Record #412: Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic (1981)

I haven’t been that kind to Billy Joel.

I’ve derided him as a Paul McCartney wannabe who was far more concerned with making soundtracks for music videos than writing good pop tunes.

But that’s not entirely fair. Nor is it necessarily true.

I made a conscious decision a few months ago to be a bit kinder to the Piano Man; to let him be as corny, cheesy, and gimmicky (heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack!) as he wants. It’s been rewarding, mostly. But the most rewarding, probably, is this live album that I picked out of a pile of records that was going to be used for wedding directions.

This is an unusual live album: after The Stranger made him a huge star, Billy released an album of live versions of his old songs to introduce new listeners to his back catalog. In the liner notes, he specifically mentioned that he wanted to focus on lesser-known cuts: which means no “Piano Man.” 

But there are several gems on here. “Captain Jack,” a deep cut from The Stranger is played with a heavy hitting energy that the studio version lacked—including a shouted final chorus. “She’s Got a Way About Her,” the lead track from his ill-fated first album , finds new life here—this version became a charting single, and for good reason. 

Even besides these standouts, the entire tracklist is filled with gems. The best songs from a talented young songwriter played with the conviction and power of a star performer. The songs are lifted from the murky swamp of “potential” and given the performances they deserve.

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