It’s the penultimate entry in our list of Rolling Stone‘s greatest albums of all time, as seen through the reissues that have filled our shelves for years. We’ve got some heavy hitters here: Beatles, Stones, Dylan – plus what may be the greatest punk and R&B albums ever.
10. The Beatles, The Beatles (Apple, 1968)
The double-LP the world knows mostly by three other words – “The White Album” – was difficult and unusual inside and out. Most of the songs were conceived during an ultimately aborted transcendental meditation course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; upon returning to Abbey Road, the usually on-point studio vibe had been replaced by a hazier, more dissenting attitude, with Yoko Ono making her first of many stays in the studio with John Lennon and Ringo Starr ultimately quitting the band for two weeks. (Even producer George Martin’s patience and faith in the group was being tested – he even left the band to go on holiday for part of the sessions.) As overblown and full of oddities as the album is, though (I’m looking at you, “Rocky Raccoon”), it’s honestly hard to imagine these 30 tracks presented any other way. Given the album’s presence in the Fab Four’s discography after the monumental Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles remains an incredibly fascinating helping of the band’s already-sterling discography.
Before The Beatles’ catalogue finally made its CD debut in 1987, there was one interesting reissue on vinyl: one from Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (2-072) in 1982. It was the third album by The Fab Four to receive such treatment. The Beatles was certainly part of the major push for the band on CD (Parlophone CDS 7 46443 8), the thick white butterfly case (with printed title, rather than embossed as on the original LP cover) a familiar sight in record stores for years. But this album is one of a few for The Beatles with an “extracurricular release” on CD, repackaged as a 500,000-unit limited, numbered edition in 1998 for its 30th anniversary (Apple 72434 96895 2 7) in a slipcase that better reflected the original packaging (down to the stamped serial number and iconic portrait inserts of John, Paul, George and Ringo). The most recent release, of course, was the 2009 remastered edition, available both in stereo (Apple 09463 82466 2 6) and, for the first time on CD, in mono (Apple 50999 684957 2 5). The mono mix was not released on vinyl much outside of the U.K., and is the last dedicated mono mix of a Beatles LP. It’s of course, only available in the excellent The Beatles in Mono box set (Apple 50999 699451 2 0).
9. Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde (Columbia, 1966)
In 1966, it seemed Bob Dylan wasn’t about to stop trying to surprise people. After being lauded as the greatest thing since sliced bread three years earlier, he kicked folk conventions in the ass for several years, starting with the famed “electric” set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, continuing with the staggering rock records Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited that same year and perhaps culminating with Blonde on Blonde, a sprawling double album (arguably the first major one) that balances somber (“One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” “Just Like a Woman”) with the occasionally humorous (the opening salvo of carnival-music-from-hell “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35”). Frankly, the whole affair is appealingly contradictory, from quintessential New York hipster Dylan’s recording much of the album in Nashville with local session players. But the results are something to praise.
Like many Dylan albums, Blonde on Blonde has been remastered a few times, but never expanded. The premiere CD release was in 1987 (Columbia CGK 841), with a MasterSound gold CD following in 1994 (Columbia CK 64411). Greg Calbi and George Marino worked on, respectively, a standard and 5.1 surround remastering of the album that was released three ways: once on SACD (Columbia CS 841) in 1999, once in 2003 as a hybrid SACD (Columbia CH 90325) and once again in 2004 as a simple CD (Columbia CK 92400). The album has since been included in its original mono mix as part of The Original Mono Recordings box set released in 2010 (Columbia/Legacy 88697 76105-2).
“I never felt so much like…” hitting the jump and checking out our next three entries!
8. The Clash, London Calling (CBS, 1979)
An angry punk record? Well, sort of. To merely label London Calling a punk effort discredits the musical bouquet The Clash bought to their fans on their third album, a harmonious, melodious sampling of roots rock, ska and reggae, straightforward soul and the emaciated frame of punk wrapped around the proceedings. London Calling never loses hope and never runs out of steam, despite the world they were writing about doing so on an almost daily basis.
London Calling was first released on a single CD, without any edits to the double-album playlist, as Epic EGK 36328 (reports alternately claim it was released in 1987 or 1990). It was remastered by Bob Whitney and Ray Staff and reissued with the rest of the Clash catalogue in 1999 (Epic 495347 2 (U.K.), released a year later in the U.S. as Epic EK 63885). Two deluxe editions have followed, one absolutely essential and the other considerably less so. A 25th anniversary Legacy Edition (Epic/Legacy E3K 92923), released in 2004, packed the remastered album with a bonus disc of long-lost, oft-bootlegged alternate master takes of the record, colloquially known as The Vanilla Tapes for the studio (read: rehearsal spot in the back of a garage) they were recorded in. A DVD featuring a new making-of documentary and vintage promo clips rounded out the proceedings. In 2009, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Legacy reissued the album again as a 30th anniversary edition (Epic/Legacy 88697 61839-2), dropping the Vanilla Tapes disc entirely.
7. The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main St. (Rolling Stones, 1972)
Though it’s hard to believe now, Exile is yet another one of those classics that was misunderstood in its day. The murky, rough-hewn double album, recorded in France by a band that was pulling itself in multiple directions, wasn’t exactly the kind of bright, hip-swaying blues fans were used to – but it’s of course since been looked to as a pinnacle of the band’s career. And there’s plenty of masterings to boot: an original, CBS-distributed CD pressing from 1987 (Rolling Stones CGK 40489), the Virgin remaster from 1994, overseen by Bob Ludwig (72435 39524 2 7, also released as a vinyl replica collector’s edition as Virgin 72438 39503 2 4), and an array of deluxe sets in 2010, all remastered by Stephen Marcussen. You had a single disc of the album (Rolling Stones/UMe B0014131-02), a deluxe edition with a bonus disc of unreleased outtakes (Rolling Stones/UMe B0014130-02), a super-deluxe box that included the album on vinyl and a DVD featuring clips of rare and unreleased films Cocksucker Blues and Ladies and Gentlemen…The Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones/UMe B0014170-00) and – if you could track it down at Target – a store-exclusive “Rarities Edition” that just had the bonus disc on its own.
6. Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On (Tamla, 1971)
In the early 1970s, it felt like the world was going to hell. Dissent over an unpopular war, the bitter clash between counterculture and the mainstream, a blooming crisis of natural resources, the lack of trustworthiness among the elected officials who ran the country – it was a dark time most would like to forget. And yet, from that bleak and miserable vacuum came a stunning, focused musical statement on the chaos and a God who observed the increasingly weird world He created – a cathartic album that spoke to millions – all from the mind and heart of a singer best known for his party-ready rhythm and blues music.
Marvin Gaye challenged everyone with What’s Going On, from the public (despite the poppiness of the record, it was also a dense, intricately-arranged song cycle of an album) to his label (Motown founder Berry Gordy famously loathed the record and certainly didn’t appreciate its deviation from typical Motown LPs, in that it wasn’t a set of singles-with-filler and that it also credited the then-largely anonymous Funk Brothers, the band that powered the instrumentals on nearly every hit from Detroit). And it was the first of many times he’d challenge himself, drinking deeply from the well of discontent he found outside and within and creating the first of many priceless R&B albums.
First released on standalone CD in 1986 as part of the “Motown Compact Classics” line (Motown 374 635 339-2) – after a two-fer release with follow-up Let’s Get It On that same year – What’s Going On has been reissued several times since. The first was in 1994, as part of Motown’s Master Series (an ongoing set of catalogue projects and box sets). This version (Motown 314 530 022-2) was remastered by Gavin Lurssen and featured a special package with slipcase and 24-page book of liner notes (including, naturally, an essay by Gaye biographer David Ritz); the remaster was released again in 1998 without the extras (Motown 314 530 883-2).
The album was added to Universal’s Deluxe Edition series in 2001 for its 30th anniversary (Motown 440 013 404-2). This excellent deluxe 2-CD set, remastered by Kevin Reeves, featured the original album, an alternate, unreleased “Detroit” mix, a 1972 live concert, mono single masters and B-sides and an outtake of “Distant Lover,” which appeared on the next album, 1972’s Let’s Get It On. (A year later, the Reeves remaster, with two of the B-sides tacked on, was released as Motown 440 064 022-2. The second disc of this set, devoted to the concert and the single mixes, was released on its own in Universal’s “Rarities Edition” series in 2010, as Motown/UMe B0013813-02.)
In 2008, a hybrid SACD version of the original album was released by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (UDSACD 2038). Finally, in 2011, a “super-deluxe” 2-CD 40th anniversary edition (Motown/UMe B0015552-02) was released, featuring a new remaster by Reeves, all (not some) of the mono single masters, demos and instrumental sessions (some of which are previously unreleased) and the “Detroit” mix on vinyl.
Later: the final five! RS’ greatest albums and the reissues they’ve enjoyed!