Thursday, 11 September 2008
Hidden gems #1: Songs in the attic
This is the first (and keeping in mind my recent prolificacy, probably last) blog post in a new series which aims to raise awareness of hidden musical gems from musical history. This series will cover albums that most have probably never heard, but should.
I can understand how those who only know Billy Joel from his over-played radio hits probably regard him as a schmaltzy MOR singer-songwriter, an artifact from the 70s best left there. I agree that some of his songs have been played beyond death; I don't think I will ever feel the need to hear Just the way you are or Uptown girl again (unless it's Homer Simpson singing the latter).
The Billy Joel of the 70s was a different beast entirely. Not to say that he squandered his talent quite like Rod Stewart did (who too had a very promising career in the 70s before he lost all respect), but the early Billy Joel had something that the more popular Billy Joel never quite matched.
The live album Songs in the attic was released in 1981. Billy became a lot more popular after his breakthrough 1977 album The stranger, and this live album was intended as a vehicle to raise awareness of his earlier songs. To this end, it achieves its goal flawlessly. I'm normally not a fan of live albums, and with only a few exceptions, I have almost always regretted purchasing them. Mainly because they don't improve on the studio versions, and also because they tend to consist mainly of the overplayed hits.
But this live album is an exception in many respects. Firstly, it only includes obscure (to radio listeners anyway) songs from his first four albums. It doesn't even include his signature song Piano man, the title track from his second album! Secondly, all of the live versions on this album rock a lot harder than any of the original studio versions. It's not uncommon for production values and songwriting quality be at odds with each other, and Billy Joel's early albums are a great example of this. But the versions on Songs in the attic sound awesome - even on my original, non-mastered CD pressing.
If you've only heard Billy Joel's radio hits, I highly recommend getting this album. It's one of the first albums that truly blew me away. It's simply fantastic music, and the fact that it is live doesn't even matter when you are listening to it. The bits on opening track Miami 2017 where the NY audience cheer when the Yankees, Brooklyn, The Bronx and other NY icons are mentioned still gives me goosebumps to this day.
You can pick this album up dirt-cheap thesedays - I have seen it for $5.00 on many occasions.
Buy it, turn it up, and rock on.
MP3: Billy Joel - Miami 2017 [Link removed]
Update: Song links removed.