Retro Action 56: Must-Have Reissues from 2023

I’m not sure about you, but I’m not at all disappointed that 2023 is over. Personally, it was a tough year. From having a car get stolen (bastards!) to family illness, a sick pet, layoffs, and a sordid selection of further annoyances, there’s no love lost at all for this past year. But despite all the shite, there were some bright spots — and in terms of reissues and retro releases, 2023 crushed. There were loads and loads of killer releases, many of which we’ve already covered in this column. But here you’ll find — in no particular order — a rundown of some late additions, stragglers, and less-publicized gems that you still need to know about. From proto- and post-punk to metal and rock ‘n’ roll, there’s undoubtedly something here for everyone, so take heed.

The Runaways
Neon Angels On the Road To Ruin 1976-1978

While on the surface, they may have seemed like just a pack of angsty teenagers from the Valley, the Runaways were so much more. Thrown together by evil svengali Kim Fowley, these five disparate teens cranked out quite a racket in its short tenure. Not only did they cause a stir in the clubs and soon score a major record deal, but they would also help set the blueprint for punk rock and show the world that women could be as badass as any male slinging an axe. Of course, lest we forget, the band would also churn out two future solo stars in the form of Joan Jett and Lita Ford. The subject of documentaries and even a major motion picture, the band’s story is a somewhat complex one. 

Neon Angels collects all of the band’s major-label output in one tidy and collectible set. For my money, the band’s first two albums — the self-titled debut and Queens of Noise — are the strongest. Released in short succession, both featured the full 5-piece band before frontwoman Cherie Currie would leave for a solo career and Jett would assume lead vocals. Nonetheless, when listening back to the five LPs included here, it’s evident that the Runaways were pioneers. Within every seamy riff, and each sneering, hook-laden chorus, these women meant serious business. And given their youth and enthusiasm for what they were doing, it’s hard to deny the charms of these scrappy proto-punk offerings. The set features the band’s four studio albums, plus the official live album Live In Japan. Each comes in a mini-LP cover that replicates the original artwork. There’s also a booklet with some choice nuggets about this trailblazing but slightly tragic legacy. (Cherry Red)

Lene Lovich
Toy Box: The Stiff Years 1978-1983

While many associate early punk with either leather and nail spikes or skateboards and Bermuda shorts, the movement had much farther-reaching consequences — namely in inspiring those who didn’t fit into the commercial system to blaze their own path. The post-punk scene — a term generated by music journalists as a catch-all for all born out of punk’s countercultural stance — would eventually become mainstream itself but would produce several interesting musical deviants along the way.

If anyone could be seen as the poster child for post-punk’s penchant for disruptive creativity, Lene Lovich could very well be it. Both musically and style-wise, Lovich was truly one of a kind. Mixing a dark gothic aura with pop hooks, and a quirky vocal approach that could flex from high-pitched squeals to deep operatic flourishes, her songs were mini-epics, with enough juice to satiate both sophisticates and pop fans alike. Aside from Devo, few acts mixed high-concept visuals with experimental pop aesthetics as effectively as Lovich. 

Toy Box collects all of her aural output from the legendary Stiff Records label, where Lovich’s debut Stateless takes center stage. Featuring the singer’s most revered single, “Lucky Number,” the album was initially released in the UK in 1978. But surprisingly, the label had a hit on its hands, so it was quickly repackaged and somewhat reworked for the US market, where it also did fairly well. Both versions are included here, along with subsequent albums, Flex and No Man’s Land. Also included are loads of remixes, B-sides, and rarities, some of which have never been available on CD. All come packaged in a glossy clamshell case with cardboard copies of the original albums. (Cherry Red)

Another Perfect Day — 40th Anniversary Reissue

Over a career spanning several decades, Motörhead’s sound has been pretty damn consistent. Pummeling distorted bass lines? Check. Breakneck rhythms? Check. Lemmy’s signature snarl? Hell yes. But once upon a time, when OG member Fast Eddie Clark unceremoniously left the band to form the outfit Fastway during the early ‘80s, the band regrouped with former Thin Lizzy axeman Brian “Robbo” Robertson to man the fretboard. While Clark had his own style and would go on to do some good work with the aforementioned Fastway (featuring future Flogging Molly slinger Dave King), Robbo was far more of a virtuoso. And his mastery of the six-string brought out a far more melodic and musical side of Lemmy and Co. 

Another Perfect Day (1983) was the culmination, featuring a bevy of hookier refrains, such as “One Track Mind” and lots of more polished riffage and licks courtesy of the new axe-slinger. Lemmy sounds even gleeful at times, especially on the likes of “Shine” and “Back at the Funny Farm,” and the fat production helps to bring out the brighter side of the band. While still brazenly heavy and in-your-face, the album was a departure from the likes of Ace of Spades and Iron Fist and would draw a mixed reaction from critics and fans. And the fact that Robbo sported freshly dyed short red hair with a headband would only serve to complicate matters with the band’s hesher contingent. 

Nevertheless, the album remains a top entry in the Motörhead canon for its consistency, style, and adventurous spirit. While the lineup would only last one album, it’s finally been given its due with a new half-speed master from the original tapes and comes in three top-notch variations: a 2-CD book, orange single vinyl, and a deluxe 3-LP box set featuring 2 LPs of live sets from the era and a book loaded with photos, memorabilia and more, all of which pay fitting tribute the original release. (BMG)

Thin Lizzy
Vagabonds Of The Western World — 50th Anniversary Edition

When the name Thin Lizzy comes up, visions of staccato, half-spoken lead vocals, twin-guitar harmonies, and the heavy arena swing of “The Boys Are Back In Town” and “Jailbreak” quickly come to mind.  But in the early days, the band’s sound and dynamics were far different. The original lineup included Phil Lynott on bass and vocals, Brian Downey on drums, and Eric Bell on guitar. This lineup would record three earthy hard rock albums and churn out the classic standard “Whiskey in the Jar,” which would later be covered by Metallica. Vagabonds Of The Western World would be the final album of the Eric Bell era and help pave the way for superstardom. Seen as a bit of a transitional outing, the album saw Lynott boost his swagger on songs such as “The Rocker” while exploring his more sensitive side on the wistful “A Song For While I’m Away.” Sonically, the album was a key stepping stone in the band’s canon, setting the scene for the arena-filling juggernaut it would later become. 

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of this classic, the album now comes in several new iterations, including a 4-LP box set, a 3-CD/Blu-ray audio set, and a 2-LP release on purple vinyl. The sets feature a slew of sessions the band did with DJ John Peel along with studio rarities and more. The packaging also looks amazing, featuring artwork by Jim Fitzpatrick, who created the iconic portrait of Che Guevara in black and red, and would go on to do several more covers for the band. (Decca)

Violent Femmes
40th Anniversary Edition

When thinking about punk’s evolution, it’s easy to focus on the first UK wave, the embryonic NYC scene, early LA hardcore and the pop-punk resurgence of the ‘90s. But one band that rarely gets into the mix is that of the Violent Femmes. While in the eyes of punk purists, this inexplicable trio may not exactly fit neatly into the conversation but deserve their rightful place just the same. Putting a folky and campy spin on the proceedings, the band created DIY anthems for the ages in the form of “Add It Up” and “Blister in the Sun.” Both songs articulated teen angst and alienation in such a candid way that one has to wonder if singer Gordon Gano ever really recovered from his own adolescence. Gano’s cynical lyrics are the star of the show, cutting through the clutter and speaking directly to the orphans, outcasts, and un-hipsters everywhere. Also featuring drummer Victor DeLorenzo and bassist Brian Ritchie, the small-but-mighty combo created an idiosyncratic sound that at times resembled proto-punks Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, but the band would eventually transcend comparisons once its self-titled debut record took hold. 

This new anniversary issue features the album in crisp remastered form with a second disc of demos, live cuts, and B-sides, including the aforementioned iconic tracks, plus the anti-hit “Gone Daddy Gone” and others. The CD set comes in a sturdy digipak with expanded artwork and a booklet. Also, coming soon is a 4-disc vinyl set with all the trimmings, including a 7-inch replica of the original single “Ugly” + “Gimme the Car.” For fans of offbeat punk and early alternative rock, this one’s a keeper. (Craft Recordings)

The Black Crowes
The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

The Black Crowes hit the scene at the tail end of the ‘80s, bringing forth a retro style that faithfully recalled the raunchy barroom sounds of vintage Stones and Faces. While hardly a new thing — Guns N’ Roses would also wear similar influences on their tattooed sleeves, adding heaping doses of Aerosmith  — The Black Crowes took their fascination with the past to much further extremes. The authenticity the band brought forth would ultimately add an extra layer of credibility that would help it weather changing trends and scenes for decades to come. A mix of hard rock and blues-tinged boogie updated for modern times, the band’s debut Shake Your Money Maker would go on to sell several million copies. Bands with similar influences such as the Quireboys and Dogs D’Amour would also surface around this time, but neither would have the staying power of the Crowes. 

Released in 1992, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion was the band’s second release. Wider in scale than its debut, Southern featured a new lead guitarist, ex-Burning Tree main man Marc Ford (fun fact: Ford had previously played with T.S.O.L. ‘s Jack Grisham for a spell in Cathedral of Tears during the early ‘80s). Ranging from the Stones-y stomp of “Sting Me” to the hit single “Remedy” that ingeniously mixes pop, with hard rock and gospel, and the wispy ballad “Thorn In My Pride,” the album would go on to sell two million copies in the US alone. 

Now, Southern has been memorialized in a clutch of different formats, including remastered 4-LP and 3-CD box sets that both include a reproduction of a massive promo book that was distributed to media upon the album’s release, plus lithographs and more. Each set includes the original album, plus live sets and a slew of unreleased tracks. (Universal) 

For questions, comments, or something you’d like to see, drop me a line. @JimKaz1

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