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Archive for April 2010

Review: Tom Lehrer, “The Tom Lehrer Collection”

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The career of Tom Lehrer is an improbable one.  A Harvard mathematics instructor by day and musical satirist by night, Lehrer was never particularly prolific.  His entire output amounts to around 50 songs and a handful of albums which have been repackaged over the years.   Most of his oeuvre was recorded between 1953 and 1965.  Yet he was the recipient of a lavish 3-CD Rhino box set collecting most of his work in one place (The Remains of Tom Lehrer, Rhino R2 79831), and with that set now out-of-print, Shout! Factory bestows the deluxe treatment on him with the 2-disc The Tom Lehrer Collection (Shout 826663-11823). 

So why Lehrer?  One listen will quickly show why his small but important catalog keeps getting anthologized.  I had anticipated that this set would be unnecessary for those who owned Remains, but Shout! has created a terrific companion to the box by including on this set a DVD of eight Lehrer songs and performances that have never before been commercially released.  With 26 tracks on the CD (all repeated from the box set) and one DVD, this is a veritable Lehrer feast.

Lehrer’s stingingly satirical tunes predate Randy Newman but share a similar acerbic wit and dry delivery.  Like Newman, he frequently accompanies himself on an ironically rollicking piano.  A master at marrying tuneful melodies to lyrical zingers, Lehrer jabs racism on “National Brotherhood Week” (“Oh, the white folks hate the black folks/And the black folks hate the white folks/To hate all but the right folks/Is an old established rule”) and the environment on the jaunty “Pollution” (“The city streets are really quite a thrill/If the hoods don’t get you, the monoxide will!”).  There are no sacred cows in Lehrer’s universe; he skewered the Catholic Church with “The Vatican Rag” and wrote what is probably the only jovial music hall number about STDs (!) with “I Got It From Agnes.”  While his delivery sounds somewhat arch to modern ears, his lyrics are almost cringingly current. 

Lehrer indulges his academic side with “The Elements,” literally a list song of 102 chemical elements set to a Gilbert and Sullivan melody, and finds a way to make them comical.  Best of all is the pastoral “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” which its author describes in his pithy track-by-track liner notes as such: “A gay spring song, proselytizing for one of the author’s favorite avocations.”  Lehrer didn’t shy away from the controversial with “Who’s Next?,” a song about the bomb that predates Newman’s own brilliant “Political Science,” and with the aforementioned “Vatican Rag.”  More details on this edition follow after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 22, 2010 at 01:20

Posted in Compilations, Reissues, Reviews

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Review: Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, “Live at the London Palladium”

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Leave it to Bob Dylan.  In his 2004 memoir Chronicles Volume One, he writes about the experience of listening to Judy Garland: “A couple of times I dropped a coin right into the slot and played ‘The Man That Got Away’ by Judy Garland.  The song always did something to me…listening to Judy was like listening to the girl next door.”  He writes of the song’s composer, Harold Arlen: “In Harold’s songs, I could hear rural blues and folk music…there was an emotional kinship there.”  He continues, “I could never escape from the bittersweet, lonely intense world of Harold Arlen.”  Dylan nails the dichotomy familiar to any fan of Garland: America’s sweetheart singing tortured melodies beyond her years, wringing every last drop of emotion out of each of them.  (In 2009, Dylan would record a Garland standard, the Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane-penned “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, on his Christmas in the Heart, and include the original, somewhat darker lyrics penned for Garland.)

The Second Disc has looked at the world of soundtrack collectors; their fervor is shared by a rabid group of enthusiasts of the genre that can only be described as American popular song, or “standards.”  This label largely refers to the songs that emanated from Tin Pan Alley during the years between the 1920s and the early 1960s, at which time a foursome from Liverpool and a troubadour from Minnesota changed everything.  One of the foremost interpreters of that still-vibrant body of work was Judy Garland, young star of The Wizard of Oz, who by 1965, was recognized as an international star of the concert stage.  That was the year of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli “Live” at the London Palladium, reissued this week in an expanded edition by DRG Records (DRG 19126).  This represents the last of Garland’s core Capitol albums to appear on CD, and was her final recording for the label.  Garland would tragically die four years later at the age of 47 as her daughter Minnelli’s star ascended, but this release captures both women in a rare joint concert experience.  It was drawn from two concerts at the Palladium on November 6 and 15, 1964, just months after Judy’s acclaimed appearance there on a bill with the Beatles for an all-star charity concert.  Read on after the jump!  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 22, 2010 at 01:14

Posted in Reissues, Reviews

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Reissue Theory: Sting, “The Dream of the Blue Turtles”

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The latest issue of Rolling Stone had a cover feature about the “State of Rock: 40 Reasons to Get Excited About Music” (a cover which featured terrible pop-rap group The Black Eyed Peas, so the list was slightly less than 40). As debatable as the list might be, one item on the list was actually somewhat intriguing – up and coming band I Blame Coco, led by Coco Sumner, daughter of the irrepressible Sting.

Coco is not the first Sting spawn with musical tendencies – his oldest son, Joe, fronts the band Fiction Plane (who in fact opened for The Police during their reunion tour) – but she does remind us, in a way, of what a musician Sting once was, not only as part of The Police but even on his own.

That may read as sacrilege. How can one enjoy The Police – one of the best rock/New Wave bands of the past 40 years – as well as Sting, whose solo output is often tinged by ridiculous non-pop genres (jazz, sea shantys, worldbeat, Victorian-era carols)? The answer is simple: for much of his solo career (up to 1994, we’ll say, and with Brand New Day being a brief return to form in 2000), Sting wrote great songs that were poppy and complex. Even the early stuff isn’t too much of a diversion from those latter-day Police cuts.

The one album of his that hits the hardest would be his first, 1985’s The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Recorded in The Police’s old haunt, AIR Studios in Montserrat, Sting utilized a fantastic backing ensemble that included saxophonist Branford Marsalis (Wynton’s brother, and one of the most fluid musical partners Sting ever had), keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, future Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones and drummer Omar Hakim (who played drums on David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing”). The songs, whether they were pop singles (“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” “Fortress Around Your Heart”) or worldly meditations (“Russians,” “We Work the Black Seam”), were all solid numbers that it’s not hard to come back to over and over again.

Twenty-five years later, it would be nice for Sting to break away from the whole not-looking-back trend and reissue this record with a few extra tracks that Sting collectors (whoever they are) have been waiting patiently for. If you love us, A&M, set us free with a set like this! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

April 21, 2010 at 12:44

Posted in Features, Reissues, Sting

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Not Quite What You Need

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It might be seen as unfair to criticize the catalogue-oriented decisions of INXS. Since losing lead singer Michael Hutchence in 1997, they’ve tried hard to find their way – finding a new singer through a reality show, recording an album with him, prepping a new album with a rotating stable of lead singers and so on. Rhino, the label that controls their back catalogue in the U.S., has released a lot of compilations in the interim as well, plus a few reissues of their late ’80s/early ’90s work (reissues that pale in comparison to some of their overseas counterparts).

Now, Petrol Electric – the reunited partnership between INXS and producer Chris Thomas – has added yet another catalogue entry to the mix, and it’s a head-scratcher, at best. INXS Platinum: Greatest Hits takes 16 studio cuts (all big hits or fan favorites, but missing plenty of pre-Kick material) and pairs it with Seriously Live, another 26 live cuts recorded all over the Hutchence era (naturally, there are no annotations as far as where or when these songs were recorded, so let’s hope they’re not secretly repeats from the sterile Live Baby Live LP).

Fans in the States don’t even have to worry whether or not they should spring for the set, though; this digital-only release is only available in Australia, with a May 4 date for Europe. No plans have been set for an American release, either, so this may be a tempest in a teapot for catalogue enthusiasts.

Are you ready for a new (but still kind of old) sensation? Take a look at the track lists after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

April 21, 2010 at 11:12

La La Land Blows Up White House, Catches a Wave

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Wow! Commenter ~Rupe was some sort of a prophet today when he discussed the need for soundtrack labels to repress certain out-of-print soundtracks. The second of La La Land Record’s soundtrack releases today (after David Arnold’s complete score to the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day) fulfills that need in spades: the label is releasing a brand-new pressing of John Williams’ score to the 1972 disaster classic The Poseidon Adventure.

Williams gained early mainstream recognition as the musician who scored the best-known disaster films in the 1970s, notably Poseidon, The Towering Inferno and Earthquake (1974). The Poseidon Adventure was part of the second installment of Film Score Monthly’s Silver Age Classics line in 1998, pressed onto 3,000 discs on a double bill with Williams’ score to The Paper Chase (1974).

Unfortunately, that long-sold-out set only presented 12 tracks, mostly in mono. But La La Land, armed with more than a decade of audio advancements, has presented the complete score for the first time in stereo, drawn from the original 2″ 24-track tapes.

This set is a must-have for any Williams completist, and it’s available now. View the full specs after the jump! (And let’s not forget ID4 either – specs for this 5,000-copy double-disc set are viewable afterwards too. And get ’em here while they’re hot!) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

April 20, 2010 at 15:21

Posted in News, Reissues, Soundtracks

Reissue Theory: Shania Twain, “Come On Over”

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Behind every devoted catalogue fan is a long-suffering but good-natured band of friends who smile politely and listen to us jaw on about liner notes, bonus tracks and the like.

Those readers with partners or spouses are probably grinning right now, and so am I. Today is the birthday of a special someone (in a hat tip to MusicTAP, I’ll call her Miss Disc) and in a show of geeky affection I have put together a Reissue Theory for one of her favorite records, which is thankfully one that could benefit from deluxe treatment.

Shania Twain spent the 1990s as a solid Canadian-born country star, but her third record was something special. With the help of super-producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange (who, besides producing Twain’s last record, The Woman in Me (1995), was married to her at the time), Twain developed an unheard-of crossover sound that meshed the best of country with the freshest dance and pop one could ask for at the time. Come On Over was a smash after its 1997 release, topping the charts in 10 countries and selling more than 30 million copies worldwide (the biggest-selling record by a female solo artist and one of the top 10 best-selling records in America).

And those songs! Twelve of the LP’s 16 tracks were released to various radio formats and became FM staples. Cuts like “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” “You’re Still the One,” “From This Moment On” and “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” ushered in a movement of country-pop that paved the way for class acts from The Dixie Chicks to Taylor Swift.

Like many best-sellers, the album has quite the history on CD. Foreign audiences weren’t quite ready for the Nashville sound of the record, so Mercury Records remixed the entire album (save pentultimate track “Rock This Country!”) with a Eurobeat feel when releasing it internationally in 1998. Then things got interesting: that version of the album was tweaked and released on its own in the U.S. as Come On Over: The International Version (1999). (So there’s a U.S. international version and an…international international version.) This notion would be milked even further for Twain’s next record, 2002’s Up!; that record was released as a two-disc set of country and pop mixes with a download code for a third album mix inspired by Eastern dance tracks.

A reissue of this LP would befit Universal’s usual Deluxe Edition format, with both versions of the record (and a handful of bonus tracks, in spite of the album’s hour-long running time) making up such a hypothetical set. Hit the jump (and raise a glass for Miss Disc’s birthday) to see the Come On Over reissue that someday could be. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

April 20, 2010 at 09:00

Posted in Features, Reissues, Shania Twain

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Release Round-Up: Lightfoot, Queen, ID4 and More

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  • Amazon has posted pre-order links for new remasters for folk legend (and non-dead person) Gordon Lightfoot. Wounded Bird will distribute these new releases of the LPs he recorded for Warner/Reprise, from 1970’s Sit Down Young Stranger to 1998’s A Painter Passing Through (pre-order links are missing East of Midnight (1983) – not sure as to why). They’re due June 8.
  • EMI has set a May 31 release date for Queen’s The Singles Collection Volume 3. This replicates 13 original 7″ singles (sorry dance fans, no 12″ mixes here) from “It’s a Hard Life” (from The Works in 1984) to “Scandal” (from The Miracle (1989)). A fourth and final set is in the works as well.
  • As previously mentioned, La La Land Records will be releasing a two-disc expansion of David Arnold’s score to Independence Day tomorrow. It’s a 5,000-copy edition, with the first 100 autographed by the composer himself. The label also has another release planned; no details given (usually the label announces a week in advance but since ID4 was leaked months ago they changed things a bit) except that it will be limited to 3,000 copies. This makes it a relatively sizable release, too. Both go on sale tomorrow at 12 p.m. PST.
  • And if you’ve been living in a cave, check out the discussion over at ICE about the potential remastering and reissuing of the Badfinger catalogue. The tragic power-pop masters may be getting some love on CD over the summer from Rhino, it seems – as always, stay tuned when more info becomes available.

Written by Mike Duquette

April 20, 2010 at 01:02

Reissue Theory: Neil Diamond with a Bang!

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Long before he read about a frog who dreamed of being a king – and then became one – Neil Diamond was an up-and-coming songwriter in the waning days of the Brill Building.  After a few unsuccessful stabs at recording in the early part of the decade, Diamond was taken under the wing of Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Bert Berns.  In January 1966, the hits started coming: first “Sunday and Me” for Jay and the Americans, then “I’m A Believer” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” both for the Monkees. 

Riding this wave of success, Diamond resumed his own singing career, with his first session for Bang Records taking place on January 25, 1966, one day after his 25th birthday.  Berns’ Bang label was riding high: the McCoys’ “Hang On, Sloopy” had topped the Billboard chart, the Strangeloves had a Top 20 hit with “I Want Candy,” and a young Irishman named Van Morrison was waiting in the wings for his solo debut on the young label.  While at Bang, Diamond waxed his first hit singles, many of which became instant classics: “Solitary Man,” “Cherry, Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman” among them.  He also established solid credentials as both a bona fide rock-and-roller and a songwriter of some introspection, although both traits were somewhat underplayed when his music took a MOR turn in the seventies.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

After two albums and Berns’ untimely death at only 38, Diamond’s relations with Bang grew sour.  He decamped amid lawsuits for Uni Records, California and greater stardom.  When the superstar gained control of his Bang master recordings in 1977, he subsequently licensed them to Columbia House on his own Frog King label, and later to Columbia proper.  Yet these seminal recordings have largely remained absent from his catalogue since then, despite the number of hit songs that remain in his repertoire from this era.  (The only official all-Bang release available is Classics: The Early Years (Columbia CK 38792); other tracks have surfaced on too many compilations to mention.)  For my first Reissue Theory, I present my dream project for Columbia/Legacy, and one which has been long-rumored but never confirmed:  Neil Diamond – The Bang Masters.  These are the tracks which have made Mr. Diamond a permanent resident of Little Steven’s Underground Garage, and which remain an important part of the sound of the 1960s New York rock and roll scene.

Due to Bang’s incessant repackaging in the years following Diamond’s ascent from shopping songwriter to worldwide music icon, multiple variations exist of virtually every one of the 25 songs recorded by Diamond for the label.  These variations include original mono and stereo mixes, remixes in both mono and stereo, and even “fake stereo” mixes and remixes!  Multiple edits exist of many of these titles, as well as alternate versions with radically different instrumentation and vocals, most notably “Solitary Man” and “Shilo.”  (The autobiographical “Shilo” would be recorded yet again for Uni.)  But any reissue should center on the two core albums in the Neil Diamond Bang catalog: The Feel of Neil Diamond (Bang LP 214, 1966) and Just For You (Bang LP 217, 1967).  Together, the LPs are a nice mix of big hits, largely unknown album tracks and even some surprising covers. 

I’ve included both albums in their familiar stereo mixes on Disc 1 and then rounded up the cream of the assorted singles and tracks which appeared on compilations only.  Disc 2 features both albums in mono, followed by the most interesting of the literally dozens of variant mixes.  On both discs, I’ve deleted “Solitary Man” from the original Just For You lineup, as it is essentially the same recording from The Feel of Neil Diamond.  I’ve substituted distinct alternate mixes of the song.  Read my hypothetical track listing after the jump, and then if you’re still interested in exploring these long-lost recordings, visit the definitive site Neil Diamond on Bang.  This site’s work in uncovering the multiple Bang variations has proven invaluable, and only a bona fide box set for the Diamond diehard could contain all of the material that has been unearthed.  Along with listening from my own collection, it proved a major resource in compiling this Reissue Theory. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 19, 2010 at 15:33

Posted in Features, Neil Diamond, Reissues

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On the Right (Sound)Track

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Here at The Second Disc, there’s a lot of coverage of soundtracks. (For proof, check Joe Marchese’s recent exciting review of a few vault reissues by Henry Mancini.) Granted, not every fan of classic pop, rock and R&B catalogue releases is big on orchestral scores and whatnot, but it’s an integral genre in the wide, wild world of reissues and worth covering from an artistic point of view.

But recent revelations have shown that soundtrack catalogue comings and goings are worth covering from a business point of view, too. Last week, Variety filed a pretty captivating (if brief) article on the indie soundtrack labels and their continued success.

Perhaps the most striking facts were that this niche market – a bunch of labels catering to roughly 3,000 to 5,000 fans and collectors – are collectively enjoying an estimated $10 million a year. Mind you, that’s $10 million in CD sales. No digital, no vinyl, no promotion outside of message boards and a handful of fan sites. And these aren’t ultra-obscure releases, either. Between labels like Intrada, Film Score Monthly, La La Land Records and Varese Sarabande (to name just four), the scores to films like Back to the Future, Robocop, Caddyshack, Independence Day, The X-Files, the 1970s and 1980s Superman films, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and The Goonies are just some of the recent or future releases in the past few years.

It’s an exciting time for fans; so-called “holy grails” seem to get checked off the list at a rapid pace. And the majors are willing to play along – rumors abound that La La Land, having founded a good partnership with Paramount Pictures, is developing a similar bond with Sony.

The question that arises from such a positive story on a part of the music business is this: what can the business of pop/rock reissues learn from these indie soundtrack labels and vice versa? I think there are a few answers, and you can read ’em after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

April 19, 2010 at 15:19

News Roundup: Unreleased Motown and More Coming From Ace

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I’ve often described Ace Records as the “British Rhino.”  If Rhino pioneered the concept of the deluxe reissue in America – containing bonus tracks, in-depth liner notes and unique packaging – Ace keeps the original Rhino tradition alive across the pond.  Virtually every month, Ace and its family of labels releases a handful of titles (both album reissues and compilations) to make collectors’ mouths water.  The batch arriving in the UK on April 26 and on our shores throughout May is no exception, with the most exciting being a first: a Motown release on the Ace label.

While largely unknown today, the Satintones have the distinction of being the first artists ever to be featured on a Motown single.  “My Beloved” b/w “Sugar Daddy” was released as Motown 1000 in October 1959 and reissued under the same catalog number in April 1960, paving the way for the Sound of Young America to come.  This was the second single by Motown’s first all-male vocal group, consisting of James Ellis, William “Sonny” Sanders, Chico Leverett and Robert Bateman.  Motown 1000, their debut single on Tamla 54026, and 22 other tracks are collected on The Satintones Sing! – The Complete Tamla and Motown Singles Plus.  Of these 26 songs, 13 represent the complete singles output of the group, and a whopping 11 tracks are unreleased direct from the Motown vault.  Both sides of an early Tamla single by Chico Leverett rounds out the set.  It is titled after an unreleased album, and looks like something of a Motown collector’s dream with appropriately retro cover art!  A 5000-word essay in the true Ace tradition accompanies the album, including interviews with all four Satintones.  Coming exactly 50 years to the month after that April 1960 release, The Satintones Sing! truly proves “better late than never,” and looks like an essential edition to any Motown collector’s shelf.

Other titles in this latest group of Ace releases are:

The Satintones Sing! is limited to 1000 copies as part of Ace’s new limited edition series, but is available at all usual outlets.  All of the other CDs are general releases.  Get the scoop on the full track list for The Satintones Sing! after the jump, and watch this space for further reissue news from Ace! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 19, 2010 at 11:21

Posted in Compilations, News, Reissues