Reissue Roundup: Spring Sets From Elton John, the Stones and More
The best reissues and archival recordings of the past three months had us checking the calendar to see if the holidays were right around the corner. There are plenty of great offerings as we head into summer – not usually the type you find in spring releases.
In addition to a set of Sparks reissues (most likely spurred by last year's great documentary on this long-neglected band) and an early compilation by 10cc cofounders Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, there's a pair of Sinatras: one of Frank's most undervalued albums, expanded and remastered, and daughter Nancy's classic duet LP with Lee Hazlewood, which surprisingly has never received a proper reissue before.
Spring sets also include three new records in Neil Young's Official Bootleg Series, an expanded Rolling Stones concert from the early '00s and Prince and the Revolution's great live performance from the end of the Purple Rain Tour, originally released on video in the '80s but now finally available in audio form.
Finally, an anthology collecting Daryl Hall's solo work, another Frank Zappa box culled from his extensive archives and an expanded edition of one of Elton John's greatest albums round out the best of the past few months' reissues.
Karen Dalton, Shuckin' Sugar
What It Is: Dalton's reputation has grown much since her 1993 death. The troubled singer-songwriter's second and final album, 1970's In My Own Time, also recently received an excellent reissue. This new 12-track set includes unreleased live songs.
What's on It: Some of the songs come from 1963 and 1964, when Dalton was performing with her husband at the time, Richard Tucker. But there are solo tracks here, too, collected from recently discovered reel-to-reel tapes.
Best Song You Know: Dalton played the same scene as Bob Dylan and other folk artists of the day, so her repertoire could be familiar at times. "Ribbon Bow" ended up on her 1969 debut, It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best.
Best Song You Don't Know: The seven solo songs uncover the scarred intimacy of her later work. A bluesy "In the Pines" works the best, but Dalton recordings are so scarce that this entire set is a must-hear for fans.
Godley & Creme, Frabjous Days - The Secret World Of Godley & Creme 1967-1969
What It Is: Before Kevin Godley and Lol Creme formed 10cc in the '70s and became innovative video directors in the '80s, they were in a psychedelic folk band called Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon that released one single before splitting up.
What's on It: The band recorded some songs for a shelved album. This 19-song collection gathers those tracks as well as some duo cuts written by future 10cc bandmate Graham Gouldman and an early Godley & Creme single.
Best Song You Know: "I'm Beside Myself" was Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon's sole single before their label – which wanted them to be a British Simon & Garfunkel – folded. That and its B-side, "Animal Song," are both here and may be familiar to British psych fans.
Best Song You Don't Know: "The Late Mr. Late" (credited to Gouldman) and "To Fly Away" were issued on a 1969 label compilation called Marmalade – 100% Proof, and serve as a link between the Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon and 10cc eras.
Daryl Hall, BeforeAfter
What It Is: The first solo anthology by the more prominent member of Hall & Oates features 30 tracks from the five albums he's released over the years. Hall was willing to take more risks outside of his more popular duo, starting with 1980's Sacred Songs.
What's on It: In addition to the career-spanning cuts, BeforeAfter includes six previously unreleased performances from Hall's TV show, Live From Daryl's House, including a duet with Todd Rundgren on the latter's "Can We Still Be Friends."
Best Song You Know: "Dreamtime," from Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine, hit the Top 5 in 1986. "Foolish Pride," from the LP, also hit the Top 40. But the title track and "Babs and Babs" from Sacred Songs, produced by Robert Fripp, are more daring.
Best Song You Don't Know: Among the previously unreleased songs is a cover of Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again" performed with that group's Dave Stewart, who also coproduced Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine.
Elton John, Madman Across The Water – 50th Anniversary Reissue
What It Is: This four-disc box of Elton John's 1971 classic includes outtakes, demos, live tracks and BBC recordings. Among the bonus tracks: an early version of "Madman Across the Water" with Mick Ronson and piano demos of all the album songs but one.
What's on It: A Blu-ray features a new 5.1 mix of the album but also performances from the BBC's Sounds for Saturday from 1972 (which is also included on the third CD) and Old Grey Whistle Test from 1971. Eighteen of the cuts are previously unreleased.
Best Song You Know: "Tiny Dancer" is the one everyone loves, and for good reason. But "Levon" and the title track are also great early songs from John's career that signaled the powerhouse artist he'd become over the next couple of years.
Best Song You Don't Know: The live songs, single versions and extended takes are all worth hearing, but the 11 piano demos are the draw here. "Tiny Dancer" in this stripped-down form reveals an artist, and song, on the verge of greatness.
Prince and the Revolution, Prince and the Revolution: Live
What It Is: Originally released on home video in 1985, Prince and the Revolution: Live featured a concert performed in Syracuse that March as the band winded down the Purple Rain Tour. The video was included as part of Purple Rain's 2017 deluxe reissue.
What's on It: This marks the show's first audio appearance on CD and vinyl and its first video appearance on Blu-ray. The set consists mostly of Purple Rain and 1999 songs, with a couple of B-sides and "Do Me, Baby" (from Controversy) thrown in.
Best Song You Know: Most fans were there to hear Purple Rain cuts – the album was still selling strong after nearly a year. The band workout "I Would Die 4 U" explodes onstage. So does 1999's "Little Red Corvette," Prince's first Top 10 hit.
Best Song You Don't Know: Prince had kicked around "Possessed" since 1982 but never put it on an album. The original Live video marked its debut. It's since shown up on the Purple Rain and 1999 deluxe editions in studio versions. This live take is best.
Rolling Stones, Licked Live in NYC
What It Is: The Stones played Madison Square Garden in 2003, on tour marking their 40th anniversary. This performance originally aired on HBO that same year. The new remastered and expanded set adds four previously unreleased songs.
What's on It: Available in two-CD Blu-ray and DVD packages, or stand-alone audio sets, Licked Live in NYC is mostly a new-millennium victory lap for the band, which runs through classic tracks that stretch back to the '60s ("[I Can't Get No] Satisfaction").
Best Song You Know: You've heard these songs hundreds of times: "Street Fighting Man," "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)," "Brown Sugar," "Honky Tonk Women" with Sheryl Crow. But there's a tightness here that comes from four decades of work.
Best Song You Don't Know: The unreleased songs are the bait for fans. "Start Me Up," “Tumbling Dice," "Gimme Shelter" and "Sympathy for the Devil" are the new ones, and they make for a more complete picture of the 2003 performance.
Frank Sinatra, Watertown
What It Is: Frank Sinatra pretty much invented the concept album in the '50s with classics like In the Wee Small Hours and Songs for Swingin' Lovers! This 1970 LP was panned at the time but has since found an audience. This reissue adds eight tracks.
What's on It: Produced and cowritten by the Four Seasons' Bob Gaudio, Watertown's original 10 songs tell the story of a man whose wife leaves him and their kids for a new life. Sinatra's world-weary voice adds layers to the pathos.
Best Song You Know: "Lady Day" wasn't included on the album but was released as a single around the same time. Neither record made much of an impression on the charts, but the track (a bonus here) serves as a perfect introduction and summation.
Best Song You Don't Know: The newly mixed and remastered album includes session takes culled from the 1969 sessions as well as a pair of radio promos about the LP's release. The different versions of the title track and "Lady Day" are worth hearing.
Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, Nancy & Lee
What It Is: Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood's 1968 classic has never gotten a proper reissue before this new expanded set. Producer Hazlewood and Frank's daughter recorded three albums after he wrote and guided "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'."
What's on It: In addition to Hazlewood's great "Some Velvet Morning," Nancy & Lee includes a cover of Johnny Cash and June Carter's "Jackson" and "Summer Wine," another Hazlewood original. Two bonus tracks from the era round out the CD.
Best Song You Know: "Some Velvet Morning" is the best track here, but the entire album – part of the Nancy Sinatra Archival Series – is bathed in a warm psychedelic glow that drifts into baroque and country territories from time to time.
Best Song You Don't Know: Bonus tracks include a cover of the Kinks' "Tired of Waiting for You" that sounds like come-down time in the lounge. Better is the other bonus cover: a brassy "Love Is Strange" that's more playful than seductive.
What It Is: Five Sparks albums from the '00s are remastered and expanded with bonus tracks: Balls (from 2000), Lil’ Beethoven (2002), Hello Young Lovers (2006), Exotic Creatures of the Deep (2008) and The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman (2009).
What's on It: As usual, the Mael brothers mess around with styles and genres, trying everything from chamber pop and glam to art-rock and techno. This period is an often-neglected one in their long career, but these records make a case for its strength.
Best Song You Know: "Perfume" from Hello Young Lovers – the best album from this period – dented the U.K. chart, and songs like "Dick Around" and "Lighten Up, Morrissey" (both singles) have become Sparks favorites in recent years.
Best Song You Don't Know: Bonus tracks include B-sides, alternate mixes, previously unreleased tracks and instrumental versions. Our favorite: "We Are the Clash" from a 2003 Uncut CD tribute to the Clash now found at the end of Hello Young Lovers.
Norma Tanega, I’m the Sky: Studio and Demo Recordings, 1964–1971
What It Is: The late Tanega dabbled in many kinds of music: pop, folk, rock, jazz, Latin and experimental, among them. She was also an accomplished songwriter, covered by Dusty Springfield, They Might Be Giants and Yo La Tengo over the years.
What's on It: Some of the 27 songs here ended up on Tanega's first two albums, Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog and I Don’t Think It Will Hurt if You Smile; others come from an unreleased 1969 LP. Her warm voice carries it all, from folk-rock to psychedelic.
Best Song You Know: "Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog" made it to No. 22 in 1966; follow-up single "A Street That Rhymes at Six A.M." stalled at No. 129. They only begin to cover the depth of her music and style.
Best Song You Don't Know: "Now Is the Time," from I Don’t Think It Will Hurt if You Smile, is the best track on the 1971 album. "Sunday Morning" is a previously unreleased demo that cuts to the intimacy of Tanega's greatest work.
Neil Young, Official Bootleg Series releases
What It Is: Three more live titles join Young's Original Bootleg Series, which kicked off last year with the Carnegie Hall 1970 album: Royce Hall, 1971, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 1971 and Citizen Kane Jr. Blues (Live at the Bottom Line).
What's on It: All three albums are taken from solo acoustic shows that have been bootlegged for years, but these newly mixed and remastered sets have never sounded so pristine. The 1974 Bottom Line show from New York is particularly stunning.
Best Song You Know: These are all new to the official marketplace, so unless you own a bootlegged copy, these versions haven't been available before. There are some repeats – "Dance Dance Dance" is on all three LPs – but Young keeps them interesting.
Best Song You Don't Know: On the Beach material highlights the great Citizen Kane Jr. Blues, including a devastating "Revolution Blues." The May 1974 gig was a surprise, so Young plays it loose for most of the show, sharing stories and mixing up the set.
Frank Zappa, Zappa/Erie
What It Is: Six discs and more than seven hours of previously unreleased live material performed by Zappa in 1974 and 1976. Three different lineups are featured in the box, which includes performances from Erie, Pa., as well other cities in the general area.
What's on It: The usual mix of favorites (like "Montana") and stage-only explorations ("Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?") fill out the sets, with plenty of guitar heroics heard throughout each of the shows. The bands bring distinction to the busy era.
Best Song You Know: Only 10 minutes of the 70-plus tracks included on Zappa/Erie have been released before, so you probably don't know these versions (unless you know the 1974 live album Roxy & Elsewhere inside out).
Best Song You Don't Know: A 1974 show from Edinboro, Pa., was part of a tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Mothers of Invention and features reworked versions of "The Idiot Bastard Son," "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" and "Wowie Zowie."