By Dave Thompson
The only collectors who felt the releases offered up during the holiday season’s Back to Black Friday celebration were slim pickings would be those whose taste in music lurks somewhere beyond the parameters drawn between Lee Perry and Bob Dylan, The Doors and the Dawes, Duran Duran and the Dead, The Civil Wars and a box of Stiff singles. And so on and so forth, until your head starts spinning at the sheer weight of product that descended upon the shelves.
Hey, kid, want a 12-inch picture disc of John Denver and the Muppets? Step this way. A Lady Gaga remix, a Cheap Trick box set, Elvis Costello and Harry Nilsson, the Stones’ third U.K. EP and Stone Temple Pilots’ first album. The Clash and Miles Davis, Nick Cave and Civil Wars. The Replacements and Paul Simon. It’s all here at the one-day fall event supported by Record Store Day.
Black Friday is scarcely the day that any sane person genuinely wants to be out navigating the highways, dodging the crowds who’ve not slept in three days as they camped out to get a ridiculous deal on a flat screen TV.
My own experience of this second Record Store Day-affiliated event of the year was considerably calmer than the first, as Rainbow Records in downtown Newark, Del., flung open its doors bright and early, and the line didn’t spread all the way round the block. But the customers came regardless, and less than an hour after the day began, the shelves had been picked clean.
From Spin Cycle’s point of view, the banner release of Back to Black Friday 2013 was the vinyl edition of Bob Dylan’s “Sidetracks” compilation. The 47-disc boxed set of his almost-entire recorded works passed by earlier in the month, and it was tempting for a while. But the Dylan albums that I don’t own, well, I don’t own them for a reason, and there’s others that I’ve had for years that I’ve probably never played more than once. Duplicate copies of that corner of the canon will not fare any better.
But “Sidetracks” allured, both then and now, because of all it offers. The hitherto unreleased cuts from “Greatest Hits Volume Two,” an early 1970s compilation that I’ve never been able to keep in pristine condition; the best of the rest of “Biograph,” a handful of other latter-day odds and ends, all spread across two CDs: That’s a tempting little package. But spread across six sides of vinyl? That’s just irresistible, all the more so since the packaging looks so delightfully deluxe: a trifold gatefold, with liner notes old eyes can read without straining, and a big pic of his Bobness gazing out, too. Glorious!
From beauty in bulk, we move on to slimline sublimity. After two albums, a live set and an EP, plus a 10-inch single at a past RSD, The Civil Wars (duo Joy Williams and John Paul White) were a surprise — but so welcome — inclusion in this year’s stakes. The hiatus upon which they launched at the end of 2012 apparently shows no sign yet of ending, but a second 10-incher on the shelves goes some way toward lessening the wait.
“Between The Bars” rounds up four of the so-distinctive covers with which the Civil Wars were wont to punctuate their own (unmissable) creations: Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean;” Portishead’s “Sour Times” (coupled together on a 7-inch single last year); Elliott Smith’s “Between The Bars” and The Romantics’ “Talking In Your Sleep.” All are rearranged and remodeled to such exquisite perfection that you really have to dig in the memory banks to find another act that has so utterly rewritten a familiar song that it is practically their own by default. (The Residents’ take on “Satisfaction,” maybe.)
Another 10-incher surfaced in the form of Duran Duran’s “No Ordinary EP,” which takes us back 20 years in time to the days when Duran Duran (“The Wedding Album”) was the band’s latest release, “Come Undone” was their latest single, and a few hundred lucky journalists received an exclusive cassette from the band’s record company that captured three songs from a show at Tower Records in Hollywood. Yes, that’s how long ago it was. A cassette of a show at Tower. Feeling nostalgic yet?
You will when you hear this. “Come Undone” is the lead track; “Notorious” and “Hungry Like The Wolf” follow up, 20 minutes of music that may not match most peoples’ choice for the three Duran songs they’d most like to hear, but they capture all the energy and peppiness for which the one-time New Romantic figureheads were ever renowned. In other words, it’s a slice of drop-dead-gorgeous nostalgia, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Balance that against some of the other treasures. An Elvis Costello & The Roots remix EP; an unreleased Dead acoustic show from 1970.
While The Doors’ contribution to this year’s festivities may appear a little underwhelming, looks can be deceptive. Curated by Record Store Day is an eight-track sampler — four mono tracks on one side, three live and one stereo album cut on the other — compiled from tracks suggested by various record store owners, then narrowed down by Bruce Botnick. “Break On Through (To The Other Side),” “Soul Kitchen,” “Moonlight Drive” and “When the Music’s Over” make up the mono side. “Love Street” and live versions of “The Unknown Soldier” (Hollywood Bowl 1968), “Roadhouse Blues” (Felt Forum, New York City, Jan. 17, 1970, first show) and “Five To One” (Boston, 1970, second show) make up the other of this utterly unique offering rendered doubly collectible by the availability of two sleeve varieties, one with the track listing handwritten by John Densmore, the other by Robby Krieger.
Of course there’s little left to be said about The Doors, with the vault appearing so expertly cleansed that there really cannot be much left of value within. But even after all the remasters, remixes, surround-sound and session takes are reckoned up by collectors, still there is something about a new vinyl collection that sets the blood a-pumping. No matter how many times you’ve heard, or bought, or owned its contents, “Curated by Record Store Day” is a glorious little artifact. Oh, and look again at the cover: The band’s name repeated over and over, and RSD picked up from the last and first letters as a cutout. Clever!
Also falling into the “I really don’t need this, but ...” category is a vinyl pressing of Jethro Tull’s “Benefit,” in the newly mixed form that otherwise only graces the CD-DVD reissue package. Overseen by Steven Wilson, whose reputation as prog’s go-to man is as thoroughly deserved as it has become ubiquitous, this version of “Benefit” differs from the original in a zillion little ways, few of which you can actually put your finger on with a triumphant cry of “That isn’t right.”
But they’re there, and the strange thing is, the vast majority of them are very right indeed, as an album that always seemed to be lacking something in the “grab-you-by-the-hair-and-cackle” stakes finally explodes out of the speakers and makes you yearn for whatever’s next in the Tull series. “Passion Play,” apparently, and that’s definitely one to look forward to.
Unfortunately, I missed out on the double album re-pressing of Lee Perry’s “Super Ape,” and the 10 random singles in the Stiff box set — both certainly cause for regret. But Record Store Day is just weeks away — April 19, 2014, for those of you marking your calendars — and another batch of treasures will be along soon. See you there!
A prodigious writer, fierce music lover and longtime record collector, Dave Thompson is the author of Goldmine’s “Standard Catalog of American Records 1950-1990, 8th Edition” and “Record Album Price Guide, 7th Edition.” Both are available at www.krausebooks.com.