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The Softer Side of UMe’s Budget Compilation Lines: “Ballads” Released

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Marvin Gaye BalladsHaving recently introduced some EMI-controlled artists to the ICON roster, Universal now incorporates some of those artists (and some of their most treasured R&B and country acts) into a new budget-oriented series, Ballads.

And while none of the artists covered here really, truly need more compilations on the market – and, one can assume, the assembly of these is as low-impact as the ICON series – there’s actually some promise to be had here. The overall selection of artists isn’t terrible, particularly on the EMI side; new sets from culled from the catalogues of Peabo Bryson and Freddie Jackson as well as The O’Jays three albums on EMI America in the late 1980s/early 1990s are all anthologized here, giving fans perhaps a lesser-seen side of these acts.

And that’s the case throughout: from country crooners (Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill) to Motown acts (Marvin Gaye, New Edition) and other soul acts (Barry White, The Impressions, Kool & The Gang), there’s not a terrible amount of “same old, same old” tracks. Some barely have any singles on them, making for a good “second step” if you’ve got any of these group’s earlier compilations.

All titles can be found after the jump and can be ordered or bought in stores now.

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The Second Disc Buyers Guide: The 100 Greatest Reissues of All Time, Part 7 (#70-66)

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Our look at the many reissues of the 100 greatest albums of all time, as selected by Rolling Stone in 2003, soldiers on! We look at the masterings and expansions of these classic albums on disc, letting you know which audio treasures can be found on which releases. Today’s a full house of rock royalty, with a Piano Man, a King of Pop, a soul legend and two albums by Led Zeppelin!

70. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti (Swan Song, 1975)

Led Zeppelin’s sixth album could’ve easily not happened had bassist John Paul Jones made good on his idea to leave the band to accept a choirmaster job at Winchester Cathedral. But cooler heads prevailed, and a breezy set of heavy-duty sessions (coupled with some tracks left over from previous sessions) made for an astounding double-album that was arguably the major zeitgeist moment for the band. (It went platinum on advance orders alone, and sent the band’s entire back catalogue at that point back into the charts.) With catchy rockers like “Kashimir,” “Houses of the Holy” and “Trampled Underfoot,” it wasn’t hard to see why it was such a hit.

As with Led Zeppelin II from yesterday’s entry, Physical Graffiti bowed on CD in 1990 (Swan Song SS 200-2) mastered for CD by Barry Diament. Jimmy Page and George Marino at Sterling Sound remastered the entire Led Zep catalogue not long after; the final products ended up in the 1990 box set (Atlantic 7 82144-2) and its 1993 sequel (Atlantic 7 82477-2), the 1990 two-disc compilation Remasters (Atlantic 7 80415-2) and 1993′s The Complete Studio Recordings (Atlantic 7 82526-2), which sequenced all the material back into album order, ten discs strong. (Physical Graffiti, as mastered by Page and Marino, was released on its own in 1994, as Atlantic 92442-2.) A Japanese SHM-CD remaster used the same remasters (Swan Song WPCR-13135/6, 2008); those SHMs were compiled into The Definitive Collection in 2008 (Atlantic WPCR-13142; later released on standard CDs in America as Atlantic R2 513820).

69. Curtis Mayfield, Super Fly (Curtom, 1972)

Multi-instrumentalist Curtis Mayfield was known through the ’60s for his socially conscious R&B work with The Impressions. The soundtrack to blaxploitation film Super Fly was only his third solo album. But what a work: despite little perceived commercial appeal, the album was a chart-topping smash, with two funky hits – “Freddie’s Dead” and the pulsating title track – to its credit. Along with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, it ushered in a new era of R&B that didn’t sacrifice the soul in telling the harsh truth about poverty, drug abuse and other ills plaguing the streets of America.

First released on CD in 1988 as Curtom CUR-2002, several straight reissues have been released worldwide (mostly in Europe by Charly Records) since then. The most notable versions, though, are the 25th anniversary edition (Rhino R2 72836, 1997), which remastered the album and expanded it by more than a disc’s worth of rare and unreleased material, including demos, alternate mixes and interviews, all in a nicely-sized digipak. Two years later, Rhino released the album without the bonus disc, thereby including two bonus tracks, the single mixes of the title track and “Freddie’s Dead” (R2 75803), and a foreign pressing by Charly Records (SNAP 258 CD, 2005) featured some of the bonus tracks (the ones not based on the familiar songs from the album) at the end of the disc. A SHM-CD pressing (Victor VICP-70093) appeared in 2009.

68. Michael Jackson, Off the Wall (Epic, 1979)

The seventh-youngest member of the Jackson family was impossible to ignore when The Jackson 5 became the darlings of Motown in the late ’60s and early ’70s, sending their first four singles to the top of the charts. Barely a decade later, before Michael turned 21, his first solo venture as an adult (after three middling-to-great albums with The Jacksons for Epic) made heads turn again. Teaming with producer Quincy Jones, Michael had never exuded such confidence or control over his output, mixing disco, jazz and funk stylings that had something to offer even if you’d never want to hear a disco song again. From the one-two-three punch of “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Rock with You” and “Working Day and Night,” to the easy yearning of the Paul McCartney-penned “Girlfriend” and the heartache that made Jackson break down at the end of “She’s Out of My Life,” the stage was set for a solo career that would exceed all human expectations.

Off the Wall received its first CD release in 1983 as Epic EK 35745. It is worth noting, however, that not only was the cover art changed on most domestic pressings (using the bottom half of the gatefold image on the original LP sleeve), but “Rock with You” and “Get on the Floor” were presented in alternate mixes. The original LP pressing exists on some discs, namely those pressed in Japan for Europe (Epic EPC 83468) or the U.S. (matrix # 35 8P-2 71A3). In 2001, to coincide with the release of Jackson’s comeback album Invincible, the King of Pop’s first four Epic albums were remastered by Bernie Grundman, with new artwork and bonus material to boot. While the special edition of Off the Wall (Epic EK 66070)  – which uses the “remix” pressing – features home demos of “Don’t Stop” and “Working Day and Night,” it’s slightly bogged down by audio interviews with Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton that might have been more fun to read than hear. (Those eight minutes of interviews could have easily been supplanted by more archival material, which has been rumored, since Jackson’s passing in 2009, to be on deck for another expanded edition of the album in the future.)

67. Billy Joel, The Stranger (Columbia, 1977)

Billy Joel had been putting out good-to-great albums out for six years before the release of The Stranger, but with the one-two punch of both producer Phil Ramone and his road-tested backing band in the studio, it was hard to imagine anything but greatness. Add to that a set of nine pop standards, from “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” to Grammy-winning “Just the Way You Are,” many of which still get airplay to this day, and it’s not hard to understand why this was Columbia’s best-selling album for years upon years.

The initial CD pressing of The Stranger came out around 1990 (Columbia CK 34987); a digital remaster by Ted Jensen followed in 1998 (Columbia CK 69384), as an enhanced CD with QuickTime videos embedded into each disc. (Every one of Billy’s albums from 1971 to 1993 got this treatment.) Jensen oversaw a Super Audio CD pressing in 2002 (Columbia CS 69384) and mastered the album yet again, for a lavish Legacy Edition in 2008 (Columbia/Legacy 88697 22581-2) that added a bonus disc with part of an unreleased show at Carnegie Hall in New York City prior to The Stranger‘s release. (A box set – Columbia/Legacy 88697 30801-2 – added a bonus DVD of Joel’s 1978 performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test plus new interviews and extras.)

66. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV (Atlantic, 1971)

Whatever you call it – Led Zeppelin IV, ZOSO or nothing at all – it’s hard to deny the album as one of the best in an already-sterling catalogue, and a fine entry point into their dense, hard-rockin’ catalogue. Tracks like “Rock and Roll,” “Black Dog” and glorious closer “When the Levee Breaks” seal the deal.

The song remained the same with IV‘s CD releases, more or less. A CD edition of the album first showed up in Japan in 1985 (Atlantic/Warner-Pioneer 32XD-335), followed by Barry Diament’s master released worldwide in 1990 (Atlantic 19129-2). The Page/Marino remasters came out through the box sets as referred to above, and the IV remaster was released in 1994 (Atlantic 82638-2). The 2008 SHM-CD master (Atlantic WPCR-13133) was compiled into the Definitive Collection box set in 2008.

Tomorrow: Joe goes back to mono, and covers classics by U2, Guns N’ Roses, Van Morrison and more!

Written by Mike Duquette

December 6, 2011 at 12:00