The recently-announced, and hotly-anticipated, Rhino Handmade box set of The Monkees Present isn’t the only one of the band’s albums on the reissue docket. Following last year’s similar edition of 1987’s Pool It!, Friday Music will, on May 28, reissue The Monkees’ 1996 reunion album Justus in a CD/DVD package combining the original 12-track CD with a DVD of the original Rhino Home Video tie-in program.
Justus marked the first studio album to feature all four Monkees – Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith – since 1968’s Head soundtrack. It also celebrated a landmark anniversary of the band’s very first album. The Monkees first turned up in shops on October 10, 1966; Justus arrived on October 15, 1996, a little more than thirty years later. Unlike that debut album, however, Justus was entirely the work of the four Monkees. Not only was the group credited as producer, but Dolenz played drums, Tork handled bass and keyboards, Jones contributed percussion, and Nesmith wielded guitars for the album. In addition, every song was written by one of the four Monkees. In many respects, Justus was a belated sequel to 1967’s Headquarters, the first album over which the band exerted musical control of its own destiny.
Although Justus marked the return of “Papa Nez” into the fold, Mike only contributed one original song – the quirky “Admiral Mike,” sung by Micky. He took his only lead vocal on the album with the opening track, a rocking rewrite/remake of “Circle Sky” from Head. But his backing vocals were heard throughout. Generally, each Monkee sang lead on the songs he wrote. Dolenz was responsible for the most songs, writing and singing lead on “Never Enough,” “Unlucky Stars,” “Dyin’ of a Broken Heart,” “Regional Girl” and “It’s My Life.” He and Jones co-wrote “You and I,” first performed with the Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart unit on that group’s 1976 Capitol LP. (A song of the same name also appeared on The Monkees’ Instant Replay.) Here, it was transformed into a true Monkees track, with Tork and Nesmith both playing on it. Jones wrote and sang “Oh, What a Night” and the album-closing ballad “It’s Not Too Late.” And Peter Tork took the reins for “I Believe You,” also writing “Run Away from Life” for Jones to sing. Recorded in Hollywood between June and August 1996, Justus was a true group effort.
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Omnivore Recordings is going back to Bakersfield. Building on the success of such projects as Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics, Don Rich Sings George Jones, Buck Owens Live at the White House, Buck Sings Eagles, and (this author’s personal favorite!) the Buck Owens Coloring Book and Flexi Disc, Omnivore is mining the rich, rough-and-tumble country-and-western legacy of that California town for two new releases due on July 23.
Buck Owens’ iconic band The Buckaroos are celebrated with The Buckaroos Play Buck and Merle, in which they pay tribute to the two Bakersfield heroes they knew so well, Messrs. Owens and Haggard. This disc brings together the band’s The Buck Owens Songbook (1965) and The Songs of Merle Haggard (1971) on one CD. It will be joined by Don Rich and the Buckaroos’ 1971 album That Fiddlin’ Man in its very first ever appearance on compact disc.
Buck Owens’ guitarist and all-around right-hand man Don Rich often made room in the set for one of his many specialties: the fiddle. On tunes like “Orange Blossom Special,” Rich proved his virtuosity on the instrument, and in 1971, Capitol Records collected ten fiddlin’ tracks from the Buckaroos’ catalogue as That Fiddlin’ Man. Though a few tracks have appeared on CD before, Omnivore is reissuing the album in its original sequence for the very first time, complete with the groovy psychedelic cover artwork! In the spirit of the original release, the label has added another ten tracks of The Buckaroos, Don Rich, and his fiddle, making for a definitive survey of his style. In total, the new compact disc presents 20 tracks drawn from 13 different albums recorded between 1963 and 1970. The expanded edition of That Fiddlin’ Man includes a full-color booklet with new liner notes, photos and information on the source of each track. It should prove a fine companion to Don Rich Sings George Jones, the recently-excavated solo album that spotlights his underrated work as a vocalist. Rich’s life ended too soon when he perished in a motorcycle accident in 1974 at 32 years of age, but his music has proven in the timeless tradition of truly classic country.
Hit the jump to sing along with The Buckaroos!
As Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone” was climbing the R&B and Pop charts in 1971, so was another, less-heralded Willie Mitchell arrangement. Denise LaSalle’s “Trapped by a Thing Called Love” epitomizes the sound of Memphis soul just as much as the better-known Al Green record, but it’s just one of the smoldering cuts on Ace Records’ new anthology dedicated to the Mississippi-born songstress. Making a Good Thing Better: The Complete Westbound Singles 1970-1976 collects the A and B-sides of every one of Denise LaSalle’s singles for Detroit-based Westbound Records, adding up to a primer on the career of LaSalle as singer and songwriter.
Honing her big voice in church and soaking up the influences of country, blues and R&B, Denise LaSalle (born Ora Denise Allen) first made a splash with 1967’s “A Love Reputation.” It was first released on the small Tarpon label but soon picked up by Chess – the same label that the young singer had been signed to, and then released from. The re-signing to Chess signified LaSalle’s place in the big leagues, but it didn’t last long. After two more singles, she was let go for the second time, but LaSalle continued to record for smaller labels like Crajon and Parks. Family ties soon led her to the studios of Memphis’ Willie Mitchell – Denise’s brother Nate “Na” Allen was married to singer Vee Allen, sister of deejay Al Perkins, for whom Mitchell had produced a hit single. When LaSalle set to work with Mitchell, the sound out of the studio was so encouraging that Westbound Records signed Denise. “Trapped By a Thing Called Love” was released in July 1971 on Westbound, entering the R&B charts the following month and reaching pole position in October. Perhaps even more impressively, LaSalle’s song nearly made the Top 10 on the pop chart, landing at No. 13. Mitchell’s production of Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone” had reached the R&B Top 10 and Pop Top 20 just a couple of weeks earlier. Denise LaSalle was on her way.
Mitchell’s studio was becoming more and more in demand, though, as were the Hi Records rhythm section players heard on “Trapped.” LaSalle cut her sassy, sultry and assertive songs elsewhere in Memphis, including the No. 3 R&B/No. 46 Pop “The Deeper I Go (The Better It Gets)” and No. 4 R&B/No. 55 Pop “Man Sized Job,” both from 1972. She recorded in Memphis through the end of 1973, but with commercial successes becoming more modest, she felt inclined to make a change.
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Though Jack White’s Third Man Records imprint is known for doing some wacky pressings of things on wax – take, for example, the opulent-even-for-the-jazz-age gold and platinum pressings of the soundtrack to the new film version of The Great Gasby – their latest series, just recently announced, should appeal to a wide swath of rock fans. Third Man is licensing material from the Sun Records discography to repress on vinyl.
Sam Phillips’ Memphis label was, of course, a hotbed of activity for some of the best country, rock and soul acts of the 1950s. Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison are just five of the legends who got their start at Sun with unique songs and recordings that remain essential to the canon of popular music.
Third Man’s first three single reissues (the first in a promised series) are:
Rufus Thomas, Bear Cat b/w Walking in the Rain (Sun Records 181, 1953 – reissued Third Man Records TMR-185, 2013) – though Thomas would have more success in the ’60s and ’70s as one of the first hitmakers signed to Stax Records, this was a notable release – and not just because the song, a sort-of rewrite of “Hound Dog,” was the subject of a costly lawsuit between Sun and songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s an enduring set of R&B sides that did a fine job anticipating Thomas’ later works.
The Prisonaires, Baby Please b/w Just Walkin’ in the Rain (Sun Records 186, 1953 – reissued Third Man Records TMR-186, 2013) – one of Sun’s most unique acts was The Prisonaires, a doo-wop quintet so named for the prison sentences each man served in the state of Tennessee. “Just Walkin’ in the Rain” garnered enough local accolades to earn the group plenty of day passes away from jail to perform shows. (Elvis was a fan, and one of many who covered “Just Walkin’ in the Rain.”)
Johnny Cash, Get Rhythm b/w I Walk the Line (Sun Records 241, 1956 – reissued Third Man Records TMR-187, 2013) – “Get Rhythm” was a plucky little country tune that happened to have the terrible misfortune of sharing a vinyl platter with “I Walk the Line,” a country tune unlike any other, and the one that put The Man in Black on the map. Cash would record these songs anew when he signed to Columbia Records, but nothing surpasses the power of these original recordings.
All three can be ordered separately at the above links or together right here; the official release date is this Tuesday, May 21. Additionally, 150 copies of limited yellow and black “Sun Ray” vinyl will be made available; 50 copies of each will be randomly substituted for the standard editions on order, and the remainder will be sold through Third Man’s “Rolling Record Store” from May 28-30. Here’s where to find each:
- 5/28: Johnny Cash – Sun Records, Memphis, TN
- 5/29: Rufus Thomas – Please and Thank You, Louisville, KY
- 5/30: The Prisonaires – Sun Ray at Luna Records, Indianapolis, IN
When I was heavily ensconced in a retail job, I had the task of stocking new music and movie releases and sharing the new releases with the rest of the store on Tuesday morning. Without fail, every time a NOW That’s What I Call Music! compilation came out, someone would marvel how many such compilations existed, prompting me to tell my co-workers that they should check out the NOW series as it originated in the U.K., back in 1983, where they were double albums and released with slightly more frequency to the point where the 84th volume hit stores in March (as opposed to the single-disc 47th volume that streeted in the U.S. last Tuesday).
Of course, here at The Second Disc, I’m surrounded by record collectors and pop enthusiasts, so this illumination is nothing new. (That’s one of many reasons why I’m a lot happier editing these pages, I’ll tell you that!) But anyway, the point is that NOW That’s What I Call Music is indeed celebrating 30 years – and its doing so with a new, triple-disc compilation of highlights from its lengthy run.
NOW That’s What I Call 30 Years features an interesting, semi-chronological hodgepodge of pop cuts from the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and today, from Michael Jackson to Madonna, Take That to the Spice Girls, Adele to PSY. It’s disappointingly centered on the traditional pop scene on both sides of the Atlantic, thereby ignoring some of the R&B and rock-infused diversity that the NOW series was often known for (Radiohead appeared on at least one volume, for cryin’ out loud). As such, it’s a very, very patchy portrait of pop, passing a good chunk of the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. (Also, a considerably more minor quibble, but what’s up with the 20th Century-Fox meets Pink Floyd cover art?)
But NOW are one of the best – and one of the only – games in town as far as anthologizing pop music for the masses, so NOW That’s What I Call 30 Years might be a set for your collection when it’s released May 27 in England. Hit the jump to check out the full track list and order your copy off Amazon.
It’s a shame, isn’t it? When Motown mainstays The Spinners departed the venerable Detroit label for the greener pastures of Atlantic Records, lead singer G.C. Cameron didn’t make the switch. Cameron, the unmistakable main voice of The Spinners’ Stevie Wonder-penned No. 14 hit “It’s a Shame,” remained with Motown. Cameron suggested his cousin and close friend Philippe Wynne replace him, and soon watched Wynne and co. score the group’s first ever Top 10 pop singles. In fact, Atlantic debut Spinners charted five hits and two Top 10s – including the million-selling “I’ll Be Around.” Cameron never reached the commercial peak of his old group. But he was a productive and prolific recording artist for Berry Gordy’s empire even as The Spinners were notching all of those smashes in Philadelphia. Most of his output, however, has inexplicably remained absent from CD. Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records imprint rectifies that with an expanded edition of Cameron’s 1974 Motown solo debut, Love Songs and Other Tragedies. It adds thirteen non-LP single sides – most of which have never appeared in the CD format – to the original album, creating a truly comprehensive survey of the singer’s early solo years at Motown and West Coast subsidiary MoWest.
Many names familiar to Motor City enthusiasts fill the credits of Love Songs and Other Tragedies: Frank Wilson, Willie Hutch, Gene Page, Paul Riser, James Carmichael, Dave Van De Pitte, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Even more top-tier Motown names figure in the singles portion of the new reissue: Pam Sawyer, Gloria Jones, Hal Davis and Smokey Robinson! In 1971, the newly-solo Cameron was placed on the MoWest label, for which Berry Gordy had high hopes. But in 1973, the label was shut down and G.C. was shuttled to Motown proper, where he began cutting his solo album. As a result, most of the singles included here predate Love Songs.
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Let’s say you’re part of one of the most hotly sought-after bands in the world. You’ve developed a distinctive style that’s set you apart from most of your peers since day one. You’ve put out five basically flawless albums out in five years, eventually earning yourself a U.S. Top 10 hit and exposure on MTV. And now, a major label wants to sign you.
What do you do?
The way R.E.M. answered this question on Green, their sixth album and first of many for Warner Bros. Records, is perhaps a gold standard of how well this question can be answered. Bands in this position often walk a fine line between critical darling and sellout based simply on how they go about their first major-label project. (Consider Green Day’s successful Dookie, full of polished pop moments that expanded their cultural cache while alienating much of their existing core fan base.) Green, by contrast, makes just the right amount of tweaks that come not from an A&R meeting but from the hearts and minds of a ridiculously great rock quartet – and the recently-released 25th anniversary expansion of the album (Warner Bros. R2 535408) does a good job of underlining this fact.
While frontman Michael Stipe reportedly told his bandmates not to write any R.E.M.-type songs for Green, some of Green probably could have fit anywhere on the band’s I.R.S. Records discography. The band’s tendency for simple, singable, muscular rock (produced once again by Scott Litt, who collaborated with the band on Document and would be the band’s go-to producer until 1996) is evident on tracks like “Get Up” and “Orange Crush,” while fellow singles “Stand” and “Pop Song 89″ are catchy winks at the band’s newfound major-label darling status, boasting some of the band’s most intentionally facile lyrics.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ve got a very diverse set of songs, anticipating the kind of multifaceted, often heart-tugging beauty R.E.M. mastered throughout the next decade. “The Wrong Child” and “You Are the Everything” are anchored around mandolin lines, while “World Leader Pretend” anticipates future ballads with its tender interplay between acoustic guitars and piano. Even the more traditional rock stuff sometimes aims a little to the left of center, veering away from Peter Buck’s typically jangly riffs in favor of slightly crunchier ones (“I Remember California,” the untitled closing track). Green‘s position as “pivot” on the R.E.M. discography may not make it as effortless as the five LPs that preceded it, but it’s still pretty darn good.
With Rhino handling the reins for R.E.M.’s 25th anniversary reissue series (UMe handling Murmur (1983) and Reckoning (1984) and EMI having covered Fables of the Reconstruction (1985), Lifes Rich Pageant (1986) and Document (1987)), fans certainly must be curious as to how Green stacks up against its predecessors on the reissue scale. Packaging is fairly similar to EMI’s handiwork, with the Green sleeve replicated on an oversize case that opens, lid-style, from one end. Inside are individual CD wallets for the remastered album and bonus disc, as well as sturdy, framable shots of Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry, a large fold-out poster and a liner notes booklet.
As with most of the 25th anniversary bonus discs, a live show is paired with Green – this time a show from the Greensboro, NC Coliseum in November 1989. Like the bonus disc that accompanied Document, the show isn’t complete on disc (though a Record Store Day-exclusive EP last month issued a portion of the missing tracks). But that’s not what makes this bonus disc just alright, instead of essential. As the live video Tourfilm showed, the Green tour was visually arresting – something you’re obviously not getting on CD. And the band’s sound was getting expansive enough to make it harder to nail the new tracks with the same sort of emotional heft as just a four-piece. (Tellingly, the band took a five-year hiatus from the road, after which they came back as a slightly extended lineup.) In spite of these drawbacks, the set is appropriately representative of where the band was at the time – and it’s thus pretty neat to hear audiences react strongly to both the new songs and the band’s back catalogue.
Even taking into account its pop crossover success, Green may not be the perfect starter for the new R.E.M. fan. But it’s certainly worth a reappraisal in the grander scheme of R.E.M.’s sterling discography – and this new set is surely as good a means of reintroduction as they come.