The Music Box's 2011 Holiday Gift Guide
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2011, Volume 18, #9
Written by John Metzger
Mon December 5, 2011, 05:30 AM CST
Although the economy continued to flounder this year, it didn’t stop artists and record companies from digging deeper into their vaults in order to assemble another round of reissued albums. Some of these projects took the form of mammoth boxed sets; others are more modest affairs. The bottom line, though, is that there are options that will fit nearly everyone’s budget.
Seven years after Brian Wilson completed his solo interpretation of SMiLE, The Beach Boys finally have offered a glimpse into the recording sessions that the group abandoned in 1967. Appropriately dubbed The SMiLE Sessions, the material is being presented in two formats: a comprehensive, six-disc boxed set and a concise, two-disc collection. Most fans will be satisfied with the latter package, which features an approximation of the album that Wilson had intended to make along with a healthy sampling of alternate takes. Roughly one-third of the more expansive version of The SMiLE Sessions is devoted to the recording of two songs (Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains). Although it provides an intriguing look at Wilson’s thought process as he was sculpting the endeavor, it is largely for true believers.
After years of resistence, Pink Floyd dove into its archives in order to assemble the latest round of repackaged albums from its back catalogue. First and foremost, all 14 of its efforts — from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn to The Division Bell — are featured in the 16-disc Discovery boxed set. In addition, the band pulled together a new, 16-track retrospective entitled The Best of Pink Floyd: A Foot in the Door. Although all of its endeavors are available as standalone sets, Pink Floyd opted to give special treatment to its biggest-selling outings — The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall. Available as a two-disc set, The Dark Side of the Moon includes a concert performance of the album from 1974. The six-disc Immersion Box contains even more selections — including demos, live recordings, concert videos, and surround sound and quadrophonic mixes. The two-disc version of Wish You Were Here features live material from 1974 as well as several alternate takes, while the five-disc Immersion Box contains short films and animation segments as well as surround sound and quadrophonic mixes. The standalone version of The Wall is out now, but fans will have to wait until February for the release of a pair of in-depth packages.
Columbia Records has been busy compiling comprehensive boxed sets for some of the artists that have had a long-standing affiliation with the label. All of the albums that Dave Brubeck issued on Columbia between 1955 and 1966 are featured in a 19-disc collection, while 230 of the tracks that Billie Holiday recorded for the company are included on Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia, 1933–1944. Similar sets are available for Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Wynton Marsalis as well as Leonard Cohen, Phil Spector, and Electric Light Orchestra. These items are not available via the usual retail outlets; instead, they are being sold exclusively through the label’s online venture PopMarket.
The Grateful Dead had a busy year in 2011. Continuing to mine its vast archive of concert recordings, the group assembled the final five installments of its Road Trips series. Volume 4 began with material from the Big Rock Pow Wow in May 1969. It continued with collections devoted to the Grateful Dead’s shows in East Rutherford, New Jersey in spring 1988, the Denver Coliseum in November 1973, Philadelphia’s Spectrum in April 1982, and the Boston Music Hall in June 1976. In addition, the outfit selected highlights from Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings to create a sequel to Europe ’72, the triple-vinyl set it issued 39 years ago. Among the highlights on Europe ’72, Volume 2 is a medley of Dark Star, The Other One, and Merle Haggard’s Sing Me Back Home.
U2, Paul McCartney, and the Rolling Stones chose to reissue their back catalogues slowly rather than all at once. The deliberative process that they all have followed has allowed them to put a lot of thought into how their albums are presented. With the release of Achtung Baby, U2 is nearing the end of its journey through the past. The seminal 1991 endeavor was expanded to a two-disc collection that pairs the original effort with a hodgepodge of b-sides and rarities. U2 also assembled a super-deluxe edition of Achtung Baby, which includes its subsequent outing Zooropa as well as a hardcover book and several DVDs with videos, concert footage, and other odds and ends from the era.
McCartney is just beginning to troll through his archives. Following in the footsteps of last year’s repackaging of Band on the Run, McCartney assembled new versions of McCartney and McCartney II. Both collections include outtakes, live performances, and short films featuring footage from the years in which the efforts were created.
In recent years, the Rolling Stones has taken an in-depth look at Exile on Main Street and Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. This year, the band turned its attention to Some Girls. Although the group hadn’t truly begun to fade — at least not in comparison to its work in the 1980s — the collection was a comeback effort that repositioned the Rolling Stones to compete in an era that pitted disco against punk. Along with a remastered version of the original album, the new rendition of Some Girls also contains 12 outtakes that were refurbished with completed guitar accompaniments and new vocals.
Other artists, such as Jimi Hendrix and Smashing Pumpkins, have taken a rapid-fire approach to compiling their archival material. All year, Smashing Pumpkins has been revitalizing its catalogue. Issued in time for the holidays, the latest batch — Gish and Siamese Dream — contain an abundance of goodies, including demos, alternate mixes, and full-length concert videos from 1990 and 1993, respectively.
All of Hendrix’s proper albums were reissued in 2010. This year’s offerings are significant. First, in conjunction with Sony Legacy, the Hendrix Family resurrected the long out-of-print concert compilation Hendrix in the West. They also assembled an expansive view of Hendrix’s concerts in October 1968 in San Francisco in the four-disc boxed set Winterland.
Simon & Garfunkel, Billy Joel, and Jethro Tull dug through their past to provide some additional highlights for 2011. Simon & Garfunkel celebrated the 40th anniversary of Bridge over Troubled Water with a deluxe edition of the effort that includes several intriguing films. The first was made prior to the album’s release, while the latter documentary was created specifically for this rendition of the endeavor. Taken together, they illuminate a stellar, if somewhat overrated, outing.
Over the years, Jethro Tull has celebrated every noteworthy anniversary of Aqualung, often by using the effort as the basis for a concert tour. To mark the 40th anniversary of the endeavor’s release, Jethro Tull expanded the album into a two-disc collection. The new version of Aqualung contains a number of previously unreleased tracks that examine the genesis of the set.
Last but not least, Billy Joel’s Piano Man was given a significant overhaul this fall. The original album never sounded quite right on CD, and the new edition was refurbished with a much-needed sonic boost. In addition, Piano Man was paired with a 12-song performance that was recorded at Philadelphia’s WMMR in 1972.
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