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Archive for October 4th, 2011

Even Better Than the Real Thing? U2 Uber-Box Details Unveiled (UPDATED WITH TRACK LISTS)

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Well. U2 have finally unveiled the preliminary details for the Achtung Baby box set, and it’s particularly insane.

Of the five formats available for this set, most of them could be predicted. You have your single-disc remaster, a two-disc edition featuring B-sides and remixes and a quadruple-vinyl set featuring Achtung Baby and its remixes and B-sides. Fine enough.

Then we have the big box set. Well, two versions of the big box set. At the heart of each is 10 discs – six CDs and four DVDs – that include Achtung Baby, its 1993 follow-up Zooropa, B-sides, remixes and outtakes from each record and what appears to be some sort of an alternate version of Achtung Baby on the sixth CD, plus music videos, a new documentary on Achtung (From the Sky Down), the Zoo TV concert from Sydney and more. That 10-disc set is available in two versions: one in a box with a 84-page hardback book and 16 art prints, and one that includes all that plus stickers, badges, a copy of the band’s official magazine, Propaganda, the Achtung Baby album and selected singles on vinyl and – the piece du insane resistance – a pair of Bono’s trademark “The Fly” sunglasses. All of that comes in a “magnetic, puzzle-tiled box” and can be yours for the spine-shattering price of $447 and change (per Universal’s U.K. page).

I can’t wait to read everyone’s two cents on this one. (UPDATE 10/4: Full track listing for all formats is now in place.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

October 4, 2011 at 17:13

Posted in Box Sets, News, Reissues, U2

Back Tracks: Paul McCartney, Working Classical – From “Liverpool Oratorio” to “Ocean’s Kingdom”

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Tucked between album opener “Taxman” and “I’m Only Sleeping” on Side One of The Beatles’ 1966 LP Revolver, “Eleanor Rigby” heralded an explicit attempt by the pop giants at pushing the musical envelope, both with its despairing lyrics and classical-inspired arrangement for a string octet.  Primarily the composition of Paul McCartney, “Eleanor Rigby” defied the odds to hit the top spot on the British charts (a double A-side single with “Yellow Submarine”) and hit the No. 11 spot in the United States.  Beatles producer George Martin was inspired by the work of cinema legend Bernard Herrmann in crafting his arrangement, while McCartney’s choice of a string backing may have been influenced by the work of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), the composer perhaps best known for the violin concertos The Four Seasons.  McCartney had, of course, previously employed strings for “Yesterday,” the 1965 Beatles song often recognized as the most recorded popular song of all time.

By the time 1991 rolled around, there were few heights that Paul McCartney hadn’t scaled, both as a Beatle and as a solo artist.  Although he had flirted with the orchestral medium via the score to the 1967 film The Family Way, his central theme composition was developed by George Martin.  It was perhaps inevitable that one of the world’s most renowned melodists would turn his attention to the classical realm and dive headfirst into it.  Beginning with that year’s Liverpool Oratorio, composed with Carl Davis, McCartney has released a steady stream of classical works.  The most recent of these projects, Ocean’s Kingdom, arrives in stores today!  Setting to music the tale of a clash between the worlds of sea and land, Ocean’s Kingdom provides the soundtrack to a ballet commissioned by the New York City Ballet. 

Longtime readers might recall our first Back Tracks column devoted to The Cute Beatle.  Today’s installment begins with our look at Ocean’s Kingdom before we revisit the complete full-length works of renaissance man Sir Paul McCartney, working classical!

Paul McCartney’s Ocean’s Kingdom (Hear Music/Concord/Universal/Telarc/Decca, 2011)

Many pundits can’t help but notice that Ocean’s Kingdom marks the first time a Beatle has headlined on the Decca label.  Decca, of course, famously rejected the Fab Four when the band auditioned for the venerable company in 1962.  Well, it’s at least fitting that McCartney’s proper Decca debut is of a landmark recording, his first ever ballet score.

Writing for a ballet presents its own set of challenges, as the composer must reflect both the onstage plot and the characters’ emotional states without resorting to dialogue or sung lyrics.  McCartney’s cinematic score largely succeeds on these counts.  Ocean’s Kingdom consists of four movements detailing love story between royalty above and below water.   Princess Honorata hails from the Ocean Kingdom and Prince Stone from the Earth Kingdom.  Unsurprisingly, the earthmen are the nominal heavies in McCartney’s oceanic fantasy which takes in a grand ball, love at first sight, an abduction and eventually a marriage.

The opening movement “Ocean’s Kingdom” is stately and majestic.  Strings wash over the listener in this movement, which is alternately atmospheric and indicative of action.  (McCartney arranged the ballet himself in collaboration with London Classical Orchestra conductor John Wilson; their work has been orchestrated by Andrew Cottee.)  McCartney brings the central string-based motif in the first movement to a grand, swelling conclusion.

Movement 2, “Hall of Dance,” begins jovially, with brass passages both humorously slinky and woozy.  There’s some lovely writing for woodwinds even as the movements becomes more frantic and fast-paced.  Despite its title, Movement 3, “Imprisonment,” doesn’t get too dark.  McCartney’s score is vivid in telegraphing the emotional through line.  Melancholy atmospherics pervade the score here, and some of the darker, ominous musical phrases recall the sweeping film music of film’s Golden Age.  McCartney, Wilson and Cottee supply enchanting orchestral colors, with flutes and celli making an impression. 

The climactic Movement 4, “Moonrise,” offers big, bold fanfares with a strong air of the fantastic.  It’s particularly in this movement that McCartney’s love of Disney animation and fairy tales shines through.  It’s surprising that McCartney still hasn’t scored a feature-length animated film, a medium to which he would be ideally suited. 

Ocean’s Kingdom is succinct, with a running time of less than one hour.  If it’s not easy to discern the action onstage in an audio recording, the mood is certainly conveyed.  The album is marked by McCartney’s typical playful touches and an abundance of melody, even if the format doesn’t allow one theme to take off and soar the way a compact song or even a stand-alone film music cue does.  But it’s not surprising that the self-admitted ballet novice, well, took to it like a fish to water.  If you’re a fan of McCartney when he evokes a pre-Beatles musical landscape, you’ll likely find Ocean’s Kingdom to be an enchanted kingdom.

Hit the jump to meet us in Liverpool, circa 1942, by way of 1991’s Liverpool Oratorio! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 4, 2011 at 14:16

Short Takes: Jesus and Mary Chain Error Addressed, Meat Loaf Catalogue Could Be in Doubt

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A few brief notes from around the catalogue world on this Tuesday afternoon!

  • Slicing Up Eyeballs reports that the deluxe edition of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands has an error on one disc, but Demon Music Group is ready to replace your copies. A mastering error caused eight tracks on the first CD to become improperly indexed, meaning the starts of those tracks will be cut off if you shuffle or skip through the program. Replacement discs are already being pressed and should be ready in two weeks; interested parties should e-mail info@demonmusicgroup.co.uk with the subject “Replacement Darklands Disc.”
  • Sony Music could lose their longtime distribution rights to several Meat Loaf albums, depending on the outcome of a new lawsuit. Billboard reports the estate of Stephen Popovitch, founder of Meat Loaf’s onetime label Cleveland International Records, is suing Sony for unpaid royalties, at least $3 million in total. The estate alleges that Sony’s actions have led to their forfeiture of distribution rights on the singer’s Cleveland International discography, including the landmark Bat Out of Hell, Dead Ringer, Midnight at the Lost and Found and the Hits Out of Hell compilation. The suit, filed Wednesday, is the third of its kind between Cleveland International and Sony, following court actions in 1998 and 2002.

Written by Mike Duquette

October 4, 2011 at 13:09

Ain’t They Sweet: The Beatles’ Hamburg Recordings Revisited By Time-Life

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Reissue! Repackage! Repackage!  We’ve occasionally used that tag here at The Second Disc to signify that rare breed of reissue, the kind that simply regurgitates extant material in one dizzying configuration after another.  And few titles have been repackaged more times than the set variously known as The Beatles’ First!, In the Beginning, Savage Young Beatles and The Early Tapes.  These eight songs, performed by the embryonic Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best) with lead vocals on all but one track by Tony Sheridan, were recorded in 1961 and 1962 at Harburg’s Friedrich-Ebert-Halle and Hamburg’s Studio Rahlstedt, respectively.  Bert Kaempfert, composer of standards including “Strangers in the Night,” produced the sessions for Polydor. 

After numerous releases of both an official and unofficial nature, The Beatles themselves reclaimed the material as part of 1995’s Anthology 1.  Then, in 2001, Bear Family definitively anthologized the Tony Sheridan and the Beatles recordings as Beatles Bop – Hamburg Days.  Nine songs (the core eight plus one non-Beatles bonus track) miraculously became 38 tracks, encompassing a truly jaw-dropping array of alternate mixes, versions and edits.  Making sense of it was a thick book (120 pages in the LP-sized deluxe version and “only” 98 in the CD-sized edition!) by Hans Olof Gottfridsson.  One might think that project would be the last word on these recordings, but you can’t keep a good Beatle down!  On November 8, Time-Life takes a crack at the Beatles’ Hamburg days with First Recordings: 50th Anniversary Edition.

For those keeping track, the eight songs in question are: “Ain’t She Sweet” and Harrison/Lennon co-write “Cry For a Shadow,” both performed by The Beatles, and six more with The Beatles backing Sheridan: “My Bonnie,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Why (Can’t You Love Me Again),” Take Out Some Insurance On Me, Baby,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Nobody’s Child.”  As soon as Beatlemania took flight, Polydor recognized the worth of these early recordings, with The Beatles’ First arriving in Germany in April, 1964.  Those eight tracks were augmented by four songs featuring Sheridan with his backup group, The Beat Brothers.  (Sheridan used this name for his group regardless of its personnel.  When the Beatles recorded with him in 1961 and 1962, they too were credited under that moniker.)   Each additional Beat Brothers track was a cover of a popular favorite: “Let’s Dance,” “Ruby Baby,” “What’d I Say,” and “Ya Ya.”

The recordings made their official CD-era debut with The Early Tapes of the Beatles, a 1990 PolyGram release which augmented the 12 tracks with two more non-Beatles cuts, “Ready Teddy” and “Kansas City.”  Polydor’s 2000 CD upgrade, In the Beginning, dropped those last two titles to replicate the original First album line-up.  2004 brought the restoration of the original First title and track listing  for a slipcased 2-CD Universal Deluxe Edition.  That version presented a mono disc and a stereo disc, each containing as bonuses “My Bonnie” with German and English intros.  The stereo disc added two more bonus tracks, non-Beatles renditions of “Let’s Twist Again” and “Top Ten Twist.”

By the numbers, the upcoming Time-Life edition is second only to Bear Family’s Beatles Bop, with 34 tracks on the new set vs. Bop‘s 38.  How do the contents compare?    You’ll find that information, plus a pre-order link and the complete track listing after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 4, 2011 at 11:07

Gold Legion Goes “Koo Koo,” Expands Debbie Harry’s Solo Debut

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Well before she was French kissin’ in the U.S.A., Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry made a big splash with her 1981 solo debut Koo Koo, produced by the ever-busy CHIC Organization team of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Thirty years later, the Gold Legion label, the same team behind those upcoming Grace Jones reissues, is releasing a newly expanded edition of the set with a new-to-CD bonus track.

In 1981, in the midst of a yearlong hiatus for Blondie (their latest, 1980’s Autoamerican, spawned chart-topping hits in “Rapture” and “The Tide is High”), Harry and boyfriend Chris Stein, Blondie’s guitarist, began a solo project for Harry. To produce, they enlisted Rodgers and Edwards, all of whom made friends recording at New York City’s Power Station. The CHIC Organization was riding high on the production front, having helmed Diana Ross’ massive diana the year before. (They would also record the sessions for Johnny Mathis‘ legendary unreleased album I Love My Lady in 1981.) They assembled the usual gang to back Harry: Rodgers and Edwards on guitar and bass, drummer Tony Thompson, keyboardists Robert Sabino and Raymond Jones and backing vocals from Fonzi Thornton. (Additional background vocals were credited to “Spud and Pud Devo,” who were, in fact, Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale of the band Devo.)

With a striking album sleeve (featuring a brunette Harry) designed by H.R. Giger, the Swiss surrealist whose designs became the fearsome title character of Ridley Scott’s iconic sci-fi/horror film Alien (1979), Koo Koo was a considerable success, ultimately certified as a gold record in the U.S. for over 500,000 units sold. (The album charted at No. 6 in the U.K., considerably higher than the U.S. placement of No. 25.) Rodgers/Edwards-penned singles “Backfired” and “The Jam Was Moving” were moderate chart hits on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album was reissued by Chrysalis/EMI U.K. in 1994, adding the 12″ mixes of the two singles to the track lineup. (A 1999 U.S. reissue on Razor & Tie only kept the remixed “Backfired.”) Gold Legion includes not only both of those tracks, but, for the first time ever on CD, the extended version of album cut “Inner City Spillover,” which backed the U.K. 12″ of “The Jam Was Moving.” A liner notes essay by Christian John Wikane completes the package.

The set will be available October 28, and you can order your copy here. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

October 4, 2011 at 10:33

Release Round-Up: Week of October 4

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After a blowout week of catalogue titles last Tuesday, you can almost hear the crickets chirp. There’s some seasonal stuff on the horizon, though, so keep your eyes peeled.

John Coltrane, The Impulse! Albums Volume 5 (Hip-o Select/Verve)

Five of ‘Trane’s posthumous albums, boxed. (Hip-o Select)

Joss Stone, The Best of 2003-2009 (Virgin)

A simple overview for the British chanteuse. (Amazon)

The Jesus and Mary Chain, Munki / Stoned and Dethroned: Deluxe Editions (Edsel)

Another batch of JAMC expansions. Almost to the end! (Official site)

Lonnie Smith, Mama Walker / Johnny Hammond, Wild Horses/Rock Steady / Esther Phillips, Performance / Hank Crawford, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing (Masterworks Jazz)

Four vintage albums from the Kudu label, remastered and reissued on CD. (Original post)

The Beach Boys, The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (Capitol/EMI)

A straight reissue of the iconic holiday LP. As Joe pointed out last year, there’s plenty of golden compilations for The Beach Boys’ holiday hits out there. (Amazon)

Frank Sinatra, A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra (Capitol/EMI)

Another straight reissue, including the same bonus tracks from a 1954 single as heard on a reissue ten years ago. (Amazon)

Written by Mike Duquette

October 4, 2011 at 09:03