Retro Action 31: Top 2020 Reissues and Retro Releases

It goes without saying that 2020 will go down as a year like no other. But, even without the burden of a global pandemic looming over us like an ominous, dark cloud, music has always been a catalyst for better things.

It’s got built-in, transformational properties that can somehow smooth things over and make everything feel OK for a little while. One thing that goes hand-in-hand with music is the concept of familiarity. When things get really hairy, many of us humans crave familiarity, the stuff that brings us back to a point in our lives when things were good.

And, that’s why we’ll always see new box sets, comps, and reissues emerge from artists of yore that we loved when the world seemed bright and boundless. While I have no doubt we’ll get back to that at some point, as I said at the start, it’s not only comforting and nostalgic to partake in some of the stuff that brought us joy in years past, but it’s also very cool to discover things that may have had an influence on today’s sounds.

For this list of 2020 reissues and retro-ish releases, I tried to include a few things that you may not see everywhere else. While hordes of music critics have been salivating (myself included) over recent box sets from major catalog artists such as The Replacements, Elvis Costello, or Black Sabbath, here, you’ll likely see a few unexpected goodies that are equally deserving.

And one last thing; to keep things interesting, I’ve omitted 2020 Record Store Day releases, since most all of those are retro releases that have already been highly publicized in their own right.

5. Catholic Girls: Rock n’ Roll School For Girls

Catholic Girls cover

New Jersey’s Catholic Girls dressed up in, well, Catholic school garb while playing ’60s-style power pop with added, punk-rock snarl. During the new-wave signing frenzy of the early ’80s, the band were one of the first all-female bands to get signed and released one album in 1982.

Said debut would feature the song “God Made You For Me,” which was interpreted by some to imply that God is a woman. The song would eventually get the group banned by the Catholic Archdiocese in Rhode Island. (Jeez.)

This new, two-disc comp culls rare demos, alternate versions, lost mixes, and other rarities that would otherwise be impossible to find. The sound quality is excellent, and the performances depict a band ready to conquer the world, whether the Rev approves or not. (JSP Records)

4. Iggy Pop: The Bowie Years

It’s no secret that Iggy Pop has been a critics’ darling since, like, forever. But, the reason I included this 2020 box-set release is because it’s, like, the un-Iggy-est of all the Iggy Pop stuff in many ways.

Known first and foremost for his pioneering, proto-punk days with the Stooges, a few years later, Pop embarked on a somber and dark new direction via a musical partnership with David Bowie.

Known as his “Berlin era,” (to coincide with a trio of albums by Bowie dubbed “The Berlin Trilogy” during the late ’70s), Pop cooled his heels and shed his manic side for a spell to create a pair of albums that sounded cold, gothic, and slightly somber, aligning well with the Cold War confines in Berlin at the time.

The Bowie Years features remastered versions of The Idiot, Lust For Life, and the live album TV Eye, plus loads of studio rarities, outtakes, live sets, and a massive book documenting the period. (UME)

3. Johnny Thunders: Que Sera Sera Resurrected

Besides reinventing the guitar for aspiring punk musicians the world over via his time with the New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders’ gypsy/glam/junkie/bastardized-Keith Richards image has been nicked by multitudes of axe grinders ever since—making his contribution to rock ‘n’ roll a multifaceted one.

During the mid-’80s, Thunders’ legacy was being embraced by a whole new generation of musicians ranging from the punk and alternative sides to young Hollywood upstarts Guns N’ Roses. And, it was during this time that he’d release Que Sera Sera in 1985. While far from his best effort (at this point, Thunders had been struggling for years with drugs, industry indifference, and several other demons), in retrospect, there are some really strong songs on here, including “M.I.A.” and “Alone In a Crowd,” and Thunders’ signature licks are rampant throughout.

Thunders’ longtime label Jungle Records recently released Que Sera Sera Resurrected, a deluxe box set with the original album, a new, remixed version that pumps up the guitar, and a third disc of rarities, all in a svelte, deluxe case with a 26-page booklet. (Jungle)

2. Billion Dollar Babies: Battle Axe – Complete Edition

When singer Alice Cooper took a “break” from the actual Alice Cooper Band in 1975 to become an even more successful solo artist, the remaining members had initially planned on regrouping with their erstwhile frontman to start work on a new album.

But, Alice ultimately had other plans, leaving his former bandmates in a less-than-optimal position. Rather than sit around unproductively, they became the Billion Dollar Babies, named after one of their prior band’s most successful albums and released Battle Axe in 1977.

Produced by Jack Douglas, who was riding high after scoring hits records with Aerosmith, the album is a slick and theatrical, arena-rock album, stylistically not a million miles away from the Alice Cooper Band. In spite of boasting some strong material as in the dark-and-eerie title track and the upbeat single “Too Young,” the album failed to resonate to a wider audience, while Alice’s own fortunes continued to climb.

The album did sell enough to land multiple, thrashed, vinyl copies at used record stores across the land, but on CD, it’s been virtually impossible to score … until now. This landmark reissue courtesy of HNE Records, presents the original album in remastered form, along with a second disc of studio demos the band recorded in preparation for the original release, and a third disc containing one of the band’s few live sets before disbanding.

For fans and Alice Cooper Band completists alike, this is the real shite. (HNE Recordings)

1. Motörhead: Ace of Spades 40th Anniversary Edition

There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said about Motörhead’s fourth album, Ace of Spades. From the blistering, opening salvo of the title track to the iconic cover art, it was the album that broke the band to a much larger audience and helped to solidify its place as the blossoming, U.K. metal scene’s elder statesmen. (Although, Lemmy and company never considered Motörhead to be metal; they saw themselves as merely a loud rock ‘n’ roll band, nothing more or less.)

But, beyond that, Ace of Spades was the release that saw all of the pieces fall into place for the band, from the maturity of the songwriting to the crack musicians the band had become (besides Lemmy on the thunderous bass and vocals, drummer Phil Taylor packs a serious punch, while “Fast” Eddie Clarke remains undervalued for his frenetic-but-tasteful licks). Producer Vic Maile also deserves loads of credit for helping to achieve the band’s vision, and then some.

This plush, 40th-anniversary edition comes in multiple formats, for collectors and listeners of all stripes. There’s a two-disc, CD edition that comes in a media book and includes the original album, plus a raucous, previously unreleased live set from the era.

For vinyl-heads, there’s the deluxe, three-LP edition that also comes in a book format and includes the same concert. But, the kicker here is the fantastic, sonic upgrade the vinyl has received. Using a brand-new, half-speed master culled from the original tapes, this new version is a skull-cracker through and through and allows for maximum volume without the normal distortion one might encounter with an inferior pressing.

For the Motörhead fanatic, there’s the super-deluxe version, which builds upon the deluxe version by adding a second, unreleased, live LP from the Ace Up Your Sleeve Tour, an EP of instrumentals, a DVD comp, poker dice, a replication of the original tour program, a comic book, and more, all in a massive, thematic box. (BMG)

 For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, hit me up at Cheers, Kaz.

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