In Part 3 of our first-ever official Second Disc Buyers Guide, we look at five more of the 100 greatest albums of all time, as selected by Rolling Stone in 2003, through the filter of when and how these classic albums have been reissued, remastered and repackaged. If you’ve ever wondered to yourself which versions of these albums to buy for certain bonus tracks and the like, wonder no more.
Today, we meet the Beatles, travel to Memphis with a beehived British soul queen, have the blues at Folsom Prison and add another brick in The Wall! And don't forget the Motor City!
90. Stevie Wonder, Talking Book (Motown, 1972)
As 1972 began, the pianist, composer, arranger, producer and singer once known as Little Stevie Wonder was enjoying the creative freedom he had only recently won from Berry Gordy’s Motown empire. Wonder was only 21 when Music of My Mind was released in March of that year, and although some point to 1971’s Where I’m Coming From as his first mature solo album, Music of My Mind was a far more ambitious effort. “Superwoman,” “Happier Than the Morning Sun” and “I Love Every Little Thing About You” heralded a talent far deeper than even his considerable past accomplishments could have indicated. Released just months later in October, Talking Book (amazingly Wonder’s fifteenth studio album!) took the artist’s studio experimentation one step further, incorporating densely layered keyboards: clavinets, electric pianos, synthesizers. But even the rich, unique production – by Wonder, Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil - couldn’t carry an album alone. Wonder had to match his cutting-edge production with top-notch songwriting. And did he deliver!
“You Are the Sunshine of My Life” netted Wonder a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal, but he was already crossing genre lines when “Superstition” took home the prizes for Best Male R&B Vocal and Best R&B Song the same evening. Those two songs alone would be enough to carry an album, but Wonder also delivered perennials like “You’ve Got It Bad Girl” and “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever),” both co-written with Yvonne Wright, and “Blame It on the Sun,” co-written with Syreeta (Yvonne’s sister and Stevie’s former wife). He was surrounded by the crème of the crop, musically speaking, with contributions from Ray Parker, Jr., David Sanborn, Deniece Williams and even Jeff Beck on the Stevie/Syreeta co-write “Lookin’ For Another Pure Love.” Ranging from gorgeous, open-hearted pop and soul to pulsating funk, Talking Book spoke volumes about its young auteur.
Talking Book has never received an expanded treatment on compact disc. The original 1990 CD (Motown MCD 09051) and its 2000 remaster by Kevin Reeves (Motown 012 157 354-2 in a standard edition, 012 157 579-2 in a limited digipak) both mirror the original (some might say “perfect”) album sequence. In 2009, Talking Book received the Japanese SHM-CD treatment (Motown/Universal UICY-93933) and in 2010, Audio Fidelity’s Kevin Gray remastered it for a 24K Gold CD (AFZ 076). Little did listeners in 1972 know, however, that the best was still yet to come for Stevie Wonder.
89. Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis (Atlantic/Philips, 1969)
Writing for Rolling Stone in 1969, Greil Marcus commented of Dusty in Memphis, “Most white female singers in today’s music are still searching for music they can call their own. Dusty is not searching. She just shows up, and she, and we, are the better for it.” When the British chanteuse showed up in Memphis, she wasn’t sure what to expect. “I figured it would be Aretha kinds of songs…much more gritty R&B,” Dusty commented. Instead, Dusty in Memphis served up the classy pop Springfield did better than anyone, but arranged in smoking Memphis style. Hence, the album opens with one of the most smoldering songs ever, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “Just a Little Lovin’,” in its definitive arrangement. Carole King and Gerry Goffin were tapped for “So Much Love,” “Don’t Forget About Me,” and two tour de forces of drama, “No Easy Way Down” and “I Can’t Make It Alone.” The young Randy Newman offered “Just One Smile” and the powerful character study “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore,” while Burt Bacharach and Hal David contributed the impressionistic “In the Land of Make Believe.” From the pens of Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman came the haunting, evocative “The Windmills of Your Mind,” hardly a standard selection for a southern soul album. The seductive atmosphere continued with Eddie Hinton and Donnie Fritts’ “Breakfast in Bed,” but the song that put Dusty in Memphis on the map was John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins’ “Son of a Preacher Man.” Springfield’s smoky, sensual vocals convincingly convey the saucy lyric, and the tight band just crackles behind her. The match of material to artist to musicians achieved on Dusty in Memphis has rarely been matched since.
In Springfield’s native United Kingdom, a 1995 CD reissue on the Mercury label (528-687-2) shifted the sequence of a couple tracks. The original American CD reissue on Rhino in 1992 (Rhino/Atlantic 70135) offered three bonus tracks: “What Do You Do When Love Dies,” “Willie and Laura Mae Jones” and another Goffin/King song, “Hi De Ho (That Old Sweet Roll).” “What Do You Do…” was an outtake from the Memphis sessions, while the latter two tracks reteamed Dusty with Memphis producers Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd. Rhino’s 1999 expansion was a far more lavish affair (R2 75580), expanding the album’s original 11 tracks with 14 bonus cuts (including the three included in 1992). These songs were of varying vintages and not related to Memphis, though each track is superb and well worth seeking out, including previously-unissued material produced by Jeff Barry and the team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The same year Rhino expanded Memphis in America, Springfield’s U.K. label, Mercury/Philips, did the same. Philips’ slipcased U.K. edition (063-297-2) utilized an alternate cover, similar to that seen above, and offered liner notes by Elvis Costello as well as eight bonus tracks of the album’s mono singles. Both the Rhino and Philips editions are absolutely indispensable for fans and collectors of the one and only Dusty Springfield. And who isn’t?
Hit the jump and we'll meet you in Folsom Prison!
88. Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison (Columbia, 1968)
“I’m stuck in Folsom Prison, and time keeps draggin' on/but that train keeps a rollin'…/But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die…” Johnny Cash was an artist incapable of singing anything but the truth, so when he chillingly proclaimed the above, wasn’t it natural that many actually believed it? But while The Man in Black wasn’t a killer, urban legends long persisted about his prison stints. In truth, Cash never spent time in prison, at least as a convict. (On seven misdemeanor charges, he had spent hours at a time in jail.) But the humanist Cash spent quite a bit of time entertaining prisoners. He had long been interested in performing for inmates, and had scored a hit with “Folsom Prison Blues” at the dawn of his career in 1955. In 1967, his drug problems seemingly behind him, Cash persuaded Columbia Records to record him at California’s Folsom State Prison on January 13, 1968. With soon-to-be-wife June Carter, Carl Perkins and the Tennessee Three in tow, Cash performed two shows that day. The album that resulted was drawn from both shows (15 tracks from the first show, two from the second). It was an instant success and is even credited with revitalizing Cash’s career; it topped the country charts and attained a not-inconsiderable Top 20 placement on the pop chart, as well. Perhaps most importantly, the live version of “Folsom Prison Blues” from the album went Top 40. By 2003, At Folsom Prison had been certified 3x platinum!
Yet the first American CD appearance of Folsom Prison wasn’t as a stand-alone release, but rather as part of a “two-fer” with his later prison concert, 1969’s At San Quentin. At Folsom Prison and San Quentin (CGK 33639) combined both LPs but dropped one track from San Quentin to fit on a single disc. Folsom finally got its due in 1999 with Legacy’s expanded remaster (CK 65955) which added three tracks (“Busted,” “Joe Bean,” “The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer”) to the original 16-song sequence. Even better, though, is the 2008 Legacy Edition (88697 32742 2). Boasting 2 CDs and 1 DVD, the Legacy Edition includes both performances of January 13, 1968 for a whopping 51 tracks. A 2+-hour documentary film and bonus interviews make the DVD an essential part of the package, too. Though the 1999 remaster is now budget-priced and preserves the well-produced original album in more complete form, Cash devotees will no doubt wish to shell out for the exhaustive Legacy Edition.
87. Pink Floyd, The Wall (Harvest/Columbia, 1979)
Part 1 of our Buyers Guide looked at what’s arguably the most famous rock opera of all time, Pete Townshend’s Tommy, as originally performed by The Who. Not far behind might be Roger Waters’ tour de force (although it’s eluded the musical theatre stage to date, if not for lack of trying!), The Wall. The eleventh studio album by Pink Floyd, 1979’s The Wall was a double-LP concept album that lent itself to one of the most elaborate concert stagings ever.
The grueling touring experience inspired Waters to create The Wall, as he imagined a physical structure literally creating the divide between performers and audience. Yet this visual cue led the wall itself to represent much more. Waters’ libretto tells the story of Pink, who endures a traumatic childhood (including a deceased father, an overpowering mother and school torment), building bricks in his own personal wall with each painful event. Pink overcomes this to become a rock star, but finds life no easier as an adult, and continues building his wall as each relationship crumbles. Only after an unsettling, violent onstage performance does Pink look inward, placing himself on trial and finding the strength to tear down the wall. Pink’s story was illuminated by such now-classic songs as “Another Brick in the Wall” and “Comfortably Numb,” and literally illustrated by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe.
Waters’ ambitious creation (call it a song cycle, call it a rock opera, call it a concept album) met with instant success. Marrying the familiar Pink Floyd themes of isolation, abandonment and absence with grand rock anthems, The Wall sat atop the Billboard album chart in the U.S. for 15 weeks and by 1999 was already certified 23x platinum. It arrived on CD in the U.S. in 1985 as a double-CD set (Columbia C2K 36183) in a standard edition typical of the era. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab issued The Wall as an audiophile 24K Gold CD in 1990 (UMCD2-537) which is still highly sought-after. The nine-CD, eight-album box set Shine On, released in 1992 by EMI in the U.K. and Columbia in the U.S., contained The Wall in its entirety (0777 7 80569/70-2). Columbia remastered the album in 1997 (C2K 68519) and following EMI’s worldwide acquisition of the Pink Floyd catalogue, The Wall was again reissued in 2000 (Capitol CDP 7243 8 31243-2, U.S.). In 2011, EMI announced the major reissue campaign Why Pink Floyd, which opened up the band’s vaults in a major way. James Guthrie’s stellar remaster of the album was included as part of the Discovery box set of the complete Pink Floyd studio albums and is also available individually (EMI 50999 028944-2). The latest bricks in The Wall are due in February 2012. That’s when an expanded 3-CD Experience Edition and 6-CD/1-DVD Immersion Edition will arrive, set to include the original 2-CD album, 2 CDs of Waters’ demos and 2 CDs of the live Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980-81 (EMI 72435 23562 2 5 (U.K.), 2000). If the recent Immersion Editions of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here are any indication, the Immersion Edition will be the one to beat for devotees of The Wall.
86. The Beatles, Let It Be (Apple, 1970)
So much has been said about The Beatles’ twelfth and final studio album that I’m tempted to, well, Let It Be. But in short, Let It Be was released as the Beatles played out their increasingly fraught offstage dramas in front of the world’s watching eyes. Most of the album was actually recorded before Abbey Road, their George Martin-produced masterwork, but the September 1969 release of Abbey Road came and went before Let It Be saw the light of day. The album that became Let It Be began life as Get Back, with the intention that The Beatles would “get back” to basics and play as a true band. But The Fabs were unhappy with producer Glyn Johns’ initial mix, and it wasn’t until Phil Spector was enlisted to produce overdubs and remix the album that it was deemed releasable…at least by some. Paul McCartney was openly critical of Spector’s production, and of the involvement of Allen Klein, the Beatles manager with whom he had clashed (and eventually triumphed over in court). Despite its controversial background, Let It Be offers some of The Beatles’ finest moments: McCartney’s spiritually-infused title song and valedictory “The Long and Winding Road,” John Lennon’s yearning “Across the Universe” and gentle “Two of Us,” the rousing “Get Back” itself.
The CD-era reissue history of Let It Be hasn’t been nearly as checkered as its recording process, although those interested can find volumes written about the Get Back/Let It Be saga, and hear volumes on various non-commercial session recordings. The original 1987 CD (Capitol (U.S.)/Parlophone (U.K.) 46447) was the standard bearer for the title until the acclaimed Abbey Road Studios remaster (EMI/Apple 0946 3 82472-2) of 2009 in which it joined every other Beatles studio album in receiving the remastered treatment. Along the way to 2009, Apple sanctioned the 2003 release of Let It Be…Naked (Capitol (U.S.) CDP 7243 5 95713-2), for which Paul Hicks, Guy Massey and Allan Rouse at Abbey Road assembled a version closer to the original conception of the album and more to McCartney’s liking. Spector’s “Wall of Sound” overdubs were removed, and though the resulting album was expectedly controversial, it offers a valid alternate look at a time when The Beatles were able to produce beautiful music despite their escalating personal conflicts. Perhaps one day we’ll update this post to reflect a Blu-Ray surround sound edition of Let It Be? Until then, I’ve got a feeling that the 2009 remaster will remain the go-to edition of The Beatles’ 1970 farewell.
Tomorrow: Mike returns to take you through two classics by the Queen of Soul, a breakthrough for one of New Jersey's favorite sons, a trip to Graceland, and a legendary axeman's Axis!