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November 9, 2011 / jhsaeger

Billy Joel & WMMR


    As I alluded to in yesterday’s post, Billy Joel released his Piano Man (Legacy Edition) on Tuesday.  The second of 13 studio albums from the New York native, Piano Man was the first step in Joel’s ascent towards pop stardom.  The second disc, however, is the story for this legacy addition.  In this Legacy Edition, Joel nods to a tape of a live broadcast from Philadelphia radio station WMMR in 1972 (recorded one and a half years before Piano Man would find it’s way into stores).  
    The intriguing story was retold in the Philadelphia Daily News by music critic Jonathan Takiff on Tuesday and during a broadcast on WMMR the same afternoon.  Takiff, a  WMMR disc jockey at the time, frequently played the then-unreleased “Captain Jack” and received a popular response.  According to Takiff, “Captain Jack” eventually became the most requested song in the history of the station.  The tape also helped push Columbia Records to sign Joel to a record deal, which would of course then lead to his first major commercial success.
    As for the 23-track tape (including Joel’s interaction with the audience) that became the second disc, it clearly sounds better than his earlier studio recordings and sheds light on his energy as a live performer.  Joel’s piano playing sounds livelier and more effortless in front of the crowd than on his debut album Cold Spring Harbor.  Also, his touring band seems to give a stronger performance than his session musicians at the time.  The drums, in particular, are much more explosive and help drive the young songwriter’s tunes.
    While this bootleg has it’s moments, this is one of those exceptions when the story is as good as the music.  The relatively unknown Joel, playing to a curious audience, debuting some of his best material in its’ infant form on the airwaves.  This is a unique look at an artist’s career that is not always released.  Piano Man (Legacy Edition) is by no means a mandatory purchase, but Takiff’s story from his own point-of-view is a worthy read: 

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