Happy 2022! Welcome, friends, to The Second Disc's 12th Annual Gold Bonus Disc Awards!
Once again, we've all faced unprecedented challenges over the past twelve months. A year that began with hope and promise has ended with further uncertainty for many of us. But music continues to fill a significant role in our lives, providing solace, comfort, and escape in a time unlike any other. With that spirit in mind, The Second Disc wishes to recognize 2021's cream of the catalogue music crop - those exemplary reissues and box sets big and small that proved to be truly outstanding for music lovers worldwide. Despite the many delays caused by COVID-19, there was no shortage of worthy reissue titles in 2021.
After much deliberation, we're excited to unveil our favorites. This isn't your run-of-the-mill Top 10, however. To cover as much ground and spotlight as many titles as we can, we've organized 26 of our favorites from A to Z, and included some additional titles that were just too good to leave out. (And while our own Second Disc Records releases such as Michael Nesmith's Different Drum: The Lost RCA Victor Recordings and the Toomorrow soundtrack) were, of course, ineligible, we hope those made your own personal best-of lists!) It was a very good year across multiple genres: we've got rock, pop, jazz, soul, hip-hop, classical, soundtracks, musicals, and more here.
As always, The Gold Bonus Disc Awards are dedicated to the artists, labels, and behind-the-scenes producers, engineers, and writers who continue to prove the value in physical releases of catalogue music. We also want to thank all the brick-and-mortar stores who have endured countless hardships over the last twelve months but still remain dedicated to bringing these fantastic titles to listeners everywhere. Most importantly, we want to recognize you, our readers, for your lasting support and good conversation. Our hearts are with the first responders, healthcare and essential workers, and families of all whose lives who have been impacted by the scourge of COVID-19.
Without any further ado, here's Part One of TSD's A-to-Z list of our favorite reissues of the year, spanning A-M. Look for Part Two (covering N-Z) tomorrow!
- Joe, Mike, and Randy
Almost Famous: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (UMe)
One of the year's most exciting surprises was this belated 20th anniversary celebration of Cameron Crowe's Academy Award-winning instant classic Almost Famous, presenting its classic rock soundtrack in near-complete form as a 5-CD or 6-LP set as well as in shorter highlights versions and an Uber Deluxe box containing all of the music on CD and vinyl. The 5CD and 6LP sets feature five - yes, five! - Led Zeppelin songs plus tracks by other typically difficult-to-license artists including Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, and Stevie Wonder. That's not to mention new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Todd Rundgren, The Beach Boys, Cat Stevens, Deep Purple, The Raspberries, and of course, Elton John who is represented by a true Almost Famous version of "Tiny Dancer" featuring the film's cast. Previously unreleased live tracks from Steely Dan and Neil Young are among the many treats here. The packaging of the 5CD/7LP "Uber Deluxe" box is appropriately grand with loads of swag from the movie's fictional band Stillwater and a hardcover notebook with Crowe's liner notes, replica Ticketron ticket stubs, and much more that will get you in the '70s mood in no time. Even with no knowledge of the parent film, this soundtrack is a powerful listen from start to finish. Get more details here! - JM
The Beach Boys, Feel Flows: The Sunflower and Surf's Up Sessions 1969-1971 (Capitol/UMe)
The hotly-anticipated Feel Flows: The Sunflower and Surf's Up Sessions 1969-1971, a hardcover book-style set released in 5-CD, 4-LP (standard black and translucent blue/translucent gold), 2-LP, and 2-CD editions (as well as digitally), didn't disappoint. The sprawling box explores the most adventurous and experimental period of the Beach Boys' long history in compelling and comprehensive fashion. The 5-CD set features fully remastered versions of the original Sunflower (1970) and Surf's Up (1971) albums - the band's first two post-Capitol LPs as originally issued Brother Records via Reprise - plus copious outtakes, live recordings, alternate takes and mixes, and more for a total of 133 tracks. Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston were all coming into their own within the group even as Brian Wilson was closing out the band's "golden age" with stunning songs every bit the equal of his prodigious 1960s output. The Beach Boys never sounded more like a self-contained band than in the era of Sunflower and Surf's Up (and continuing to Carl and the Passions - So Tough and Holland, hopefully the subjects of the band's next box set). With the release of Feel Flows, this fertile period of ambition and unbridled creativity finally has a definitive chronicle. "It's About Time," indeed. Read more in our review! - JM
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar: Deluxe Edition (Decca Broadway) / Stage Door Records: Saga reissue series / Kritzerland: Ben Bagley's Revisited series
This 3-CD expanded edition of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's original 1970 concept album of their musical Jesus Christ Superstar was something of a surprise. It was not a shock that there was a slightly belated 50th anniversary celebration of the still-controversial show chronicling the last days of Jesus' life, and its original concept album featuring the talents of Ian Gillan, Murray Head, and Yvonne Elliman. No, the surprise comes from the fact there has been relatively little vault material from Lloyd Webber and that it was said in 2012 that any extra material for this album had been lost. But this deluxe edition, housed in a hard slipcase, contains a bonus disc which includes rough vocal takes, scat vocal, instrumentals, single edits, and radio programs. Together with a booklet containing liner notes and full lyrics, this set from Decca Broadway provides a rich look into this landmark musical theater album. Read more about JCS here.
Special mention should also be made of two other labels that keep the musical theater flame burning brightly. U.K.-based Stage Door Records consistently turns out exciting releases, including a series of rare studio cast recordings from the Saga Records label remastered from the original tapes. These delightful albums of such beloved musicals as Mame, Half a Sixpence, and Sweet Charity are not just fascinating curios; they're terrific, faithful renditions of classic stage scores with top-notch production values.
Over here in the U.S., Kritzerland has continued its long-running, sparkling series of reissues from the catalogue of the late Ben Bagley's Painted Smiles Records; where else would you find such eclectic artists as Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Perkins, Blossom Dearie, Kaye Ballard, Elaine Stritch, Georgia Engel, and Lynn Redgrave singing all-but-unknown melodies from the greatest songwriters of our time? These releases, with upgraded sound and packaging as well as bonus tracks where applicable, are indispensable for any fans of classic American song. - RF
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Déjà Vu: Deluxe Edition (Atlantic/Rhino)
Crosby, Stills & Nash's eponymous debut in 1969 was one of the landmark albums of the era. Their follow-up the next year, Déjà Vu, built upon this artistic and commercial success by adding Neil Young to the group. While the creative road for this album was a bit more arduous than their first effort, it yielded such classics as "Teach Your Children," "Our House," and their cover of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock." This engrossing 4CD/1LP set includes the album on CD and vinyl plus two discs of demos and outtakes. Many of these songs didn't end up on the eventual album and some would see the light of day on the band members' solo efforts. The final disc includes a version of the album made up of alternate takes of the songs. With most of the material being unreleased, this set provides a deep dive into this prolific period from all four of the band's members. Sure, it's not everything related to Déjà Vu (Neil Young reportedly scotched some of his tracks), but it's more than anyone ever expected would see official release. - RF
Explorer Tapes, Explorer Tapes (Omnivore)
Here's one of TSD's favorite hidden gems of 2021. Back in 2015, Texas singer-songwriters Max Townsley and Drew Erickson traveled to Los Angeles where they were signed by Warner/Chappell Music. Soon, their songs were being recorded by top-tier artists such as Keith Urban ("Texas Time") and they were signed as a duo to Warner (Bros.) Records. Mike Elizondo (Eminem, Carrie Underwood, Fiona Apple) was enlisted as producer. Explorer Tapes, the band and the album, was born. But despite the strength of the songs, the musicianship (including Roger Manning on keyboards, Aaron Sterling on drums, and various horn and string players), the LP remained unreleased until this loving excavation by the Omnivore crew. It's not hard to see why Keith Urban was drawn to Townsley and Erickson's songs; the record is packed with lush adult pop - the kind you weren't sure anybody was still writing - with abundant hooks, falsetto vocals, harmonies, and even bridges (a rarity in songwriting nowadays). "Julia" is a timeless ballad adorned with brass and even an electric sitar in the mold of those Philly soul classics, but veers off in its own, even more lushly cinematic direction. The piano-driven "Kids These Days" has an elegance recalling Bacharach or Webb while the chorus of "Washed Away" soars in a manner that would make Brian Wilson proud. Steely Dan might well be the touchstone for the sleek "Change Looks Good on You." This sense of familiarity within the framework of something original characterizes the fine pop songcraft and polished production of Explorer Tapes. - JM
Fiddler on the Roof: 50th Anniversary Remastered Edition (La-La Land)
Fifty years ago, director Norman Jewison's Oscar-winning film of Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick, and Jerry Bock's Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof opened in cinemas, bringing the stories and characters of Sholom Aleichem to enrapt audiences worldwide. Now, the beloved film of the beloved musical has received a positively stunning 3-CD expanded edition presenting John Williams' adaptation of Bock and Harnick's score in definitive fashion. Each of its three discs offers a distinct presentation: the remastered original soundtrack album on CD 1, alternate takes and mixes on CD 2 (including additional material from Isaac Stern's solos), and playback versions (created prior to filming) and more score cues on CD 3. It's all place into context with not one, but two, booklets including a 52-page history of the film and its music by reissue producer/author/historian Mike Matessino. Perhaps the year's most lavish soundtrack release, this Fiddler is a must-have for anyone who's ever been touched by the story of Tevye and his daughters. Read more about Fiddler and La-La Land Records' other superlative releases here. L'chaim! - JM
Various Artists, Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap (Smithsonian Folkways)
As its name implies, Smithsonian Folkways has a legacy of exploring older genres of music such as folk and blues. But for this impressive 9-CD set, the label set its sights on something of a more contemporary vintage. The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap includes such artists as Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Herbie Hancock, Blondie, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, DMX, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Drake, among many others. Compiled over several years with input from a panel including hip-hop experts, music biz professionals, and musicians, this 129-song box and 300-page book take you on what amounts to an introductory history course on the influential genre. With any project of this sort, some may quibble over the choice of certain songs and artists and the exclusion of others, but this was truly one of the deepest and most fascinating projects of the year. - RF
Phyllis Hyman, Old Friend: The Deluxe Collection 1976-1998 (SoulMusic/Cherry Red) / Deniece Williams, Free: The Columbia/ARC Recordings 1976-1988 (SoulMusic/Cherry Red) / Aretha Franklin, Aretha (Rhino)
The great ladies of soul were splendidly celebrated in 2021. SoulMusic Records and Cherry Red were responsible for two of the year's most essential packages, Phyllis Hyman's Old Friend: The Deluxe Collection 1976-1998 and Deniece Williams' Free: The Columbia/ARC Recordings 1976-1988. Both sets were expertly annotated and offered copious bonus tracks to paint a full portrait of the artists during the time period covered. A different, but no less valid approach, was taken with Rhino's 4-CD box set simply entitled Aretha. This tribute to the Queen of Soul emphasized rarities rather than familiar, oft-anthologized hit versions, and it certainly delivered on that front with such delicious treats as an array of duets (with Dionne Warwick, Tom Jones, Ray Charles, and Smokey Robinson); fascinating alternate takes, demos, outtakes, and work tapes; and the official CD premiere of tracks from Franklin's five final Atlantic albums which are still awaiting full reissues. - JM
Al Stewart, Time Passages: Deluxe Edition (Cherry Red/Esoteric) / The Band, Cahoots (Capitol/UMe)
There's still life in the surround-sound format, as evidenced by Alan Parsons' terrific 5.1 remix of Al Stewart's Time Passages which was itself a part of Cherry Red and Esoteric's excellent 3CD/DVD expanded edition/box set. Original producer-engineer Parsons found new colors in Stewart's Arista Records debut, and the period of the album's release was explored in detail elsewhere on the box with demos, single versions, and a live show. A similarly expansive set was UMe/Capitol's 50th anniversary edition of The Band's Cahoots, boasting Bob Clearmountain's radical remixes of the original album in both stereo and surround. Often remixes leave listeners shrugging their heads and asking "Why?" but both Time Passages and Cahoots proved that a great remix can enhance and breathe new life into an old classic. Read more about Time Passages here, and watch this space for our full review of Cahoots! - JM
Joni Mitchell, Archives Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971) (Rhino)
Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 2 follows the format of last year's acclaimed first volume. Over 5 CDs or 10 LPs and nearly six hours of previously unreleased studio, live, and home recordings, it chronologically traces Mitchell's musical journey in the period that yielded her first four albums: Song to a Seagull (1968), Clouds (1969), Ladies of the Canyon (1970), and Blue (1971). (Those albums have recently been collected in a stellar companion box set, The Reprise Albums 1968-1971.) Blending previously unheard live and studio material, Archives Vol. 2 takes a deep dive into the creation of those four cherished records with what amounts to 120 bonus tracks. This era was undoubtedly a purple patch for Mitchell, and here she draws the curtain on the creation of such enduring songs such as "All I Want," "Urge for Going," "River," "Chelsea Morning," "For Free," and more. This was, simply put, one of the year's most essential releases. Read our review here. - JM
Various Artists, Think I'm Going Weird: Original Artefacts from the British Psychedelic Scene 1966-1968 / Box of Pin-Ups: The British Sounds of 1965 (Cherry Red/Grapefruit)
For its 100th release, Cherry Red's Grapefruit imprint has gone deluxe. Think I'm Going Weird: Original Artefacts from the British Psychedelic Scene 1966-1968 super-sizes the imprint's famous collections (see such recent entries as Good as Gold: Artefacts of the Apple Era 1967-1975 and Separate Paths Together: An Anthology of British Male Singer-Songwriters 1965-1975). Think I'm Going Weird places five discs within an attractive hardcover book format with 60 full-color, copiously annotated and illustrated pages. The set, compiled and annotated by David Wells, delves into the birth of psychedelia in the U.K. as the underground met the mainstream. Its story is told via songs from major artists (The Kinks, Traffic, Manfred Mann, Fairport Convention, Procol Harum, The Spencer Davis Group, The Yardbirds, The Move, The Moody Blues, The Zombies, The Who, The Bee Gees, Genesis) and lesser-known lights alike (Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, Plastic Penny, Dantalian's Chariot, Mother's Pride, Wimple Winch, Jason Crest, Tales of Justine). So wide-ranging is this music, and this story, that there are connections and references to The Walker Brothers, Marc Bolan, Syd Barrett, The Beatles, Wings, Elton John, Yes, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Sure, there are some notable artists missing - the compilers admit in the liner notes that Pink Floyd and Donovan wouldn't license tracks, and let's not even mention a certain Fab Four - but this diverse selection of soul, folk, pop, rock, prog, and beyond is one to savor.
There's still more from Grapefruit; just two numbers up in the imprint's catalogue is another excellent compilation, Box of Pin-Ups: The British Sounds of 1965. These pin-ups were more than just pretty faces (or Pretty Things, for that matter!): Lulu, Rod Stewart, Marc Bolan, The Zombies, The Hollies, Arthur Brown, Jimmy Page, Brian Poole and The Tremeloes, Elton John and Bluesology, The Merseybeats, The Animals, Alexis Korner and Duffy Power, and even the elusive Donovan are just a few of the artists and bands featured on this eclectic survey. Some were on the way up, some were on the way down, but all were making music that we're still discussing over 50 years later. By the midpoint of the 1960s, music was changing at a rapid clip, and Box of Pin-Ups compellingly presents one pivotal year in the transition from rock and roll to the new "rock." - JM
Connie Smith, Latest Shade of Blue: The Columbia Recordings 1973-1976 (Bear Family)
Connie Smith re-emerged in 2021 with her first new studio album in a decade, the moving The Cry of the Heart (produced by her husband, Marty Stuart). But that wasn't all. The venerable Bear Family label had another treat in store for the country legend's fans with this 4-CD, 96-track box bringing together all of Smith's Columbia masters from the period she spent there in the early-to-mid-1970s (in between her long tenure at RCA, already collected by Bear Family on two boxes, and her brief stay at Monument). Listening to these sides - encompassing nine mostly new-to-CD albums in the country, gospel, and holiday genres (including Joy to the World, previously reissued by Second Disc Records and Real Gone Music in a now out-of-print expanded edition) - it's easy to see why Smith has earned comparisons time and again to Patsy Cline. Country music doesn't get more authentic or more passionate than this. With these four CDs and accompanying 96-page hardcover tome, this lost chapter of Connie Smith's career finally comes to light once again. - JM
Metallica, Metallica Limited Edition Box Set (Blackened Recordings)
Beginning in 2016, Metallica has been releasing deluxe box sets celebrating their early albums and 2021 saw the biggest release yet. Honoring the 30th anniversary of the band's most successful album (1991's Metallica, also known as the "Black Album"), this giant 14CD/6LP/6DVD box is certainly a worthy celebration. Containing the original album on CD and LP, the set also contains two discs of interviews, two discs of riffs and demos, rehearsals, two discs of rough and alternate mixes, radio edits, B-sides, seven concerts from 1991-1993, documentaries, and music videos. With the included 120-page hardcover book, virtually no stone is left unturned in the exploration of the creation and history of the Black Album. WIthout a doubt, it adds up to one of the best box sets of the year. Also as a bonus this year, fans of the album were treated to The Metallica Blacklist, a 3-CD album of covers of songs from Metallica performed by a variety of artists for charity. Read more here! - RF
Click here for Part Two of the 2021 Gold Bonus Disc Awards!