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! From a Prince-ly duo of two queens to a Beach Boy gone solo and more, you'll find some great picks for the holiday weekend.
Wendy & Lisa, B-Sides / Instrumentals / Edits / Extended Versions (Virgin)
An exciting treat for fans of Wendy & Lisa, the killer pop/rock guitar/keyboard duo who split off from Prince and The Revolution in 1986 and continued making great music together: two new digital collections offer the most comprehensive look at their non-album material from 1987 to 1990. (They're unfortunately only available outside the U.S., where the duo's early discography is distributed by Universal; domestically, it's Sony's purview, with some expanded editions being licensed on both sides of the Atlantic along the way.) In addition to versions of fan favorites "Waterfall," "Sideshow," "Are You My Baby?" and "Strung Out," these collections also include a few purple connections: Prince remixed their 1989 single "Lolly Lolly," and "Minneapolis #1" - one of four piano improvisations on a limited edition of third album Eroica - was intended as the opener for unreleased album Dream Factory. (It was included, under the name "Visions," on the deluxe box set of Sign O' the Times in 2020.)
Today is Al Jardine's 80th birthday, and UMe has celebrated by putting the affable Beach Boy's 2010 studio album (as augmented with two extra tracks two years later) up on streaming services after a lengthy absence. It's a star-studded affair, featuring contributions from Glen Campbell, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley of America, Steve Miller - and even a Beach Boys reunion two years before That's Why God Made the Radio, with Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and a posthumous vocal from Carl Wilson contributing to "Don't Fight the Sea."
One of Aretha Franklin's most treasured Atlantic singles, this Top 10 hit from 1971 was recast for the dance floor by Sure is Pure in the U.K. in 1994. (They'd remixed Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" a year earlier, enjoying a Top 5 hit in England.)
With all the focus on Roger Miller's Smash/Capitol era material making digital debuts this summer, it's also worth nothing that his first album after that period, 1973's Dear Folks, Sorry I Haven't Written Lately, is also digitally available for the first time. It featured "Open Up Your Heart," Miller's final solo Top 20 country hit.
Roger Williams, Maria / For You / Family Album of Hymns / Born Free (UMe)
There were plenty of instrumentalists like pianist Roger Williams in the mid-20th century, but few had the commercial clout that he did: his 1955 cover of "Autumn Leaves" was a No. 1 hit in the pre-Billboard Hot 100 era, and his rendition of John Barry and Don Black's "Born Free" (from the film of the same name) was a Top 10 hit 11 years later. (During and after that time, he became known as "the pianist of presidents," having played for nine of them starting with Harry S. Truman. These four new-to-digital albums, originally released on the Kapp label, are a good overview of his diverse repertoire - including that hit version of "Born Free."
The Miracles, Don't Cha Love It / The Power of Music (Motown)
Motown's unforgettable vocal group kept on truckin' after Smokey Robinson departed for a solo career in the early '70s. With frontman Billy Griffin, they eventually scored an unlikely chart-topper with the chugging dance track "Love Machine" in 1975, off City of Angels, a conceptual LP that served as their penultimate effort for the label the group helped put on the map. Don't Cha Love It and The Power of Music were released on each side of that album, and featured a Top 5 R&B hit in "Don't Cha Love It."
Atlantic Starr, Straight to the Point / Brilliance (A&M)
Atlantic Starr had been pounding the pavement for nearly a decade when they finally broke onto the pop charts in the mid-'80s with "Secret Lovers" and the chart-topping ballad "Always." These albums, from the start of their tenure with first label A&M in the late '70s and early '80s, were produced by James Anthony Carmichael (of Commodores and Lionel Richie fame) and featured their first activity on the pop charts: a Top 40 pop (and No. 2 R&B) single called "Circles."
A newly curated collection of rare and alternate takes from the jolly singer Burl Ives, who started transitioning to a stronger country style in the early '60s. (Around this time, he'd also record the holiday songs for which he is best known - and still heard on seasonal radio - today.)
Though neither a critical nor commercial hit, 1997's Dangerous Ground - which starred Ice Cube as a South African expatriate reuniting with his family after the end of apartheid - had a minor hit soundtrack, a Top 20 album featuring exclusive cuts by Cube as well as KRS-One, an on-the-rise Jay-Z, and B-Legit's sublime "Ghetto Smile," featuring an interpolation of Daryl Hall & John Oates' "Sara Smile" and new vocals from Hall himself.
Another expanded "jam session" album from trumpeter Clayton, this one culled from multiple sessions across 1954 and 1955. (The title track is even taken from two performances nearly five months apart!) A few then-unreleased alternate takes round out the selection.
A few years before Ralph Sharon's piano was heard backing Tony Bennett's immortal "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and many recordings afterward (the two were frequent collaborators up to Sharon's passing in 2015), the British-born pianist was a jazz leader in his own right. This trio-plus-one album (the "friend" in question is iconic Afro-Cuban percussionist Cándido, augmenting Allen Mack on bass and Billy Exiner on drums) features a sprightly run-through of some great standards.