These aren’t drastic reinterpretations, but simply “better” versions of songs that had, for the most part, originally been comprised of studio musician contributions. His full-time band had been beating the crap out of these songs for several tours now; Phil Ramone’s production, of course, brings out the best in each of them. And by sticking with the original arrangements, curious concert-goers wouldn’t be disappointed when they went back and bought up the albums with the songs they hadn’t heard before the show. (It’s good to have catalog, although Cold Spring Harbor wasn’t widely available at the time.)
“Say Goodbye To Hollywood” certainly sounds better here, but even with that extra push, he still sings with a Ronnie Spector vibrato. Songs like “Miami 2017” and “Captain Jack” (with a nice new intro) always worked well in the concert environment, so it’s surprising for something as comparatively intricate as “Streetlife Serenader” to succeed as well as it does. Wisely, the chosen performances of “She’s Got A Way” and “You’re My Home” come from smaller clubs, but then again, so do “Everybody Loves You Now” and “Summer, Highland Falls”.
Being a live album and a quasi-hits collection, Songs In The Attic is something of a transitional stopgap, even though there was no indication he was about to change anything. As an improvement on the albums it sampled, it provides value. The original LP was a nice package, too—plenty of old photos in the gatefold, along with lyrics and extensive liner notes, paying lengthy tribute to all the guys on the road crew. Maybe he was a nice guy after all.
Billy Joel Songs In The Attic (1981)—3½