chuck Klosterman might think back to Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, when Klosterman’s roommate asserted that “Borderline” sounded like “Stryper unplugged.” Whether or not that’s what Hussalonia was going for, there’s certainly some Stryper vibes to be had.

Although not every track’s a hit – much like the actual Glass Houses, Hussalonia’s record sags a bit in the second half – the group packs little nuggets of interest into all the songs. In some respects it almost becomes a musical guessing game, wondering, “What influenced this choice?” The softer songs make you work a little harder at that game, such as the half-White Stripes-y “Don’t Ask Me Why.”

The best thing about Hussalonia’s Glass Houses, though, is that as much as it has fun with Joel’s record, it also celebrates it. There’s no mockery behind the in-jokes here, or if there is it doesn’t overpower the actual good music on display. Songs like “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” come off pretty straight and, if anything, remind us of Billy Joel’s keen ability to write pop songs…even when he didn’t really want to.

MP3: Hussalonia – You May Be Right (Billy Joel cover)
[audio: DownloadThis/GlassHouses/YouMayBeRight.mp3]

: Hussalonia – Close to the Borderline (Billy Joel cover)
[audio: DownloadThis/GlassHouses/ClosetotheBorderline.mp3]

: Hussalonia – Don’t Ask Me Why (Billy Joel cover)
[audio: DownloadThis/GlassHouses/DontAskMeWhy.mp3]

Hussalonia’s Glass Houses tracklist:
01. You May Be Right
02. Sometimes a Fantasy
03. Don’t Ask Me Why
04. It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
05. All For Leyna
06. I Don’t Want to Be Alone Anymore
07. Sleeping with the Television On
08. C’etait Toi (You Were the One)
09. Close to the Borderline
10. Through the Long Night

Download the full set here.

Check out more from Hussalonia on their website.

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  6 Responses to “Download This: Hussalonia Covers Billy Joel’s “Glass Houses” Track-by-Track”

Comments (6)
  1. The #1 single from Glass Houses was “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me,” NOT “You May Be Right.” The latter was a top 10 single, but not a #1.

    Anyway, I don’t know why this site always has to be smarmy towards Billy, or even when he gets some props here, it’s still in the form of a backhanded compliment. The guy’s sold over well 100 million albums, had a ton of hit singles over a 20 year span, and even almost 20 years since he’s made an album of a new songs he can still sell out the largest arenas (even stadiums occasionally). Add in both the Rock & Roll and Songwriters Hall of Fames, and I don’t know what else the guy has to do get respect.

    Elton John doesn’t ragged on the same way on this site (notice he got a birthday tribute, but Billy didn’t), even though Elton hasn’t made a great album since the mid 70’s and hasn’t terribly many good songs since then either. Billy just kept getting better and better, followed his own muse (when David Bowie changed styles he was called a “chameleon,” here, for Billy, it’s worded more like a putdown), and decided to mostly walk away on top. River of Dreams was an acclaimed chart-topper, and truly one of his best albums.

    One can argue that he’s cheapened his legacy by continuing to tour without new music, and I would tend to agree with that, but it doesn’t take away from the great work he did.I’m only sorry that he apparently has no intention to record again. I think he’s got a late-stage comeback (ala Dylan, Cash, McCartney, etc.) in him… Imagine him working with Rick Rubin!

    Anyhow, Billy’s one of the greats. Show him more respect. Oh, and he’s had plenty of other angry songs besides “All For Leyna.”

  2. One last rant (and then I’ll be done)… You call The Bridge “ultra-pop” and then point out that he worked with Cyndi Lauper on one track, but you completely bypass his great, bluesy duet with Ray Charles (“Baby Grand”)? Also, rockers like “A Matter of Trust” and “Getting Closer” (the latter featuring some great piano and organ jamming with both Billy and Steve Winwood) and the jazzy big band sound of “Big Man On Mulberry Street” are all examples of tracks that are NOT “ultra-pop.”

    The album’s a bit of a hodge-podge, and it’s not my favorite, but it’s still got a number of fine tracks. I could do without “Modern Woman” (Billy himself hates that song), but otherwise the album’s pretty solid.

  3. Shaun,

    Though you are, of course, welcome to disagree with my assessment and contextualization of Billy Joel’s career, I want to state unequivocally that I legit love Billy Joel. I’m sorry if that didn’t come through to you in my piece, but he’s among my favorite artists, as “Glass Houses” is among my favorite albums. When it comes to my appreciation of Joel’s work, there’s no snark involved.

  4. I think, in terms of keeping a solid career going well into later-middle-age, Joel is up there with Springsteen. Both are unafraid to keep making new music and to keep playing their new stuff at their shows rather than falling squarely on their back catalog. The impression I got from this post was simply that Joel, in whatever form, tends to fall more squarely into the pop-rock genre than the rock genre and that “Glass Houses” was a bit of a foray away from the pop side of that. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with labeling an artist as “pop-rock” – especially an artist who has consistently been at the top of the game in that field.

    While it may not necessarily be perfectly appropriate to completely associate an artist with a specific sound, it’s sometimes necessary when comparing their originals to some covers that seriously diverge in terms of sound, like Hussalonia does on these tracks.

    Full disclosure: “Glass Houses” is, by far, my favorite Billy Joel album.

  5. #!@&!*(# keeerap. I’ve been wanting to do this exact tribute for years, but just haven’t gotten around to it. Well yeah, whether you love Hussalonia’s versions or not, Glass Houses is pretty darn near perfect as pop records go, and Joel’s talent as a vocal ‘stylist’ (which he has gotten ripped on in the past for), particularly as male pop/rock singers go, is tough to beat. If you look at his lifetime catalog, the guy made at least 6-9? 85-90%! great! pop-song-filled records (we’re not counting the duds). Who else can say the same? I can’t think of anyone. – e

  6. That album download seems to be dead, but it’s still available here: http://coverville.com/glasshouses.html

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