Retro Action 44: Best Retro Releases of 2022

As we start to put more distance between ourselves and the dismal throes of the pandemic, it’s nice to see flashes of normalcy begin to reappear. For those of us who pine for stuff like box sets, deluxe vinyl editions and prime reissues of some of our favorite releases of yore, the past couple of years haven’t been too kind. Plant closures, supply-chain issues and other factors have either delayed, deleted, or forced far tighter quantities of releases, only to force the price up in a major way by unscrupulous sellers on third-party sites. For collectors, these past few months have delivered a treasure trove of goodies; a jackpot for metalheads, vintage punk completists, rock fanatics, and more. Here you’ll find both a few standouts—plus some unexpected gems.

Creatures of the Night — 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

The dawn of the ‘80s wasn’t particularly kind to our four makeup-clad friends from New York. The once-mighty, theatrical hard rock juggernaut had been humbled by changing trends and tastes, not to mention lineup issues and an overall abandonment of its signature hard rock sounds over the past few albums. For its latest release, the band needed to make a big statement to revive its reputation. It was also crucial to get the sound right. Heavy metal was on the rise and bands from both sides of the Atlantic were gaining global followings.

At this point, KISS had been running out of steam for a few years. First, it dabbled with disco in 1979’s hit “I Was Made for Loving you,” then hit some serious bumps with 1980’s mixed bag of pop rock, Unmasked, which also saw original drummer Peter Criss exit the band. The final nail came with 1981’s concept album, Music from The Elder, where the band tried to outdo Pink Floyd in terms of high-art pretension. While there are a few decent tracks, the audiences had no idea of what to make of it, and KISS was back on the rocks. The band’s next album had to be something major, and KISS had pulled out all the stops with a mix of ace session players, outside songwriting partnerships, and a new stage show to support the album on tour. 

KISS would end up delivering its heaviest album to date, with some of its strongest material in years. The album had it all, from the statement of intent of its driving title track to the anthemic punch of “I Love It Loud,” the album’s marquee single and video, and some dark, eerie anti-ballads like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hell” and “I Still Love You,” the plodding “War Machine.” On one hand, it was the album KISS needed to make; modern-sounding, heavy, and in step with the times. But on the other hand, the album has enough oddball moments (like Simmons’ soul-searching “Saint & Sinner”) that also forge the impression that KISS truly didn’t care what people thought; they were going to make the album they wanted to make, critics and fairweather fans be damned. In reality, the truth may fall somewhere in between.

Creatures of the Night is also monumental for several other reasons: 1) It was the band’s 10th album. 2) It was the band’s last release for original label Casablanca. 3) It was the last record to list original guitarist Ace Frehley as a member although he didn’t play on the album. 4) Finally, it was the band’s last album with makeup on, until about 15 years later when they reunited and released Psycho Circus

In spite of being a strong offering, it failed to sell in major quantities. Even worse, the band’s tour saw it playing to half-empty arenas, in spite of its bombastic stage set, which included a full-scale tank as a drum riser. The album also prominently featured guitarist Vinnie Vincent (among several other session players) who played throughout many of the recording sessions in Frehley’s stead and would soon join the band for the tour and next album as an employee. In the KISS canon, Vincent’s involvement would prove to be controversial, but that’s a whole other story. 

History has been surprisingly kind to Creatures of the Night, with many fans and critics across the metal spectrum singing its praises for the strong songs, solid production, and edgier approach. Universal Music’s recent 40th Anniversary release does the album due justice, with a mega-deluxe reissue that holds virtually nothing back. 

This mammoth set includes 103 tracks, with three-quarters of them previously unreleased. The original album comes remastered on both standard CD and Blu-ray audio, while there are several other discs with dozens of live tracks from the era, unused studio versions and demos, and even some non-essential sound effects used during the tour. Besides the music, the set comes with a hardcover book with notes from rock writer Ken Sharp, a tour program, and lots of souvenir goodies such as an iron-on patch, stickers, replicas of backstage passes and more. Without any vinyl, the $300 price tag is a bit steep, but it’s nice to see an off-beat and less predictable release get this kind of deluxe treatment. KISS’s fortunes would change a year or so later when it removed its makeup and began releasing pop albums once again, this time, in a very focused and deliberate way. This makes Creatures all the more special, as it stands as the band’s first full-fledged metal album released at the lowest point of its career. (Universal)

The Sire Albums

For Ramones enthusiasts, it’s generally the first four albums or bust. And who could blame them—these four records set the blueprint for punk during the late ‘70s, while cementing the band’s cartoonish take on the world. But there was far more to the band’s legacy, especially during the next decade. 

Released exclusively for Record Store Day earlier this past year, this vinyl box set features the band’s studio canon from the ‘80s: Pleasant Dreams, Subterranean Jungle, Too Tough To Die, Animal Boy, Halfway To Sanity, and Brain Drain. It was an interesting time for the Ramones. Desperately in search of a hit, the band enlisted veteran hitmakers such as Phil Spector and Graham Gouldman respectively to produce. But in spite of the bigger budgets, no major hits were forthcoming. But the decade’s output demonstrated that the band was no one-trick pony, and had enough range to flex from power pop to garage and hardcore. The set also includes a seventh album of rarities on splatter vinyl. (Rhino)

Guns N’ Roses
Use Your Illusion I & II

Everyone knows about Guns N’ Roses’ epic debut Appetite for Destruction (1987). Mixing the heroin-era Stones with the Sex Pistols, the album took hard rock to a grimy but highly musical new place and this volatile statement of intent documenting the seedy side of LA would go on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide. 

The pressure to follow up the success of Appetite with a full album (discounting the mini album G N’ R Lies) would be immense, so instead of releasing a single effort, the band would unleash two new connected albums simultaneously in 1991. With differing variations on the artwork by artist Mark Kostabi, each was distinctive by its varied color scheme. Musically, each album expands on the GN’R sound by incorporating a bigger production, and grandiose instrumentation including strings, piano, and horns. There’s also a greater range of styles touching on hard rock, blues, country, punk, and piano balladry, with standout tracks including “Right Next Door to hell,” “Dust N’ Bones,” ”14 Years” and “Pretty Tied Up.” While some might say that you could take the best tracks from each album to create one single killer record, each LP has aged well in its own right and merits re-examination even for the ambitiousness alone. 

Now, you can get both albums in one massive set, in a variety of configurations ranging from the Super Deluxe 7-CD with Blu-ray, or the massive (and wildly ambitious) Super Deluxe 12-vinyl with Blu-ray, plus smaller editions. Each of the Super Deluxe sets also comes with 97 tracks in total with 63 previously unreleased. These remastered versions sound extra electric and alive on both the vinyl and CD variants. There are also two full live concerts, and a Blu-ray concert film, plus a hardback book, fan club replica materials, photos, and more. The sleeve combines the color schemes from both albums in an “anamorphic illusion” style cover where you can view both covers from different angles. Ironically, the Use Your Illusion albums would be released just days before Nirvana’s genre-blazing Nevermind. And while GN’R’s style of bombastic rock ‘n’ roll would face a downturn in its aftermath, as time has passed, these releases continue to compel and fascinate fans and critics of all stripes. (Universal)  

Iron Maiden
The Number of the Beast / Beast Over Hammersmith 40th Anniversary

Hands down, 1982’s Number of the Beast is Iron Maiden’s marquee album, and one of the most important metal albums ever put to wax. The young band had already released two prior albums and was making a name for itself around Europe during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) movement. But with the entrance of Bruce Dickinson on vocals and songwriting prowess that had begun to hit its stride, Number of the Beast was like lightning in a bottle with stellar songs such as the title track, “Run to the Hills,” “22 Acacia Avenue,” and basically every other number. It’s a masterwork from start to finish and one that indoctrinated hordes of metal merchants in its wake and catapulted the band to international stardom.

To commemorate its 40th anniversary, you can now get the original LP on triple high-quality vinyl, with expanded artwork, replicating the book included in an earlier limited CD version. This new release also restores the vintage track “Total Eclipse,” which the band wanted on the LP but didn’t make the cut, opting for “Gangland” instead. As an extra bonus, the package includes the long-out-of-print Beast Over Hammersmith live album that documents a live show from March 1982 from the Beast on the Road World Tour. Originally recorded just before the release of The Number of the Beast, it was later included in a rare Maiden box set released in 2002. The band sounds young and hungry and you can feel the electricity throughout the tracklist. For fans, collectors, and metal enthusiasts, this new release is essential. (BMG)

Dead Kennedys
Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables – The 2022 Mix

While I’m not usually in favor of messing with the makings of a classic record, the practice seems to be getting more and more prevalent—and less sacrilegious. There’ve been Beatles remixes, KISS’s landmark Destroyer album’s got an alternate mix and now this—a scrappy vintage punk record from 40+ years ago—gets the royal remix treatment. San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys were in many ways the US equivalent to the Sex Pistols; wholly original, idiosyncratic, and completely unhinged, especially where frontman Jello Biafra was concerned. This band never tried to be “cool.” It sought to disrupt and that, it did in spades. 

Now, some 42 years after the fact, one of its landmark albums gets the full remix treatment. Handled by seasoned engineer Chris Lord-Alge and overseen by OG Kennedys East Bay Ray And Klaus Floride, Fresh Fruit is a sonic revelation; loud, snotty, and full-on nuclear. Numbers such as the opener “Kill the Poor” and “Holiday In Cambodia” have never sounded more crisp, clear, and terrifying, and this new reissue serves as a fitting tribute to the underground classic. The package also comes with liner notes by Duff McKagan and Dave Grohl. (Cherry Red)

Suzi Quatro
The Albums 1980-1986

She was the main inspiration for Joan Jett, the missing link between glam rock and punk, and played one helluva killer bass. Suzi Quatro took the UK and Europe by storm throughout the ‘70s scoring some major proto-punk chart hits in the form of “Devil Gate Drive” and “48 Crash” and others. She was small in stature but made up for it in attitude, breaking away from the typical bubble-pop norms that female musicians often had to adhere to. Besides being a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, Suzi’s fashion sense and haircut were also iconic, inspiring multitudes of imitators (including the aforementioned Jett). But in spite of all the achievements, Ms. Quatro never really scored big in these parts. Her raucous style and street-smart badassery were too much too soon for these shores, but nevertheless, her music has amassed a cult following just the same. 

The Albums 1980-1986 contains three fairly obscure artifacts from one of Suzi’s down periods where output was lean and the charts were far less friendly. The best of the bunch is the Rock Hard album from 1980. A mix of hard rock and pop, it had quite a few decent hooks and Quatro’s signature wail embellished in loud guitars and polished production. One of the best tracks is a version of the Dave Clark Five’s ‘60s hit “Glad All Over.” It would turn out to be her last album to chart for many years but would be met with a fair amount of positive reviews. 1982’s Main Attraction saw Quatro eschew any chart aspirations and follow her heart instead, recording mostly original numbers with a more rootsy, organic feel. Unreleased Emotion was initially recorded in 1986 but not released for six years due to label issues. Kind of a throwback to earlier days, the album did feature a decent cover of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing.” The package comes in a mini clamshell case with a booklet featuring loads of cool pictures from the day. (Cherry Red)

Circle Jerks
Live At The House Of Blues

Originally released as a standard DVD back in 2004, Live At The House Of Blues features the original LA punk trailblazers at the peak of their powers. Professionally shot, the concert footage was a non-stop onslaught of pure punk aggression mixed with a healthy dose of signature sarcasm courtesy of frontman Keith Morris. 

This new reissue cleans up the original footage and adds an audio CD companion for the complete package. The set contains 25 songs including ‘Jerks favorites such as “Letter Bomb,” “Beverly Hills,” and a cool cover of the Soft Boys’ “Destroy You.” Bonus material includes extra footage, band commentary, and more. (Cleopatra/MVD)

For questions, comments, or something you’d like to see, hit me up. @jimkaz1

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