Even as music trends may dictate that most people lazily gravitate toward downloading music, nothing can take the place of the tactile experience of thumbing through a well-annotated reissue or a deluxe box set brimming with photos and the reams of recording information only a music geek could love. You just can’t get that kind of satisfaction from listening to a compressed MP3 on your ear buds or hitting Wikipedia on your iPhone to find out what place The Feelies occupied in the music universe of the late-’70s NYC music scene. 2009 had its definite share of landmark reissues from the likes of the Beastie Boys, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and The Stone Roses as well as the aforementioned Feelies’ critically adored 1980 debut. As for box sets, the Fab Four may have gotten all the well-deserved ink after having their canon properly remastered and re-released, but who knew that Hall & Oates possessed the kind of catalog to merit them being considered far beyond a mere guilty pleasure?
1. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique [20th Anniversary Edition] (Capitol) – A landmark hip-hop album that took the art of sampling to another level, Paul’s Boutique got dusted off for its twentieth anniversary. In hooking up with the then-unknown Dust Brothers, (who were coming off working with Tone Loc and Young MC), the Beastie Boys were attempting to get away from the boorish, frat-boy sentiments of their wildly successful debut. And although Paul’s Boutique commercially bombed when it first came out, its plethora of samples from artists ranging from Sweet, Led Zeppelin and Idris Muhammad to Johnny Cash, Pato Banton and Alice Cooper still reverberates firmly two decades later. Acclaimed by the likes of Miles Davis, Chuck D. and Henry Rollins, there’s a lot to love about this record given how it spawned killer songs like “Shake Your Rump,” “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun,” “The Sounds of Science” and “Hey Ladies.” It remains one of the most quintessential headphone albums around.
2. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses [20th Anniversary Legacy Edition] (Silvertone/Legacy) - This seminal debut was not only the apex of the Madchester scene, but planted the seeds for the ensuing Brit-Pop Revolution that would erupt in the mid-‘90s. Far more popular in the UK than they were in the States, The Stone Roses nonetheless left such a huge imprint in their home country that NME voted the band’s self-titled 1989 debut the greatest album of all time. Bolstered by the psychedelic vibes of the then burgeoning rave culture, the Roses cleverly moved from straightforward songs like the Jesus & Mary Chain-like pop frisson of “She Bangs the Drums” and ethereal jangle of “Waterfall” to stylistic curveballs such as the one-minute-long acoustic “Elizabeth My Dear” and its echoes of “Scarborough Fair” to “Don’t Stop,” a rendition of “Waterfall” run backwards. All of which is capped off by the eight-minute closer “I Am the Resurrection,” with its intricate and hypnotic time changes. This 2-CD reissue also contains the wah-wah soaked and insanely infectious “Fools Gold” single, a second disc entitled “The Lost Demos” and a DVD featuring the band performing live at the Blackpool Empress Ballroom on August 12, 1989.
3. Pearl Jam – Ten (Epic/Legacy) – Like The Clash to Nirvana’s Sex Pistols, Pearl Jam was hot on the heels of their Seattle peers with a 1991 debut that was then criticized by many for the slicker sound resulting from producer Rick Parashar’s touch. That said, there was no denying the raw pain Eddie Vedder’s vocals channeled over the two-guitar tandem of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, whose playing reflected the influence of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Dinosaur, Jr. and even the staccato of stripped-down hip-hop. Songs about gun violence, child abuse and abortion may not have made Ten the most cheery listening experience, but it delivered a weighty and most worthwhile musical trip. With longtime producer Brendan O’Brien overseeing the album’s three reissues, the overall sound is of a leaner nature. Of the trio, the most extravagant is a ginormous collector’s set that contains original and remix versions of the album on CD and vinyl, the “Drop in the Park” concert vinyl, the MTV Unplugged DVD and the demos cassette that retails for about two hundred bucks. The more economically priced set with the remixed Ten CD, Ten Redux and the aforementioned MTV DVD ends up being quite sufficient.
4. Nirvana – Bleach [Deluxe Edition] (Sub Pop) – Even though it didn’t carry the considerable pop-culture weight of its follow-up Nevermind, Bleach did indicate Nirvana’s great potential despite being recorded for the paltry sum of six hundred dollars. Highlights that pop up amid the sturm and dirge served by this pre-Dave Grohl lineup are the ballad “About a Girl,” dense slag of “Blew” and a sinuous cover of the Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz.” Given how sludgy the sound is, the revelation isn’t so much about improved sonic quality as much as the inclusion of an 11-song set plucked from a February 9, 1990 Portland, Oregon show that features a Vaselines cover plus versions of “Dive” and “Been a Son.”
5. The Rolling Stones – Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert (ABCKO) – Arguably the best live album The Rolling Stones ever released, Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out! got a significant upgrade on this “40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition.” Recorded during the Stones’ triumphant comeback playing live in the United States for the first time in three years, Ya-Ya’s found much of the tour ending up in the seminal documentary Gimme Shelter. In addition to adding a bonus disc of five previously unreleased Stones performances, there’s another disc split between the live sets of that tour’s opening acts, B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner plus a DVD featuring those same five songs (“Prodigal Son,” “You Gotta Move,” “Under My Thumb,” “I’m Free” and “Satisfaction”) that are on the second CD.
6. U2 – The Unforgettable Fire [Deluxe Edition] [2-CD/1-DVD set] (Island) – If War was the shot across the commercial bow of the pop culture world, then The Unforgettable Fire was the album that catapulted U2 into the pantheon of globally relevant superstar acts. Joining forces with the production team of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois for the first time, U2 came away with a collection of songs that bore what would be the duo’s atmospheric imprint. Tributes to Martin Luther King, Jr. (“Pride [In the Name of Love]”; “MLK”) further cemented the group’s social consciousness while songs like the title cut and “A Sort of Homecoming” reflected a knack for penning musical gems that affected both heart and mind. This Deluxe Edition includes the Wide Awake in America EP, various remixes and a version of “A Sort of Homecoming” featuring a Peter Gabriel cameo.
7. The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms (Bar/None) – One of those debuts that rock critics get all geeked out over along the lines of Marquee Moon and The Velvet Underground & Nico, Crazy Rhythms possess the kind of jittery cadences, adenoidal phrasing and what can best be described as clipped twangyness that ensured it made nary a commercial ripple upon its initial release. That said, the combination of drummer Anton Fier’s tribal bottom and crisp timekeeping combined with the nasally vocals and neurotic frisson of guitarists/vocalists Bill Million and Glenn Mercer reflected the minimalism and lack of flash contained within the record’s nine songs. The use of unorthodox percussion, (cowbells, maracas, castanets and woodblock) ends up being a welcome and constant companion that gives added weight to the guitar drone used to great effect on the first single “Fa Ce-La” and sonic crescendos of “Moscow Nights.” Best of all is a version of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except For Me and My Monkey),” that force feeds the Fab Four amphetamines with the result being the most killer undiscovered Beatles cover around. While R.E.M. and Yo La Tengo were the obvious immediate acolytes, it’s clear the Feelies laid the groundwork for the traumatized nerdcore of Rivers Cuomo and his ilk.
8. Twisted Sister – Stay Hungry: 25th Anniversary Edition (Rhino) – The Rodney Dangerfield of heavy metal and to a degree, Long Island’s musical legacy, Twisted Sister used talent and determination to go from years of playing Long Island clubs to that brief window in the ‘80s when they were one of the world’s biggest bands. Its multi-platinum third album proved to be both bonus and bane as the success of anthems like “We’re Not Going to Take It,” “I Wanna Rock” and the title cut not only landed them on MTV and magazine covers around the world, but planted the seeds of jealousy within the band’s ranks and fostered resentment from TS’s core fanbase. As for this reissue, the aforementioned songs as well as the conceptual “Horror-Teria (The Beginning),” “Burn in Hell” and “S.M.F.’ all stand up two and a half decades later. Throw in a bonus disc of previously unreleased demos and the newly-recorded “30” and you have a reissue that definitely merits revisiting for both enjoyment and serious reassessment.
9. Neil Young – Neil Young, Harvest, Everyone Knows This is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush (Reprise) – Following on the remastered heels of four mid-era Neil Young records of a few years back, (On the Beach, American Stars ‘N Bars, Hawks & Doves, Re-ac-tor), comes the quartet of solo outings that established the Canadian national as an artist whose weight carried far beyond his efforts in Buffalo Springfield and with Crosby, Stills & Nash. And while this four-pack follows the lead of its predecessors by omitting any bonus cuts, the fidelity is crisper and far improved over the prior reissues. The bass is boosted just a bit, guitar parts are crisper and harmonies are clearer. “The Loner,” “Down By the River,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “When You Dance, I Can Really Love,” “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” “Old Man” and “The Needle and the Damage Done” are just some of the classic Young compositions benefitting from this round of sonic cleaning up.
10. R.E.M. – Reckoning [Deluxe Edition] (I.R.S.) – The relevancy R.E.M. continues to bring to the table may be a topic for debate nowadays, but one listen to the band’s 1984 sophomore bow clearly reflects the skills the Athens quartet brought to the table. Despite having quite the stripped-down aesthetic to it, Reckoning still reverberates positively with lots to still like. There’s the melancholy regret of “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville,” tinged remorse of “So. Central Rain” and crisp attack of “Pretty Persuasion” all infused with Peter Buck’s Byrdsian jangle, Michael Stipe’s even-handed phrasing and the crack rhythmic chemistry shared by Mike Mills and Bill Berry. The inclusion of a bonus disc featuring a live July 7, 1984 performance at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom makes it quite the worthy reissue.
Dukes of Stratosphear – 25 O’Clock (Ape)
Elvis Presley – From Elvis in Memphis [Legacy Edition]
Chris Bell – I Am the Cosmos (Rhino Handmade)
Lenny Kravitz – Let Love Rule [20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] (Virgin)
Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (Limited Edition) (Crysalis)
Whitesnake – Slide It In [25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] (Geffen)
Sheryl Crow – Tuesday Night Music Club [Deluxe Edition] (A&M)
Radiohead – Pablo Honey; The Bends; OK Computer; Kid A; Amnesiac; Hail to the Thief (EMI)
Rod Stewart – A Night on the Town (Warner Brothers)
1. Erasure – Total Pop! Deluxe – The First 40 Hits [3-CD/1-DVD set] (Rhino) – Given the fact that disc one recaptures the 1992 compilation Pop! The First 20 Hits in its entirety, this set definitely holds more appeal to the Erasure latecomer. That said, the second disc follows the synth-pop duo’s creative path going from dabbling with electronic musical trends of recent years and diving into unusual covers right up through remaking old songs with an acoustic bent. And while the third disc, “Live: 1987-2007,” has this set teetering on the edge of bloat, throughout it all, the combination of Andy Bell’s soulful falsetto and Vince Clarke’s compositional dexterity on the keyboards makes for the kind of synth-pop that asks for repeated plays.
2. Hall & Oates – Do What You Want, Be What You Are [4-CD set](RCA/Legacy) – Recently, TV cook Rachel Ray was surprised to find out Hall & Oates, the most successful pop duo of all time, were not inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A trip through this surprisingly solid 4-CD set backs up Ray’s assertion that the Philly twosome merits a place in the Cleveland shrine. Yes, there’s the magnitude of hits you expect to find including soulful classics (“Sara Smile,” “She’s Gone”), catchy smashes (“Private Eyes,” “Did It In a Minute”) and leftfield hits (“Adult Education,” “Method of Modern Love”). But then there plenty of pleasant surprises from H&O’s Atlantic years, like the Elton John-flavored “Fall in Philadelphia,” John Oates’ folky “Had I Known You Better Then” and the crisp ‘70s R&B of “It’s Uncanny.” And while there are testimonies from the likes of Todd Rundgren, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Dave Stewart and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, this set ends up accomplishing what it sets out to do—renew your appreciation for a fabulously talented twosome more often ripe for parody in recent years than anything else.
3. Neil Young – Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972 [8-CD set] (Warner Brothers) It’s an ongoing joke that every year Neil Young was going to release the sequel to the 1977 compilation Decade. Given the enormous amount of material Shakey has in the vault, it’s no wonder that it’s taken this long to start pulling it all together. But with this initial 8-CD salvo, the creaky wheels are finally in motion. Material Young cut as part of The Mynah Birds, (a group he was briefly in with Rick James before the former headed out to California), may still remain under Motown’s lock and key, but out of the 138 tracks here, 47 of them are previously unreleased. As an added bonus, this set is being released on CD, DVD and Blu-Ray formats, with the latter two including his 1974 film Journey Through the Past.
4. Big Star – Keep An Eye on the Sky [4-CD set](Rhino) Rarely has a band that produced such a small amount of music merited such accolades. But, c’mon, it’s friggin’ Big Star. The band had all the hallmarks of a vintage Behind the Music episode — manic-depressive founding member who dies tragically young, a brilliant former teen-idol-turned-music-sophisticate, and enough marketing mismanagement to guarantee the band cult status. But given how masterfully Chris Bell, Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel, and Jody Stephens turned elements of British Invasion rawness and Southern pop soul into the quintessential brand of power-pop only makes you wonder why it took so long for this four-CD set to appear. #1 Record, Radio City, and 3rd/Sister Lovers are all here in their entirety along with a glut of previously unreleased material. There’s even a kickass 1973 live show included that should be a primer for any band that’s ever had to play before an indifferent crowd. Taken together, it’s the kind of pop manna that’s great to relive or even better to discover the first time ’round.
5. Hank Williams – The Unreleased Recordings [3-CD set] (Time Life) – The father of country music is the beneficiary of this set overflowing with previously unreleased recordings Hank Williams made for the Mother’s Best radio show in 1951. Drawn from 143 acetates that were saved from the trash and given to daughter Jett back in the 1970s, this is the initial installment of a three-year period of releases. The 54 cuts here are of pristine quality that include gospel standards (“Precious Lord, Take My Hand”), covers of peers (Fred Rose’s “Prodigal Son,” Moon Mullican’s “Cherokee Boogie”) and the first-ever public performance of the self-penned (and partially plagiarized) “Cold Cold Heart.” Chalk this treasure trove of American roots manna as one of those sets that somehow managed to fly under the radar last year.
6. Various Artists – Where the Action Is: Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968 [4-CD set] (Rhino) – Having already explored the scenes in the UK and San Francisco, Rhino continues its thorough excavation and examination of ‘60s garage rock with this latest installment of the Nuggets series by going in its own backyard and casting the focus on the mid to late ‘60s Los Angeles music scene. With the Sunset Strip being Ground Zero, this 4-CD set not only gathers familiar names like The Beach Boys, Love, Buffalo Springfield, The Monkees and The Byrds with more obscure talents like the Latin-flavored recordings of Thee Midniters and The Premiers along with the psychedelic chamber-pop of The Merry-Go-Round.
7. The Beatles – In Stereo [17-CD set]/ The Beatles – In Mono [13-CD set] (Capitol) The most eagerly awaited reissues this year, some would say that the anticipation for The Beatles’ canon getting remastered equals the same level experienced when these same albums were making their debut on CD over twenty years ago. The wrongs of the original digital releases with their tinny and cold sound quality are righted on both sets with vastly improved remastering that makes the Beatles’ canon sound warm and restores these songs to their former greatness. Despite the fact that the In Mono set is missing Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be, (the only Fab Four albums solely recorded and released in stereo), the preceding albums are particularly impressive sounding as the mono recordings gibe closest with how The Beatles wanted their music to be heard.
8. Dolly Parton – Dolly [4-CD set] (RCA/Legacy) – If ever there was an artist deserving of a box set, that would be Dolly Parton. While her physical endowments are usually the first topic of discussion when her name comes up, the Tennessee native has enjoyed a long and fruitful entertainment career whose cornerstone is the legacy of music she’s created. Highlighting songs from her time recording for Goldband, Mercury, Monument, RCA Victor and Columbia Records, these four discs go as far back as the late ‘50s/early ‘60s demo for “Gonna Hurry (as Slow as I Can)” and ends in the early ‘90s. In between is a wealth of hits, album cuts, rarities, B-Sides and a handful of previously unreleased songs. And while it’s billed as a career-spanning set, (the last year covered is 1993), Dolly leaves out material from the fifteen years that followed in which Parton returned to her bluegrass roots. Despite that minor mistruth, the contents of this set offer an excellent overview of Parton’s talents and how they far outshine her sometime cartoonish image.
9. Rod Stewart – The Rod Stewart Sessions: 1971-1998 [4-CD set](Rhino) – A younger generation of music fan knows Rod Stewart as that old English guy who: A. Puts out albums full of songs your grandparents like; B. Is the father of reality stars Sean and Kimberly Stewart; C. Got to sing “Maggie May” on the Season 8 finale of American Idol last year. Ideally, this treasure trove of unreleased outtakes that span three decades will help round out these perceptions more properly. . Along with alternate versions of well-known songs like “You Wear It Well,” “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” and “Forever Young” are lesser-known gems like “Lost Paraguayos” and “Innocent (The Killing of Georgie Part III), the previously vaulted gut-bucket sequel to the two-part classic about the life and death of Stewart’s gay friend. The football-loving Scot’s ‘90s material also merits closer inspection thanks to formidable interpretive skills that found him moving from a raspy take on the Bobby Womack gem “Looking For a Love” to shifting gears for a lighter but no less effective version of Oasis’ “Rockin’ Chair.”
10. Richard Thompson – Walking On a Wire: Richard Thompson 1968-2009 [4-CD set] (Shout! Factory) – Eve though there are two prior Richard Thompson collections, 1993’s 3-CD Watching the Dark and 2006’s 5-CD RT: The Life and Music of Richard Thompson, Walking On a Wire captures the honor of being the most chronologically faithful of the three. Songs from Thompson’s time with Fairport Convention lead on through to his time recording with ex-wife Linda and his oft-overlooked ‘90s fare. The last disc features material from the live discs he’s been selling at his shows for over a decade. It all ends up being a great studio and live overview of an artist whose songwriting is as exemplary as the six-string prowess he has become renowned for.
Buddy Holly – Buddy Holly Memorial Collection [3-CD set] (Geffen)
Woody Guthrie – My Dusty Roads [4-CD set] (Rounder)
Elvis Presley – Elvis 75: Good Rockin’ Tonight [4-CD set] (RCA/Legacy)
Genesis – Live 1973-2007 (Rhino)
Nirvana – Live at Reading [CD/DVD] (Geffen)
Tom Petty – The Live Anthology [4-CD set] (Reprise)
AC/DC – Backtracks [2-CD/1-DVD set] (Epic/Legacy)
Frank Sinatra – Sinatra: New York [5-CD set] (Rhino)
Various Artists – Def Jam Recordings 25th Anniversary [4-CD set] (Def Jam)