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Music Review: Billy Joel – Songs In The Attic

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The Stranger made Billy Joel a star and subsequent releases, 52nd Street and Glass Houses, solidified that status by selling millions of albums, each spending more than a month atop the American charts.

1981 found Billy Joel not issuing a studio album, but instead reaching into his past for his first live recording. He gathered together a number of songs from his pre-Stranger days which had not received the public attention of his more popular work and presented them live with performances that played to thousands of fans in Madison Square Garden as well as intimate settings in front of a few hundred. I usually prefer live albums to present one concert with all the good and bad included but Songs In The Attic is an exception as each song forms a part of a cohesive whole.  It was a brilliantly executed concept as many of the songs are superior to the studio recordings, essentially becoming the definitive renditions.

I consider two of the tracks among the best live performances that I have heard. “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)” has an almost supersonic quality and contains one of the more powerful vocals of his career. The events of September 11, 2001 gave the song new meaning and it makes the original version from Turnstiles pale in comparison. “Captain Jack” is seven plus minutes of powerful and emotional rock ‘n’ roll. Piano to drums and guitar, it just builds to one crescendo after another. In the liner notes Joel advises to play it loud and I couldn’t agree more.

There are a number of tracks that are almost as good. The ballads, “She’s Got A Way,” which would become a hit single, and “You’re My Home,” are both beautiful in their simplicity. “Say Goodbye To Hollywood,” which would be another live hit from the album, just rocks along propelled by a strong vocal. The story song “The Ballad Of Billy The Kid” also receives a nice workout.

Songs In The Attic is one of the better live albums in my collection and compares favorably with his studio output. The production by Phil Ramone is flawless which is rare for a live release. Simply put it is highly recommended.

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