Spin Magazine published an article on February 22nd, 2023, titled The 22 Greatest Two-Person Bands of All Time, which was an interesting and informative piece. I had no idea that bands like Local H, The Black Keys, and Ween were duos, and I also had no clue that Billy Joel (yes, that Billy Joel) was in a two-man psychedelic band called Attila. They formed in 1969 and released their self-titled debut on July 27th, 1970, the focus of this edition of Classic Rock Albums Revisited.
Billy Joel and drummer Jon Small had been in a band called The Hassles, and both left around the same time and created Attila. The band was only active from 1969 to 1970, which stemmed from Billy taking off with Jon’s wife, whom he would eventually marry.
The Spin article tells us that …
“A few years before he became an iconic piano man on the pop charts, Billy Joel played in a couple of hard-rocking psychedelic bands. One of them, Attila, was a duo featuring Joel playing distorted organ lines with a wah-wah pedal through a Marshall stack, backed by drummer Jon Small. Attila’s sole 1970 self-titled album, featuring the duo dressed as Huns on the cover, became a widely mocked curio after Joel’s rise to fame.”
As far as the quality of the music, Billy even joined in the mockery by saying that it was “psychedelic bullshit,” and in a 1985 interview, he told Dan Neer that:
“Many people think that I just came out of the piano bar… I did a lot of heavy metal for a while. We had about a dozen gigs, and nobody could stay in the room when we were playing. It was too loud. We drove people literally out of clubs. It was great, but we can’t stay in the club.”
It wasn’t received well by music critics either, which this quote that I found on Wikipedia proves,
“Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic wrote, “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.”
I wasn’t expecting much when I sat down to listen to Attila, but the first song, “California Flash,” held my attention in a big way. It is easily the best thing on the album and is one of only a few that I would recommend people listen to.
“Wonder Woman” is also very cool. The way the intro leads into the meat and potatoes of the song works extremely well, and the song’s tone indicates the keyboard sound of the era, similar to Ray Manzarek of The Doors.
“Revenge is Sweet” has a cool musical element, but the vocals don’t resonate with me. Billy has always been a master on the keys, but his vocals here are hit or miss, in my opinion, mostly miss.
“Amplifier Fire: Part 1 – Gods” is jazzy psych and feels like a risk that didn’t pan out. To be completely frank, this track just isn’t good, but the drumming is top-notch. Repeated listens don’t change this either; the track is legitimately terrible.
“Rolling Home” is a pretty cool, upbeat tune with a staccato feel throughout. Billy’s vocals remind me of Pentagram’s Bobby Liebling a little, but it’s very slight in that regard, and I’ll probably be the only one who hears it.
I also enjoyed “Tear This Castle Down.” Billy sounds fanatic vocally, and his keyboard work is through the roof! The dynamics in this one help the song rise and fall in the right places, and the drums are once again killer. My only complaint is that it doesn’t feel like they put enough thought into those mellow sections.
“Holy Moses” begins with some very nice drumming on Jon’s part, but his playing is the only part of this one that I could grasp onto. Some of the keyboard work is cool, but I don’t have much else to say that is positive.
The jazzed-up psych of “Brain Invasion” feels like an invasion; in other words, it’s like someone breaking into your home and beating you with a Louisville Slugger. The musicianship is incredible, but the song is just too much for me.
I would usually tell you, fine readers, how much I love the album in question, but love is the wrong word for Attila. I did enjoy the album, but there were as many weak tracks as there were strong ones, so I would say that you should go into the album cautiously. Billy and Jon are both very talented musicians, and their playing is proof of that, but for each good thing on the album, there are at least two more that aren’t the best. I don’t know; maybe it would be better on a hit of LSD or 6, but who wants to be that wasted just to understand an album? Certainly not me.
This review was written by Tom Hanno, who has been writing reviews for the last 7 years but has been sharing his love of music for the majority of his life. Originally starting out at the now defunct Chimera Magazine, he is currently contributing to Doomed and Stoned, The Sleeping Shaman, The Doom Charts, Tom’s Reviews, and The Third Eye. Read more of Tom’s reviews by checking out his Linktree.
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