Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Holy Moses"

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(Epic Records, 1970)

Sing me a song, you're the piano man . . .

When I worked as a parking lot attendent, lo these many moons ago, there was a bar at the end of the lot that featured live, acoustic music on their back porch. In addition to future members of the Dave Matthews Band (oh, joy), there was a guy who used to do solo sets with his guitar. Invariably, he'd play Piano Man every time. Pedant that I can be, this drove me up the wall! DUDE! You are not the piano man! You are playing a . . . GUITAR!


Anyhow, long before Piano Man was a hit, before his live album kept getting listed in print as Konuept, before he didn't start the fire, before I understood long division, Billy Joel was half of the hard rockin' Long Island duo Attila. They released this lone album before splitting. Billy went on to eventual mega crapitudinous stardom. Jon, well, I have no idea, other than he apparently did not kill Billy for having an affair with his wife.

For the record, I love this album. Ignore what the linked article says about Attila being embarrassingly discordant.

One of my favorite things about albums of this period is the over-the-top liner notes they often sport. The ones for this record are so great, I've decided to share them in their entirety. You are welcome.

In the fifth century, a scourge rolled across Eastern Europe, destroying all that stood in its path. A screaming, invincible wave of destruction, it left in its wake half the civilized world in shock and bleeding submission. It was a sword and a flame. It was a name that became synonymous with an unstemmable tide of conquest.


The name meant more. To Attila's followers, it meant glory, conquest and riches; an empire that extended to the gates of the holy city of Rome.


Is the most remarkable group on the scene since the Huns sacked Europe. There are only two men in the group, an unlikely number for a conquering horde. But in numbers, the smallness ends. Their sound is their size, so are their ideas.

The music you will hear on this album has no studio gimmicks, no multiple-track recordings. No extra musicians were called in for the recording session. The sounds you will hear are the same as you would hear live. (And how many of us have paid to hear groups live, only to find that their real sound was on records, with extra musicians added?)

How it is done will be covered later. Who does it is more important.

BILLY JOEL: (vocals, keyboard player, arranger-composer, Taurus) Is a native New Yorker. He is twenty-one, single, and only sweats two things: perfecting his sound and South East Asia. He began with piano, at age four. He began playing professionally at fourteen. He worked for almost four years in a now-defunct rock group (Forget the name, man.) with:

JON SMALL: (composer-arranger, drums, Capricorn) Jon is also a native New Yorker and boyhood friend of Billy. He is twenty-three, married, and talks best through his work. He has been a drummer forever.

Although they were successful and accepted with their previous, larger group, Jon and Billy were dissatisfied with the sound. They had a dream of a two-man group, with a new and different attack. They wanted the sound to be full-sized, heavy, and have no middle-of-the-road compromises. No one believed in it at first but them.

For ten months, they rehearsed at night in the basement of a wallpaper store owned by Jon's family. Sometimes they would rehearse upstairs, near the window, in the closed, almost darkened store.

We bent the heads of a few passing cops, says Billy, so we decided that the basement would be better. No scenes, no hassles. There was no heat in the basement. Stacked all around were rolls of wallpaper. A smell of dust and paper hung in the air. There were only walls and crates to play to. They practiced on through the nights.

As they worked, a new feeling crept into their music. There was resentment and hostility at a world that locks new music away in the basement. Hostility toward all the people who say no to new sounds before they hear them.

During this phase, Revenge Is Sweet was written. In a way, says Jon, Revenge is what the album is all about.

To make it clear, Jon and Billy are not mad at the world. They find the world too beautiful a place, and life too good a thing to waste it hating. There is joy in their music, too. Listen to Wonder Woman and Rollin' Home.

There's joy of life too, in Brain Invasion, a kind of stereo look at the insides of minds and things.

What they are mad at is complacency, and all those without imagination. They are mad at all those who have eyes and won't see; ears, but won't hear. They see ATTILA as marching over these people, crushing, bruising, making them look and listen. (You can hear this on Side One: March of the Huns.)

Here is the result: their first album.

Wake up people!

ATTILA is at the gates. . . .


Billy Joel plays a Hammond organ, model #B-3. He rewired it to bypass the Leslie tone cabinet, and it feeds directly into the amplifiers. He calls the result pure raunch. Further effects are obtained with foot-controlled wah-wah, and volume. He uses a keyboard bass of his own design, plus unconventional couplings of standard organ stops.

Jon Small plays a normal set of drums, pretty much the same way any two other drummers would.

—Tom Paisley

NOTA BENE: The title of that live album is Концерт, which is Russian for Concert. Clever, huh? Yeah, I agree; not really. By the way, depending on what fonts you have loaded, you might see the last letter of the Cyrillic title appearing as what looks like an m; that's just a typographic variation; it's still pronounced like a Latin alphabet t.

NOTA TWOE: Did you notice that bit from Billy in the liner notes, we decided that the basement would be better. No scenes, no hassles? The band Billy and Jon had been in previously was The Hassles. I've got their second album, Hour of the Wolf, and it's some pretty spankin' late 6T's hard rock.

1 biased opinion:

Devil Dick said...

hassles track here!