The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Archive for April 14th, 2011

Reissue Theory: Majosha, “Shut Up and Listen to Majosha”

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we reflect on notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. As a modern-day piano man starts digging through the archives, we take a look at one of his steps on the path to critical acclaim.

Exciting news seems to be developing for fans of singer/songwriter/pianist Ben Folds: he recently tweeted a picture taken at his Nashville home of what appears to be the beginning of some research for an archival project. Folds’ wife, Fleur, elaborated that the artist was digging through tapes that would stretch all the way from Folds’ childhood to his days with beloved band Ben Folds Five.

One wonders if this archiving process will cover the first professional band Folds was ever a part of: the indie outfit known as Majosha. Though the band remains woefully obscure to all but the most hardcore Folds fans, the brief output of the group was in fact a strong hint of the talent Ben had, and the enduring listenability of his future commercial output.

The Majosha story begins after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

April 14, 2011 at 20:48

Posted in Ben Folds, Features, Majosha, Reissues

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A Dozen “Playlist” Sets Due in May

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Love ’em or hate ’em, the various budget compilations that come from the major labels are quick, easy ways to get catalogue material out to the masses. Universal’s ICON and Sony’s Playlist series are probably the highest-profile of these series, but the latter is arguably the more beloved of the two, thanks to a concerted effort by some of the producers at Legacy to get rarer tracks on the Playlist discs, whether it’s a rare single version or bonus track from a previous reissue.

Legacy has 12 new Playlist titles ready to go for next month, and we have the track lists for all but one of them (a compilation for Dionne Warwick). As usual, the selection runs the gamut between genres, from ’80s indie rock (The The, The Psychedelic Furs) and blues (Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters – who ironically has an ICON release due out next month, too), soul (Teena Marie, recently also honored in the ICON series; early Philly-soul band The Intruders), power-pop (Matthew Sweet), jazz (Dave Brubeck) and even older country (Marty Robbins). There’s also a multi-artist ’80s metal compilation with a title (Now Hair This!) that someone at Sony better have gotten promoted for. (It certainly makes up for the fact that not all the tracks on said set are from the ’80s!)

It’s also nice to see the label group license a few tracks from other places; Janis Ian’s debut single for Verve and long latter-day indie career is represented on her Playlist entry, while Motown contributes one early track for Teena Marie’s set. All these sets will be available May 10; pre-order links can be found here and almost all the track lists can be found after the jump (we’ll post the Dionne one as soon as we have it!). Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

April 14, 2011 at 15:13

Review: Howard Jones, “The 12″ Album/Action Replay: Remastered Editions”

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Less is more, they tell you. If a song like “Yesterday” was done with a full band, would it have retained its emotional impact than its original, heartrending arrangement? Now, that argument often rings true, but sometimes a little more is pretty fun, too.

Anyone who enjoys the music of the 1980s can attest to this. Some of the best hits of that decade were flush with production techniques and overdubs that would have been shunned in decades past. The synthesizer and the drum machine became the producer’s best friends, and with a rising visual revolution in the music business thanks to MTV, less may not have always been more, but more wasn’t so bad on its own. Taking the rising popularity of dance clubs and 12″ remixed singles into account, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that in the ’80s, more was more.

One of the most underrated examples of the “more is more” aesthetic is Howard Jones, the British singer-songwriter with big ideas, big hair and a big synth-heavy sound. In 1983, when Jones was 28, he was one of the brightest stars on the U.K. pop scene, composing lively tunes awash in keyboards and soul underpinnings (listen to hits like “Things Can Only Get Better,” featuring a funky bass line, a horn breakdown and background vocals by Afrodiziak!) and packing lyrical messages about independence (“Look Mama”), lost love (“No One is to Blame,” “What is Love?”) and international relations (“Like to Get to Know You Well,” which touted a dedication on the original single sleeve “to the original spirit of the Olympic Games”). All of his first nine singles went Top 20 in the U.K., and he remains a strong draw in concert, years after releasing his music independently and exploring other avenues of music technology.

It was a pleasant surprise to find out last year that Jones was, in collaboration with his old home base at Warner Music Group, remastering and reissuing his back catalogue independently through his own label, Dtox. Remastered editions of his first two LPs, 1983’s Human’s Lib and 1985’s Dream Into Action, were well-received, with a limited-edition box set including a bonus disc of unreleased live material selling out briskly. Now, Jones turns his attention to two remix albums that were released in between each respective record, 1984’s The 12″ Album and 1986’s U.S.-only Action Replay. Again, both have been issued in a limited edition box (Dtox DTOXSET2) with some great material making its way from the Warner vaults. Taken together, they show off the strengths – and the limitations – of synthpop music of the 1980s.

The 12″ Album (originally released as WEA WX-14 in the U.K.) was the ideal stopgap release after Jones hit the top of the U.K. charts with Human’s Lib. Featuring three tracks that appeared on various singles, two new remixes and a new track (the anthemic “Always Asking Questions”), it’s exactly the kind of release crafted for a fan who wants some more morsels of an artist’s music while waiting for a full LP. But The 12″ Album wasn’t structured as a cash-in; it treated the material with the kind of respect usually reserved for an album, sequencing each track properly to provide two sides’ worth of fine listening. “Always Asking Questions” segues into a new version of Jones’ debut single “New Song,” armed with an intensely catchy set of synth hooks, which in turn slides effortlessly into the extended version of “What is Love?” Although none of them were meant to be taken as a song cycle, they work perfectly as such. While the second side may not be as strong as the first – featuring Jones in several languages on a remix of “Like to Get to Know You Well” and a throwaway mostly-instrumental in “Total Conditioning” – it’s still a darn good offering of synthpop.

The music really shines, however, on Action Replay (Elektra 9 60466-1-Y), thanks to a new twist on an old song. “No One is to Blame,” from Action Replay, featured laid-back, bittersweet piano melodies under Howard’s metaphoric tale of love and loss, but the production was a little rough around the edges. By the time the song came to the States, Jones had a secret weapon: Phil Collins. The singer/songwriter/drummer/producer was everywhere by this time – 1985 was the year of Live Aid and No Jacket Required, with Genesis’ Invisible Touch on the horizon for ’86 – and he sat behind the boards (and the drum kit) for a special re-recording of the song, which went to No. 4 in the U.S., Jones’ highest-charting single in that territory. While the rest of the disc isn’t as intentionally cohesive as The 12″ Album, featuring three previously-released remixes, a CD bonus track and “Always Asking Questions” held over from the last remix record, it rarely drags. “Look Mama” is a treat, as is the underrated rarity “Specialty.”

Those who order the box set of both records receive a bonus disc, modeled after Jones’ vintage fan-club discs on WEA (“RISK”). On that platter are 11 remixes and B-sides, eight of which make their first appearance on CD and one of which – an alternate of “New Song” – bows for the first time anywhere. Two of Jones’ best singles not appearing on the remix albums, “Things Can Only Get Better” and “Life in One Day,” appear in their 12″ versions here, along with further extensions of “Look Mama” and “Like to Get to Know You Well,” which edge ever so closely toward the line of “too much of a good thing.” The bonus disc is far more of a test to listen all at once than the other albums, but taken in smaller doses, they’re more than enough to brighten your spirits.

It gives this author great pleasure to praise not only the content of this box, but the presentation as well. The main two albums are presented in sturdy Super Jewel Boxes with cardboard slipcovers. (Admittedly, these are among the first releases I own in such cases; why haven’t more reissue labels utilized these packages, with their easy-to-remove liner notes and disc trays?) The “RISK” bonus disc is in a cardboard slipcase replicating the original fan-club sleeve, with full credits and discographical information printed on the back. Short track-by-track notes are present in the booklets for each disc, with a few paragraphs on the release of each original EP. (The best treat, notes-wise, is found in the Action Replay booklet, in the form of a short discussion on “No One is to Blame” from Phil Collins!) The discs are housed in a good-looking, sturdy cardboard box that flips open from the bottom; each box is numbered on the rear lower left-hand corner. (“0271” for me, for those keeping score at home.)

The pop music of the 1980s is surely not for everyone. But when it’s done well, it can be a great thing. And Howard Jones knew how to do it well. It’s a credit to all involved that this material is presented with just as much love as was originally intended decades ago. If everyone put this kind of work into all kinds of reissues…well, things could only get better.

Written by Mike Duquette

April 14, 2011 at 13:43

Crossing the Pond: “London American Label 1963” Spotlights Spector and More

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It’s 1963. Imagine a label that counted Roy Orbison, Darlene Love, James Brown, The Drifters and Jerry Lee Lewis all among its artists. While such an array of talent never convened under one roof in America, it was a very different story in the United Kingdom. The U.K.’s  Decca Record Company indeed brought all of those artists, and more, under the umbrella of its London American label. London American delivered the best in American pop, R&B and rock and roll to British audiences. Ace is another British label bringing the best of American music to its listeners, so it seems fitting that the label is in the midst of an ambitious series celebrating the London American legacy. The London American Label Year by Year: 1963 is the fifth volume in the series, which isn’t being released chronologically. It’s available in the United Kingdom and expected to hit stores on our shores any day now.

The London label first appeared in America in 1934 representing British Decca’s operations in America. Back in Britain, the London logo made its debut in 1949 releasing material from its American counterpart, but also from early U.S. independent labels. It was in 1954 that a new prefix (HL) and numbering system (8001) was introduced, and it’s this series that is the focus of the Ace compilations. Some American hit records appeared on EMI’s Columbia, Parlophone and HMV labels, but the cream of the crop was usually on London.

Dedicated readers of The Second Disc know that 1963 may have been the year of Phil Spector. In England, however, it wasn’t the Philles label that boasted Darlene Love, The Crystals and The Ronettes, but rather, the London American label. While controlled by ABKCO, Philles recordings had long been unavailable for various artists compilations.  Since the acquisition of the license to the catalogue by Sony Music Entertainment, the vaults have been opened to labels like Ace. (One wonders if the label is considering an updated Darlene Love anthology; Ace’s So Much Love was a fantastic overview of Love’s career, but couldn’t include any of her most famous sides. Now, inclusion of the Spector-produced tracks would likely be possible.)

Ace producer Mick Patrick drops an interesting tidbit about this volume: “The inclusion of Darlene Love’s ‘A Fine Fine Boy’ here marks the first time the original 45 version has been legally available on CD. (All other digital issues contain a re-edit that is the result of irreparable damage to the original master.)” In addition to that track, Year by Year: 1963 also includes The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Of those songs, all but “Zip” were co-written by Spector with Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry. The famed Greenwich and Barry team appears elsewhere on Ace’s new volume, with Ray Peterson’s “death disc” “Give Us Your Blessing” and the Raindrops’ “What a Guy.” (Ellie and Jeff actually were The Raindrops!)

Who else appears on this volume? Hit the jump for more, plus the complete track listing with discography! Read the rest of this entry »