Good evening and welcome to The Second Disc! Assuming you’ve taken a look at the page where I’ve explained this blog, I’d like to present a list of some of the best catalogue titles released to the public during the past year. This year was just as full of complaints about the demise of the music industry as ever (I guess part of this can be blamed on the general economic malaise gripping us all), but this really seemed to be a great year for reissues and box sets of all sorts.
Two notes before I begin. First, anyone who has befriended me on Facebook has possibly already read this list. I apologize for making you sit through it again. Second, and more importantly, a mini-disclaimer: my enthusiasm for reissues is well known to have manifested into an internship at Universal Music Enterprises, the catalog arm of Universal Music Group, as well as encounters with some great people who have done some killer work on catalog titles. Several of these titles were worked upon by people I have met. I will mark them with an asterisk, lest they be seen as mash notes from a fellow friend/fan/person eager to break into the catalog business. But trust me, I’d give high marks to these even if I didn’t know anyone associated with them.
Now, after the jump, my list – in no particular order but alphabetical:
The Beatles – The Beatles Stereo Box Set/The Beatles in Mono (Apple/EMI)
Prior to 2009, I’ll be honest, I knew far less about The Beatles than a pop fan like myself should claim. I knew their many hit singles (who doesn’t, really?) from radio airplay and compilations like 2000’s 1. But I’d read mixed reports about the sound of these records on CD, and I hoped that – someday – there would be decent remasters to buy. Boy, was I right. EMI/Capitol went above and beyond in terms of releasing these records – all of the original albums in the standard catalog (counting the US version of Magical Mystery Tour, which combined the original UK EP with a few non-LP singles, and the non-LP singles collection Past Masters) – not only in stereo but in a box set with their original mono mixes. Many of these mixes had never been released on CD, and the semi-limited nature of the set made this a huge collector’s item. (I nearly got punched by a few baby boomers when I picked up my set.) It’s hard to determine which mixes are better (the band preferred the mono ones), but taken together the remasters provide listeners a chance to rediscover one of the greatest popular bands in history.
Boyz II Men – Cooleyhighharmony: Expanded Edition (Hip-O Select/Motown)*
2009 was the 50th anniversary of Motown Records, one of the greatest single labels ever. A phenomenal box set was released last Christmas (Motown: The Complete No. 1’s), but this year saw much of a focus on individual artists and their successes. And Cooleyhighharmony, the debut LP by Boyz II Men, may be the last truly great LP the label ever put out. Featuring awesome songs like “Motownphilly,” “Uhh Ahh” and a moving cover of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” it was at once both a unique throwback to harmonic greats like The Temptations or The Four Tops and a prime example of early-’90s New Jack Swing at its finest. This lavish set includes all the non-LP bonus tracks and remixes you could want (including all the songs from the 1993 reissue of the album) and a pair of intriguing outtakes from the original album sessions. Boyz II Men may not be as great ever since bass Michael McCary dropped out of the band, but Cooleyhighharmony still stands as a high watermark of ’90s R&B.
Elvis Costello – Live at the El Mocambo (Hip-O)
It’s hard for reissue fans to get quickly into Elvis Costello’s lengthy catalog because it’s been reissued three times – once with bonus tracks in the 1990s by Rykodisc, once earlier in the decade (with even more bonus tracks) through Rhino and again through Universal Music Group (with bonus tracks, but sometimes different ones). So while there may be three different configurations of My Aim is True or This Year’s Model, the mythical Live at the El Mocambo – recorded for a radio promo in 1978 and heavily bootlegged since – has only been released once (through Rykodisc), and some of the between-song banter was shortened. Here, Hip-O presents the whole concert, and it’s a ripper: he’s fully backed by The Attractions and tearing through some songs that weren’t even released yet. Best of all, this is only the first entry in “The Costello Show” live series: the full version of the Hollywood High concert, partially released as an EP with Armed Forces, is due out January 12.
Dr. Dre – The Chronic: Re-Lit and From the Vault (Death Row/Wideawake Entertainment)
The early years of Death Row are some of the best gangsta rap releases hands down. Dr. Dre’s debut showed the then 26-year-old rapper/producer virtually inventing the West Coast sound, with its big, beat-heavy P-funk samples and laconic, hazy verses (particuarly those from fresh-faced Snoop Dogg, who half-owns this record). Some may damn the record for its overactive hyping of violence, blunts and hos, but Dre’s dissatisfaction with his crumbling Compton neighborhood (and the supposed betrayal of ex-N.W.A. member Eazy-E) managed to get channeled into some of the most superb music of the genre. Death Row, now freed from the bad business decisions of fallen founder Marion “Suge” Knight, is now owned by a private holding company from Canada whose enthusiasm for the material is as surprising as it is welcome. The Chronic Re-Lit sounds great (per some reports, it’s the only time it’s been actually remastered from the original tapes) and comes with a fantastic DVD of rare videos and other promotional works. The only near-dealbreaker is the bonus material: the seven Death Row outtakes are interesting, but have no context to them (and are certainly not all Dre’s work). While actual Dre B-sides or mixes would have been appreciated, you can’t hate Wideawake for giving the neglected Death Row discography a shot in the arm.
Duran Duran – Rio: Collector’s Edition/Hammersmith ’82! (EMI)
The same day as The Beatles remasters were announced, EMI announced a remaster project for their other hit British band, Duran Duran. Not only was it a welcome expansion of one of the best pop albums of the 1980s, it reminded patient fans that even though the band’s last record, 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre, was a relative misfire, they were capable of truly great things. The double-disc Rio finally gave fans a holy grail they’d been waiting for: the remixes of the first side of the record commissioned for the first U.S. pressing. Add a bunch of great B-sides, demos and remixes and some smooth packaging, and you’ve got a surefire reissue hit. The much-bootlegged Hammersmith ’82!, recorded just as worldwide Duranmania was beginning to take effect, is a treat as well, especially its killer cover of Cockney Rebel’s “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me).” Best of all, it got the ball rolling for more Duran reissues at EMI: three more records are getting the deluxe treatment in 2010.
Ben Folds – Stems and Seeds (Epic)
Ben Folds’ solo output has netted him more and more fans even as his knack for witty, irreverent songwriting veers more toward burlesque. 2008’s Way to Normal was a cut above the bland Songs for Silverman but couldn’t top his near-flawless solo debut, 2001’s Rockin’ the Suburbs. Worse yet, some fans took the mix of the record to task; it was in fact kind of loud and almost intentionally distorted. So Folds, ever in touch with his fanbase, reissued the record with a bonus disc of lossless “stems” – in other words, the actual multitrack masters to the record. Fans with ProTools, Audition or Audacity could remix it to their heart’s content – louder, softer, instrumental, a capella, whatever – a practice that increasingly loud records should have standard. And there were a bunch of neat bonus tracks too, including the bizarre “fake leak” version of the album (some of his most inspired, or anti-inspired, songwriting in a few years) that fans who missed it online should pick up.
Daryl Hall and John Oates – Do What You Want, Be Who You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall and John Oates (RCA/Legacy)*
For years, it was considered fun to rag on Hall and Oates’ blend of blue-eyed white soul and self-effacing sense of humor. I can remember MTV’s 25 Lame special in the late 1990s, when Jon Stewart, Chris Kattan, Jeaneane Garofalo and Denis Leary tore the “Maneater” video a new one. But this year, the duo is getting the recognition they deserve as master pop-smiths and all-around cool guys: collaborations with indie acts like Chromeo and Gym Class Heroes, the awesome online video series Live from Daryl’s House, a Grammy nomination, the splendid reunion of Oates and his mustache and this box set, a career-spanning box set featuring all the hits, many live cuts, outtakes and some great liner notes (including words of praise from luminaries like Nile Rodgers and Mick Jagger – yes, THAT Mick Jagger). After years of following the advice in the title of the box, Hall and Oates are finally getting exactly what they’ve earned over decades of existence.
The Jackson 5 – I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters (Motown)*
The Michael Jackson celebratory party would have begun at Motown even if he hadn’t tragically died; this year is the 40th anniversary of MJ’s meteoric rise to the music scene with his brothers on “I Want You Back.” This 11-track compilation is easily the best posthumous compilation released, including the half-dozen or so sets Motown released, constructed or re-released after Jackson died. All the tracks are previously unearthed, and serve as another great reminder of what a charismatic group of kids the J5 were, especially coulda-been-hits like “That’s How Love Is,” “Love Call” and the Stevie Wonder-produced gem “Buttercup.” There’s probably a boatload of vault material to come from both Motown and Sony in the years to come, but with this set it’s easy to see who’s got the upper hand thus far.
Michael Jackson – Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection (Hip-O Select/Motown)*
Of all the MJ sets to come out in 2009, this one had the oddest timing. Set for limited release the week before Jackson was to embark on the “This is It” concerts in the UK, Hip-O Select compiled all four of MJ’s early solo albums – Got to Be There, Ben, Music and Me and Forever, Michael – as well as two outtakes compilations released on Motown after Thriller and a bunch of unreleased mixes – in a beautiful three-disc box set. Pre-orders were already being taken before June 25, and Jackson’s shocking death actually spun the set out of limited-release semi-obscurity into record stores all over the world (literally – I saw a copy for sale in Bermuda). It’s a refreshing look into the making of a worldwide talent that would deserve appraisal were the King of Pop still alive.
The Jacksons – Destiny/Triumph (Epic/Legacy)
The traditonal Michael Jackson narrative was often that he was a huge success as a kid at Motown, left the group as an older teenager and went nowhere until Off the Wall and then Thriller. This is wrong: The Jacksons (the J5 lineup substituting Randy – not that one – for Jermaine, who’d married into Motown founder Berry Gordy’s family) actually did several LPs for Epic/Philadelphia International to moderate success. The two best ones were Destiny and Triumph released on each side of Off the Wall. Taken together with Jackson’s first two LPs for Epic, his eventual place atop the pop sphere makes perfect sense. And thanks to Legacy (who actually released these way before This is It was even a catchphrase), fans can rediscover these neat disco records with better clarity and a few awesome 12″ mixes to boot.
Morrissey – The HMV/Parlophone Singles ’88-’95 (EMI)
Mozzer put out a really great solo album, Years of Refusal, this year, and he also had a hand in reissuing a few of his mid-’90s albums (Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted). But the former Smith’s early years, chronicled in this triple-disc set, are the best for your buck. Every A- and B-side a fan could want is here, including classics like “Hairdresser on Fire,” “Hold Onto Your Friends,” “Disappointed” and “Everyday is Like Sunday,” plus a few endearing oddities (“Moon River,” anyone?)
Pearl Jam – Ten: Legacy Edition (Epic/Legacy)
This box set, along with The Beatles in Mono, should win a crazy-genius design award on sheer principle. Offered as a double-disc set, a triple-disc package with DVD, or the “super-deluxe” box with all those CDs/DVDs plus a cassette, a few slabs of vinyl and a collector’s booklet, the first and perhaps best of PJ’s records (I’ll come out and say it – it’s better than Nevermind) is lovingly revisited with both a remaster and a new, cripsy-delicious mix of the record and a few neat alternate cuts (mostly songs from the Singles soundtrack). The band was known to regret the almost-theatrical sound of the record, but coupled with Eddie Vedder’s arresting lyrics and the twin-guitar overdrive of Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, it is a classic that transcends its onetime grunge moniker.
Alan Silvestri – Back to the Future: Original Motion Picture Score (Intrada)
I was on cloud nine when I’d found out at my internship that Intrada, the great indie score label that’s unearthed film score gems like James Horner’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids or Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien, had gotten the rights to distribute the score to the first BTTF film, which has barely been released (just a few minutes on the original soundtrack, otherwise filled with Huey Lewis and The News and other pop songs). I did not, however, expect that the set would have come out this year, nor that it would have a second disc featuring almost an entirely alternate score than what we’ve all come to love in the original film. Intrada deserves all the love and success in the world for keeping film scores alive, especially this holiest of grails. Hopefully Goldsmith’s score to Gremlins, another hotly-desired score to a Steven Spielberg-produced comedy of the 1980s, won’t be too far behind.
Tears for Fears – Raoul and the Kings of Spain (Cherry Pop)
I was not expecting a reissue of this semi-underrated TFF record, and I was pleasantly surprised by the end result. While it’s probably the hardest in the TFF discography to really get into (it’s more modern-rock than any other album the group ever put out) and it’s reminiscient of a dire time for the band (Roland Orzabal was the sole original member and wasn’t moving the kind of records the band did a decade before), this great reissue adds seven non-LP bonus tracks (many of which would have made the album itself better) and some nice liner notes which, if not making me like the record as much as Songs from the Big Chair, at least help me understand and appreciate it better (which is what reissues are all about).
Various Artists – Walt Disney and the 1964 World’s Fair (Walt Disney)
This was another reissue that falls into the “we-didn’t-know-would-happen-but-it’s-still-so-awesome” category. Five discs featuring all the audio from Disney’s attractions in the New York World’s Fair – the Carousel of Progress, the Magic Skyway, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and It’s a Small World (many of these familiar names to visitors of the Disney parks) – plus a lot of great alternate music cues, dialogue, and other treasures from the Disney audio archives (including a fascinating, never-before-heard workthrough version of the Carousel of Progress). Another magical masterpiece from master Disney producer Randy Thornton – a great big beautiful tomorrow, indeed.
Various Artists – A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (Phillies/Legacy)
If you can somehow find it in your heart to ignore Phil Spector’s current reputation as an unhinged, murderous deviant currently rotting in prison, you’ll uncover one of the great pop minds of all time. It is perhaps a mind in no better focus than on this Christmas record, newly remastered and reissued by Legacy as the first installment in a reissuing of the entire Phillies Records catalog. Amazingly, for all its eventual success (the record originally came out the day JFK was shot but would find an audience that still spins it every December), this is only the third time the CD has been released (the first was as part of the Back to Mono box set, the second was a straightforward reissue through Rhino). Make the third time a charm and enrich these 12 days before Christmas with these songs.
Barry White – Unlimited (Hip-O Select/Mercury/A&M)*
This isn’t the first BW box – 1992’s Just for You is an impressive overview of White’s career thus far – but Unlimited has got the goods in another way: it’s a chance for everyone to peel back the many layers of The Man’s career. Have you heard “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” and “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” a thousand times? No problem – there are alternate takes of more than a dozen BW solo hits. Eager to hear more of The Love Unlimited Orchestra, White’s symphonic team behind the massive hit “Love’s Theme”? There’s plenty of their cuts to satisfy you, including the 12″ mix of John Barry’s theme to the 1976 remake of King Kong and “Sweet Moments,” the new-to-CD B-side of “Love’s Theme.” Then there’s cuts by the Love Unlimited girl group and a host of other greats that the Maestro produced or wrote for, including Gene Page, Tom Brock, Danny Pearson and more. Throw in a DVD of videos and live clips and some well-composed liner notes and you’ve got one of the most deserving treasure of rarities on the market today.
“Weird Al” Yankovic – The Essential “Weird Al” Yankovic (Way Moby/Volcano/Legacy)
Al’s had his share of greatest-hits comps in the past, but what I like about this one – besides the fact that Al personally selected the tracks himself – is that it doesn’t just go with parody after parody. We all know how great Yankovic is as a parodist; what less people realize is that he’s an all-around funny songwriter able to tackle genres and styles well too. Tunes like “Frank’s 2000″ TV” (kind of a patch on R.E.M.), the ska romp “Your Horoscope for Today” and hilarious “Alice’s Restaurant”-esque rant “Albuquerque” are just as good as “Eat It,” “Amish Paradise” or “White and Nerdy.” Al may be weird, but he’s not short on talent, and this compilation proves it.
Of course this list is nowhere near comprehensive. Feel free to count your faves in the comments!