While the naysayers may see it as a fleeting fad, vinyl is back in a big way. So much so, that it has become the main tangible, physical component that isn’t easily cast aside when new releases come out. MP3s are disposable, and since CDs can easily be ripped, shared and posted on sketchy Eastern-Bloc download sites, vinyl truly is the last bastion of authenticity (and with that, the artists actually benefit). Vinyl is also the perfect medium for artful packaging, like back in the days when the likes of Pink Floyd, The Who and KISS transformed their releases into multi-faceted, sensory experiences. Gatefold covers, inserts, lyrics sheets, posters, the works, it was all part of the experience that enhanced the purchase. And it’s finally swung back around.
This time out, we’ll cover some recent releases ranging from punk to prog, many of which have amped up the packaging, just like in the days of yore, plus a few other special things you need to know about.
SoCal punk institution Social Distortion released a deluxe vinyl box of its indie releases in shining colored vinyl editions. In The Independent Years – 1983-2004, we get Mommy’s Little Monster—the one that started it all—from 1983. Legend has it that it was recorded in one day in ’82, and the album’s honesty and youthful enthusiasm have made it an must-have release from the early ‘80s LA scene, with scarce original copies fetching serious cash on auction sites.
The set also features Prison Bound (1988), the album that ushered in the more rootsy, country/western aspects to the band’s sound. After Prison Bound, the band would get signed to major label Epic Records, which would elevate its status far above the cult level. After a few hits followed by a few more years of waning success, Social Distortion would become an indie band once more. Also included here is 1995’s Mainliner (Wreckage From the Past), a comp of early singles as well as the band’s first post-major label release, along with studio album Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll from 2004, to round out the indie collection. The collection comes in a glossy slipcase. (Concorde Bicycle)
Lou Reed needs no introduction. But as a refresher, his contributions to punk and alternative music easily trounce those of most anyone else. After a stint writing pop ditties for Pickwick Records in the early 1960s, the nascent NY songwriter caused a stir when he formed the Velvet Underground a few years later, and would eventually go on to influence hordes of budding proto-punks with his off-kilter sounds, counter-cultural stance and deviant lyrics—listen to “Heroin,” an aural head-fuck writ large. Reed’s uncanny knack for storytelling, especially that of life’s seedier side, has made him a consistent standout throughout the decades.
Similar to David Bowie, Reed’s legacy reflects a chameleon that has straddled the lines between proto-punk, art rock and glam, experimental and beyond. After the break up of the Velvet Underground, Reed embarked upon a vast and varied solo career. Like Bowie I always to veer towards Reed’s first couple of solo LPs, all of which you can find in a new vinyl box.
The RCA & Arista Album Collection, Vol. 1 features Transformer (1972), Berlin (1973), Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal (1974), Coney Island Baby (1975), Street Hassle (1978) and The Blue Mask (1982). For some reason, the set excludes Reed’s first solo album from 1972, which is largely comprised of prior unreleased Velvets material. Transformer is the star of this set. A mix of glam decadence (“Vicious”), street poetry (“Walk on the Wild Side”), wistful psychedelia (“Satellite of Love”) and supreme balladry (“Perfect Day”), it was a defining album for Reed. The production team of David Bowie and Mick Ronson imbues the album with a very full sound that adds color to Reed’s largely monotone vocals. This and the other five LPs come in 150-gram vinyl, a book and a large slipcase. (Sony Legacy)
Shifting gears more than just a bit, Rush’s groundbreaking concept album 2112 has recently been reissued in time for its 40th anniversary (UMe). The Sci-Fi dystopian tale set to a heavy, ’70s prog-rock soundtrack and further embellished by Geddy Lee’s scorching vocals was a breakthrough for the band that still resonates at the top of the list of the band’s albums today.
This 3-LP reissue features the original album remastered—at Abbey Road Studios, no less—plus unreleased live tracks and covers from the likes of Alice in Chains, Billy Talent, and as you may have guessed, serial guester Dave Grohl. It all comes on thick 200-gram vinyl in a plush box set.
Released in 1991, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger was the precursor to mainstream breakthrough Superunknown, and serves as a bridge between the lo-fi sounds of the band’s independent releases and its arena rock ascension. Songs like “Rusty Cage” and “Slaves & Bulldozers” still have the some of the basement grit of the early days, while benefitting from more advanced production.
To commemorate the album’s 25th anniversary, Universal Music is pulling out all the stops with several format and packaging options. For vinyl purists there’s a double-vinyl edition available in either black or silver wax. Each comes with a 3D lenticular silver foil cover that makes way to a gold foil jacket. The final side of the second LP features special etching to commemorate the event. For CD disciples, the highly limited super-deluxe version includes seven discs, with 79 previously unreleased tracks, two DVDs, and a Blu-ray Audio disc. So what we get here is an entire multimedia experience that includes a live set and videos from the period. It that weren’t enough, the box comes adorned with a spinning Badmotorfinger emblem that resembles a saw blade (so metal).
From Sony comes a clutch of Pink Floyd releases ranging from its early days to biggies like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. While all of it deserves the deluxe vinyl treatments, I was especially chuffed to see some of the earlier stuff make its entry into this new era. Some of the lesser talked about stuff like A Saucerful of Secrets, Obscured By Clouds, Meddle and More have all received remastered treatment on heavy-duty vinyl, in packaging that for the most part, reproduces the original UK artwork. While most of us have owned or at least heard the more popular later albums, this early stuff—laden in offbeat psychedelia and early prog—deserves your attention and these releases do it due justice.
Speaking of the vintage, Sony has also released the Kinks’ 1972 classic double album Everybody’s in Show-Biz in deluxe vinyl form. Besides crafting the first punk and metal riff in “You really Got Me,” the Kinks—and their quirky, decidedly British approach—had a massive influence on the ‘90s Brit Pop phenomenon and this album is part and parcel to that. Part studio, part live, the album is a rock opera of sorts (and the band’s attempt at keeping up with The Who), with definitive Kinks numbers like “Motorway” and “Celluloid Heroes.” This reissue features a thick gatefold sleeve with a third LP of previously unreleased demos and studio takes.
Everything old is new again. The tried-and-true adage certainly rings true for Phoenix punk vets The Exterminators. Released a couple months back, Product of America is a rousing statement of intent by the revitalized super group of sorts. Featuring former Meat Puppet Cris Kirkwood, Germs vet Don Bolles, Mighty Sphincter’s Doug Clark, and Dan Clark from Feederz, tracks like “I Hate You” and “Static Planet” sound totally relevant today with a nod to the timeless stuff of yore, for a fresh take on contemporary punk. Released on Slope Records, the LP comes in a colorful gatefold sleeve on plush blue vinyl.
With the Twin Peaks series reboot about to hit Showtime, it’s perfect timing for this top-shelf reissue of the soundtrack to the cinematic follow-up from 1992, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Violent and dazzlingly disjointed, the film was greeted with strongly mixed reaction, leaving David Lynch fans divided. But the soundtrack is something different altogether. Rife with eerie, atmospheric imagery that conjures up visions of smoke-filled supper clubs down below, the Angelo Badalamenti title track actually scored a Grammy back in the day. Now, you can revel in the twisted glory with this svelte, 2-LP reissue that comes on cherry pie colored vinyl with a thick gatefold housed in a die-cut cover. Look out for other killer releases from the soundtrack experts at Death Waltz, such as Creed, which comes available in red, white, and blue tri-colored vinyl.
The 1990s were tough for Cheap Trick. With just three studio releases during the decade and a musical climate that was less-than-friendly to bands that had been around the block, Cheap Trick was a bit of an anomaly. But unlike past peers, Cheap Trick had credibility with the alternative/grunge crowd that dominated, and had been cited as an influence by some of its leading lights. Woke Up With a Monster was released in 1994.
With new label, a new producer and an edgy new logo adorning its comical cover, the band unleashed a strong album, rife with the hooks, riffs and wry wit that had been forcibly watered down by the label suits in its prior two releases, Monster was a return to form. But as so many stories like this go, the euphoria was short-lived as label politics prevented any meaningful promotion from happening. For the past 20+ years, promo copies of the CD have lingered in clearance bins as the primary way to access this noteworthy release—until now. Woke Up With a Monster was just released on vinyl for the first time ever by the sage folks at Rhino Records. The LP comes in limited quantities on 140-gram vinyl with a repro of the eye-catching cover.
Rhino has also been hard at work as of late reissuing some key punk releases. Cleveland’s finest, The Dead Boys’ debut Young, Loud, & Snotty get a sweet revamp on green vinyl in a limited run of just 4,500 copies. The Dictators proto-punk classic Bloodbrothers has also just seen a reboot on red vinyl—a must-have for fans of the early NYC scene. The kookiest of the bunch is the new reissue of the highly scarce Dee Dee King LP, Standing in the Spotlight. For the uninitiated, Dee Dee King is the hip-hop alias of one Dee Dee Ramone and the LP marked his first solo release just before leaving the band. While you have to applaud iconic punk bass player for following his muse, the record was a massive failure and just served to further alienate the man from his band. Now you can own this misunderstood punk artifact, which comes available in 180-gram in a limited run of just 3,500 copies.
To wrap this one up, I wanted to extend an honorable mention to the new David Bowie comp, Legacy. While there are slews of Bowie comps on the market, this one scores high marks on both its sonic quality and packaging. Released on two thick slabs of 180-gram vinyl, this 2-LP set touches on some of the early glam stuff, up through the ’70s plastic soul period, the new wave ’80s material and finally his last single, “Lazarus,” released just before his passing. The packaging includes a thick, colorful gatefold sleeve. (Sony Legacy)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, Kaz.