Happy 2024! Welcome, friends, to Part Two of 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 Two of TSD's A-to-Z list of our favorite reissues of the year, spanning A-M. If you missed Part One, click here! As an Amazon affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
- Joe, Mike, and Randy
The Who, Who's Next / Life House (Polydor/UMC)
Pete Townshend's Lifehouse has long been shrouded inch mystery: the long-lost album/rock opera/multimedia opus that inspired The Who's seminal Who's Next album. In 2000, Townshend revisited the project for The Lifehouse Chronicles, a box set featuring his original demos, various reworkings and experimental tracks, and a newly-fashioned radio play version. Nearly a quarter of a century later, he's returned to Life House - now stylized as two words - in a grand new box set that finally traces its evolution into Who's Next. Though all of the Lifehouse Chronicles demos aren't present - Townshend recorded a prodigious amount - the set does offer a staggering 155 tracks of studio and live material - 89 of which are previously unissued in any version and 57 of which are brand-new remixes. That's in addition to new Dolby Atmos and 5.1 surround remixes, a 100-page hardcover book with reflections by Townshend, a graphic novel, and more. The 10CD/1BD box set is truly immersive; it's not difficult to get lost within its music, artwork, and text for hours on end. - JM
Kenny Rogers, Life Is Like a Song (UMe)
Over the years, there have been many, many compilations released collecting material from Kenny Rogers. Due to the length of his legendary career and the number of labels he appeared on, there haven't been too many years without some kind of collection being released. However, as is the nature of those types of releases, they mostly focused on his hits. That is what made this release stand out. Assembled as a posthumous album, Life collects ten songs recorded between 2008-2011. While that would be noteworthy by itself, what makes this even more special is that it all holds together as a cohesive album. Despite being recorded over several years with multiple producers and not intended as such at the time, the songs on the collection form a very enjoyable whole album. Life Is Like a Song is a fitting tribute to the late Rogers that you should seek out. - RF
Prince and The New Power Generation, Diamonds and Pearls (Super Deluxe Edition) (NPG/Legacy)
Debate the logic or merits of expanding Prince's 1991 blockbuster over, say, Parade, all you want. This sprawling set showcased some special sides of The Artist that other posthumous projects haven't shown as much; namely, his gifts as a live and in-studio bandleader. Many of the outtakes show that solo studio whiz - but whether because of The NPG or a stepping back from being pop's most in-your-face innovative presence, many others have a relaxed looseness to them that he'd only flex harder with time. You'll probably get some more '80s reissues this year, with a round-number anniversary for Purple Rain happening this summer. - MD
Various Artists, Quadio series (Rhino)
We here at The Second Disc have a soft spot for surround music. But the format is not exactly a prevalent one these days, which is why we always like to see these types of releases. Last year Rhino continued its series of Quadio releases, reissuing original 1970s quad (four-channel) mixes on Blu-ray discs. 2023 saw eight albums released in the format: Billion Dollar Babies (Alice Cooper), Holiday (America), Mingus Moves (Charles Mingus), Nightmares and Other Tales (J. Geils Band), Paranoid (Black Sabbath), Red Octopus (Jefferson Starship), Spinners (Spinners) and Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot). While the robustness of the surround mix may vary from title to title, it is a treat to hear these albums in a different way. If you have the set-up to play them, you should pick out your favorite title and give it a try. (We'd also like to give a shout-out to some other labels who regularly reissue quad mixes, including Dutton Vocalion in the UK and Sony Japan). - RF
The Replacements, Tim (Let It Bleed Edition) (Sire/Rhino)
For various reasons, catalogue music titles don't always seem primed to break out beyond faithful fans or collectors. So it was fascinating to see a deluxe edition by The Replacements - by now a cornerstone of Rhino's recent business plan - really penetrate mainstream music conversations. You don't need much of a close listen to understand why: the group's 1985 turning point Tim was notable for its firsts (their premiere effort on a major label) and its lasts (within a year of its release, founding guitarist Bob Stinson would be out of the band), but it's totally redefined thanks to a stunning new mix by Ed Stasium. Rare is the reissue that can attract potential new fans and satisfy die-hards with equal aplomb, but Tim (Let It Bleed Edition) is a bold new watermark in the story of Paul Westerberg and company. - MD
The Sound of Music (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Super Deluxe Edition) (Craft Recordings)
This is one of our favorite things: a 4CD/1BD box set which invites us to hear The Sound of Music anew. The first two discs represent the complete musical score as heard in the film, from the orchestral prelude and Julie Andrews' iconic "The Sound of Music" - yes, that word is overused, but it certainly qualifies here! - all the way to the climactic reprise of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and the "End Cast" titles. The program closes with vintage audio interviews with composer Richard Rodgers, director Robert Wise and Charmian Carr, who played the Von Trapp's eldest daughter Liesl. The third disc presents a fresh remaster of the beloved, original 1965 soundtrack LP along with a few archival bonus tracks - most of them previously released, other than a demo of "I Have Confidence" sung by none other than Marni Nixon, who played one of the nuns and also famously served as the singing voice behind Natalie Wood in the Wise-directed 1961 adaptation of West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in 1964's My Fair Lady (a role Andrews originated but was passed over, allowing her to secure her Oscar-winning turn in Mary Poppins). The fourth disc, meanwhile, is chockablock with extras: alternate takes of key songs and instrumentals of the major musical numbers, nearly all previously unreleased including Christopher Plummer's actual vocals as Captain Von Trapp. (The set boasts a total of 42 unreleased tracks, including some pieces of score that did not make previous reissues.) Simply put, this box is the last word on the beloved soundtrack to The Sound of Music. [After the initial release of this set, it became clear that one disc was repeated; the set was quickly withdrawn and a corrected version will hit stores on February 4 while customers who already purchased the first set are eligible for a replacement disc directly from Craft.] - JM
Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense (Deluxe Edition) (Sire/Rhino)
Taylor Swift and Beyoncé elevated the presence (and profitability) of concert films in 2023, but that trend started with a dazzling remaster of Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense, one of the best concert chronicles ever made. Whether you're marveling over what it took to make the reissue happen, still in shock over how the band themselves reunited for multiple press appearances, or simply just waiting for a hi-def home release after catching it in theaters, you can also enjoy the concert audio (which holds up great on its own) as recently remastered and reissued on vinyl by Rhino. - MD
Cryer & Ford, Hidden Treasures 1967-2020 (Harbinger/Musical Theatre Project)
The team of Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford has penned such musicals as Now Is the Time for All Good Men, The Last Sweet Days of Isaac, and, most famously, I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road. This expansive 3-CD volume celebrated the duo's powerful body of work with demos performed by the duo and some famous friends (Ellen Foley, Roslyn Kind) as well as three complete, previously unreleased albums: the long-lost 1973 original cast recording of Shelter and concept albums for 2011's Still Getting My Act Together and the long-aborning (1985-2018!) Eleanor: A Musical Fantasy. Cryer and Ford never became household names - though Gretchen's son Jon certainly did! - but this impressive set, accompanied by a thick, 52-page booklet - will go a long way in immortalizing their art.- JM
David Sancious and Tone, Dance of the Age of Enlightenment (Iconoclassic)
There's more than enough deluxe box sets and vinyl repressings to go around - but what of the humble single or double-disc reissue? Is there still a place for it? We say yes, and so too do labels like Iconoclassic, who delivered some extraordinary expanded reissues as well as a few gems that never really saw the light of day. Case in point: an ambitious keyboard-fusion classic from former Bruce Springsteen sideman David Sancious and his trio Tone (fellow pre-E Streeter Ernie "Boom" Carter on drums and bassist Gerry Carboy - plus vocal cameos from Gail Moran of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and yet another notable Bruce collaborator, his future wife Patti Scialfa). Passed over for a wide release by Arista in 1976, Sancious and Iconoclassic close this crucial chapter with the first official CD of this stunning album. - MD
The Weather Girls/Martha Wash - Carry On: The Deluxe Collection 1982-1992 (SoulMusic Records/Cherry Red)
The story of The Weather Girls (Martha Wash and Izora Armstead) is a fascinating one. Beginning as back-up singers for disco icon Sylvester, they would go on to form a duo on Fantasy Records before teaming up with Paul Jabara to record the smash "It's Raining Men." That led to three albums on Columbia before they broke up. Wash returned to studio and backup work and became a standout on many hits of the late 1980s and early 1990s. (Alas, it would take battles in court for Martha to get proper credit and royalties.). Her own solo album arrived in 1992. This 4-CD set bring together the three Weather Girls albums and Martha's solo LP to provide a musical history of the duo. While they never again achieved the chart success of "It's Raining Men," this box is full of fun dance/pop numbers. It's a great and long overdue deep dive into their music. - RF
Various Artists, Soul'd Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection (Stax/Craft Recordings)
With Woodstock so handsomely chronicled on disc in 2019, it stands to reason that a legendary moment like 1972's epochal, soulful Wattstax could be worth a similar assessment. Craft Recordings delivered mightily with a multi-format reissue that, in its largest iteration, captured the entire concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (featuring The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, The Bar-Kays, Eddie Floyd, Carla Thomas, her father Rufus and many others) - plus three additional small club sets and studio material that was incorporated into the original documentary. It's a vital slice of Black music history, served hot, fresh and funky. - MD
Huey Lewis & The News, Huey Lewis & The News / Picture This / Sports / Fore! / Small World / Hard at Play (Expanded Editions) (Capitol (Japan))
Their hardworking frontman may be sadly sidelined due to an ongoing battle with Meniere's disease, but the songs of Huey Lewis & The News are as resonant as they come: a good-time soundtrack that at once signifies a particular age of rock while also staying timeless. (This year, that catalogue comes to Broadway in the musical The Heart of Rock and Roll; when it opens, Huey and company will have the rare distinction of one classic song in two simultaneous productions, thanks to a hit stage adaptation of Back to the Future also utilizing the chart-topping "The Power of Love.") Last year, the 40th anniversary of their breakthrough Sports was celebrated quietly in America with a new vinyl pressing; in Japan, however, all six of the group's original albums for Chrysalis Records - including their long out-of-print 1980 debut - got remastered with a heavy helping of rare bonus remixes, edits and live cuts. They're essential listening if you love the band like you say you do. - MD
Carly Simon, These Are the Good Old Days: The Carly Simon and Jac Holzman Story (Elektra/Rhino)
It's not often that a compilation celebrates the relationship between an artist and a label chief...but that's exactly what These Are the Good Old Days does, and in beautiful fashion. it samples the singer-songwriter's first three albums, offering up both hits and album tracks (plus a couple of rarities) in a reappraisal of this truly halcyon era. Yup, "You're So Vain" is on here, but it showcases just one side of Simon. Joyous, sensual, beautiful, cathartic, melancholy, and haunting: those are the many moods of Simon as powerfully conjured on this 1CD or 2LP release. May it augur for further archival excavations from Carly's Elektra catalogue and beyond. Simply put, it's the right thing to do. - JM
Don't see one of your favorites listed above? While we hope the above list represents a wide array of the remarkable releases offered in 2023, we stress that there were many, many other titles equally worthy of inclusion. This is a mere sampling of what the year had to offer on the catalogue front. We do, however, have a handful of Honorable Mentions which we would like to share.
Various Artists, Produced by Tony Visconti (Edsel)
T. Rex. David Bowie. Joe Cocker. Procol Harum. The Damned. Badfinger. U2. Mary Hopkin. Elaine Paige. The Moody Blues. Rick Wakeman. Adam Ant. John Hiatt. Seriously, what's not to love? The box set Produced by Tony Visconti brought together dozens of the great man's finest (and most eclectic) productions across the decades. Though many of the tracks seemingly have little in common, that's Visconti's magic. Far from having a "one size fits all" production style, he adjusted his talents to bring out the best in the artists with whom he was working. The result is a compelling journey through the ever-changing sound of music with a cast of era-defining artists and one dynamic producer.
Stage Door on Demand (Stage Door Records)
Cast album reissues weren't exactly abundant in 2023, but the torch is still burning brightly thanks to the fine folks at Stage Door Records. The label launched a limited edition "on demand" series in 2023, reissuing albums that, while worthwhile, couldn't sustain a large run via general retail. In that vein, Stage Door has revisited such fine but overlooked and obscure recordings as off-Broadway's All in Love; London's Harmony Close, New Cranks, and The Lord Chamberlain Regrets; chanteuse Lovey Powell's rare album Lovelady; Saga Records' studio cast album of Godspell; and six volumes (and counting!) of bandleader Al Goodman's studio cast recordings of early musical theatre classics. Visit Stage Door's website and follow the label on Facebook for more information on how you can get in on these "on-demand" CD-Rs which are up to the same audio and packaging standards as the label's pressed-CD, wide-release repertoire.
Arthur Baker Presents Dance Masters kicked off in 2021 with a multi-disc box set devoted to the work of remixer Shep Pettibone, and this year added two more installments: a collection devoted to Baker himself, and a third to dance innovator John Luongo. These comprehensive boxes, expertly curated and sequenced by Wayne A. Dickson with the imprimatur of Baker, are a transporting journey back to the days when the 12-inch single was supreme. Though, naturally, some big names are missing, there's plenty to savor here. Baker's volume has Fleetwood Mac, Cyndi Lauper, Daryl Hall, Carly Simon, Pet Shop Boys, and Bob Dylan (!) while Luongo's serves up Tina Turner, Billy Idol, Rick Springfield, Cher, ABC, Gladys Knight and The Pips, Johnny Mathis, and Dan Hartman. These sets are, well, simply "The Best." Read Mike's interview with John Luongo here!
Rick Springfield, Springfield (Iconoclassic)
David Sancious and Tone's Dance of the Age of Enlightenment wasn't the only "lost album" brought to light in 2023 by the Iconoclassic label. Over the years, just three tracks from 1974's gutsy, rock-and-roll-oriented Springfield had escaped the vault (including "American Girls"). Iconoclassic's world premiere of the complete album was definitive in every respect, adding the singer and soap opera idol's previously unreleased '74 performance at Post Falls, Idaho's Northwest Speedway as well as the "Streakin' Across the USA"/"Music to Streak By" single. In every aspect - production, mastering, design, and annotation - Springfield proved to be an album well worth the wait.
Boyce and Hart, I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite? (7a Records)
7a Records - as part of a landmark year that also saw the release of Micky Dolenz' fantastic Dolenz Sings R.E.M. EP - returned Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart's delightful pop gem I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite? to print with a new 55th anniversary deluxe edition on CD and limited edition LP. The new reissue shone a deserved spotlight on one of the '60s most underrated pop platters. Featuring the title track, "I Wanna Be Free," "Teardrop City," and "I'm Digging You Digging Me," I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite? is irresistible fun from the team behind many of The Monkees' most enduring hits.
Various Artists, Written in Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos (Stax/Craft Recordings)
Like Soul'd Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection, this remarkable set celebrated Stax Records with a treasure trove of rare and previously unreleased recordings. This 7CD anthology boasts 146 demo versions of enduring Stax hits and fan favorites, songs written by label-affiliated songwriters that ended up elsewhere, and a number of compositions unveiled here for the very first time. Only six of these tracks have ever been released! This set is steeped in authenticity and drenched in deep soul; chances are its raw Memphis sounds will pierce your heart, too.
Laurie Styvers, Gemini Girl: The Complete Hush Recordings (High Moon)
High Moon Records' output isn't prodigious, but their releases never fail to impress. Gemini Girl collected two albums from enigmatic singer-songwriter Laurie Styvers (1971's Spilt Milk and 1973's The Colorado Kid, both originally issued on Chrysalis) plus copious extras - totaling 36 tracks on 2 CDs. It's a compelling portrait of a young artist with a tremendous amount of promise, much of it fulfilled in a too-short career. Moving and melancholic, Gemini Girl might well prove a revelation to fans of '70s pop and the singer-songwriter genre.
Thank You for Being a Friend: Lastly, we'd like to take a moment to remember all of the greats who left us in 2023; their music will live on forever in our hearts. Here are just a few of the artists, entertainers, songwriters, producers, musicians, and industry leaders whom we will never forget, beginning with cherished friends of The Second Disc whom we'll miss terribly. If a favorite artist or musician hasn't been included, please forgive us; the omission is not intentional. Their legacies will live on.
Nick Lloyd Webber
Lisa Marie Presley
Huey "Piano" Smith