As we hit upon the second Record Store Day event of the year, let’s take a moment to reflect on where we’ve been. About 10 years ago, the state of vinyl—and all other physical music items—was in dire straits. Record stores were closing, music labels were consolidating and virtually nothing was selling anymore, prompting some of our most-beloved institutions to close up shop, such as the iconic Tower Records.
But what a difference a decade can make. Record stores are on the upswing, especially mom-and-pop shops here in California. Labels large and small are putting out vinyl editions of their releases, and while it still may not be selling at the velocity it once was, it’s definitely picking up steam.
Here you’ll find a few choice recent and brand-new releases to get you in the mode for Black Friday’s Record Store Day.
When Ronnie James Dio left Black Sabbath acrimoniously in the early ’80s, he had a chip on his shoulder and everything to prove. Undauntedly, he assembled an ace outfit and released the groundbreaking Holy Diver album in 1983. A critical and commercial success, the album ushered the Dio/Sabbath blueprint into the mainstream, adding a few hooks and a slightly more contemporary sound, as personified in the heavy title track, the pop-tinged “Rainbow in the Dark.”
The album, along with the band’s next several albums for Warner Bros., has been lovingly reissued in the stellar box set A Decade Of Dio: 1983-1993 (Rhino). The collection includes all six original studio albums reissued on thick slabs of high-quality wax, plus a limited edition 7” featuring a rare version of “Evil Eyes” from 1983, along with “Time To Burn,” originally released in 1986. The set comes housed in a glossy slipcase and maintains all the original artwork. For Dio Diehards, A Decade Of Dio serves as a fitting tribute to an epic talent. You, too, can also pay tribute by checking out The Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund, co-founded by the unsung hero behind the man, Wendy Dio.
Another mammoth vinyl box to emerge recently from the sage folks at Rhino Records is this ultimate reissue of Sisters of Mercy’s Vision Thing. Released in 1990, the album saw bandleader Andrew Eldritch pursue a heavier direction, veering into hard rock territory. While the gothic touches still remain, the atmospherics that run rampant on the band’s prior releases are replaced with driving guitars and syncopated rhythms. The formula would prove to be successful, opening the band up to a wider audience, especially in the States. But in spite of this, Eldritch and company would soon get embroiled in a major kerfuffle with their label and thus, Vision Thing would be its final studio outing.
As part of its comprehensive reissue program, Rhino has released the album in plush box that includes a pristine reissue of the original, along with all of the 12” singles and EPs that were released in the UK to accompany the album, including a slew of rare tracks, alternate mixes and live versions.
Another box worth getting excited about is the ultra-deluxe reissue of Kings of the Wild Frontier from Adam and the Ants. The band’s 1980 breakthrough LP mixed the experimental antics of post-punk with a pop flair for a truly unique listening experience. The razor-cut riffs, Native American chants, jungle rhythms, and Bo Diddley swing—all embellished with Mr. Ant’s distinctive croon, made for something like no other and was a defining moment in what would soon be called new wave. This stealth reissue features the original LP and heavyweight gold vinyl, two CDs with the album and bonus tracks, a DVD with the original videos and a concert, singles and more.
For Motörhead fans, this has been a tough year with the passing of Lemmy Kilmister and core drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor at the end of 2015. The recent live release Clean Your Clock features Lemmy and Co. in fine form, taking Munich by storm over two nights about a month before the front man’s death. In spite of declining health, his performance is energized and on-point.
The band as a whole is equally devastating, especially on classic tracks like “Bomber” and “Metropolis.” Aside from the fact that it’s the band’s last hurrah, the package itself is equally epic. In this release we get two slabs of prime colored vinyl in a thick gatefold cover that unfolds into a pop-up stage complete with our heroes in combat-ready mode. (UDR)
While Alice In Chains is largely associated with grunge, its heavy and intuitive sound had instant mainstream appeal with metal heads of the day. Live Facelift was a VHS release meant to capitalize on the success of the band’s debut album from 1990. Featuring live renditions of some of the album’s best tracks, the video collection sold well, and then seemingly disappeared…until now. This limited, numbered EP comes with the six live tracks including “Man In The Box,” “Bleed The Freak” and others, on 150-gram vinyl for superior sound.
Another holdover from the grunge era, Hater was a side-project, super group of sorts from Seattle, featuring Soundgarden members Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron, plus Monster Magnet guitarist John McBain. Released in 1993 on CD and cassette, the self-titled album had little to do with grunge, instead opting for a more stripped-down, garage-rock approach with psychedelic touches. While it sold little, the album amassed a small but loyal following. But oddly, it never came out on vinyl in the US, until now, and it sound better than ever. (Universal)
Guitarist extraordinaire and all-around badass Ritchie Blackmore has been missing in action from the rock world for eons. The ex-Deep Purple and Rainbow leader eschewed his hard rock leanings for Renaissance-flavored music with his wife in Blackmore’s Night. To make things even stranger, Blackmore was mysteriously absent at this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction, when Deep Purple finally joined the ranks.
But possibly even more puzzling was his emergence this year with a reformed Rainbow, playing three sold-out concerts in Europe. Fans were elated at the surprise announcement. Trouble was, no one else from the various popular lineups of the ’70s and ’80s was included. With little explanation, Blackmore played the shows, covering several classic Rainbow and Purple songs in the process.
Memories In Rock – Live In Germany is the live document of these shows. With three LPs in tow, it’s an impressive package, backed up with equally impressive performances, especially from Blackmore on the axe. The set features several key tracks from Rainbow such as “Catch The Rainbow,” “Mistreated,” “Since You Been Gone” and others, and comes housed in a glossy gatefold sleeve.
A couple of soundtracks have also recently hit the shelves that you should check out—especially if you’ve got a penchant for comics. As part of its Marvel soundtracks series, ace label Mondo has released scores for Daredevil, Season One and Jessica Jones, Season One. Part of the label’s trademark is its plush packaging, including expanded artwork and ultra high quality vinyl, usually produced in limited colors. Both do a fine job setting the mood, with a mix of somber atmospherics and upbeat flourishes for an exceptional listening experience.
The masked malcontents in Ghost have been spreading the word recently via the band’s new EP Popestar. On this outing, Papa Emeritus and his ghoulish co-conspirators cover the likes of new wave legends Echo and the Bunnymen, Eurythmics and others. Offbeat, but inspired, the Papa seems to have a serious affection for this non-metal stuff, as evidenced on prior releases, and the whole thing—including the original “Square Hammer” has a unique pop-prog spin that serve to separate the crooked crew from the horde of pseudo-Satanic artists. (Loma Vista Recordings)
The Rolling Stones have a new live outing that’s worth a special mention, for its sheer size and scale alone. Havana Moon documents the band’s 2016 show in the once blacklisted capital city of Cuba. While the band is older, slower and less vital than it once was, the electricity of this event—with over 1.2 million in attendance—elevates the otherwise predictable performance to something more vast and expansive. Speaking of vast and expansive, this physical release is absolutely that. Here we get three heavy-duty vinyl LPs, a DVD of the show and a lavish and colorful gatefold sleeve. (Eagle Rock)
Lords & Ladies is a split LP with two of punk and rock’s most colorful bands: The Upper Crust from Boston and San Francisco’s The Grannies. For the uninitiated, the Upper Crust come complete in 18th century powdered wigs and full-on noble garb, playing a punked-up version of AC/DC seen through the eyes of a depraved libertine. Conversely, The Grannies may well be the rightful heirs to the punk-glam legacy mapped out by the New York Dolls and Hanoi Rocks. Eschewing the airbrushed image and balladry of Poison and Cinderella for filthy street rags, these deviant bag ladies mean serious business. Loud, raucous and steeped in killer hooks, the band’s take on theatrical rock is the most original since the advent of Marilyn Manson.
Musically, Lords & Ladies is a perfect match. The Upper Crust’s driving hard rock and sneering lyrics on tracks like “Rebel Rouser” and “Highfalutin’” are the perfect complement to The Grannies punkier attack on numbers like “White Glove Service” and “Stone Fruit.” (Saustex)
Beloved California punk icons NOFX return with First Ditch Effort. In keeping with recent tradition, Fat Mike and his merry jesters have cut down on the comedy in favor of more topical themes such as sobriety, parental issues, prescription drug addiction and other sordid things. But long-time fans have nothing to worry about, as there are loads of winks, nods and wry smiles to be had in the hooky bits of songs like “I’m A Transvest-Lite” and “California Drought.” The album comes in a bevy of color options and—in true Fat Wreck fashion—with a high-quality sleeve and download card. (Fat Wreck Chords).
More Top Vinyl Picks
Barb Wire Dolls
One of the early signings to Motörhead’s own record label, this scrappy, female-fronted punk’n’roll band from Greece plays a fiery set of pop-punk laced with the arena blast of ’80s metal. And you’d do well to check ’em out. (UDR)
Sharks in the Deep End
Austin-based Sharks in the Deep End’s sound recalls ’80s gloom-pop stalwarts The Jesus and Mary Chain and early U2. While Killin’ Machine may sound tough on the surface, in actuality it’s an infectious, melancholy affair from start to finish. (Kobalt Distribution)
Wispy San Francisco indie outfit On Dolphin plays soft rock with dreamy overtones and a sense of impending heartbreak. And it’s all embellished by the velvety tones of singer Melissa Lyn. Layers is available in either yellow or clear vinyl. (On Dolphin)
KISS Rocks Vegas
Big, bombastic and over-the-top, this live set showcases the current version of KISS in its full glory. While the band’s standing has taken a few hits over the years, this 2-LP vinyl set is a stunner, and includes a DVD and a heavy gatefold sleeve. For full review of the show, click here. (Eagle Rock)
Sacramento rock vets Tesla celebrate the 25th anniversary of their mega-hit third album Psychotic Supper with a svelte reissue on high-grade vinyl. And even all this time after the fact, the driving hard rock sounds timely and energized, especially the single “Edison’s Medicine.” (UMe)
Quirky country singer Jonny Fritz’s latest features a collection of insightful, tragic and sometimes humorous songs that recall Glen Campbell, The Beach Boys and Jonathan Richman, as evidenced on the carnival-esque “Are You Thirsty.”
Under The Influence
While it may only feature a small fraction of its original membership, UK blues rockers Foghat remain a beloved institution on both sides of the Atlantic. Under The Influence sees the current lineup furthering the cause with solid set of bar-band burners that sound extra vital on this heavyweight vinyl release. (Foghat Records)
The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert
Nobel Prize winner and OG punk poet Bob Dylan joins the Record Store Day celebration with this live document from 1966. Just a few years earlier, Dylan had singlehandedly revolutionized rock music, and at 25, he put on this historic show, playing the songs that are still poignant and resonating 50 years later. This double-LP set comes in a deluxe gatefold sleeve. (Sony Legacy)
Robert Bensick Band
French Pictures in London
Some 40 years ago, Cleveland underground artist Robert Bensick recorded this lost gem with the hopes of releasing it on a major label. Sadly, no deal materialized and the album got shelved…until now. Bensick’s pre-punk/alternative sounds are both artful and defiant, and should easily find an audience now. (Smog Veil)
Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia
Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings
Jazz and rock marry up well on this 6-LP live collection of offbeat recordings from famed SF keyboardist Merl Saunders and Grateful Dead main man Jerry Garcia. By today’s standards, the avant-rock sounds would fit squarely within the indie sphere, which makes this live document all the more interesting. (Fantasy)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com.