No matter how well tended their careers may be, many major recording stars suffer from some minor example of juvenilia in their discographies, some set of demos or early live tracks still owned by a former associate that gets licensed endlessly all over the world, resulting in numerous spurious releases that always seem to appear with a photograph depicting the artist in his prime instead of his youth. Although he has signed his share of contracts he shouldn't have, Billy Joel has largely avoided this common problem. His teenage recordings as a member of the Hassles were issued by United Artists Records, since taken over by EMI, which has reissued them sparingly. His 1970 album as a member of Attila was on Epic, owned by Sony, which also controls Columbia, his label since 1973. His 1971 album Cold Spring Harbor, originally released by Family Productions, was acquired by Sony's predecessor, CBS, and reissued as part of his Columbia discography. But things changed in the early 21st century, when various labels began issuing what were billed as demo recordings and turned out to be versions of the material from both Cold Spring Harbor and the Hassles' second album, Hour of the Wolf. Albums called Early Demo's and Early Sessions contained all 18 tracks, while 2003's Before the Fame and the present disc, The Early Years, each choose and mix up ten selections from the batch. The Early Years goes back and forth between the singer/songwriter piano ballads and pop tunes of Cold Spring Harbor and the organ-dominated psychedelic blues-rock of Hour of the Wolf, much of it in execrable sound quality with heavy distortion. Joel fans would be much better off springing for Razor & Tie's 1999 compilation The Best of the Hassles: You Got Me Hummin', if they can still find it, and the Columbia reissue of Cold Spring Harbor instead of this ripoff.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann