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Years later, Attila still haunts

Published Jan. 6, 2006|Updated Jan. 6, 2006

On allmusic.com, a great Web site I check out daily - okay, hourly - there's an awesome review of an 1970 heavy metal album that featured Billy Joel, who performs Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum.

To be fair, the album predates Joel's phenomenally successful solo career as a singer-songwriter. Attila is the name of the album and the band, composed of Joel, who played organ, and his buddy Jon Small, who played drums.

Joel never was a darling among most critics, even in his heyday in the '70s and '80s. But Attila was another matter entirely. Check out this excerpt from the allmusic.com review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine:

Many critics, fans, and college students have spent hours debating the serious question of what the worst album in the history of rock actually is. One listen to Attila would provide them with a definitive answer.

Attila undoubtedly is the worst album released in the history of rock & roll - hell, the history of recorded music itself. There have been many bad ideas in rock, but none match the colossal stupidity of Attila.

There's a reason why they're the only heavy rock organ-and-drums duo in the history of rock & roll - it's an atrocious combination.

By the end of the album, it feels as if a drill has punctured the center of your skull - it's that piercing, painful, and monotonous.

Which means that if it came out today, yours truly would be stuck reviewing it for the Times.

We won't get into the album cover, which featured the diminutive Joel, long-haired and bearded, wearing a Hun outfit and standing in a meat locker. (All right, so I guess we just did get into it. Whoops.)

But, hey, young artists can make sizeable missteps. And give Joel credit: He freely acknowledges how awful Attila was on its first - and, not coincidentally, last - album.

Among his comments about the band's performances was this winner:

"The more we played, the more people left."

Big points for candor, Billy.

Excruciating as Attila was, Joel turned right around the following year and released his solo debut Cold Spring Harbor, featuring his first big single, She's Got a Way.

It's not likely Attila would have continued under any circumstances, since Joel had an affair with his bandmate's wife, Elizabeth, and they ultimately married.

Funny how Joel made such beautiful music with her after making such horrible music with her husband.

Joel's fans shouldn't worry that he'll be breaking out any Attila tunes in concert any time soon. But it's relevant because last month Joel released a new retrospective, My Lives, which actually contains one Attila track, Amplifier Fire.

(I think just Amplifire would have been a better title, but what do I know?)

My Lives also includes two tracks apiece by two other bands Joel performed in, the Lost Souls and the Hassles.

Regardless, for his first solo rock show in years, expect Joel to stick with a selection from his dozens of hits.

No matter whether Joel's your typical cup of tea, songs such as Just the Way You Are, Only the Good Die Young, You May Be Right and It's Still Rock and Roll To Me are undeniable.

But I'll hold out hope that Billy's ready to reach back into the past and entertain us with one of those infamous Attila tracks.

Maybe the disc's opener, Wonder Woman? The closing track, Brain Invasion? How about the cut called Godzilla, Pt. 1?

What do you say, Billy?

Maybe it's time for Godzilla, Pt. 2.Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershmansptimes.com or (813) 226-3431. His blog is at sptimes.com/blogs/tampaarts/

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