A funny thing happened in the middle of the 1990s: Record labels looked into their vaults and found that most of their best selling titles had been in circulation for awhile on CD and, as one would expect, weren’t as exciting to the buying public anymore. Remember that in the initial run of the compact disc labels were suddenly flush with cash, old assets were getting new sales life and all was right with the world. Once they had reached the tipping point where most consumers had CDs of Rumours, Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt. Pepper’s, etc., they had a crucial decision to make. Shall we now go out into the great, wide world of new music acts and fill our rosters with exciting, up and coming talent?
Nah, too much work. Let’s reissue those old CDs again, only this time, we’ll stuff the back nine with B-sides, unreleased tracks and live cuts. It sounds crass, but don’t knock it. It works. The labels did get a kick-up of interest through this process of “double-dipping,” and sometimes it was for the best. Labels like Rykodisc and Rhino took a lot of care in representing classic albums, often bringing them back with better, remastered sound to make the package more palatable to those who had tinny, digitally fraught originals. Other labels took notice and, as you’d expect, the business of the deluxe reissue started booming. CDs wound up with extra tracks best left on the cutting room floor, songs pared with awful guide vocals, blooper reels, inclusions of little to no interest to the average music fan. The Elvis Costello fan has felt the impact the hardest, as Mr. MacManus’ output has rotated from the original Sony Music auspices to the Ryko reissues, then to the Rhino reissues, then to his current home at Universal Music. You could own four separate versions of My Aim Is True, each with its own plusses and minuses, none rising above the rest to definitive status.
Look, I’m a fan and a collector. I’ve been skunked more than once by the “special edition” label. I know what it’s like to buy something only to have it supplanted only a year later by the bigger, better, badder version. To prove my point, I have dedicated this week’s post to some of my favorite special edition extras. These are things the labels would rather we left alone. After all, some of these tracks are the only reason why you ought to repurchase these things, and I’m going all renegade by just plopping them here for your perusal. I’m a rebel and I’ll never, ever be any good. Ready to receive your bonuses? Oh la Saleema!
Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Neat, Neat, Neat How else to sum up this live run-through of the fondly remembered Damned track? My brother in law, a fan of both EC and Captain Sensible, was disappointed that the pace was less frenetic and more, shall we say, Attractive, but that’s the way it goes. This one comes off disc two of Rhino’s reissue of This Year’s Model, which should be part of your listening curriculum as is, minus the fluffy extras.
Genesis – Sign Your Life Away Ray Wilson was doomed from the start. Having been plucked from the relative obscurity of his former band Stiltskin, he was summoned to become the new face and voice of Genesis. Hey, it’s not unprecedented. After original lead singer Peter Gabriel left for more creative, and often weirder, pastures the mic stand was famously commandeered by Phil Collins, and from that moment on, Collins was Genesis and vice versa. Wilson hadn’t a prayer. Even worse, the material Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford gave Wilson to work with on his sole outing Calling All Stations was dopey stuff like “Congo” and “Alien Afternoon.” All this makes the B-side “Sign Your Life Away” more perplexing. Here was a rocking tune that both exemplified the Genesis sound (Banks’ somewhat Oriental key motif in the verses) and contradicted it (that chainsaw guitar in the chorus) and while I doubt it would have been a game-changer on Trevor Rabin / Yes levels, it was a better song than 70% of the official album.
However, I’ll defend Station‘s “Not About Us” to the end. And speaking of Rabin…
Yes – Make It Easy In concert, Trevor Rabin would kickstart “Owner Of a Lonely Heart” with a fretburning intro that seemed to bear absolutely no resemblance to the song that came after, and for good reason. “Make It Easy,” from the initial Cinema demos that would later become reformed 1980s Yes, has more a feeling of Rabin’s previous solo disc Wolf. On that, Rabin appeared poised to become a self-styled hard rock guitar god even though the disc lacked at least half a good side (that other half, though, is kinda great.) I imagine the song had a lot of sentimental value for him; even though (to my knowledge) Yes never played it live in its entirety, that noodle-fingered intro became a standard of future sets. You can find the track on Rhino’s reissue of 90125, by the way.
The New Pornographers – Go Places (Lite-FM Mix) Although it wasn’t as raucous and consistent as Twin Cinema, last year’s Challengers was yet another check in The New Pornographers’ plus column, specifically this track, “Go Places.” How could it not be, while mixing A.C. Newman’s unassailable gift for melody around Neko Case’s gorgeous voice? On Matador Records’ “executive edition” you’d also have gotten this stripped down, then redressed as chamber pop, alternate mix. Believe it or not, I like it even more than the original, as the lyrics seem to favor the space provided in the orchestration versus the hard-backed beat on the standard version. Judge for yourself.
Robert Plant – Far Post Strangest thing about this song is that I knew I’d heard it, yet could not find it, for over two decades. The local rock radio station played it, my sister had Robert Plant’s first solo album Pictures At Eleven, and I swore it was on there, yet after that record gracelessly bit her bedroom floor, no other copy seemed to include the song that hooked me. It wasn’t like the rest of the album which relentlessly tried to remind you Plant was that Led Zeppelin guy; instead, it was a case of honky-tonk pop featuring a good-time piano riff and Phil Collins banging on the toms. Yet it wasn’t anywhere to be found. Then I came to learn that it was included on the UK version of the album, a version perhaps Columbia Record and Tape Club was spinning off initially, then discontinued on the US edition. Either way, it’s on the remastered re-release, so three cheers to the insanity that said I heard what I thought I heard.
Joe Jackson – Moonlight Technically, “Moonlight” is not a bonus, as it was released on the Mike’s Murder soundtrack album, but that soundtrack was never released on CD, so Joe Jackson’s songs from the score wound up on the Deluxe Edition of Night And Day, yet another album you probably already have, if only for “Steppin’ Out” and “Breaking Us in Two.” As the liner notes claim, “Moonlight” and four other tunes including perennial concert go-to “Memphis” were written and recorded for Night And Day but didn’t fit in with Jackson’s conceptual device of the light and dark of New York City. Not surprisingly, Jackson’s economical piano in the verses and synth swells in the chorus are perfectly balanced as is with the guy’s output in general. What is surprising is how this song has had zero life beyond its bonus status; it’s become a favorite of mine.
Neal Morse – What Is Life? The former head of prog band Spock’s Beard went solo after his religious conversion, yet still goes full-on progressive on subsequent recordings. That’s a good thing, because I think even a non-believer would concede the man has chops. Beyond that, he also has great taste and a fun way of combining his passions. For instance, take this cover of George Harrison’s “What Is Life?” found on the bonus disc of Morse’s One album. It’s a dead ringer for the original, a decision I chalk up to pure tribute (SB also covered Beware Of Darkness earlier) but what sets it apart is the inclusion of guitar genius Phil Keaggy as counterpoint. Keaggy started as the guitar and voice of Glass Harp but became reknowned for his rock and folk excursions in the Christian Contemporary field. It’s rumored that Paul McCartney himself looks up to Keaggy’s prowess, so the fact he’s paying homage to another Beatle might not be so strange after all.
Elton John – Madman Across The Water I don’t know why this original version didn’t catch fire. It’s found on the reissue of Tumbleweed Connection, an album which initially came out long before the Madman album and official release of the song. On that you had some major orchestral arrangements, complete with swelling strings and somewhat a less intense delivery from Elton. What a shock then to hear the bandstand cleared, Elton barking several of his lines and the searing guitar of erstwhile Spider From Mars Mick Ronson. If anyone out there in reader-land could fill in the blanks, I’d be grateful. Was this version ever available before 1995 or was it buried in the vaults? I can’t fathom why it stayed in the vaults, but I’m glad to share proof of its existence here…
That’s it for this week, but next week I’m going to go positively nerd-like over Bob Mould’s solo debut Workbook, bemoan the injustice that befell his years with Sugar and attempt to not get into a political conversation over whether my candidate of choice won, lost or wound up on a whammy (No Whammies! No Whammies!) A P.S. goes to resident wunderkind Terje Fjelde for designing the nifty banner for me at the top. I don’t smoke, but if I did, it would look just like that dude’s hand. Enterprising web-persons should look up Terje and bless him with lucrative design work before he goes mental on a David Foster overdose and collapses under the weight of the bathos…
Y’all come back now, y’hear?