The Second Disc

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Short Takes: Digital Updates on Billy Joel, Black Sabbath and More

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When not releasing intriguing physical products, sometimes labels like to do neat things to spice up their digital offerings, making complete discographies available or taking advantage of Apple’s “Mastered for iTunes” initiative. Here’s a few notable digital-oriented stories we’ve caught wind of in recent days!

52nd Street Billy Joel

  • He’s a living legend, a multiplatinum bestseller, a Kennedy Center honoree and – in 2014 – the first musical franchise at New York’s Madison Square Garden. This week, Legacy Recordings calibrated Billy Joel’s resurgence into a newly-streamlined offering on iTunes. All of the Piano Man’s studio and live albums have been Mastered for iTunes, and the 2011 Complete Albums Collection is available for digital purchase as well. (This box does, of course, not entirely live up to its title: several live albums, including KOHUEPT (1987) and 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert (2000), are omitted in favor of a bonus disc collecting tracks from compilations and other rarities, many found on the My Lives box set of 2005.)

    But it’s not only about digital treats for Joel: next week, Showtime will premiere a new documentary about Joel’s sojourn to the Soviet Union to perform live in 1987 – one of a few Western acts to penetrate the Iron Curtain. A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia combines new interviews with rare and unreleased concert and behind-the-scenes footage of Joel, his band and his family in what was a very strange land to an American in the late ’80s. (I’d be surprised if we didn’t see a release of this film, perhaps paired with the original KOHUEPT concert film released on videotape back in the day.)

We Sold Our Soul for Rock N Roll

  • Hot off the success of their latest album, last year’s 13 (which reunited most of the band’s classic lineup), metal gods Black Sabbath have also been treated to a fancy new iTunes store. The Mastered for iTunes treatment is only bestowed on the albums with the original lineup of vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward – that’d be 1970’s self-titled debut to 1978’s Never Say Die, plus the compilations We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘N’ Roll (1976) and Greatest Hits 1970-1978 (2006) – but it looks like the original albums are all there. (A digital box set collecting those MFiT titles is also available.)


  • They’re best known for a pair of New Wave/MTV-friendly singles – 1979’s “What I Like About You” and 1983’s Top 5 hit “Talking in Your Sleep.” But Legacy Recordings has made all five of The Romantics’ albums for Nemperor Records (now part of the Epic Records family) available on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. Digital newcomers National Breakout (1980), Strictly Personal (1981) and In Heat (1983) – which spun off “Talking in Your Sleep” – join 1980’s self-titled debut and their Nemperor swan song Rhythm Romance (1985) on all digital providers.

Si Se Puede

  • On March 11, in honor of legendary activist Cesar Chavez’s birthday at the end of the month (and a forthcoming biopic starring Michael Peña as the labor leader), Fantasy Records will digitally release a Chavez tribute album, Sí Se Puede!, for the first time. This 1976 LP, which donated money to Chavez’s United Farm Workers, marked the recording debut of East L.A. band Los Lobos, two years before their proper debut LP and a decade before attaining international acclaim on the soundtrack to La Bamba.

Written by Mike Duquette

January 23, 2014 at 17:31

9 Responses

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  1. Billy… Hmm… He kicked everyone’s ass at the 12.12.12 Sandy benefit, played a great set at the New Orleans Jazz Fest last year (parts of which were televised), had the Kennedy Center Honors thing, played a big NYE show in Brooklyn that had a song aired on ABC (they should’ve shown more), the new residency at MSG, a big summer tour just announced, and now this Showtime doc regarding the Russian shows from 1987.


    Sorry. I just had to get that out.

    20 years of no new music (rock music, I mean), while the likes of Dylan, McCartney, Paul Simon, Gregg Allman, the late Johnny Cash, and even Neil Diamond have made amazing comebacks in their later years. Or look at Springsteen… I find his later music really up and down, but no one can deny how dedicated he is to moving forward with his music.

    Billy doesn’t owe anyone anything, but it’s a shame to see him just coast along as a nostalgia act. He’s better than that.


    January 23, 2014 at 22:19

  2. I was excited to see the Romantics albums on Rhapsody. i haven’t heard them in forever!


    January 23, 2014 at 22:58

  3. Of all the well-known artists who have any talent at all, I reckon Billy Joel is the absolute bottom of the barrel. I’ve never heard anything of his that wasn’t a watered-down pastiche (though admittedly, sometimes a clever one) of another artist’s sound. I always considered him the voice of a generation, if that generation consisted solely of drab guys who compile actuarial charts and wear jeans only on Saturdays when they mow their mother’s lawn four towns over because they have nothing else to do. I mean, I heard “Piano Man” on the radio tonight and thought, god, what a pompous and horrible song. But then I realized that the narrator of the song is just some schmuck that a bunch of alcoholic losers idly watch to escape the drudgery and everyday horrors of their pathetic lives – and in this, the song’s narrator really is Billy Joel. He knew his audience even at that relatively early point. It’s a level of post-modernism too hellish to make further contemplation desirable. That said, I know people who know Billy and hate his music as much as I do, but they’re willing to admit that he’s a swell guy in real life, and he’s sincere about his “art” and tries really hard – he just doesn’t realize how poorly history will treat him (and already has – there was a period when major music media considered him a real legend, someone who’d one day compare with Dylan. This seems absurd now.)

    However, I love Billy Joel for one thing – when he retired from the pop music circuit of writing and recording and promoting, he stayed retired. I’m not just saying this because I’m spared any more of his music, rather, i genuinely admire that he saw that he’d had an incredibly successful commercial run, was getting less and less personal satisfaction out of it and just stopped, cold. Many, many artists maintain they will do this – I recall a Mick Jagger quote about how ridiculous it would be to sing “Satisfaction” as a 40-year old – but Billy actually did it. Having worked with a lot of major players in the music business, I can assure you that it takes a giant ego to get as big as Billy Joel (or any your favorite major artists) and to step back from that level of ego fulfillment takes a powerful amount of will, and maybe even some hard-won wisdom. The guy still plays shows for his fans, so it’s not like he’s embittered. Kudos to Billy Joel, the most reprehensibly lame artist for whom I have a bit of respect.

    By the way, iTunes, bring us lossless downloads. This “mastered for iTunes” is a bunch of crap and not even ‘real’ mastering (I do have personal knowledge of this) and frankly i think covering it just dignifies the lack of respect the music industry shows for its fans. Whether tour thing is Billy Joel or the Germs or Jelly Roll Morton, we know have the technology to make available *complete* back catalogs available, nicely remastered and in lossless formats. Anything less is lazy or a rip-off, but generally both.

    January 24, 2014 at 04:47

    • I would have to add Van Halen and Gun’s N Roses to the really lame artist banner. Bloated, pompous and irrelevant. The one thing Billy Joel has over Eddie and Axel is sincerity. Welcome to the jungle boys, you will hopefully be forgotten!

      Mr MacGoo

      January 24, 2014 at 09:28

    • Hey, jerk… No one asked your opinion, troll. You don’t like him or the music, then don’t listen and why bother to comment here? Chances are, I think your favorite artists suck too. Asshole.


      January 25, 2014 at 14:38

      • Wow… Sorry Bono. I guess those anger management classes have not been working for you.

        Mr MacGoo

        January 25, 2014 at 16:06

    • Also, if anything, history has treated Billy, and his catalog, with a lot more appreciation and respect than when he was younger. Critical respect and acclaim started building up around the time of The Nylon Curtain for sure, but even then he wasn’t always regarded in the same leagues as Dylan, Springsteen, the Beatles, etc.

      I’m not here to compare Billy to any of those people. Dylan’s the best songwriter in rock history. Period. But Billy’s talents, particularly being a classically-trained piano player, and a guy with a enormous gift for creating melodies, cannot be denied no matter how much you try to slag the guy.

      Anyhow, even after the critical tide began to change for him, he still wasn’t always getting his due. Certainly more than he had in the 70s/early 80s, but in retirement it seems like his prestige has grown. Maybe it’s because the albums and songs have mostly held up (certainly as well as pretty much any major artist you can name) and the music has stood the test of time. 20 years after his last album, he’s still on the radio a lot, and he still sells out arenas and even stadiums. The guy’s endured.

      Along the way there’s been the Rock and Songwriters Halls of Fame, the Kennedy Center Honors, box set collections of his work, and some pretty high-profile gigs. His 12.12.12 performance was raved about the next day in the press. At the final Shea Stadium concerts he held, he was joined by a host of other musical legends. Those other guys didn’t have to join him, but they did because he’s earned that respect from his peers.

      So, regardless of your opinion, Billy really doesn’t your approval. F*ck off.


      January 25, 2014 at 14:48

    • Wow, “”……I guess that suppository worked cuz you just spewed a bunch of sh*t. What the hell, bub? At least Joel got out there and did it (and keeps doing it)…and in doing so, he realized the dream that so many of us had the first time we plugged in with our neighborhood garage bands. So, you don’t dig his music? Not our problem. There’s a big wide world of music going down out there and I’m sure there is some sort of joyful (or woeful) noize that you can revel in. Spend your time there, instead of clocking in with your venomous spews on artists you hate. OK, your moral obligation to set us all straight on what is GOOD music is complete, crawl away.

      Sean Anglum

      January 28, 2014 at 11:20

  4. My big question is: when are Billy Joel’s American iTunes releases coming to Canada? A quick comparison shows outtakes on the American iTunes edition of My Lives which are NOT on the one in Canada — and I don’t want to have to rebuy the entire box (I have the physical one) for 3-4 tracks!

    Brian from Canada

    January 24, 2014 at 10:40

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