Cold Spring Harbor (1971)

1. She's Got a Way 2. You Can Make Me Free 3. Everybody Loves You Now 4. Why Judy Why 5. Falling of the Rain 6. Turnaround 7. You Look So Good To Me 8. Tomorrow is Today 9. Nocturne 10.Got to Begin Again


Like it or not, this is the official first album by Billy Joel. Actually, there really is some stuff to like here, but it's pretty obvious that Joel himself wishes the whole thing would just go away. Although Joel was only 21 years old when he made this record, he actually had a pretty decent music career under his belt at the time of this release. He had recorded a couple of albums with a local New York group called The Hassles as a teen-ager and actually, with one of those members, formed probably the only ever drum and organ psychedelic duet with a band called Atilla that disbanded (thankfully) after only one album.

So putting things into perspective, you can't really complain much about this freshman effort. The music and songwriting is pretty pretentious, pretty raw and pretty juvenile in many places, but there's enough nuggets here to see that this guy just might have what it takes to make it to the big time one day. Knowing what we now know of Joel, this is a little bit like watching a home movie of your first date when you were in Junior High School - very awkward, but quite sweet at the same time.

There's plenty of good piano playing here, so he probably had a good time making this record. Probably a little bit more care could have made this a bit more special, but anyone that knows anything about the history of Billy Joel knows that he made some bad choices in terms of business decisions, hiring managers and managing his career in general. So, safe to say, whoever was behind the controls botched things up quite a bit, and it does reflect the final product - so it's best to look, if you can, beyond the errors, which is easier to do knowing his track record almost 40 years later. For awhile in the late seventies, when Joel was just becoming a star, this album was actually out of print. It saw the light of day again around 1983 and, fortunately, some of the recording errors were fixed up marginally.

The best songs are actually ones that he still plays at his concerts from time to time. She's Got a Way isn't quite as strong as the live counterpart from Songs in the Attic that became a hit around 1981, but its quite possibly the best song here. Also worth mentioning is the rat-a-tat Everybody Loves You Now. Musically, it's quite impressive. The lyrics, like much here, leave quite a lot to be desired. Witness Joel sing lines such as - "They all want your white body / And they await your reply / But between you and me and the Statten Island Ferry / So do I". Well, Joel was never known to being that great with lyrics, so this shouldn't come as a surprise since he was only 21 at the time. I also confess that I have a weakness for Tomorrow is Today, which, from what I've read, is actually a plea from a supposed nervous breakdown he was going through at the time.

The rest of the songs here are all nice, just nothing too magical, although he tries his darndest. He even subs out an organ instead of a piano on the intro of You Look So Good To Me for no other reason than try to sound a bit different. He was even into classical music back then as he demonstrates on the sweet instrumental Nocturne.

Billy Joel would later be very critical of his entirebody of work stating that he "only liked about half of what he had ever recorded". He should give himself more credit than that. He may have (literally) ripped this album up (as legend as it), but for a first album, from a guy barely old enough to buy a beer, this one definitely has some tender moments. And Billy should probably just probably just leave those tender moments alone.

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