Welcome to The Weekend Stream, a relaxing weekly review of notable digital-only catalogue titles. There may be no CD or vinyl, but there's plenty of great new/old music to discover! This week we've got a U2 digital box set, soulful rarities from The Isley Brothers and Ramsey Lewis, and the return of a cute Christmas favorite.
U2, Achtung Baby (30th Anniversary Edition) (Island/UMe) (iTunes / Amazon / Spotify)
Alongside a new vinyl pressing of the album that hurtled U2 into the '90s and back into superstardom, U2 have digitally premiered a huge chunk of the 2011 super deluxe box set they issued in support of Achtung Baby. The original album, featuring classics like "One" and "Even Better Than the Real Thing," is paired with three discs' worth of 22 vintage or rare mixes and 16 B-sides. (Included in the physical box but not here: a remaster of 1993 follow-up album Zooropa and a "kindergarten" disc of early versions of the songs on the album.)
Lou Monte, Dominick the Donkey (The Italian Christmas Donkey) 2021 Stereo Mix (Warner Music/X5) (iTunes / Amazon / Spotify)
"Ay, Jing-a-di-jing, hee haw hee haw / it's Dominick the Donkey!" Lou Monte's 1960 Christmas novelty song about a braying pack animal that helps Santa traverse the hills of Italy has been a favorite novelty of countless generations, even notching an impressive No. 3 in the U.K. more than four decades later following a campaign to make it a Christmas No. 1. The original Roulette Records single (including B-side "Christmas At Our House") is digitally available with a surprising bonus track: a brand-new stereo mix of the song!
The Isley Brothers, In the Beginning (T-Neck) (iTunes / Amazon / Spotify)
Amidst The Isley Brothers' first brushes with success - 1959's rock/soul/gospel rave-up "Shout" on RCA Records, 1962's "Twist and Shout" and a 1966 Top 40 for Motown, "This Old Heart of Mine (is Weak for You)" - O'Kelly, Rudolph and Ronnie Isley took the unusual step of putting their record business matters into their own hands with a self-started label, T-Neck Records. Signing distribution deals with the likes of Buddah and CBS in the late '60s and early '70s, they'd finally get their due as recording artists - but early T-Neck singles like "Testify" and "Move Over and Let Me Dance," initially distributed by Atlantic, never found a home on the charts. Soon after, the guitarist on several of these singles, then known as Jimmy James, departed the Isleys' employ to keep striking out on his own. By 1967, Jimi Hendrix would of course be a household name - and after his death in 1970, all the Atlantic-distributed singles were collected onto a Buddah-distributed album that's slid in and out of print over time (most recently included in a career-spanning box from Legacy Recordings, who'd by then also assumed distribution of Hendrix's catalogue). It's now got a permanent home on digital channels, and even with its original cover art.
Ramsey Lewis, Sun Goddess EP (Columbia) (iTunes / Amazon / Spotify)
Chicago jazz pianist extraordinaire Ramsey Lewis made an unexpected run on the pop and soul charts in 1974 with Sun Goddess, an album that reunited Lewis with his former drummer Maurice White, who'd gone on to create a group of his own: a massive R&B/funk combo called Earth, Wind & Fire. Several of White's EWF compatriots appear on Sun Goddess, including brother and bassist Verdine White, singer/percussionist Philip Bailey, saxophonist Don Myrick and co-producer Charles Stepney (who handled some guitar duties on Lewis' work). This pleasant little three-track bundle includes U.S. and U.K. single edits of the Maurice White co-write title track (a Top 20 R&B hit that just missed the pop Top 40) and a cut-down of its B-side "Jungle Strut."
Various Artists, Philadelphia International Records: The John Morales M+M Mixes (Philadelphia International Records/Legacy) (iTunes / Amazon / Spotify)
John Morales' larger-than-life extended dance mixes have filled club floors for decades, and in the early '00s, the BBE label showcased scores of them on his own compilations - including never-before-heard reworks of Philly legends like Teddy Pendergrass, The Jones Girls, Jean Carn and MFSB. As part of Legacy Recordings' ongoing Philadelphia International Records 50th anniversary campaign, this digital collection offers 10 great mixes that run nearly two hours total.
Shy Talk, Shy Talk (Columbia) (iTunes / Amazon / Spotify)
Finally, this one-off curio from short-lived Manchester rockers Shy Talk is as interesting for what it could have been. Before a name and personnel change, the group was called Motivation, and featured Buzzcocks bassist Steve Garvey and ex-Durutti Column guitarist Dave Rowbotham. Both would be out of the band by the time Shy Talk's debut (produced by Pete Solley of Procol Harum fame) ddropped in 1985 and vanished without a trace; only vocalist Dave Price was still in the quartet.
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