Over the past few months you’ve probably heard us mention Vinyl Me Please. The subscription-based record club frequently partners with the major labels to create exclusive pressings from across genres. They also curate Records of the Month for subscribers – available in three tracks: Classics, Essentials, and Hip Hop – specially selected by their staff to spotlight albums of importance in pop, rock, soul, world music, jazz, and beyond. This year, the offerings ran the gamut from The Stooges, Errol Garner, Stevie Nicks, John Mayer, McCoy Tyner, Gabor Szabo, Otis Redding, and Albert King. That’s on top of their immersive Anthology box set series, which this year included volumes for Stax Records, the Zamrock label, and “America’s band,” Grateful Dead. (Box sets celebrating Tribe Records and the career of jazz legend Herbie Hancock are on the way, too. As the holiday season inches closer, we thought we’d give you a look at some of our favorite VMP releases this year. Here’s how these records stack up!
The Stooges, The Stooges (John Cale Mix) (Rhino, originally released 1969/2010 – Essentials, April 2020)
The Stooges’ first album is one of the most raw and immediate albums hinting at what would become known as punk rock. It spoke to a certain way of life that hadn’t quite broken through to the mainstream. The band’s label, Elektra, didn’t know what to do with the Detroit band whose raw abandon just didn’t match up with what the most common record buyers were listening to. Well, the album flopped – but it spawned movements that would change the landscape of music forever. It’s become a thing of legend. But there’s more to the story than the released version of The Stooges. The original version of The Stooges was even more raw. Produced by John Cale, the result was rejected by the label, lost for decades. On vinyl for the first time ever, the Cale Mix was mastered by Bill Inglot with lacquers cut by Bernie Grundman. It comes pressed on red and black marble vinyl, housed in a Stoughton-printed sleeve, and packaged with an LP-sized print of an outtake from the cover photo session. A fantastic pressing beautifully presented, The Stooges (John Cale Mix) is a new, even more abrasive way to experience the album that shook the rock world, as it was intended.
Otis Redding, The Immortal Otis Redding (Rhino, originally released June 1968 – Classics, April 2020)
This collection of session material from one of Otis Redding’s final studio stops in 1967 was originally released in the wake of the soul singer’s untimely death and the success of “(Sittin’ On the) Dock of the Bay.” Unlike some posthumous releases, there’s no barrel-scraping here. The set shows a singer approaching the material (a mix of timeless originals, carefully chosen covers, and arranged standards) with enthusiasm and vitality. Whether it be the aching “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember,” the rockin’ soul of “Hard to Handle” (later popularized by The Black Crowes), or Redding’s version of “Amen,” there’s no shortage of fine material. Here, the material is presented in its original, hard-to-find mono mix, all-analog mastered from the original master tapes. The result is pressed on 180-gram vinyl and housed inside a replica 1968 Atco advertisement sleeve along with a listening notes booklet. It’s all packaged in a matte-finished heavyweight tip-on sleeve. All told, with sound quality and packaging this good, this pressing is a fitting tribute to the legacy of one of soul’s most revered singers.
Stevie Nicks, Bella Donna (Modern/Rhino, originally released 1981 – Essentials, May 2020)
Bella Donna saw the Fleetwood Mac self-appointed frontwoman come into her own. Begun while the Mac were tracking Tusk, it features some of Nicks’ most enduring hits: “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” “Leather and Lace,” and “Edge of Seventeen” among them. Everyone’s in top form. Nicks’ vocals are stunning, and you couldn’t find better guest stars and backing musicians than Tom Petty, Don Henley, Section members Russ Kunkel and Waddy Wachtel, E Street pianist Roy Bittan, Stax legend Duck Dunn, or Elton’s guitarist Davey Johnstone. If you could only have one Stevie Nicks solo album, this would be it. And if you could only own one pressing, it’d be this one. For this edition, Bella Donna has been newly remastered using an all-analog chain, prepared by Ryan Smith (who also cut the lacquers). It’s pressed 180-gram vinyl on a beautiful black and blue “galaxy” colorway which is packaged in a heavyweight tip-on sleeve featuring embossed foil lettering. It doesn’t get better than this.
Errol Garner, Magician (Octave Music/Mack Avenue, originally released 1974 – Classics, May 2020)
When Errol Garner finally ended his relationship with Columbia following a contentious legal battle, the jazz pianist was eager to get back to music. So, he launched Octave Music as a new home. The albums he released on the imprint represent some of the best of his decades-long career, yet on an independent label, the recordings simply got lost in the shuffle. Now, the aptly titled Magician, a 1974 collection of originals, standards and pop tunes that would turn out to be his last, arrived on vinyl through VMP – giving another chance for curious ears to hear what the commotion is about. Whether you’re new to his music or you’re a seasoned aficionado, you’re sure to fall for Garner’s unique style, from his off-kilter renditions of Bacharach and David’s “(They Long to Be) Close To You” and the Warren-Dubin standard “I Only Have Eyes for You,” or his own tender “Nightwinds” and bluesy, striding “One Good Turn.” All the music has been newly remastered from analog master tapes, run through the Plangent Process for cleanup and speed fixing, and cut by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound. The result was pressed onto 180-gram vinyl at Furnace outside Washington, DC. It’s all housed in a handsome tip-on sleeve alongside an booklet with notes by jazz expert Ted Gioia.
The White Stripes, De Stijl (SFTRI/Third Man Records, originally released June 2000 – Essentials, June 2020)
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of The White Stripes’ sophomore album, VMP teamed up with Jack White and Third Man Records for a special remaster and reissue. Named after the Dutch art movement (and dedicated in part to one of the movement’s principal members, Gerrit Rietvelt), this cult favorite sleeper hit didn’t get the national attention it deserved until the band signed with a major label a couple years later. Inside is a brilliantly sequenced album with homages to the punk aesthetic, bite-sized Who-like power-pop, rockabilly, country, baroque pop, and plenty of blues-rock (just check out the harmonica solo on “Hello Operator” and the slide-guitar swagger of “Little Bird”). Jack and Meg White not only deliver stellar performances of Jack’s original compositions, but also dig deep with covers of Son House’s “Death Letter” and Blind Willie McTell’s “Your Southern Can Is Mine.” Throughout, they strike a balance between the modern, the classic, and the downright down-home. The new reissue is pressed on black-and-red splatter vinyl and is presented in a beautiful sleeve that boasts restored album artwork and gorgeous foil blocking. Inside is an exclusive art print of the band and a booklet with lyrics and liner notes.
Albert King, King Does The King’s Things (Stax/Craft Recordings, originally released 1969 – Classics, June 2020)
On this album, first released on Stax in 1969, one King tips his hat to another, and in doing so reminds listeners that it’s the blues that form the roots of rock and roll. Here, blues guitarist Albert King lends his inimitable style to songs that were made famous (though in some cases not originally recorded by) Elvis Presley. Among them: a fiery “Hound Dog,” a horn-led “That’s All Right” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” and a soulful “Heartbreak Hotel” that proves King’s blues are a perfect match for the material. A curious and often overlooked title in the Stax catalog, King Does The King’s Things exemplifies the cultural exchange that went on in Memphis – and, indeed across America and the world – during the fifties through to today. In today’s culture, it not only serves as a fine selection of recordings, but a conversation-starter on the roots of music and who’s laid claim to it. This pressing has been all-analog mastered from original tapes by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound, pressed at QRP, and housed in a tip-on sleeve with a listening notes essay that discusses the impact of King’s blues on the man christened the king of rock and roll, and the album’s place in the Stax label’s history.
John Mayer, Continuum (Columbia/Legacy, originally released 2006 – Essentials, July 2020)
John Mayer’s Continuum was his third album and artistic breakthrough. With enduring hits like “Gravity,” “Belief,” and “Waiting On the World To Change,” Mayer’s album brought him a new level of fame and notoriety while showcasing the scope of his songwriting and guitar-wielding talents, all in an approachable, alternately adult-contemporary and hard-rocking, package. The LP presentation reprises the special art created for the original 2008 vinyl pressing with a spot-varnished portrait of the musician on the front and printed inner sleeves. Inside are two slabs of light blue vinyl. For its first vinyl issue in a decade, the album was remastered by Mike Piacentini at Battery Studios with lacquers cut by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound. This master was plated at QRP and pressed at GZ. The result is a perfectly flat pressing and dynamic sound throughout – an excellent presentation of an album that’s become woven into our culture.
Buena Vista Social Club, Buena Vista Social Club (BMG/World Circuit, originally released 1997 – Essentials, August 2020)
For its first U.S. vinyl reissue, VMP teamed up BMG/World Circuit to create the ultimate pressing of this genre-redefining masterpiece. The Cuban ensemble came together –some choosing to come out of retirement – in 1996 under the direction of Nick Gold and with production handled by Ry Cooder (who arrived by way of Mexico to avoid the travel embargo that the States had against Cuba). Over six days together, they recorded a set of songs that put the spotlight back on the music of pre-revolution Cuba and the popular styles of trova, filin, guajira and bolero. It was all done using 1950s-era recording equipment. Upon release, the album was lauded for its cross-cultural blend, the love and respect shown for the material and the players, and the incredible music within. It’s only right that during this vinyl boom we’re in, this essential Cuban album be given the treatment it’s due. VMP’s issue has been remastered and cut by legendary engineer Bernie Grundman, pressed on brick red vinyl, and housed in a textured reverse board jacket alongside an art print and 20-page booklet with lyrics and notes by Ry Cooder. It’s truly the ultimate presentation of this quintessential album.
Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space (Fat Possum, originally released 1997 – Essentials, September 2020)
As the first album released after VMP announced a price increase, all eyes were on how this sought-after vinyl reissue would stack up against the others. The packaging of this ’90s experimental rock classic was second to none with foil details, gorgeous ink work, a heavy stock gatefold sleeve. It’s only bested by the music inside, a dreamy mélange of epic spacey psych-rock that sees the narrator grappling with love and loss. It’s all pressed on “deep space” blue vinyl, remastered from original masters for its first-ever artist-approved pressing on the medium.
OutKast, Stankonia (Arista/Legacy, originally released 2000 — Essentials, October 2020)
OutKast’s career-changing Stankonia celebrated its 20th anniversary in style with VMP’s black and white “galaxy” vinyl issue. The Atlanta duo’s fourth effort was more experimental and far-reaching than 1998’s Aquemini, with psychedelic interludes and assists from talents like Erykah Badu, J-Sweet, B-Real, Killer Mike, Khujo Goodie, CeeLo Green, and more. Its trio of hits – the chart-topping “Ms. Jackson” (featuring an iconic Shuggie Otis-interpolating chorus), “B.O.B.,” and “So Fresh, So Clean” – proved that the audiences approved of the pair’s daring mix of styles and their worldly commentary on politics and relationships. The double album has been newly remastered and cut by Ryan K. Smith, plated at QRP, and pressed at GZ for this special anniversary issue. It’s housed in a gatefold tip-on sleeve with foil debossed lettering, along with a new art print.
Gabor Szabo, Dreams (Skye/Modern Harmonic, originally released 1968 — Classics October 2020)
This immensely satisfying reissue presents one of jazz guitar’s greatest purveyors, Hungarian-born Gabor Szabo, in a new creative space. His ethereal Dreams is a masterpiece in his career, blending his unique guitar style with European folk, pop, jazz, and classical forms. Truly unlike any other album you’ll ever hear, it now sounds even better. The QRP-pressed, 180-gram disc is all-analog mastered from original analog tapes and the result is a perfectly flat, very dynamic pressing that’s sure to please.
Erykah Badu, Mama’s Gun (Motown/Universal, originally released 2000 — Essentials, November 2020)
Released only a few weeks after Stankonia, Erykah Badu’s sophomore studio album cemented the artist as one of neo-soul’s foremost and most exploratory figures. Here she sings candidly about personal issues, her relationships, and the world around her, a more immediate style than on her debut. Along the way, we hear from Betty Wright (who receives a co-writing credit on “AD 2000”), Roy Hargrove, Doc Gibbs, Questlove, Pino Palladino, Roy Ayers, and many other talented musicians. The Platinum-selling double-album now arrives on scarlet and gold vinyl (one color per disc) in a gatefold sleeve complete with foil blocking details, lyrics, and a new art print featuring a portrait of Badu. The music has been remastered and cut by Barry Grint at Alchemy Mastering, London using original masters as the source.
McCoy Tyner, Sahara (Milestones/Craft Recordings, originally released 1972 – Classics, July 2020)
McCoy Tyner – the former sideman for John Coltrane’s Classic Quintet – and legendary pianist in his own right was after something new in 1972. His search found him linking up with new performers and embracing pan-African rhythms, Eastern chord changes, and instruments from around the world. The resulting Sahara marked a shift in his career, one that’s once again given a spotlight with VMP’s 180-gram vinyl reissue. On the opener, “Ebony Queen,” Tyner and the band weave a free-flowing piece based on a catchy theme. They stretch it out into all directions and shapes – Tyner delivering his well-known chord clusters throughout – remaining experimental at all times, but never alienating. “Prayer for My Family” opens with a pentatonic theme and builds to a dynamic, lightning-paced fury. The instrumentalist shifts to the koto for the meditative “Valley of Life” before a thrilling piece called “Rebirth,” featuring rapid-fire drums, wailing sax, underpinned by Tyner’s cluster chords. This leads the way to a side-long epic that incorporates instruments as diverse as flutes, gourds, thumb piano. Yet for as cross-cultural as this music – and its mission – is, Sahara never feels like “world music.” It doesn’t sound like a force melding of disparate musical forms. Here, world music is organic, soulful, and endlessly interesting. Especially as it is newly remastered from the original tapes in an all-analog process.
One of the most satisfying releases of the year was VMP’s Anthology box set celebrating The Grateful Dead. VMP’s Anthology box sets are typically designed to serve as an introduction to a musical institution: whether a record label like Stax, Motown, Zamrock, Tribe; or a legendary musical figure like Herbie Hancock (set to arrive in 2021). For the Grateful Dead box set, VMP curated a 14-LP box set collecting four studio albums and four live recordings released between 1969 and 1990. These are the psych-jam Live/Dead (presented in its original mix), the country-inspired Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, the fan-favorite Europe ’72, the career-redefining Wake Of The Flood and Terrapin Station, plus the all-acoustic concert recording Reckoning and the late-period live album Without a Net. These new pressings are not reissues of existing remasters. Instead, each has been remastered for VMP by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, cut in an all-analog chain from the original master tapes (except for Without A Net, sourced from the original digital masters). Each LP is pressed on a different color vinyl disc at QRP. As can be expected from QRP and Bellman, these pressings are uniformly dynamic and quiet, aside from a couple ticks on side A of Live/Dead.
All albums are presented in restored sleeves that feature a matte finish in place of any textures used on original pressings. Some purists may miss those details, but the choice keeps things consistent and differentiates these from other pressings. All the albums are held in a handsomely designed slipcase with spot-varnished artwork against a blue background. It’s a gorgeous and glossy presentation that truly feels “deluxe.” Inside you’ll find a booklet with liner notes on each album, written by musicians influenced by the Grateful Dead. They reflect on their personal journeys with the band’s music and invite listeners into the world of the Dead. There are also plenty of photos of the band and even a reprint Grateful Dead newsletter inside the booklet.
But, unlike other box sets that start and end with music and liner notes, the VMP Anthology Grateful Dead collection goes to great lengths to extend the experience and build a space for listeners to gather. You get access to podcasts, a Facebook discussion group, live Q&A sessions with Grateful Dead experts, and readings about the band. It’s all very much in line with the communal interaction that’s central to The Grateful Dead’s ethos.
Now, considering this is a premium product, it’s worth pointing out some of the minor issues with the box. The slight ticks on Side A of Live/Dead are enough to briefly take the listener out of the world of the music, and while it’s not the end of the world, there were some marks on the sleeves for Without A Net and American Beauty as well as a minor bend in the booklet. These minor production issues are outweighed by the great pressings and listeners can be assured that any issues can be addressed by the company’s customer service team, but given the price tag attached to these sets, it would be even better if QC was a bit more focused.
Still, it’s clear that Vinyl Me Please has offered an array of diverse issues for their Records of the Month and Anthology releases, not to mention their frequent “store drop” standalone pressings, and they remain a leader in the vinyl community. If you want to give the gift of vinyl this year, you’ll want to take a look at Vinyl Me Please’s online shop — where they offer individual titles and gift cards — or consider giving the gift of a VMP membership. The vinyl lover in your life will thank you.