By Dave Thompson
Record Store Day comes but twice a year (let’s not forget Black Friday), and it is becoming increasingly fashionable to regard the whole thing as just one more mainstream industry push to ... to what, exactly? The occasional armed escort notwithstanding, and the gum-chomping goons who round up all collectors just before dawn, nobody is forcing anyone to partake in the party and, quite frankly, Spin Cycle enjoys piling into the human zoo to see what it can see.
So let’s hear nothing more about it being a waste of time, a racket, a rip-off and just another excuse to make us buy Phish box sets and David Bowie picture discs. For in many ways, and let’s say the sheer quality of releases, RSD 2015 rates among the most rewarding yet. And the fact that the Zombies “R.I.P” (Varèse Sarabande) is paramount among our own acquisitions has a lot to do with that.
Planned for release in 1969, following the posthumous success of “Time of the Season,” “R.I.P.” is one of the all-time Great Lost Albums of the ‘60s. No matter that half of it comprised outtakes from 1964-65, while the rest was the more recent work of Rod Argent and Chris White alone. Still it stands as a proud successor to “Odessey and Oracle,” with the six “new” songs at least equal to that album’s majesty, and lacking only Colin Blunstone’s vocals to send it soaring higher. The outtakes, by their very nature, should be weaker, but they’re not, and the closing “Walking in the Sun,” which does feature a newly taped Blunstone vocal, is an all-time Zombies high.
The ’60s were very well-served this year. From the Universal group, a beautifully presented box of the Small Faces’ French EPs; from Sony, an LP’s worth of the very first Basement Tapes that Dylan and the Band laid down in Woodstock; from Rhino, stunning revisitations for such jewels of the English psych scene as Tomorrow (self titled), Rainbow FFolly (“Sallies Fforth”) and The Gods (“Genesis”); all pressed on various shades of colored wax but, unlike in past years, not especially suffering as a consequence.
The second Doors album is served up in delicious mono and is as magnificent as it ought to be, while Otis’s sublime “Otis Blue” returns literally bursting with goodies: separate pressings in mono and stereo and a bonus 7-inch of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” If you know the original album you’re aware that this is the quintessential Redding album, highlighted by “Respect” and “My Girl,” and distinguished by a version of “Satisfaction” that’s so good that even Keith Richards admitted it made the Stones’ version sound like a cover. And if you don’t know the album ... well, you should.
Moving ahead in rock’s historical terms, Spin Cycle missed out on the box set of the New York-based Ork label singles that it had set its heart on. But the Trojan label’s “Rude Boy Rumble” served up a dozen genuinely crunchy reggae rockers, both familiar (“Johnny Too Bad,” “007,” ”Dreader Than Dread”) and less so ... “Pop Corn,” “Beware of Rude Boys,” “Do Your Thing” ... all adding up to a glorious snapshot of the last few years before reggae hit the mainstream. Elsewhere, a green vinyl pressing of the Saints’ sophomore “Eternally Yours” is a raucous barrel-load of fun, and there’s a great 1970 double live album for the Jethro Tull fan within us all.
Finally, from a hoard of genuinely hot properties, Tompkins Square bless us with a three LP recreation of last year’s gospel box set “When I Reach That Heavenly Shore.” Very aptly subtitled “unearthly black gospel 1926-1936,” the 42 tracks range from ecstatic singing to fiery sermons, all taken from original 78s ... so don’t expect pristine sound quality. But it’s all very listenable, very enjoyable and as with the label’s other boxed investigations of the last century’s archive, it’s beautifully presented, too.
As usual, Spin Cycle’s RSD was spent in Delaware — first at Rainbow Records on Main Street in Newark, where the line was still snaking out of the front door half an hour after opening, where the presence, mere yards away, of the University of Delaware ensures a healthy rush on every last piece of stock, and whose continued existence is the single most compulsive antidote to every one of the criticisms leveled at RSD itself, because, really, where would you rather go to complete your collection of Side By Side 7-inchers? A tiny, independent store where the staff are still among the best friends your collection’s ever had? Or a website full of eBay flippers?
Of course, you could just distance yourself from the circus altogether, in which case Jupiter Records, in nearby Arden, Delaware, is the sort of place you’ll have been pitching your tent on RSD-eve.
Eschewing the some-say manufactured frenzy of this year’s hot collectibles, Jupiter is now a year or so into the tradition of marking the day by dropping a massive collection of must-have rarities onto the racks ... close to 2,500 this year, divided between a magnificent jazz lot that devoured one entire wall of bins and a more esoteric mass of post-punk, goth and industrial, into which were salted the kind of oddities that you could search for years to find.
Like French rocker Antoine’s self-titled 1968 masterpiece, wrapped in one of the greatest comic book sleeves you’ve ever seen, and oozing not only with the sharpest pop-psych of the era, but also boasting one of the most infuriating stick-grooves ever, in the shape of a ringing telephone.
Like the Feelies’ still magnificent 1988 album “Only Life;” like the Replacements’ breakthrough “Let It Be” (a fitting companion to the official RSD release for their “Alex Chilton” EP); like more classic Cure, New Order and Siouxsie than you could shake a goat’s head at (LP and 12-inch alike); and more or less the entire Lords of the New Church discography.
Sending Spin Cycle home grinning like a loon, though, was Henry Cow’s immortal “Concerts” double album. True, it doesn’t make up for the disappointment of not catching the band at any of its sort-of-reunion shows last year, but it certainly went some of the way toward negating a conversation overheard earlier in the day ...… the equating of mid-1970s Progressive Rock with “lots of saxophones and glockenspiels.”
The convolutions of the mighty Cow may not be everybody’s glass of freshly squeezed milk, but in that long ago age when no band could sleep at night until it had released a double live album, “Concerts” was the benchmark to which all could only aspire.
So, two very different takes on the leviathan that is now Record Store Day; one fulfilling the collectors’ need to keep the collection brimming with the latest hot reissues, the other reminding us that the originals are (often) all still out there, and all you have to do is hunt. And the great thing is, there’s plenty of room for both approaches.
See you in November!
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