The Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips
Part XXIX: Reissue Fever
"Lemme say one more time... anyone who cries about how there isn't any good music anymore has their ears closed or is pitifully stuck in the past."
That's Jason Gross, our fearless PSF leader, again dispensing musical wisdom. And for the most part, I've always agreed wholeheartedly with him. In fact, just a few months ago, I found myself in a heated debate with a friend of mine who stated that there was nothing in the current world of popular music that could match the "complexity" of Pink Floyd's "Echoes" or Genesis' "Supper's Ready." At first, I threw out a few examples such as Yo La Tengo's "Night Falls On Hoboken," which he dismissed as an unending drone, and Radiohead's "Paranoid Android," which, at a bit over seven minutes long, was dismissed as not long enough. Then I realized I was taking the wrong approach. Since when was "complexity" a desirable trait in the world of rock and roll? Isn't the beauty of rock contained in its simplicity, its less-than-three-minutes of sheer celebration and booty-wigglin'? Wasn't "The New Wave" a solution to the cumbersome, plodding, so-called progressive monster that rock had become in the '70's?
My friend remained unshaken. "They just don't make them like they used to," he replied.
Usually, I am a staunch defender of new music, and I'm always on the lookout for something original, something challenging, and something new on the modern scene. But lately I feel that we blew our collective wad, creativity-wise, right around the turn of the millennium. 1999 was such a great year for the arts. It was the best year for film in a decade. Music was headed in some promising directions (I finally started hearing country music that didn't make me wince!). And the wife and I were able to got out and stick our noses within an inch or two of 75 of Van Gogh's most famous paintings. I spent almost an hour standing in front of "Wheatfield with Crows" alone! Yes, Art was good.
Then came Y2K, and we all heaved a sigh of relief that the world didn't implode under the weight of its... uh... "complexity." We all kicked back and relaxed. We became complacent. We forgot to create new things. Film became dreadfully mediocre, with every week producing a new candidate for "Worst Film of the Year." Fashion became unexciting, with the glaring exception of women's low-cut jeans (yowzah!). I can still get compliments on a shirt I bought a decade ago. And music... well, let's say we collectively looked back and said, "Music WAS cool in the '70's. Why were we so embarrassed about it before?" I know that Jason is going to hit me up for my year's best records any week now. And with the most interesting, satisfying releases coming from Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, and George Harrison, my list is going to look like the Best of 1971 rather than 2001.
All is not lost, however. There are some promising new developments of late. Bob Dylan, at the age of sixty, can evidently still pull masterpieces out of his ass. Lucinda Williams still continues to hypnotize me with her earthy, direct songwriting. And even though some people object to the anti-rock direction Radiohead has taken with their last two albums, they're still the most interesting thing in alternative, and that includes the so-called twee rock movement. And it's great that I can get all this on LP still. But the news in 2001 is all about the reissues. We're not talking simple remasterings, but complete reworkings of great classic albums. So it's not "they don't make 'em like they used to," but "they don't make 'em like they used to so they remake them even better... we think." So let's talk about the most worthwhile new reissues, on both LP and (I know, I know) CD.
If this all sounds like good news to you, then it's about to get much better. All of the Beatles' original releases will be reissued on--get this--the Apple label before the end of the year. We also have the Allman Brothers' Brothers and Sisters coming out on LP, as well as Walter Carlos' Switched On Bach, Johnny Cash's The Fabulous Johnny Cash, The Damned's Grave Disorder, The Dead's Terrapin Station, Tom Petty's Hard Promises, X's Under the Big Black Sun and many more. And, scouting the reissue landscape right now, I see that Mott the Hoople's Mott and All the Young Dudes, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Simon and Garfunkle's Bridge Over Troubled Water, Yes's Fragile and Close to the Edge, Genesis' Foxtrot and Selling England by the Pound, Carole King's Tapestry, Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde, and Steely Dan's Can't Buy A Thrill are currently available and selling well on LP.
- George Harrison All Things Must Pass
There are two types of people in the world: those who think this is George Harrison's best album, and those who think "Cloud Nine" is his greatest achievement. You know what I'm talking about. I happen to think that this, along with Band On The Run and Plastic Ono Band is the best of the post-Beatles solo efforts. Well, for the 30th Anniversary of this release you get a 3 LP or CD set that contains bonus tracks galore, new packaging, and even an austere yet interesting remix of "My Sweet Lord," which, and I hate to come out and say this, might be the last bit of musical magic we get from the ailing Mr. Harrison. Some of this stuff sounds quite dated, and the mystical bent of much of the songs leads one to believe that all the hallucinogens George ingested during the Sgt. Pepper sessions still hadn't been completely flushed out of his system, but this is his masterpiece, and his continued pride in what he accomplished still shows in the lavish, detailed packaging. By the way, the LP version is limited to 1000 copies, so act fast before it starts fetching $250 on ebay.
- Marvin Gaye What's Going On (deluxe edition)
At first I was reluctant to include this because, dammit, it's not available on LP. But this 3 CD set, which includes the original recording, an alternate "Detroit mix" version, and a live set from the same time period, is one of the most exciting releases of the year. I have to admit I was late to the Marvin Gaye party, having only really discovered him over the last couple of years (I always had a secret passion for "Mercy Mercy Me," however), but I believe unabashedly that he is the best thing ever to come out of Motown, and that's saying a lot. I could restate the obvious about this album, that it was a great awakening of the urban social conscious in music, that it defines the word "visionary," that such sheer passion seems missing in music today, but I'll just say this work is worth it just for the alternate version, which will make you hear the original version in a whole new light. They've also just released a deluxe version of Let's Get It On, which, if it's anything like this, will be vital to any serious music collection.
- Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti
I devoted an entire column, Dazed and Confused, to the first four Classic Record LP reissues a couple of months ago. And it's my duty to inform you that the Led Zeppelin catalog is continuing to be released at the rate of one every three or four months. While it seems currently fashionable to rate the first two Led Zeppelin albums as their best, I call these two my favorites because they were the ones that were released as I was first discovering them. The sound quality also got better during this period, so there's less of the garage-band compression going on, and more dynamics. And if you're one of those people who think that LZ lost their blues roots in their later years, I direct you to Graffiti's "In My Time of Dying," an eleven-minute-plus sheer blues wail that is simultaneously stripped-down and explosive. It sounds fantastic on the new LP. And "hits" such as "D'Yer Mak'er," "Houses of the Holy," and "The Ocean" almost sound like modern recordings with their new, added clarity. One caveat: the double-LP "Physical Graffiti" retails for $38.99. Ouch. It is worth it though.
- Queen A Night At The Opera
What bombast. What melodrama. What obnoxious preening. And yes, "Bohemian Rhapsody" has joined "Stairway to Heaven" and "Freebird" on the list of classic rock songs that will not be lamented if I never, ever hear them again. Yet this release, which is a mere remastering and not a repackaging, is noteworthy because it is DCC's return to LP releases after more than a year of devoting themselves exclusively to 24K gold CDs. Those were dark days for vinyl junkies when DCC chose not to release vinyl anymore. Just a few weeks prior, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs went under, and audiophiles genuinely worried about getting new vinyl fixes. But now DCC is back with their excellent LP reissues, and there's even talk of MFSL reorganizing and returning. But Night at the Opera? Well, to be fair, I think this is more of a nostalgia thing too. When this came out in 1975, I was in junior high, and EVERYONE loved this album. It was so unlike anything we had heard up to that time. And, listening to it now, I can feel a bit of the old excitement return. Songs that I missed the first time, like "I'm In Love with My Car," "'39," and "The Prophet's Song" emerge as the real gems now, over that Scaramouche nonsense. And the opening tune, "Death on Two Legs," which was always my favorite because of the line, "And now you can kiss my ass goodbye," still holds up and still blows me back in my seat. Okay, this is a guilty pleasure. Sue me.
- Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited
Did I save the best for last? Quite possibly. This wonderful 180-gram pressing from Sundazed Records is special because it is the original mono mix. No more Bob coming from one speaker, and the music coming from the other. A lot of people balk at buying mono, especially when they can have STEREO! But in a lot of cases, especially when we're talking about this time period, the stereo versions actually screw up the natural sound of the original monaural masters, and it sounds artificial and gimmicky. Trust me, Highway 61 sounds much better this way. Most people don't even realize they're listening to mono until you tell them anyway. For instance, your average Beach Boys fan acts surprised when you tell them that Pet Sounds is in mono. "But it sounds so great!" they reply. It's still mono. To illustrate this point about mono, I often play The Squirrel Nut Zippers' Hot, and ask people to identify which song is actually in mono. Few get it right. So if you're any sort of Dylan fan, run out and buy this when you get your LP version of Love and Theft with the bonus 45 inside. And the best part? It's only $14.95!
Now if all this good news could translate to new vinyl releases, then I'll be happy. Between you and me, if I head to the record store one more time and see nothing in the new vinyl bins but "Techno Mixes," people are gonna get hurt.
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