Happy 2024! Welcome, friends, to The Second Disc's 14th Annual Gold Bonus Disc Awards!
As we yet again look to a new year with optimism and a hopeful spirit, we recognize the many roles music has played in our lives. With that spirit in mind, The Second Disc wishes to recognize 2023'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.
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 once again organized 26 of our favorites from A to Z, and included some additional titles that were just too good to leave out. It was a very good year across multiple genres: we've got rock, pop, jazz, soul, standards, classical, soundtracks, musicals, and more here.
Of course, titles on which Mike and I worked were ineligible! Still, we hope that our SoulMusic Records collaboration, Philip Bailey's State of the Heart: The Columbia Recordings 1983-1988, made your personal best-of list - not to mention our many Second Disc Records releases, including The Spinners' The Complete Atlantic Singles: The Thom Bell Productions 1972-1979, Al Stewart's Songs on the Radio: The Complete U.S. Singles 1974-1981, and Pool-Pah's The Flasher.
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 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 year-round.
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) next week! As an Amazon affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
- Joe, Mike, and Randy
Barbra Streisand, Yentl (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) (Columbia/Legacy)
One of the year's most unexpected reissues was this expanded edition of the 1983 soundtrack album to Barbra Streisand's directorial debut: the unconventional, beautiful Yentl, with a powerful score by Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Legacy's 2CD reissue built upon the original album with the inclusion of the studio "pop" versions produced by Phil Ramone and Dave Grusin (including the previously unreleased "Papa, Can You Hear Me?") and a revealingly intimate "living room demo" of the score with Streisand accompanied only by Legrand on piano. Single versions, alternates, a reprise, and instrumental medley round out this compelling reappraisal of one of Streisand's greatest and most dramatic albums. Hopefully further excavations from her prodigious archives will be forthcoming. - JM
The Beatles, 1962-1966 / 1967-1970 / Now and Then (Apple/Capitol/UMe)
As might have been expected, the release of "Now and Then," hyped as "The Last Beatles Song," was sure to divide opinions. But for this listener, it brought forth a wave of emotion. In a little over four minutes, "Now and Then" conjures many of the motifs that made us fall in love with The Beatles the first time. Sure, the fact that Peter Jackson was able to extricate a crystal-clear John Lennon vocal from a home-recorded cassette tape is a technological marvel, but what tugs at the heartstrings is how Paul McCartney reshaped the original demo into a "Beatles song"; how he and Ringo Starr reunited to join John and George once again; how McCartney paid tribute to George with a slide guitar solo in his friend's style; how Giles Martin channeled his father to provide a stirring orchestral accompaniment that never overwhelms the humanity in the Fab Four's intertwined voices. "Now and Then" closed out the expanded reissue of 1967-1970, or The Blue Album. The reissues of both the "Red" and "Blue" albums were exemplary, adding more George Harrison songs and even some choice covers to paint a fuller portrait of the Fabs' musical accomplishments. But 1962-1966 was a revelation, with Martin's new stereo mixes (created thanks to Jackson's new technology) adding dimension and vibrancy to songs we only thought we knew. In many cases, these nearly 60-year old songs feel as if they were recorded yesterday. Clearly, there's still much to savor and even discover in the Beatles discography. - JM
Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello, The Songs of Bacharach and Costello (UMe)
It wasn't planned that The Songs of Bacharach and Costello would become a posthumous tribute to one of its creators, but that's what happened when legendary American composer Burt Bacharach died on February 8, 2023 at the age of 94. Yet it was exactly the kind of tribute Bacharach would have relished: one in which his music did all of the talking. As Elvis Costello wrote in his moving tribute to Burt in the pages of The Guardian, "If only [Bacharach and lyricist Hal David] had written the bridge of 'Alfie,' they would have given more to music than a whole bargain bin of progressive rock albums...Bacharach's music is sometimes blandly labeled 'easy listening' because of its restraint, something almost completely erased in contemporary ballad construction, assembled like Lego. In truth, his music can be exacting, famously employing uneven time signatures, which might seem like just a clever numbers game until one encounters 'Anyone Who Had a Heart'...They represent the way longing takes your breath away or makes your heart skip a beat or nine." Indeed, the elegant and spellbinding songs composed by Bacharach and his friend and collaborator Costello, almost all of which are found in this 4CD/2LP collection, are filled with longing, pain, ardor, passion, drama, heartbreak, and beauty. The Songs of Bacharach and Costello presents the original Painted from Memory album along with Taken from Life, a new album drawn from their work on a proposed stage musical adaptation of Painted; an entire disc of Costello singing Bacharach and David songs; and another of live renditions of their joint compositions. These songs have earned an esteemed place in the pantheon of works by both men; this set celebrates their long and richly rewarding partnership in stylish, affecting, and altogether compelling fashion. - JM
Dionne Warwick, The Complete Scepter Singles 1962-1973 (Real Gone Music)
"Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "Alfie" are just two of the songs on this definitive 3CD collection of recent Kennedy Center Honoree Dionne Warwick's singles as originally released on the Scepter Records label - almost all of which were produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and many of which were written by the duo, as well. Its 74 songs encompass more than 30 Hot 100 entries, including seven top ten smashes (and even more which hit the AC and R&B charts). "Message to Michael," "Promises, Promises," the Grammy-winning "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Walk on By"...they're all heard as heard in their original (mostly mono) single versions. As superbly remastered by Mike Milchner at SonicVision and in a package gorgeously designed by John Sellards, Dionne's Complete Scepter Singles have never sounded so stunning. (Shameless plug: If you like the Scepter era, check out SoulMusic Records' Sure Thing: The Warner Bros. Recordings (1972-1977) box, which picks up right where RGM's set leaves off!) - JM
Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Columbia Stereo Collection 1958-1963 (Sony Classical)
Among last year's treats was Sony Classical's long-awaited follow-up to 2021's The Columbia Legacy. That 120-disc box (the second largest in the label's history) collected legendary conductor Eugene Ormandy's mono recordings for Columbia Records; this new set follows him into the stereo era. The Columbia Stereo Collection (1958-1963) offers a comparatively modest 88 discs - all in new or best recent remasters - of orchestral stereo splendor. Much of the major classical repertoire is included here as well as a number of lesser-known gems, all rendered in the plush, velvety Philadelphia Sound. (Those strings!!) One more box would likely take Ormandy's discography to 1968 when he left Columbia for RCA (also under the Sony Classical umbrella); hopefully such a set will follow. In the meantime, classical majesty doesn't get much better than this. Even more casual fans of the classical genre looking for a one-stop-shopping set would find much to savor in this remarkable collection of timeless music, timelessly rendered. - JM
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Working Our Way Back To You: The Ultimate Collection (Madfish)
This massive box suffered from several delays but finally saw release this year and it was more than worth the wait. The 44-CD/1-LP set collects every album from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (both as a group and Valli solo), spanning nearly 50 years. It features copious bonus material as well including B-sides, alternate mixes, and unreleased studio and live recordings. The set also includes two books. While there were a few unfortunate production errors regarding incorrect tracks, that should not deter you get getting your hands on the box. It is one-stop shopping for fans of one of the most genuinely iconic acts in music and we hope that more artists get this kind of treatment in the future. - RF
Green Day, Dookie (30th Anniversary Edition) (Reprise)
Coming out late in the year, this set jumped the gun by a few months: Dookie's actual 30th anniversary is next month. But we won't hold that against them for wanting to celebrate the album. Listening to Green Day's breakthrough upon its initial release three decades ago, it was hard to imagine what was in store for the punk band. But Dookie was just that good and rightly became one of the best-selling albums of the '90s and propelled the band to superstardom. This 4-CD set expands on the original album with a disc of demos and outtakes and two concerts. It is a nice examination of the album and era and any Green Day fan should seek it out. - RF
John Williams, Hook (The Ultimate Edition) (La-La Land Records)
Film music restorer Mike Matessino has now expanded and remastered nearly all of John Williams' major scores for the films of Steven Spielberg that he can. (For complicated legal and financial reasons, scores recorded in America from late 2005 and forward are very tricky to reissue; that just leaves Williams' work for The Sugarland Express (1974) and the Indiana Jones films - which have their own share of complications, too - and the lighthearted early '00s scores for Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal.) So it's a great thing that his last Spielberg-Williams collaboration (for now!) might be one of his best: not only the complete, terrific score to 1991's Peter Pan fantasy follow-up Hook, but a stunning assortment of alternates and demos stemming from the film's lesser-known status as near-musical. As we noted in our review, it's a reissue that should elevate the work toward the top of The Maestro's many, many achievements. - MD
Classic Vocalists - Rose Marie, Rose Marie Sings (Sepia) / Matt Monro, The Complete EMI Recordings 1971-1984 (Cherry Red/Strawberry) / Blossom Dearie, Discover Who I Am: The Fontana Years London 1966-1970(Fontana/UMR)
2023 brought an embarrassment of riches for fans of classic pop vocalists including a trio of exemplary and, indeed, essential releases. Rose Marie Sings: The Complete Mercury Recordings and More showed just how much more there was to the beloved Dick Van Dyke Show star and Hollywood Squares personality with 29 tracks spanning 1938-1966, all of which showcased Rose Marie's dynamic voice in various settings from pop to swing to novelty. Matt Monro's Complete EMI Recordings 1971-1984 collected, on three CDs, four complete (and long-unavailable) albums, fifteen singles, and various outtakes and rarities to paint a full portrait of this extraordinary artist in this often-overlooked period of his too-short career. Last but certainly not least is Blossom Dearie's Discover Who I Am: The Fontana Years London 1966-1970. Like the Monro set, this lavish box chronicles a period of the distinctive singer-songwriter's career which hadn't previously gotten the attention it deserves. Blossoming (no pun intended) in London in a rapidly changing musical landscape, Dearie brought her singular sound to pop covers of the day and evocative compositions of her own, treating every song with respect and originality. The 6-CD set includes four original albums and two bonus discs including 27 previously unreleased tracks; it's a true feast for fans of the intersection between pop and jazz. - JM
Howard Jones, Celebrate It Together: The Best of Howard Jones 1983-2023 (Cherry Red)
The lovable British synthpop purveyor used a compilation to mark the handling of his Warner-era catalogue by U.K. reissue house Cherry Red back in 2017. How could a celebration of his 40th anniversary build on that set? Quite considerably, it turns out. Celebrate It Together super-sizes the typical hits and rarities idea into a four-volume overview that includes all the familiar stuff you love and quite a bit that's slipped through the cracks - missing from deluxe reissues of his Warner albums or available on hard-to-find independent releases. We're not sure what the label is doing next with his older work - but even at an already-high standard, this latest set proves things really can only get better. - MD
The Darkness, Permission to Land...Again (Atlantic/Rhino)
When Permission to Land hit shelves 20 years ago, it sounded nothing like anything coming out at the time. It has throwback influences which then helped shape the hard rock scene in the early 2000s. While not making as much of a dent in the U.S., the album became a smash in the U.K.; this deluxe anniversary edition greatly expands the album to 4 CDs and a DVD with B-sides, demos and live concerts. The DVD also includes music videos and documentaries. The set is a great package and a detailed look at the album. - RF
Joni Mitchell, Archives Vol. 3: The Asylum Years (1972-1975) (Rhino)
Longtime readers certainly won't be surprised to see the latest volume of Joni Mitchell's remarkable Archives series recognized here. The third volume thrilled with an exploration of the creatively fertile period that yielded such groundbreaking albums as For the Roses (1972), Court and Spark (1974), the live Miles of Aisles (1974), and The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975). The 5-CD, 96-track box chronicled the era via previously unreleased demos, jams, outtakes, and live performances including two full concerts - all of which shed further light on Mitchell's artistry and innovation. The commercial success of Court and Spark and the singles "Help Me" and "Free Man in Paris" didn't occur in a vacuum; this engaging collection places those records - and so many other indelible ones - in full and fascinating context. - JM
Barry Manilow, Barry Manilow (Music on Vinyl)
Last year, Barry Manilow celebrated the 50th anniversary of his debut as a solo artist. His self-titled debut album was released to little fanfare in 1973 but his label was soon bought by Arista and things would change. A year later, after the release of "Mandy" and Barry Manilow II, the brass at Arista re-released Barry Manilow as Barry Manilow I and remixed and reworked some of the songs. The original version was lost to time (and record store bins) and was never reissued...until last year. This new vinyl edition is no-frills (no liner notes, no bonus tracks, and so on) but that's beside the point. It is a real treat to hear the original conception of the album that has a bit of rawer and hungrier feel than the later version. It is well worth the time for Manilow fans to seek this remastered edition out. Now if only we could get a CD release... - RF
Stay tuned for Part Two of The 2023 Gold Bonus Disc Awards!