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Archive for December 2nd, 2011

The Second Disc Buyers Guide: The 100 Greatest Reissues of All Time, Part 5 (#80-76)

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It’s almost the weekend, and we’ve got the perfect set of tunes to rock your Saturday and Sunday!  It’s Part 5 of our first-ever official Second Disc Buyers Guide, in which we look at the 100 greatest albums of all time, as selected by Rolling Stone in 2003, through the filter of when and how these classic albums have been reissued, remastered and repackaged. If you’ve ever wondered to yourself which versions of these albums to buy for certain bonus tracks and the like, we’re your one-stop shop.

80. The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle (CBS/Date, 1968)

It’s always the time of the season for Odessey [sic] and Oracle, the original studio swansong of The Zombies.  Rod Argent described the album in the liner notes to Rhino’s 1987 CD reissue: “In 1967, The Zombies, after only three professional years, had already decided to break up. Chris White and I, however, wanted to make a parting gesture. We wanted to make a very personal final album, controlling every step of the process from writing to final cut, from production of the music to production of the album cover. We knew the record would be released after the break-up of the group, so we didn’t attempt to bow to the pressures of the marketplace. The songs were inspired by a variety of influences, but they were songs which came from our hearts. They were not the result of a producer or record company imposing their views of what a hit single might be. Some of the songs were romantic, others sparked by literature (‘Butchers Tale,’ ‘Brief Candles’) – ‘A Rose for Emily’ was inspired by a Faulkner short story. Chris reflected on his experience growing up near Beechwood Park in his song of that name.  ‘Time of the Season’ was actually influenced by Smokey Robinson’s ‘The Tracks of My Tears.’ I misunderstood the line ‘If you look closer it’s easy (to trace the tracks of my tears)’ as ‘It’s the close of the season.’ I thought it was a great phrase, and when I found out that’s not what he sang, I wrote ‘Time of the Season.’”  Argent wrote five tracks while White contributed seven, and every song was brought to life by those gentlemen (Argent on organ, piano, Mellotron and vocals; White on bass and vocals) plus Colin Blunstone (vocals), Paul Atkinson (guitar, vocals) and Hugh Grundy (drums, vocals).

The record label, CBS, wasn’t as enthusiastic about the album as The Zombies, however.  According to Argent, he and White even had to draw against their songwriting royalties to have a stereo mix created.  The U.K. release finally came on April 19, 1968.  Clive Davis, of the U.S. Columbia/CBS office, initially passed on releasing the album in America.  Enter Al Kooper.  On a trip to the United Kingdom, the songwriter/producer heard Odessey and Oracle, and returned home raving to the top brass at the label.  Kooper felt strongly that there was great potential for hit singles off the album.  Although the first single “Butcher’s Tale” didn’t resonate on the charts, another track certainly did: “Time of the Season” was issued as a single in the U.S. nearly two years after it was recorded, and a year after the Zombies had split.  (White and Argent had already formed the band Argent!)  It hit No. 3 on the chart and remains a radio staple today.  But that iconic single, written by Rod, is just one small part of the Odessey tapestry.  The album is a lush, psychedelic journey that encompasses soul, tough rock and orchestrated baroque pop in a song cycle that’s as uniquely British as contemporary efforts by The Kinks and as ambitious as the best of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Pink Floyd.

Odessey and Oracle (its misspelling intentional, according to Argent) may have the most convoluted reissue history of any title in our Top 100.  We’ll attempt to make it (somewhat!) clear here.  Read on at your own risk!  The album first appeared on CD in 1986 with vastly inferior cover art, courtesy the Rock Machine label (MACD 6).  The next year brought Rhino’s reissue (RNCD 70186, 1987), which added the 1969 single “Imagine the Swan” (with only Argent remaining from the original band) and the Argent/White co-write “I’ll Call You Mine” to the line-up.  Here’s where one needs a scorecard to follow.  Due to vagaries of ownership, The Zombies’ catalogue has been reissued multiple times on multiple labels, with Odessey leading the pack in various editions with unique bonus tracks.  The 2004 edition on Fuel 2000 was advertised as “the first official North American release in 15 years” (Fuel 2000, 302 061 413 2) and adds ten bonus tracks including alternate stereo mixes, overdubbed versions and the U.K. mono mix of “Time of the Season.”  Greg Russo remastered.  Repertoire Records has reissued the album as REP-4214 in 1992, REP-4940 in 2001, REP-5089 in 2009 and finally, REP-5182 in 2011. The 2001 edition retains the stereo album plus sixteen bonus tracks.  The “40th Anniversary Edition” from 2009 offered the mono album on Disc 1 plus five bonus tracks (“I’ll Call You Mine,” “Imagine the Swan,” “Conversation Off Floral Street,” “If It Don’t Work Out,” “I Know She Will” and “Don’t Cry For Me”) plus the stereo album on Disc 2.  The 2011 iteration, subtitled The CBS Years 1967-1969, includes the original mono album plus “I’ll Call You Mine” on Disc 1, and the original stereo album plus an alternate take of “A Rose for Emily” and the unreleased R.I.P. album on Disc 2.  Jon Astley (The Who) remastered this edition.

As part of its comprehensive Zombies campaign, Ace’s Big Beat division has reissued Odessey more than once on CD, as a vinyl replica (CDHP 025) and also as a deluxe expanded edition (CDWIKM 181) for the album’s thirtieth anniversary in 1998.  The latter edition, considered by most to be the definitive one, offers both the mono and stereo versions on one CD plus three bonus tracks: alternates of “A Rose for Emily” and “Time of the Season” plus the backing track to “Prison Song (Care of Cell 44).”  Big Beat has also reissued Odessey on vinyl (LP WIKM 181) and as part of the Zombie Heaven “complete” box set for the group (ZOMBOX 7, 1997).  Japan’s Imperial/Teichiku label has also reissued the album with frequency, including TECI-26537, 2008, in the SHM-CD format.  All of this can become mighty intimidating to a first-time buyer, or heck, even to a seasoned one!  In conclusion, suffice to say that Big Beat’s expanded edition is the way to go, boasting solid sound quality, both the mono and stereo mixes, and a tight brace of three related bonus tracks.  Those of you who wish to explore the Zombie minutiae further can seek out any and all of the above mentioned releases to take an odessey, er, odyssey of your own.

79. James Brown, Star Time (Polydor, 1991)

James Brown was many things, but foremost among them was certainly a star.  When the four-disc box set Star Time was released in 1991, it was at the dawn of a halcyon era of archival releases and collectors’ boxes.  In the CD’s 1980s infancy, few releases had put an artist’s career into perspective with lavishly annotated, expanded reissues.  Star Time was one of the titles that literally set the standard.  Although further releases have explored various avenues of the legacy of the “hardest working man in show business,” including Hip-o Select’s fantastic complete singles series, Star Time remains the set to top for its well-curated, selective-yet-comprehensive “all-killer, no-filler” approach.  In fact, this box might just as well have been called The History of Funk.  Brown was so keyed into the present that his transition from early R&B to soul to funk (and all its own iterations) mirrored that of the larger musical culture.  At 71 tracks, Star Time never burned so brightly.  The original box set (Polydor 849 108) hasn’t been expanded, retooled or otherwise reissued; why tamper with perfection?  With its greasy, danceable grooves, you’ll want to get on the good foot, for sure, and start referring to yourself in the third person!  Owwww!

After the jump: are you ready for the country? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 2, 2011 at 14:58

Holiday Tunes Watch, Part 3: John Denver, Muppets Go “Urban” on Vinyl

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Is the outpouring of love for the new Muppets film still not enough for you? Of course not! So you’ll be happy to know that there’s yet another great musical collectible (after Disney’s fun reissue of the 2006 A Green and Red Christmas) that celebrates our fur and felt friends, not to mention one gone-but-not-forgotten pop favorite: a vinyl reissue of the beloved holiday album by John Denver and The Muppets.

Maybe it was his just-offbeat-enough sensibilities in public – the onstage good-natured behavior that just barely betrayed a distinctly liberal slant – or maybe it was the physical similarities to Scooter, the Muppet’s faithful gofer and nephew of the owner of the Muppet Theater. But John Denver was a lifelong friend to Jim Henson and his band of colorful characters, and nowhere did it manifest more famously than John Denver and The Muppets: A Christmas Together, a 1979 album and subsequent television special.

While that special has yet to be released on DVD (come on, Disney!), the album has been readily available on CD and through iTunes for several years. This reissue, however, is a special one for vinyl collectors: an LP version, with all the original artwork restored (you have to love those Muppet Christmas cards on the gatefold sleeve!) pressed on “Kermit-green” vinyl, along with a download card to enjoy the album on your iPod. It’s available exclusively in stores and online at Urban Outfitters, the offbeat mall chain specializing in kitschy and ironic apparel and gifts. Rest assured, though: there’s nothing ironic about giving the gift of Muppets (or John Denver!) this holiday season.

Stroll down memory lane with the album track list after the jump, and click on the link in the last paragraph to order your copy!

(A hearty thanks to super-reader Jeff S. for the tip!)

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Written by Mike Duquette

December 2, 2011 at 13:50

Friday Feature: “An American Tail”

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Let’s get the opinions out of the way: An American Tail is not a great movie. I’m not even sure it’s a good movie; I probably wouldn’t even be writing this had it not been an early childhood favorite. But while the film doesn’t quite pan out as a cohesive piece of work, there are some great parts – an interesting approach to plot and animation, and certainly a brilliant batch of soundtrack writing – that make the film worth writing about.

The thing you have to remember about An American Tail, released 25 years ago during the holiday season of 1986, was that the animated flick didn’t have much in the way of direct competition. Disney was three years away from their stunning reinvention as a pop-art animation studio, having most recently released The Great Mouse Detective months earlier. Adding insult to injury – at least for Disney – was the fact that the director was Don Bluth, an ex-Disney animator who had enjoyed some success with The Secret of NIMH (1983) and the laserdisc-based video game Dragon’s Lair (1983).

The story, however, is the kind of classic family yarn you’d expect from the film’s producer, Steven Spielberg. It’s the story of a family of Russian Jews who move to America, and the son, Fievel (named for Spielberg’s grandfather), who gets separated from the family before arriving at Ellis Island and has an adventure trying to find them. Of course, it’s an animated movie, so the family is made up of mice (the Mousekewitz family), but the fine-tuned pathos, not to mention a genuine interest in maintaining a modicum of accuracy to the real-life uphill climb of immigrants in America, is palpable when you watch this movie as an adult.

Part of the fun of An American Tail is its musical sensibilities, both in orchestral score and the four Disney-esque musical numbers peppered throughout the film. Anticipating the trend of classic Disney soundtracks from the likes of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (renowned for their offbeat Broadway-pop tunes in Little Shop of Horrors) in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the production team recruited rising composer James Horner to provide the musical score, and paired him with legendary songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil for the numbers “There Are No Cats in America,” “A Duo,” “Never Say Never” and “Somewhere Out There.” The work as a whole brims with hummable themes, from the mournful, Eastern European-flavored violin solo representing the plight of the Mouskewitzes to the multi-national pastiche of “There Are No Cats,” where various immigrants justify their risky travel to the New World.

But the film’s signature song, the yearning “Somewhere Out There” (sung in the film by Fievel and his sister Tanya, neither of whom realize they’re both in the same city), was a surprise to even Mann and Weil. The composers stated in interviews that there was no pressure to write a hit single, and were in fact surprised when Spielberg suggested that “Somewhere Out There” would have crossover potential. A version uniting Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram and produced by Peter Asher was recorded and indeed became a smash, peaking at No. 2 in the U.S. and winning Song of the Year at the 30th Grammy Awards in 1988. (It lost both Oscar and Golden Globes to Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun.)

After the jump, check out the soundtrack’s release history and read about the music to the sequel!

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Written by Mike Duquette

December 2, 2011 at 12:37