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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Music: 2007's Best Re-Issues

Here are the best re-issues and archival releases of the year according to yours truly. Each of them would make a fine Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Ramadan or Zoroaster's Feast gift:

1) Various artists (including Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations etc. )- The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 7 1967, Vol. 8 1968
These were two of the sets in Motown’s continuing series of box sets charting every single ever released by the famous label, including b-sides and pulled singles. These two years were pivotal in popular music and Motown’s music machine was firing on all cylinders. The hits are all here of course with revelatory sound quality and the obscurities and alternate withdrawn versions make these invaluable.

2) Robyn Hitchcock – I Wanna Go Backwards
Hitchcock was the leader of The Soft Boys, purveyors of surreal post-punk capable of aching melodies and strange twists and turns. I Wanna go Backwards boxes three of his early solo discs with a two disc rarities comp. He moves from the wonderful Soft Boys-like Black Snake Diamond Role into even stranger and sparer territory, along the way inspiring bands like Of Montreal and Neutral Milk Hotel. The liner notes are often quite funny, including his tale of “negative synaesthesia” in which a bacon sandwich eaten to a Bryan Ferry solo album turned Hitchcock into a vegetarian. Here’s Hitchcock doing “I Often Dream of Trains”:

3) Arthur Alexander – Lonely Just Like Me: The Final Chapter
Arthur Alexander was a brilliant songwriter and musician who was sadly under appreciated even after his death in 1993. His “You Better Move On” was covered by The Rolling Stones and “Anna” was a staple for The Beatles. He drifted away from the music business in the 70s and 80s until Nonesuch Records convinced him to record his swansong, Lonely Just Like Me. This strong set showed what the world had been missing and was released to wide acclaim in 1993. It was while touring behind it that he succumbed to a fatal heart attack. Hacktone Records reissue includes demos and live tracks, as well as a re-sequencing designed to reflect Alexander’s original intentions. A real country soul gem.

4) Aretha Franklin – Rare and Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign of The Queen of Soul
Though the title sounds hyperbolic, Aretha really was the queen of soul in the period between 1967 and 1973 this set covers. In fact she was one of the greatest artists in an era of greats. Though none of the recordings here feel like unjustly missed opportunities, they do give a behind the scenes look into how Aretha and her team at Atlantic records devoured songs regardless of genre and worked hard to find the best matches for her. Along the way she manages a wonderful take of The Beatles “Fool on The Hill” and an interesting pass at Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, along with stripped down demos of her own songs and a passel of Motown covers. A must for serious soul fans and Aretha fanatics.

5) Ike and Tina Turner – The Ike and Tina Turner Story 1960-1975
Ike and Tina Turner’s story had more amazing highs and lows and byways than even Tina’s famous book and biopic could encompass. Ike was there at the birth of rock, penning and performing on the 1948 hit single “Rocket 88” which many music historians consider to be the first rock n roll song. A string of bad luck kept him from making much of a recording impact during the 50’s until hotshot belter Anna Mae Bullock grabbed the mic at a performance and blew the roof of the joint. By the time of their first recording session she had been dubbed Tina Turner by Ike (despite not being married to him at the time). During the 60’s they recorded a burning hot set of hard r & b singles led by Ike’s stinging guitar and Tina’s raspy rich vocals. In 1966 they would work with nutball producing genius Phil Spector on “River Deep, Mountain High”, meant to be a comeback for Spector as a producer. Instead it flopped (it’s sadly not included here except in a live version) but both Spector and the Turners found solace in the rock sounds that flourished at the end of the decade. While Spector produced The Beatles, Ike and Tina got bigger than ever covering acts like Creedence Clearwater Revival and opened for The Rolling Stones on their 1969 tour. They got funkier in the 70s even as they became a bit too reliant on covering famous rock songs. This set has almost all the highlights, and includes a bonus live disc. Here’s Ike and Tina doing “Nutbush City Limits”:

6) Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth/Singles and Salad Days
Domino Records did the music world a service by compiling Young Marble Giant’s entire brief recorded output across two discs, ostensibly as a reissue of their classic first album. This is one of those bands who are unclassifiable in time, they could exist anytime after 1970 or so…their sound is utterly unique. Alison Statton’s chilly vocals and the spare arrangements are riveting. Here’s Young Marble Giants doing “Credit in the Straight World”:

7) Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation
Sonic Youth continued their ambitious deluxe reissue series with this two-disc version of their best album, 1988’s Daydream Nation. Daydream was a last middle finger hoisted at Reagan’s America and a battle cry in the midst of the synth decade that the guitar was not dead in rock. The songs are ambitious, sprawling, tuneful, anthemic, challenging. The bonus tracks run the gamut from weak to wonderful, with the inclusion of “Computer Age” from the Neil Young tribute album The Bridge a particular highlight. Disc Two is packed with fiery live versions of every song on the album. Here they are doing “Silver Rocket”.

8) Dynamics – First Landing
Hacktone records continues to unearth lost treasure with this great forgotten soul album from 1969. Terrific singing, great arrangements and a surprisingly deep cache of solid songs made this a very unexpected surprise. A must for any soul or r & b lover.

9) Sly and The Family Stone – The Collection
The Collection boxes Legacy’s superior remasterings of Sly and The Family Stone’s classic catalog. The sound is illuminating, scouring the depth of the muddy murk in There’s a Riot Goin’ On and polishing up all the bright arrangements on Stand. Not all of the albums are great and a few key singles could have been added as bonus tracks but this is some of the most vital music of its era. Here they are doing “M’Lady” from 1973:

10) Modern Lovers – Modern Lovers
Recorded in 1972 but not officially released until 1976, The Modern Lovers’ one and only self-titled album set the blueprint for what would one day be called indie rock. “Roadrunner” served as a calling card for the members of The Sex Pistols to prove they liked the “right” kind of music to each other, and still served that purpose today reconfigured by M.I.A. as an eclectic electro dance anthem on her latest album Kala. Jonathan Richman’s subsequent albums as a solo artist led him down a less Velvety path but this made his reputation. The reissue includes several early demos.

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