Reissue Mania!

Few people can argue that the record industry is in a freefall. Music sales this year continue to decline by double digits, and no release has managed to capture the attention of the general public. Yes, there are “stars”, both new and old, that continue to land on magazine covers and entertainment news programs, but for the most part the public has just yawned before returning to their video games and Netflix rentals.

Not that there haven’t been some fantastic albums in the past ten months. There’s always great music that primarily exists far away from Big Media, and this year is no exception. Yet in the last couple of months, an ever-growing percentage of my purchases and plays has actually been older or previously unreleased material that has been reissued in either box set or special deluxe editions.

While I’m happy to go back and reacquaint myself with old faves, the question that comes to mind is why are the vaults being emptied this year? Sure, every year sees some great remastered classics, but it seems like every week there’s at least two or three releases of this sort.

The answer is pretty obvious - record companies know that sales woes are here to stay, and they’re attempting to get what they can before the public completely gives up on them. While some are still destined to sell only a few thousand, that’s still a substantially higher figure than they’ll see in two or three years.

A perfect example of this sort are the first two albums by Hoboken’s The Feelies. Although a huge influence on mid-80’s jangly college rock, few people have heard either their 1980’s Crazy Rhythms or 1985’s The Good Earth. Mixing the quirky, angular rhythms of Gang of Four and the anxious urgency of punk with the vibe of The Velvet Underground, both albums have that rare trait of being able to slowly creep into your psyche.

The Feelies, "She Said, She Said"

Another band that sold little but influenced almost an entire generation is Big Star. Led by Alex Chilton (and Chris Bell on the first album), the band combined the energetic power pop of Rubber Soul/Revolver-era Beatles with dark, almost self-destructive lyrics that almost single-handedly gave Paul Westerberg and others a template on which to base their career.

A few weeks ago, Rhino Records compiled the highlights of their three albums, along with outtakes, demos, and a 1973 Memphis concert on the four-disc box, Keep An Eye On the Sky. It’s absolutely stunning, and every true music fan needs to discover the beauty of “September Gurls, “Thank You Friends”, “The Ballad of El Goodo”, and so much more.

Big Star, "September Gurls"

One band partially influenced by Big Star, but also by the early 70’s country-rock of Gram Parsons and Neil Young, is the Jayhawks. Signed by Rick Rubin in the early 90’s to his Def American label, the band never hit as big as they deserved. Sony is now attempting to write this wrong with an ambitious reissue campaign that began earlier this year with the double-disc Music From the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology.

The first disc’s collection of highlights from their seven studio albums are Americana at their finest, but the b-sides, demos, and unreleased material that comprises the second disc are just as essential.

The Jayhawks, "Waiting For the Sun"

While The Stone Roses have little in common with any of the artists mentioned above, their 1989 self-titled debut is just as influential. At a time when the British charts were dominated by dance music, the Stone Roses pretty much invented the "Madchester" mix of pop, punk, acid house, and psychedelic that is still prevalent in almost all British pop. The deluxe reissue of this debut now includes a second disc of primarily unreleased material, and a DVD of live footage and other videos from that time frame.

The Stone Roses, "I Wanna Be Adored (Demo)"

Obviously, one cannot talk about the reissues of 2009 without mention of the biggest band of all time. One can hardly open a music magazine these days without talk of the remastered Beatles catalog, but is it deserved? Unequivocally, yes. The entire catalog sounds like it was recorded yesterday (no pun intended). In fact, the majority of the material sounds better than almost anything that’s released in this compression-heavy era.

The early albums, recorded primarily live in the studio, sound like the band is in your living room, but it’s the latter discs that are truly enhanced by the Abbey Road engineers. Having heard Abbey Road and The White Album hundreds of times, I was completely unprepared for the previously hidden instrumentation on songs such as “Here Comes the Sun”, “I Want You”, “Glass Onion”, and so many more. “Dear Prudence”, in particular, is almost a completely different song. Previously a low-key, almost forgettable ballad, the track slowly builds up before it transforms into an almost Sonic Youth-ish wall of crashing drums and noisy guitars.

The Beatles, "Dear Prudence"

This is obviously just a partial list of the reissues that have emptied my wallet this year, and there’s plenty more to come the next few weeks. Some of these include expanded versions of U2’s Unforgettable Fire, Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, Nirvana’s Bleach, Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space, and Jawbox’s For Your Own Special Sweetheart.


Anonymous said…
I was listening to a friend's selection of favorite songs, and he had a great version of Siouxsie Sioux's rendition of 'Dear Prudence'. It was great - have you heard it yet?

Anonymous said…
I recently heard a new version of an old Foreigner song (I Want to Know What Love Is). I think that was the hit title, but a woman sings the new version. Could you tell me who that artist is?

Anonymous said…
Not that this is a reissue - issue, but I recorded Billy Idol's performing on PBS 'Soundstage', and it turned out to be an excellent live performance. Even his new music is great, and the audience loved it. This is a concert that I wish the Pavilion could get. Tesla Sunday night should be great also.
Great post, Scott.
The version you have here of The Stone Roses' I Wanna Be Adored, is one I don't have and would like to. Can you tell me where you found it? It's not the same version as what I have on cd.
Scott said…
It's on the bonus disc of the reissue of that album.

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