We're in the Top 20 of Rolling Stone's Greatest Albums of All Time list, going through the various reissues and expansions of each one! This time, we have a Boss, a champion of a '90s rock revolution, a poet of the '60s - and starting right now, the King of Pop himself. Read on!
Nine disparate songs, helmed by a producer of straightforward jazz and R&B, and performed by a 24-year-old former child star-turned-gawky but dedicated perfectionist. It sounds like it has the makings of a great album, but the best-selling album in history? It seems unconventional - but that's what makes Thriller so good. There's something for everyone, from the seven charting singles to the smorgasbord/soundtrack vibe of the whole proceedings, with or without the unforgettable videos on MTV. Michael would strive harder for greatness, for sure, but he'd never achieve it as effortlessly as he did with this one.
First released on CD not too long after the album's release (Epic EK 38112), that pressing stayed in print for years. (There was a special repackage in Europe in 1999, packaged in a cardboard sleeve and with a Japanese-style OBI indicating Epic's U.K. "Millennium Edition" series - Epic MILLEN4). A SACD edition was first released in Japan the next year (Epic ESGA 503) and ultimately released in the U.S. six years after that (Epic ES 38112).
The first of two expanded editions (Epic EK 66073) appeared in 2001, preceding the release of Jackson's then-new album Invincible and arriving alongside reissues of Michael's other Epic albums through 1991. Like the reissue of Off the Wall, this disc gives far too much space to audio interviews with producer Jones and songwriter Rod Temperton where written recollections would have done better. Still, this has the most bonus tracks out of this reissue program, featuring two demos ("Billie Jean," the unreleased "Carousel"), the full version of Vincent Price's delightful "Thriller" outro and "Someone in the Dark," from the Grammy-winning E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial storybook record Jackson narrated. (Nitpickers have valid complaints with some of the bonus material, though; "Someone in the Dark" is crossfaded with part of an interview with Jones - it would not be released properly until The Ultimate Collection box set in 2004 - and "Carousel" is edited down as well. That full version can be found on Italian pressings of the import compilation King of Pop (Epic 88697 35638-2, 2008).)
The other deluxe reissue, 2008's Thriller 25 (Epic/Legacy 88697 22096-2), eschewed much of the bonus material from the last reissue (save the "Thriller" rap) in favor of mostly atrocious remixes of Thriller singles by will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas, Akon and Kanye West and a DVD of previously-released music videos (as well as Jackson's iconic performance of "Billie Jean" on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever in 1983). The sole "unreleased track from the Thriller sessions," a nice if slight ballad called "For All Time," is almost certainly not from those sessions; co-writers Mike Sherwood and Jeff Porcaro had not collaborated before Toto's Fahrenheit album in 1986. The Japanese import bonus track, "Got the Hots," does indeed date back that far.
19. Van Morrison, Astral Weeks (Warner Bros., 1968)
It's easy to laud these albums as ones that don't sound like anything else at the time, but Astral Weeks didn't, and doesn't. Inspired by traditional Irish folk, blues, jazz and classical artists, it's a dreamy song cycle that is the night to the bright daytime of "Brown Eyed Girl." For all its popularity, though, it's never been reissued on CD anytime past its initial release (Warner Bros. 1768-2); it was reportedly planned for expansion in the late 2000s, but cancelled by the artist himself in a fit of pique with the music industry.
After the jump, the Boss, the bard and the grunge explosion!
After two good if not revelatory albums, it took a change in producer (from Mike Appel to Jon Landau, still Springsteen's No. 2), songwriting techniques (penning songs on piano instead of guitar) and interest in recording techniques (which stretched Born to Run's progress over six long months) to make him a legend. Bolstered by tracks that serve as their own pocket symphonies ("Jungleland," "Thunder Road," the Spector-esque title track) as well as their own origin stories ("Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out") and buoyed by a massive promotional blitz that landed the future Boss on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the same week, Born to Run is a high watermark not only for Springsteen's career, but for rock and roll in the 1970s.
After a perfunctory CD release in the '80s (Columbia CK 33795), Born to Run was remastered by Bob Ludwig for MasterSound gold disc release in 1994 (Columbia/Legacy CK 52859); that remaster was included in a 2005 box set commemorating the album's 30th anniversary (Columbia/Legacy 82796 94175-2), along with two DVDs of unreleased documentary and concert footage. (Copies sold at Best Buy added a bonus CD single replicating the original "Born to Run" 45.)
17. Nirvana, Nevermind (DGC, 1991)
After the impressive debut LP, 1989's Bleach, on Sub Pop Records, Seattle trio Nirvana began recording demos with producer Butch Vig. Those demos promptly leaked, drawing the interest of major labels. But not everything was looking up just yet; drummer Chad Channing began to express disillusionment with the band and broke off with them. Singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic replaced him with Dave Grohl, whose heavy-duty style was just what the band needed, and that momentum – coupled with interest from David Geffen’s DGC Records – propelled them into the major leagues.
Though DGC gave Nirvana a list of producers for Nevermind, the band stuck with Vig. This time, Cobain came with a far more accessible set of songs, including “In Bloom,” “Lithium,” “Come As You Are” and massive hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” perhaps the most popular example of the band’s songwriting dynamic – loud choruses juxtaposed with quiet, subdued verses. All in all, the band recorded an album that sounded, in Cobain’s words, “like The Bay City Rollers getting molested by Black Flag.” (And that was before Andy Wallace’s ultra-polished final mix!) Nevermind far outsold the label's expectations, moving over 10 million copies and firmly solidifying Nirvana’s place not only in the pop spotlight, but in the rock canon as well.
After an initial CD release (DGCD-24425) and a gold reissue from Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (UDCD 666), Nevermind's time to shine as a reissue was 2011, when a variety of 20th anniversary reissues were prepared, including a double-disc deluxe edition (DGC/UMe B0015883-02) featuring all the released B-sides plus various unreleased outtakes and a five-disc super-deluxe box set (DGC/UMe B0015885-00) that added an alternate mix of the album and a live concert on CD and DVD. (The first disc of both sets, which featured just the remastered album and B-sides, was released on its own - DGC/UMe B0015960-02 - as an exclusive to the Target retail chain.)
16. Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks (Columbia, 1975)
Freed from a two-record stint with Asylum and allegedly stewing in the turmoil of his separation with wife Sara, Dylan cut one of the most stunningly confessional LPs of his career, a return to form by which all other returns to form are often judged. "Tangled Up in Blue," "Simple Twist of Fate," "Shelter from the Storm" - it's some of the most nakedly honest stuff the Bard has ever put out.
Blood on the Tracks first made it to CD in the mid-'80s (Columbia CK 33235) and has only ever been remastered once since, and never expanded. The remastering by Greg Calbi was first found as yet another Sony U.K. "Millennium Edition" (Columbia MILLEN16), then on a hybrid SACD (Columbia CH 90323) and regular disc (Columbia CK 92398) in 2003 and 2004.
Later: 15 more to go! Joe tackles The Beatles, Hendrix, Elvis and much more!