Happy New Year, and welcome to The Second Disc’s Sixth Annual Gold Bonus Disc Awards!
As with every year’s awards, our goals are simple: to recognize as many of the year’s most essential reissues and catalogue titles as possible, and to celebrate as many of those labels, producers and artists who make these releases happen in an increasingly-challenging retail landscape. The labels you’ll read about below have, by and large, bucked the trends to prove that there’s still a demand for physical catalogue music that you can purchase in brick-and-mortar stores. And from our vantage point, there’s still great strength and health in our corner of the music industry. By my estimate, The Second Disc covered roughly 500 releases in 2015 – and we have no reason to believe that number will decrease in the year ahead. We dedicate The Gold Bonus Disc Awards to the behind-the-scenes creators and, of course, the artists of the music and releases we cover, to the dedicated retailers who continue to support catalogue titles, and most importantly, to you, our readers. After all, your interest is ultimately what keeps great music of the past – this site’s raison d’etre – alive and well.
This year, we’re trying a slightly different approach: The Gold Bonus Disc Awards, From A to Z! And the winners are…
America, Archives Vol. 1 (America Records)
America recently surprised fans and collectors alike with a first-of-its-kind vault collection. Archives Vol. 1 was drawn from Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek’s classic early run of Warner Bros. albums including those produced by Sir George Martin. Packed with alternate takes, mixes, demos and outtakes of the band’s still-cherished songs including “A Horse with No Name” and “Ventura Highway,” Archives Vol. 1 is a worthy celebration of some of the most enduring pop-rock melodies of the 1970s. Read more here.
David Bowie has been on a roll lately, with a new off-Broadway musical and a new album due in stores next week. Parlophone looked back on his legendary career with a lavish, beautifully-packaged box set collecting his 1969-1973 albums in high style. Five Years, alas, dropped many of the rare bonus tracks associated with these classic albums on past reissues, using its bonus disc to present period singles (some new to CD). But Five Years – from sound quality to its oversized, painstakingly recreated mini-LP jackets to its beautiful hardcover book – is top-notch in every respect and a worthy addition to any Bowie fan’s shelf. Read more here.
Sony Masterworks revived Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban’s classic score to 1975’s A Chorus Line in a generously expanded edition featuring never-before-heard, fly-on-the-wall demos that illuminated the creative process behind the making of this singular sensation. These bonus tracks alone are worth the price of admission on this reissue which also contains fine new essays in its stellar booklet. It’s a tribute to the talents of the musical’s late creators Michael Bennett, Nicholas Dante, James Kirkwood, Ed Kleban, and of course, Marvin Hamlisch. Read more here.
The end of 2015 brought some of the year’s most impressive box sets, including Bruce Springsteen’s The Ties That Bind: The River Collection from Legacy Recordings’ sister label Columbia Records. But no box was arguably more impressive than this collection from Bob Dylan, shedding light on the fertile creative period that yielded the renowned albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. Available in 2-CD, 6-CD, and 18-CD configurations, The Cutting Edge lives up to its title with its full portrait of a legendary artist in his unquestioned prime. Read more here.
Nobody does complete collections like the Bear Family label, and this new collection (recently nominated for a Grammy Award) is one of its finest. Tennessee Ernie Ford was a superstar in his day whose contributions to popular music have been overlooked in recent years; this beautifully packaged and annotated 5-CD collection of his earliest secular recordings on Capitol Records sets out to reestablish his place in the country and pop firmament, and succeeds mightily. Read more here.
Ace Records had another winning year in 2015, turning out amazing collections in its Songwriters and Producers series from Bert Berns, Brian Wilson, Goffin and King, Greenwich and Barry, and others, and also continuing to mine the Classic Motown vaults. In the latter category came the top-notch compilation Love and Affection: More Motown Girls as well as this rare anthology from the underrated Fantastic Four. No classic soul fan can afford to miss this collection of some of the best, and most unknown music, to come out of Detroit between 1968 and 1971 including fourteen previously unreleased sides. Read more here.
This beautiful 3-CD collection is not only the most momentous collection of Bee Gees-related recordings in over a decade but a welcome reminder of the prodigious musical gifts of the late Robin Gibb. Featuring expanded versions of Robin’s Reign and the shelved Sing Slowly Sisters as well as more than a full disc of never-before-heard odds and ends from a gifted and artistically searching singer-songwriter, Saved by the Bell adds up to a pop treasure trove. Read more here.
The various Cherry Red labels gave us so many rare treasures this year, including the exemplary deluxe reissue of Anthony Phillips’ The Geese and the Ghost; rare singles collections from White Plains and Vanity Fare; a deluxe, expanded reissue from Basia; and many, many other titles we’ve spotlighted throughout the year at The Second Disc. But this release from sixties Brit pop girl Anita Harris was one of our favorites, and exactly the kind of “lost” album too infrequently reissued today. Harris’ 1970 visit to Jumbleland – expanding the original Anita in Jumbleland album with non-LP singles – was a most enjoyable one on this new CD! Read more here.
One of the year’s most thrilling packages was this collection of mighty soul music from The Isley Brothers. The RCA Victor and T-Neck Masters collected all of the Brothers’ albums for both labels in generously expanded editions featuring rare and previously unreleased material including an entire shelved live-in-the-studio album. With top-notch remastering, annotation and artwork, this release looms large among the best of 2015. Read more here.
Harbinger Records had quite a year for musical theatre fanatics thanks to its superb Songwriter Showcase Series. A volume devoted to Cy Coleman featured the Broadway piano man’s singular fusion of jazz, pop and theatricality. Then, later in the year, Harbinger released a 2-CD treasure trove from the one and only John Kander, composer of Cabaret, Chicago and the immortal “(Theme From) New York, New York.” Kander’s timeless, varied and indelible melodies have become a part of the American pop culture firmament as this amazing collection so excitingly reveals through its never-before-heard vintage demos and new recordings of both familiar and long-lost Kander tunes (many with his longtime writing partner Fred Ebb) from nearly 20 of his musicals. Kander and the late Ebb are heard alongside Anita Gillette, Karen Ziemba, Elena Shaddow and others on this indispensable and altogether delicious anthology from one of the all-time songwriting greats in any genre.
Sundazed displayed the versatility of the New Jersey band best-known for its British Invasion-esque nugget “Lies” with this expansive 4-CD, 80-song collection featuring a number of arrangements by Leon Russell and songs by Tony Hatch, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Roger Miller, Rodgers and Hammerstein and many other top names. You’ll hear hits, misses, demos and rarities on this set which also includes a terrific 40-page booklet recounting the whole Knickerbockers story. Read more here.
Bear Family hardly slowed down in 2015 with releases like the aforementioned Tennessee Ernie Ford set and a hits-packed collection from Herman’s Hermits premiering the band’s classic songs in true stereo. But the most impressive Bear Family box this year was this massive 18-CD box set including two 300-page books (!). Spanning the period of 1956-1963, this one-of-a-kind box boasts 623 (!!) tracks with more than 100 previously unheard tracks! Yup, that’s every mono and stereo version as well as overdubbed titles. Needless to say, this is a killer – make that Killer – set for any rock-and-roll diehard.
Chicago’s other famous horn band celebrated its 50th anniversary with this impressive 4-CD/1-DVD set. The commemorative limited edition release Last Band Standing shows The Ides of March as far more than a mere one-hit wonder (though that major hit was the enduring “Vehicle”), packed with masterful and melodic gems in pop, rock, country and soul idioms and numerous new-to-CD tracks including those from the Ides’ RCA Victor years. The Ides are still rockin’ today, and this set is the perfect celebration of their lasting legacy. Read more here.
The various Demon Music Group labels turned out many multi-disc packages this year, from Edsel’s Belinda Carlisle and Stock-Aitken-Waterman collections to Driven by the Music’s new Donna Summer singles box. Equally stellar album reissues arrived, too, from artists including Kiki Dee and Bill Wyman. One of the finest Demon titles was this release from the Harmless label, a remarkable 10-disc (8 CDs and 2 DVDs) “time capsule” devoted to the northern soul genre. If you’re only looking for one title to get you onto the dancefloor in the New Year, here it is! Read more here.
The Omnivore label resumed its telling of the Buck Owens story with this second volume of its Buck ‘Em series. Indeed, the Bakersfield, CA country superstar bucked all trends and remained true to himself during the 1967-1975 period chronicled on this 2-CD, 50-track release. Owens took advantage of the changing musical tastes to stretch out artistically without having to be too concerned with chart success; the results added up to some of his most adventurous and energetic music. With familiar songs like “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” and a live version of “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” alongside new-to-CD rarities, album tracks, key singles and duets with Susan Raye and soul singer Bettye Swann as well as covers of “Johnny B. Goode” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Buck ‘Em! fully captures what made the singer-songwriter-musician and his Buckaroos so special. Buck himself narrates the proceedings via the liner notes derived from his posthumously-published autobiography. Read more here.
Real Gone Music continued to deliver the most eclectic slate in the catalogue field in 2015, with an unparalleled slate of reissues and compilations in every genre conceivable. We were proud to launch Second Disc Records with Real Gone in 2015 and work with the label’s amazing team on other titles by truly timeless artists including Lesley Gore, Perry Como, Dusty Springfield, Jackie DeShannon and Glen Campbell. But outside of our work with Real Gone, the label issued too many amazing releases to count, from artists like Steppenwolf, King Curtis, and Nat King Cole, as well as Peggy Lee – subject of this 2-CD collection of never-before-heard radio performances. One of the year’s most historically significant releases and a delightful addition to the sultry singer’s discography, At Last: The Lost Radio Recordings showcases the artistry of one of America’s all-time finest and most distinctive singers. Read more here.
The phrase “lost classic” is bandied about often, but one title that actually qualifies is musician-sculptor Ron Nagle’s 1970 Warner Bros. release Bad Rice. Omnivore came to the rescue of the long-neglected Bad Rice in 2015 with a more-than-good 2-CD reissue (including a full disc of demos and rarities) of this Quirky singer-songwriter album helmed by the late, great Jack Nitzsche. This helping of Bad Rice left listeners wanting more! Read more here.
Though the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame still hasn’t, Now Sounds gave Paul Revere and the Raiders their full due with this deluxe, expanded mono reissue of the band’s 1967 classic blending rock and R&B with the West Coast pop sound courtesy of co-producer Terry Melcher and the musicians of The Wrecking Crew. Showcasing the Raiders in the post-Volk/Levin/Smith era (though Drake Levin is heard on the album), Revolution! remains a high-octane slice of spirited rock-and-roll, Summer of Love-style. Read more here.
Walt Disney Records had one of its most archival-minded years in recent memory, continuing its strong Legacy Collection series on CD and releasing what’s likely the most lavish box set in the label’s history. This eight-volume, sixteen-LP collection contains the soundtracks for each one of Walt Disney’s groundbreaking Silly Symphonies shorts as originally released between 1929 and 1939. With detailed liner notes, retro Disneyland Records graphics and superb sound restoration, this box set proved to be manna for Disney collectors and soundtrack fans alike. Read more here.
Rhino released a number of fine box sets in 2015 including titles from Faces and the Velvet Underground. Among the best, however, was the deluxe set dedicated to dissecting Fleetwood Mac’s oft-misunderstood follow-up to Rumours. With demos, outtakes, alternates, live performances and a surround mix of the original album, the 5-CD/1-DVD/2-LP Tusk gave this cult classic LP its full due. Read more here.
Big Break Records continues to set the bar high for the best in R&B, soul and disco. Highlights of the year included releases from Gloria Gaynor, The Spinners, and Ashford and Simpson, as well as this never-before-on-CD release from Philadelphia International Records’ house band, MFSB. The Philly soul gem Universal Love followed the BBR blueprint of bonus tracks, copious new liner notes, upgraded sound and elegant design, making for one of the year’s finest individual album reissues. The leading lights of the BBR team also made more noteworthy projects a reality for another label, Groove Line Records. Watch this space soon for a feature on Groove Line’s latest and greatest! Read more here.
In 2015, Legacy Recordings acquired (most of) the catalogue of Van Morrison, releasing his library digitally and introducing a volume of the long-running Essential series. But the most exciting release from the Morrison/Legacy union so far is this this 3-CD, 79-track anthology dedicated to Morrison’s first band, Them. The Belfast-formed garage rockers’ complete discography was compiled along with a full disc of demos, session material and rarities, adding up to the first look at Them that can be considered truly exhaustive. The icing on the cake? Van the Man himself supplied the detailed liner notes, expressing a sometimes-surprising fondness for his earliest musical endeavors. Read more here.
A massive treat came this Black Friday in the form of Diana Ross Sings Songs from The Wiz, the latest vault discovery from the Classic Motown team. This never-before-released album was a revelation, showcasing the dynamism, range and tremendous versatility of Miss Ross’ voice as she performed all the roles in Charlie Smalls’ timeless Broadway score with power and verve. And that wasn’t all…! Just days later, an expanded edition of The Supremes’ Merry Christmas also arrived to ring in the holiday season. It was a Supreme way to cap off 2015…with appetites sufficiently whetted for what’s coming in the next twelve months! Read more about Songs from The Wiz here!
The Frank Sinatra centennial celebration didn’t offer much for collectors until this incredible and, indeed, eXcellent box came along from Legacy Recordings. A Voice on Air premiered nearly 100 recordings in ear-opening sound on four CDs all drawn from the future Chairman of the Board’s early radio appearances. This, of course, was the period in which Sinatra was simply The Voice – and the abundant gifts he brought to the art of popular singing are heard here even as the box traces the development and maturation of his style. No fan of the American songbook should miss this one. Read more here.
The Disco Years (abridged as simply Disco) box set – available in both CD and Blu-ray Audio formats – presented three seminal remastered and expanded albums from the one and only Grace Jones, all produced by Tom Moulton: Portfolio (1977), Fame (1978) and Muse (1979). This stylish, era-defining trilogy of vibrant, campy, theatrical and bold dance platters signified a stunningly original major talent and paved the way for Jones’ 1981 breakthrough Nightclubbing.
The new 7a Records label, dedicated to all things Monkees-related, launched in 2015 with this lovingly-curated deluxe vinyl (and DD) release of Micky Dolenz’s long-lost 45s for the MGM, Lion and Romar labels. The reissue of these ten diverse single sides (including a production by Harry Nilsson, some arrangements from Peter Tork and songs by Randy Newman and Buddy Holly!) filled in a major gap in Dolenz’s discography, and 7a followed that up with the first-ever CD reissue of The First Bobby Hart Solo Album from one-half of the legendary songwriting team of Boyce and Hart. We can’t wait to see what 7a has planned for the New Year!
By presenting a newly-remixed and remastered edition of the familiar Beatles 1 album with a collection of beautifully-restored short films and video clips for each song (numbering 27 for the standard editions and 50 for the deluxe editions), also in newly-mixed 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround sound, 1+ offered an feast for the eyes and ears in extraordinary quality. Only the most hard-hearted Fab fan could have been disappointed with this exuberant set. Read more here.
We enjoyed a number of terrific releases from Varese Sarabande this year from Cilla Black, Rod McKuen, Charlie Rich, and many, many more. But among the label’s biggest surprises were two vintage best-of compilations from producer Tommy “Snuff” Garrett featuring his large instrumental ensemble (including Laurindo Almeida and Tommy Tedesco on lead guitars) on a wide variety of pop hits. Snuff Garrett passed away on December 16 at the age of 77. His rich musical legacy – including productions for artists like Gary Lewis and the Playboys (“This Diamond Ring”), Cher (“Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves,” “Half Breed”), and Vicki Lawrence (“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”) – will, of course, live forever. The 50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett shows another facet of this multi-talented music man. We won’t forget you, Snuff.
Of course, we couldn’t recognize every amazing release of 2015, especially in a year which brought so many incredible titles. We urge you to seek out the equally stellar catalogue titles which arrived from Judy Garland, Carl Wilson, Timi Yuro, Rumer, The Royal Jesters, Paul McCartney, Led Zeppelin, John Coltrane, a-ha and so many others, not to mention the ongoing, always-herculean work of our favorite film score specialist labels including Kritzerland, Intrada, La-La Land Records and Varese Sarabande.
And while our own Second Disc Records releases were, of course, not eligible for inclusion in our above list, we do hope that some of them made your personal Best Of lists for 2015! We’re already hard at work on 2016’s slate, and we’re hopeful that you will find our upcoming releases as exciting as we do! Watch this space for more announcements soon.
We dedicate this year’s Gold Bonus Disc Awards to those talents we lost in 2015 including Snuff Garrett, Natalie Cole, Allen Toussaint, Cilla Black, Lesley Gore, Rod McKuen, Lynn Anderson, Billy Joe Royal, P.F. Sloan, Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister, Chris Squire, James Horner, Ornette Coleman, Clark Terry, Cynthia Robinson, James Last, Billy Sherrill, B.B. King, Ben E. King, Percy Sledge, Scott Weiland, Jimmy Greenspoon, Cory Wells, Andy Fraser, Errol Brown, Orrin Keepnews, Al Abrams, William Guest, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Lee, Dean Jones, and Anne Meara.