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Archive for January 31st, 2012

Greater Hits: Aretha/Arista

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Welcome to our latest installment of Greater Hits, where we scour an artist’s discography for compilations and pick the best one for your buck. Today focuses on Aretha Franklin’s fascinating third chapter on Arista Records and the multitude of compilations that it’s yielded.

Just as I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Aretha Franklin’s sizzling 1967 album and first for Atlantic Records, was a shock to anyone who’d known her from her days singing solid if not transcendent soul on Columbia in the early ’60s, the Queen of Soul’s mid-’80s return with 1985’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? was light years away from “Respect” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Today, we laud veteran comebacks that echo the songs that made us fall in love with artists in the first place. Aretha, however, did it on modern-day terms, pairing with producers like Luther Vandross and Narada Michael Walden to ensconce herself in the sound of the 1980s, never once compromising that multiplatinum voice we still adore today.

While Franklin’s work for Columbia and Atlantic have been the subject of many reissues and box sets, modern day representation of the Arista years has mostly been in the form of compilations, most recently Knew You Were Waiting: The Best of Aretha Franklin 1980-1998. (Although that trend seems to be changing, it’s an independent label handling an expansion of her work.) And what a list there is: prior to Legacy’s newest set, three major compilations of the Arista years have been released in the last 15-plus years.

Join us after the jump as we dive into each one and tell you which one should be zoomin’ into your collection first!

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 31, 2012 at 18:14

Tattoo You: Rolling Stones Digital Archive Unveils 1981 Concert

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When the Rolling Stones opened the Stones Archive for business late in 2011 with the first-ever legitimate release of The Brussels Affair, it was greeted as somewhat of a mixed blessing.  The Archive promised to be a place where fans of the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band “can listen to unheard music, view unseen photographs and films, and look at rare merchandise. Fans have the opportunity to buy items such as signed lithographs, deluxe box sets, even personalised merchandise and tour gear in the shop.”  Of course, some lamented the lack of physical counterparts for the Archive’s releases.  Others were distressed by the lack of high-fidelity FLAC files for American customers; while purchasers abroad can choose between FLAC and MP3, the Archive’s American licensee (Google Music, via Android Market) offers only MP3.  So it’s “business as usual” for the just-announced second release from the Archives.  Whereas The Brussels Affair preserved a 1973 concert, the Archives jumps ahead to the waning days of 1981 for Hampton Coliseum: Live 1981.

Recorded in Hampton, Virginia on December 18, 1981, the digital album presents a lengthy concert from the final leg of the Tattoo You tour, and also one of six tour dates taped for radio’s King Biscuit Flower Hour.  That night in Virginia, the Stones tore through some of their latest hits from the critically and commercially successful album: “Start Me Up,” “Hang Fire,” “Little T&A,” “Black Limousine,” “Neighbours” and “Waiting on a Friend.”  Though Tattoo You was largely assembled from spruced-up outtakes (some dating back as far as a decade), the material felt fresh, and the Rolling Stones were rewarded with their final No. 1 album to date in America.  The album was still on audience members’ minds at the time of the December gig, having just been released in late August.

Hit the jump for more on Hampton Coliseum: Live 1981, including the full track listing! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 31, 2012 at 13:05

Review: Aretha Franklin, “Knew You Were Waiting: The Best of Aretha Franklin 1980-1998”

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Aretha Franklin is serious about her royalty.  Billed on her newly-activated Twitter account as “the undisputed Queen of Soul” (take that, Tina Turner!), Franklin doesn’t take her title lightly.  But for a brief period, the artist’s credentials as reigning Queen of Pop were just as unimpeachable.  When Aretha joined Arista Records in 1980, it was after five disappointing albums at Atlantic, none of which have ever seen the light of day on compact disc.  On those LPs, producers as diverse as Curtis Mayfield, Van McCoy, Lamont Dozier and Marvin Hamlisch all tried to reignite the spark that began the Queen’s ascendancy at Atlantic, and all fell short of the mark.  How would Arista’s Clive Davis succeed?  Aretha had watched her contemporary, Dionne Warwick, return to chart supremacy under Davis’ watchful eye with 1979’s Dionne.  So she put her faith in Davis, the onetime head of her very first label, Columbia.   The story picks up on Knew You Were Waiting: The Best of Aretha Franklin 1980-1998, the new 16-track anthology from Arista and Legacy Recordings (88697 99780 2, 2012).

The period that produced these songs will, inevitably, always be second best to the rock steady soul of 1967-1974.  Some might even fairly place the era third, behind Franklin’s precociously mature jazz vocals at Columbia, beautifully boxed en toto by Legacy in 2011.  But this compilation (of eighteen years boiled down to sixteen tracks) nonetheless represents a major period in the career of an eminent American artist, in which she greeted a new decade head-on, flying in unexpected directions with a variety of songwriters and producers.

Producer Leo Sacks has organized the collection in chronological order, allowing one to chart the singer’s stylistic journey.  Her initial effort at Arista actually reteamed her with Atlantic’s “house arranger,” Arif Mardin, as well as with prominent background vocalists The Sweet Inspirations.  The album, the first of two Arista sets titled Aretha, yielded the lush “United Together,” produced not by Mardin but by Chuck Jackson, and firmly in the Quiet Storm mold.  (Producer/songwriter Jackson shouldn’t be confused with the “Any Day Now” singer of the same name!)  The song, written by Jackson and Phil Perry, returned Aretha to the uppermost regions of the R&B chart (No. 3) while placing respectably (No. 56) on the pop survey, as well.  Mardin returned for 1981’s Love All the Hurt Away, and its title song, a duet with George Benson, is reprised here.  The big ballad is as far from Franklin’s soul roots as it is from Benson’s in jazz, and anticipated many future duets; a full seven tracks here are all-star collaborations.

We continue after the jump…so Jump to It, won’t you? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 31, 2012 at 10:26

Still in Love with Them: Vault Gems Abound on New Thin Lizzy Deluxe Sets

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The last two years have been great for Thin Lizzy fans and collectors. Universal’s U.K. arm has, in recent times, expanded a good chunk of the band’s 1970s catalogue, released a thorough box set of tracks from the band’s BBC sessions and announced the acquisition of a ridiculous amount of unreleased tapes for future catalogue purposes.

The catalogue action continues this spring with double-disc deluxe editions of the band’s fourth and fifth albums, Nightlife and Fighting. Each set comes with a host of material making its debut on any format – a deserved reward for longtime fans of the band.

1974’s Nightlife is best known for the smoldering ballad “Still in Love with You,” which featured duet vocals from Scottish rocker Frankie Miller and guitar work from Gary Moore of Irish band Skid Row. Moore had joined the band that year following the departure of Eric Bell, and while he would depart in April, his cutting solos on the track would leave an indelible mark on the album, to the point that replacement guitarist Brian Robertson voted not to replace Moore’s work with his own. (Moore would perform with Lizzy and bandleader Phil Lynott throughout the rest of his career.)

“Still in Love with You” was sort of par for the course on Nightlife, a largely smoother record than the band had recorded (which the band attributed to the production work by Ron Nevison, who would later smooth out the edges of Heart in the mid-’80s) and one that did not earn them much acclaim at the time. Follow-up Fighting (1975), recorded after a revitalizing series of tours with Bob Seger (whose “Rosalie” was the first single off this album) and Bachman Turner Overdrive in the U.S., was arguably the start of Lizzy’s classic period, the first to chart in the U.K. (at No. 60) and a perfect set-up for the hard-driving sound and smart songwriting of Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox in 1976.

The bonus material on both sets is voluminous: both Nightlife and Fighting come with tracks from their respective BBC sessions of the era, while Fighting has another two previously-released tracks: non-LP B-side “Half Caste” (the flip to “Rosalie”) and an alternate mix of “Rosalie” included on U.S. pressings of the album. But there’s a lot of unreleased material to go around: Nightlife includes  three demos with Moore on guitar (“It’s Only Money,” “Showdown” and an early “Still in Love with You”) and two alternate studio takes of the latter two tracks. Fighting, meanwhile, boasts 10 unreleased alternate and early versions of tracks from the album and related sessions, including a different version of “Try a Little Harder,” an outtake released on the 2001 box set Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels.

Each set is available on March 12. Pre-order links are live after the jump! (A hat tip to Real Gone Reviews for their reportage on these sets.)

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Written by Mike Duquette

January 31, 2012 at 09:31

Posted in News, Reissues, Thin Lizzy

Release Round-Up: Week of January 31

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Aretha Franklin, Knew You Were Waiting: The Best of 1980-1998 (Arista/Legacy)

The Queen of Soul’s comeback years, in a new anthology. Check back soon for a review from Joe as well as a Greater Hits from me stacking this set up to other compilations from this part of Aretha’s discography.

Various Artists, Golden Gate Groove: The Sound of Philadelphia Live in San Francisco 1973 (Philadelphia International/Legacy)

A sublime showcase of some of the best Philly soul in concert.

Various Artists, Giant Single: The Profile Records Rap Anthology (Arista/Legacy)

One of the most underrated hip-hop labels out there – home to Run-D.M.C. and DJ Rob Base and E-Z Rock – anthologized over two great discs.

The Tymes, So Much in Love (Real Gone)

The first-ever CD release for a ’60s classic, with four bonus tracks, no less!

Bonnie Pointer, Bonnie Pointer: Expanded Edition / Isaac Hayes, Don’t Let Go: Expanded Edition (Big Break)

The U.K. soul label’s latest expanded reissues.

Metallica, Beyond Magnetic (Warner Bros.)

A physical release for this EP of outtakes from Metallica’s last album, Death Magnetic.

Various Playlist releases (Legacy)

You know the drill on this one.