Billy Joel’s compilation of live performances, Songs in the Attic, is my third favorite album released in 1981. It might have cracked the top two but I subtracted a few points because it’s a greatest hits collection of sorts.
Joel was riding a commercial high after the releases of The Stranger, 52nd Street and Glass Houses, and saw an opportunity to introduce his new fans to the music he had recorded prior to breaking into the mainstream. Rather than release the original recordings, which were performed with session musicians, he preferred to put them in new context with the backing of his talented touring band.
Joel’s breakthrough album, Piano Man, is probably best remembered for the tune that gave it its title. ‘Piano Man’ is indeed a great song, but it’s become a cliché. Has there been a write-up of Billy Joel in the past 36 years that hasn’t referred to him as a “piano man?”
In addition to that signature tune, though, Piano Man contains a treasure trove of beautifully written and played songs. Several, such as album opener ‘Travelin’ Prayer,’ ‘The Ballad of Billy the Kid’ and today’s song, have a strong country vibe. One of Joel’s greatest strengths is his ability to bring his own flavor to a wide range of genres and he proved that right out of the gate.