The Second Disc

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Best Laid “Van”s: Do Artists’ Opinions on Their Catalogue Titles Influence Your Purchases?

with 10 comments

Van Morrison - Moondance BoxNot long after Joe had posted about Rhino’s upcoming expansion of Van Morrison’s Moondance, I vocalized my pleasant surprise at the news. Morrison’s history with reissues has been spotty at best; a late-2000s reissue campaign was quickly halted and almost instantly commanded top dollar on the secondary market.

The next day, however, Morrison issued a statement denouncing the project, taking particular issue with the wording of the press release suggesting he was involved. “It is important that people realise that this is factually incorrect,” the statement read in part. “I did not endorse this, it is unauthorised and it has happened behind my back.”

This is hardly the first time an artist has openly criticized their own catalogue works. Prince, who was allegedly paid to stay out of the compilation and release of The Hits/The B-Sides in 1993, insisted on a bevy of changes to 2006’s Ultimate Prince and then planned a new album to curtail its release. Elvis Costello, whose catalogue has been released three times as expanded CDs on three different labels, suggested that current rights owners Hip-O/UMe had “gotten off on the wrong foot” with a series of live reissues, “doing too many records from the same time period and the same repertoire.” And Morrissey, even as he has gotten involved in radically revisiting his own catalogue, has had choice words for previous box set efforts.

Generally, though, such instances are rare. When it comes to the major labels, most will not (and in some cases cannot) embark on a vault project for a beloved artist without the consent (if not participation) of the artist in question. This isn’t for fear of bad publicity, but the more obvious legal entanglements.

The question we pose for you today, in light of Van Morrison’s opinions, is this: will his – or anyone’s – opinion of this apparently “unauthorised” catalogue activity stop you from opening your wallets? Have a vote in our poll and let us know what you think!

Written by Mike Duquette

July 23, 2013 at 13:13

10 Responses

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  1. While an artist’s okay is a blessing, it doesn’t always mean that a project’s a curse if they are not involved– especially if they seem unwilling to ever revisit some of their work when both they-and frankly, most of their most dedicated fans are getting old. Take this Moondance re-issue. If the record company is sincere and attempts to remaster, or remix the album from the best available sources, and utilizing the services of talented engineers, while spending time on packaging and notes and then prices the finished product accordingly, why not? Now, I realize that some re-issues are slap dash, or overpriced, or even come out sounding worse than the original album, and that could happen with or without an artist’s involvement. One of the things that has always bugged me is Bruce Springsteen’s treatment of his own catalog. Not only are most of the original albums in desperate need of remastering, his “authorized” reissues and box sets–though lavishly packaged–leave a lot to be desired. Though I enjoyed listening to Tracks and The Promise box sets, it’s disheartening that Bruce felt the need to re-record vocals-or parts of them–with his “current” voice, which bears little resemblance to his 1970’s voice. On the Promise, some of the songs are arranged and recorded in totally different ways than music in the ’70’s was produced, and certainly would sound out of place on Darkness on the Edge of Town–the album that was being celebrated on The Promise. Yes, it’s his work and he has every right, but he could have passed of a lot off much of what was on that box as “new.” Certainly the sub-title (the Darkness sessions) is somewhat of a misnomer. Bruce( and manager Jon Landau) also seems to give short shrift to his pre Born to Run (or pre-Jon Landau?) albums, as 2013 marks the 40th Aniversarry of his first two albums–with no deluxe or remastered editions in sight. If Sony were somehow able to release them –in a quality “unauthorized” package with superior sound—I would buy them. If it’s true that Bob Dylan has very little input concerning his Bootleg projects–instead delegating the work to trusted aids–that seems to me a model which every major artist should emulate. I hereby volunteer my services to the Springsteen organization to serve as “re-issue products” co-ordinator in charge of all future catalog releases….


    July 23, 2013 at 15:00

    • I agree with the sentiment in this post. As someone who was previously in the music industry with a little hand-dipping into catalog A&R, I can say that labels aren’t all money-grabbers as many perceive. Most catalog departments are staffed by music enthusiasts who want to “Do the right thing” in terms of a reissue. Van may be annoyed that he is not contractually be required to participate, but I hardly believe this reissue was done to tarnish his legacy; quite the opposite. (Personally, I am not a fan of him).


      July 23, 2013 at 15:56

      • Does money have anything to do with it? I mean would Van receive the same royalty rate on a mult-disc reissue that he would on the same single disc Moondance that has been on shelves for decades? In other words, is there a financial incentive for him to get involved?


        July 23, 2013 at 16:15

      • The labels, to me, are often the ones doing the right thing when it comes to these bigger reissues. Many artists doesn’t perceive the past work the same way fans do, and they often focus instead on the present or future.

        If you have an objection to something being released, raise it with the A&R people and find a solution. Maybe offer something else. But don’t deny the fans material just because you don’t want to look back.

        Where the labels err is in the continuous reissue of the same material. I don’t need Polygram issuing another Layla box set for 1-3 tracks when the rest of the set was just remastered. Costello’s criticism may be right, but there’s still lots of material to warrant returning to that series in the future.

        But me? I want to see more. And I want the bigger artists to start hiring people to do it. David Bowie’s pretty much ground to a halt right before the interesting stuff (Berlin trilogy, pop trilogy). We haven’t gotten many classic Billy Joel concerts, and the 90s stuff was all recorded DAT. And the list goes on and on and on.

        Brian from Canada

        July 24, 2013 at 11:10

    • And why hasn’t there been a “vault” series of Bruce live shows, along the lines of the Dead’s “Dick’s Picks,” etc? Bruce is going to turn 70(!) before this decade is over… What the hell are Bruce and Sony waiting for? I’d argue that another Sony great — Billy Joel — deserves a similar “vault” series of live releases.

      Hell, even Dylan’s fallen short on that count. While The Bootleg Series has been a blessing, there hasn’t been a live release in ages now. We certainly don’t need this new “Self Portrait” release. Do we?

      Elvis Costello has it right about how the “Costello Show” series fell into a rut by releasing back to back entries from the same time period, with similar setlists. They also put out yet another show from the same era with the deluxe This Year’s Model. With a career as long and varied as Costello’s, what was the label thinking? They killed that series dead in its tracks.


      July 23, 2013 at 22:29

      • I agree on your points about the Costello re-issues, and I think similar criticism can be made regarding Warners’ treatment of the deluxe REM albums, which also feature too many shows with similar set lists. And those albums do not sound like I remember them sounding–and not being a rabid audiophile, I can’t explain why…


        July 24, 2013 at 18:08

    • One of the tricky things to consider with Bruce is, to my knowledge, he actually does own his own masters, so nobody can do a thing without his permission. If I had to guess – and it’s just that – I’d bet the next archival project would be Born in the USA for sometime next year. It’s his most successful set that hasn’t gotten any box set love yet.

      Mike Duquette

      July 24, 2013 at 00:10

      • You’re probably right, and a Nebraska/ Born in the USA box would be an obvious hit, but remember, a wealth of material from that era–including the familiar b-sides–has already been released on Tracks. As for live material, that era was already pretty well covered by the ancient Live 75/85 box set. I just hope he resists the temptation to take old demos from that period as “inspiration” to essentially record new tracks, or to add Patti Scialfa/ Soozie Terrell background vocals to songs we already know from bootlegs-both tactics he deployed on the The Promise box set…..


        July 24, 2013 at 17:59

  2. Like Lou Reed, Morrison is a miserable asshole and always has been. I’m sure he’ll get paid for this reissue, so he should really just cash the checks and not worry about it. He’s entitled to his opinion, of course, but his complaining is all too predictable.

    Full disclosure: never have been a fan, but I respect his work.


    July 23, 2013 at 17:41

  3. This is a VERY, VERY complicated issue with a lot of different facets to it, IMO. I often feel differently about it on different days. As for Van, the guy is a curmudgeon of legendary proportions, so I’m not surprised he’s disowned this “Moondance” reissue. Personally, I think his catalog (especially that album, in particular) deserves the royal treatment, and it looks like WB is gonna treat this this title with the respect it’s deserved for so long. I hope I’m right. It’s a shame that the only decent digital mastering of it was on a long-OOP Japanese import that’s now commanding big money on the used market.

    As for Morrissey, I absolutely REFUSE to buy any of his latest “remasters” that he’s tinkered with. I think they’re sheer abominations. It’s his right, I guess, to deal with his back catalog as he sees fit, and to incorporate ideas and make changes that maybe he wishes he would’ve been able to do originally, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it or spend our hard-earned cash on it. I remember that Gordon Lightfoot did something similar with his “Gord’s Gold” compilations decades ago, and I refused to buy them for the same reason. Basically, if you don’t like what an artist has done to his/her catalog, don’t buy it. It’s their art, but our money.

    I’m not always sure that an artist is necessarily the best judge of his or her work, but ultimately it’s their creation, and if they have the legal right to do so, they can do with their work whatever the hell they want to do with it. Doesn’t mean we as consumers have to like it or buy it, though. I tend to view these things on a case-by-case basis.

    Chief Brody

    July 24, 2013 at 10:13

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