A few short months after abandoning the heavy organ-and-drums duo Attila -- partially because their sole record flopped, partially because he stole the drummer's wife -- Billy Joel reinvented himself as a sensitive singer/songwriter. He had shown signs of McCartney-esque songcraft on Hour of the Wolf, the last Hassles album, but his debut album, Cold Spring Harbor, is where these talents blossomed. The record was uneven but very charming, boasting two of his finest songs -- the lovely "She's Got a Way" and the bitterly cynical "Everybody Loves You Now" -- and a score of flawed but nicely crafted songs that illustrated Joel's gift for melody, as well as his pretensions (the mock-gospel in "Tomorrow Is Today," a classical stab entitled "Nocturne"). In its own way, Cold Spring Harbor was a minor gem of the sensitive singer/songwriter era; Joel may have been in his formative stages as a craftsman, but his talents are apparent, and he never made an album as intimate and vulnerable ever again. Ironically, it didn't sound right upon its original release. Through a bizarre mastering error, the tapes were sped up -- legend has it that upon hearing the completed album, he ripped it off the turntable, ran out of the house, and threw it down the street. It wasn't until 1983 that Columbia released a corrected reissue. The speed wasn't the only thing changed -- some songs were edited drastically ("You Can Make Me Free," one of the standouts, was chopped by nearly five minutes) and instruments and backing vocals were stripped away from numerous tracks. It may be a bastardization of the original release, but it's an acceptable one, since these changes only accentuate the intimacy and vulnerability of the recording.
Cold Spring Harbor Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine