Did you hear that? That’s the sound of another year flying by. As I type this, it’s the first day of July. I’m nearly another year older (*ducks rock thrown by the editor*) and in a look-back kind of mood. 2012 has been a pretty damn good year for personal and professional reasons, but it’s been equally great for catalogue music. It seems like every new week brings with it an announcement of an expanded edition of a classic, or a deluxe edition of a personal favorite. (It’s almost hard to keep track of them – not that this doesn’t stop some great folks from trying…)
While I’m always struggling with naming my favorite new records of the year (though I have a soft spot for Bruce Springsteen, John Mayer and fun.’s newest efforts), there’s a bounty of riches to value on the reissue tip, with plenty more to look forward to as we anticipate the last half of the year (Michael Jackson’s Bad and The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols are getting super-deluxe sets, while Universal’s planning a box set of all of James Brown’s Live at the Apollo albums). As we roll on through what should keep on being a great year for music collectors, here’s a look back at the best that was unearthed or re-released so far this year.
Big Country - The Crossing: Deluxe Edition (Mercury/Universal U.K.)
Scottish band Big Country’s biggest U.S. hit, the irrepressible, guitar-chiming “In a Big Country,” is one of my favorite songs of the 1980s, and the rest of the album, with its ringing six-string theatrics and heartfelt lyrics, is just as good. It didn’t truly get its due in its time – for some reason, nobody subscribed to the band’s ringing guitar tones until U2 co-opted the sound almost simultaneously – but this reissue, featuring hard-to-find non-LP B-sides and a bonus disc of unreleased demos and outtakes, is the kind of star treatment the band deserved.
Various Artists, Golden Gate Groove: The Sound of Philadelphia Live in San Francisco 1973 (Philadelphia International Records/Legacy)
U.K. label Harmless has been steadily putting out Philadelphia International tributes this year, including a box set of old and new extended versions from master mixer Tom Moulton and a lengthy if messy 10-disc box set overview of the label’s output. But the best may be this one from Legacy: an unreleased live show featuring some stunning performances by the label’s heaviest hitters, including Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Billy Paul, The Three Degrees and MFSB. Sad, beautiful bonus: the show is emceed by Soul Train mastermind Don Cornelius, who took his own life the day before this disc was released.
John Williams – Hook: Expanded Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (La-La Land Records)
To this day, some of the best catalogue work is done far away from your local record store (or Amazon, if you’re not that lucky), in the offices of several California labels devoted to restoring and releasing film soundtracks. As you’ll see later on this list, La-La Land Records is one of the best there is, and one of their greatest releases this year was a two-disc presentation of just about all two hours of music featured in Steven Spielberg’s 1991 cult classic Hook. Depending on how old you are, Williams’ score – which anticipates his fantasy-flavored work on the first three Harry Potter films – is one of the things that makes the movie magical or the only good thing about the flick. While minor deficiencies in the source material keep this from being the absolute definitive take on the score, some of this material has been unheard on disc for over 20 years, so we’ll take what we can get.
Earl Van Dyke – That Motown Sound: The Complete Albums, Singles & More (Motown/Hip-O Select)
Van Dyke never was a household name. Neither was James Jamerson, Eddie Willis or Richard “Pistol” Allen, or any of Van Dyke’s partners in The Funk Brothers, the crack ensemble that lit up the world with their uncredited instrumental work on the dozens of hit singles to come out of Detroit’s Motown Records. But bandleader Van Dyke and The Soul Brothers (as label head Berry Gordy insisted they be called) did actually cut a few albums and singles – some originals with overdubbed mixes of the classic hits, usually – and released them during the glory days of Motown. This compilation, which collects all that beautiful work on two discs, is a fine tribute to the sound of young America.
Howard Jones – One to One/Cross That Line/In the Running: Remastered Editions (Dtox)
The last round of Howard Jones remasters, which collected two great remix albums, charted high on last year’s list. While these three albums – Jones’ last for Warners – aren’t as deliciously great as his early work, there are some great forgotten gems here, including gorgeous singles “The Prisoner,” “Everlasting Love” and “Two Souls.” Best of all for HoJo obsessives is another two extra discs of B-sides and remixes.
Jerry Goldsmith – Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Definitive Edition (La-La Land Records)
Need more proof that we’re in a golden age of soundtrack reissues? Consider this triple-disc presentation of Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic score to the first Trek film (you’ve heard the theme if you’ve ever watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation). What could possibly be included on those discs, you ask? In addition to every last minute of score used in the film, you get the original LP presentation, a half-hour of unused cues – including a partial rejected version of the soundtrack – and even Trek-related pop tunes. (Bob James – the Taxi theme guy – doing Trek in disco! Shaun Cassidy turning the film’s love theme into a tender ballad!) “To boldly go where no man has gone before,” indeed!
Paul McCartney & Linda McCartney – Ram: The Paul McCartney Archive Collection (MPL/Hear Music)
One of the best things a reissue can do is reorganize public opinion toward a record nobody quite got the first time around. Case in point Ram, all but excoriated by the music press (and the other ex-Beatles) upon release. It’s amazing what adding some outtakes, a rare mono version of the album and a jazz-rock cover version of the album by Macca himself (under the pseudonym Percy “Thrills” Thrillington) will do to the appraisal of an album, but trust us – Ram is not nearly as bad as your initial opinion might remember it.
Sugar – Copper Blue: Deluxe Edition (Edsel)
Ditto this album, widely known for its status lining cutout bins across America. This 1992 album is easily up to the pedigree of its principal creator, ex-Husker Du member Bob Mould, deftly taking audio cues from the Pixies and Nirvana while retaining the power-pop/punk style Mould helped pioneer. (Jangly lead single “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” is just one gem among this album.) The voluminous live bonus material lacks the polish of the record, but that’s really the secret beauty of Sugar – their willingness to get lean and mean on stage – that this package so cleanly puts into focus. (Edsel did a killer job with the liner notes on this one – they’ve been some of the best I’ve read this year.)
Paul Simon – Graceland: 25th Anniversary Edtion (Legacy)
While the jury’s still out as to how many reissues Paul Simon’s excellent 1986 album actually needs – none of the bonus audio content from this release or the previous Rhino edition was especially revelatory – it’s the bonus multimedia content that really makes this set something special. Under African Skies, the accompanying documentary that chronicles the making of this modern classic, gives the record the kind of context and shading you don’t normally get from an episode of Classic Albums; Simon’s meeting with Artists Against Apartheid co-founder Dali Tambo, who criticized Simon’s decision to ignore a cultural boycott and employ South African musicians, is one of the film’s best sequences. (Director Joe Berlinger is no stranger to chronicling musical discomfort, having previously helmed Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster.) And a vintage 1987 live show underscores just how much the songs on this album still pop.
Edsel did another killer job with the underrated catalogue of The Beat (or, as they’re known here, The English Beat). More than just “Mirror in the Bathroom,” the go-to song for dozens of ’80s compilations, this ska outfit had a way with not only their own songs (“Best Friend,” “Ranking Full Stop,” “Save It for Later“) but the songs of others’ (“Tears of a Clown,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”). These 2CD/1DVD expansions of the band’s three albums feature an embarrassment of bonus material, including outtakes, B-sides, remixes and live material. While Shout! Factory is coming out with a similar box set chronicling most of the material on these sets, if you’re a super-fan, you’ll want to spring the extra cash and import these into your collection.
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