By Dave Thompson
Nobody would ever claimCreedence Clearwater Revival are strangers to the box set game — in fact, if anything, collectors might well utter a sigh of absolute despair at the thought of another pricey repackaging rolling into view. But there’s something about the latest addition to the archive, a chunky vinyl box titled, simply, “1969” (above), that raises the bar to whole new heights.
Maybe it’s the concept itself, a three-LP, three-EP and ephemera-stuffed case comprising every note of music that Creedence released throughout their breakthrough year (oh, and all the music is included on CD as well).
Maybe it’s the outer packaging — a heavyweight replica of an old-time album carrying case, spattered with stickers and large enough to hold all your CCR records.
Maybe it’s the artwork — a red vinyl replica of the original Japanese “Bayou Country”; the uniquely-sleeved Italian pressing of “Green River”; and picture-sleeved EPs hailing from Mexico, Brazil and Japan again.
Or maybe it’s the printed extras: a bumper sticker, poster, photo, Woodstock sticker ... and, setting a standard that a lot of other people should replicate, a 60-page notebook replicating a year-long scrapbook of press releases, newspaper cuttings, label correspondence, local chart listings, media band bios — everything, in fact, that the attentive fan might have gathered at the time, all authentically “taped” onto the pages, fetchingly aged and packed with enough entertainment and reading that it’ll carry you through all three of the albums.
Of which, of course, there’s very little left to say. If you know Creedence, you’ll know how great these albums are — and you’ll already be aware how remarkable it was that one band, in one year, could turn out three full-length LPs that still stand among the greatest of the American ’60s. “Bayou Country” might possibly be the best, because that’s the one where the band’s genius truly crystallized, where “Proud Mary” first started rolling, and we learned that this music was born on the bayou.
But “Green River” packs both the title track and “Bad Moon Rising,” together with “Tombstone Shadow” and “Sinister Purpose” — favorites that didn’t need chart success to assure their immortality. Even “Willy,” who probably is the poor boy of the trio, can scarcely be faulted.
Soundwise, everything feels like it ought to ... as always with modern pressings, you probably won’t want to A-B the records with your faithful, scratchy ’69 originals, begging and screaming for mercy — and, unless you were quick off the mark, you’re probably not going to find out either way. Just 7,000 copies of this little treasure were pressed, which means ... yes, it’s Record Store Day again, and deep within the record-collecting center of the universe, and our traditional visit to Rainbow Records in Newark, the pickings were remarkably plentiful.
Every surface, it seems, was coated in RSD goodies, and there’d have been even more if Spin Cycle had arrived there earlier. Which means we missed out on “First Class Rock Steady,” a bumper box of classic 1960s Jamaican 45s unleashed by VIP, and the Buzzcocks’ wearily titled “More Product in a Different Compilation” double album.
But you win some, you lose some, and nobody here is complaining about a snazzy reproduction of a classic Deviants’ single, complete with original Stable Records logo, the Dave Davies hits EP and the Residents’ “Please Don’t Steal It” promo sampler (the Nibbles compilation in the U.K.) — marginally rearranged from its vintage counterpart (“Eloise” replaces Snakefinger’s “The Spot”), but otherwise as glorious as it ever was.
Likewise, close to the top of the heap was an early drop for the debut release by the Electric Lady studio’s eponymous label, Patti Smith and her current band replaying the landmark “Horses” album before an invited audience last August, in the same studio complex as they cut the original album.
In truth, it’s not much more than a monster backslapping party, Patti & Co. basking in the adoration of a hundred or so onlookers — excise the audience and this would be a far more satisfying listen. But Patti is in fine form, reconfiguring the occasional lyric and adding a “Gloria” reprise to the tail end of “Land.” And if the actual music lacks that sense of truly mad improvisation that rendered the original album such a landmark, still one cannot complain about the delivery.
Another pleasant surprise lay in Silva Screen’s double album version of two mid-’60s Doctor Who movie soundtracks, “Doctor Who and the Daleks” (1965) and “Daleks-Invasion Earth, 2150 AD” (1966). Famously starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor, and loaded with sufficient revisions of the TV show’s background that fans still argue over whether or not the films are canonical, the two were nevertheless as action-packed as they ought to be – vivid Technicolor representations of stories that had hitherto existed only in black and white.
And the music! With one full album packed with the debut movie themes, side three preserving the best of the second film and side four wrapping up a few related odds and ends, it’s wild, freaky, spooky, spacey, drama dripping from every chord ... OK, it may not be quite that amazing. But it swings neatly from orchestral malice to freaky jazz work-outs, and though it probably works better in the context of the movies, it’s still a thrill on record. Even if it did take it 50 years to get there.
But the most glorious guilty pleasure of them all was a double album repressing of Matthew Sweet’s “Goodfriend,” a promo CD released in the wake of his super-stellar “Girlfriend” breakthrough, simply oozing fresh classics and familiar favorites. BBC session versions of “Girlfriend” and the achingly mournful “Someone To Pull the Trigger”; home acoustic renditions of “Winona,” “Divine Intervention” and “Looking at the Sun”; a clutch of live tracks culminating in an epic “Cortez the Killer” — this was Sweet reveling in his most dramatic peak, and it remains a career high. If you don’t have it, you should.
Of course, RSD isn’t all about shiny new product at absurd new prices ($40 for a double album remains a shocker, even if it is a Daleks soundtrack). Across the Delaware (state) in Arden, Jupiter Records adopted its traditional anti-RSD stance by filling the racks with a fresh assortment of really rather wonderful albums, not one of which claimed to be anything more than it was.
This year, the emphasis was on that vein of prog that leaned toward Tangerine Dream and Eno, and those obscure little joys that used to fill the Virgin Records catalog — Clearlight’s glorious “Forever Blowing Bubbles” was first into Spin Cycle’s sack; the Tangs’ 1980 Berlin concert (a completely different mix to the one included on the recent Bootleg Box II) followed it
But other treasures soon joined them, including a NM promo of Jack Nitzsche’s “St Giles Cripplegate” masterpiece — the first album-length rock/classical hybrid that truly, genuinely, worked; the second album by Alexis Korner’s jazz/pop fusion CCS; Amazing Blondel’s eponymous debut; and Suzi Quatro’s, too. And lots of Eno. Lots and lots, in fact.
Because that is what RSD is all about. Record collecting. Not so you can resell them, not because you’re scared of missing out, not because you’ve heard it’s hip. Collecting for the love of it. And whether you’re chasing limited-edition splatter vinyl repressings of albums you’ve only heard about, or previously-loved scratchies that are older than your kids, long may it remain a highlight of the year.
True, there are few sights more dispiriting than seeing someone stagger from the RSD dealer, groaning beneath a copy of every disc they can carry, and knowing that every one of them will be for sale on the Internet before the sun has even set, and priced at a hefty premium, too. But really, that just incentivizes the rest of us to get up earlier next year and beat him to the punch. “No, Mr Greedy, you can’t have that new Dead box set. I promised it to my cat.”