At the time of its release, it was unique as being the first widely available appearance of music from his first album, Cold Spring Harbor, originally released in 1971.
Songs in the Attic introduced Billy Joel's early work to fans who had only come to know his work after The Stranger, according to liner notes written by Joel. In his earlier work, most of the instruments were played by session musicians, but by the late 1970s, Joel had a fairly consistent touring group, and so he wanted to showcase the songs with this band.
Two songs from the album, "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" and "She's Got a Way," were released as singles, and both made the top 25. In Australia, "You're My Home" was also released as a single, but didn't chart.