the jason shergold music collector site

Saturday, 25 October 2014


Hello there and welcome to the "Jason Shergold Music Collector Site".

This blog features articles about various bands and singers, and how to go (more or less) about collecting their records. In the main, the articles will be aimed at people trying to get a collection together from scratch, looking at shortcuts to doing so where they exist, but some articles will be a bit more specialised, with features of video releases, Japanese pressings, etc. As it's built using a Blogger template, it can - at times - look a bit DIY, just think of it as the internet version of "Sniffin' Glue".

As a UK based music fan, most of these articles will revolve around UK discographies, but not necessarily just for UK bands. Although, for some artists featured, their discographies will continue to grow, the post-iTunes scenario is that you can more or less guess what formats albums and singles will be released on nowadays, so these blogs in the main will help to fill in the gaps when multiple physical formats were all the rage.

The blog will be updated at least once every month - if you find that the homepage does not show the Tamla logo above, it will be that the site is being updated, and may not be available for viewing for an hour or two. The updates are expected to occur initially at the start of each month, any later blogs to be published that month will appear at random as the weeks progress. You will be able to click on older editions using the menu buttons in the top right.

The October 2014 edition is now online, with a look at "fanclub" releases by The Stranglers.

The blog is also home to my "novel within a website", 'How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting', looking at the workings of the UK record industry. Click on any month from 2014 to view one of the twelve parts that (will eventually) form the whole article. Please note: If you ever notice "newer" pages listed top right, this will be the new issue "in progress" - if you click on it, the whole page will not load. When the new issue is ready, it will be mentioned on this page. You can click on previous years tabs to get previous articles. Once you have selected that year, you can click on a different month to look at different acts.

The acts featured appear in the months listed below:
Adam And The Ants - October 2013
All Saints - February 2014
Lily Allen - August 2010
Ash - April 2014
Atomic Kitten - June 2013
The Beatles - September 2011
Beyoncé - May 2013
Biffy Clyro - June 2014
Blondie - January 2011 / September 2013
Blur - August 2011 / July 2012 / October 2013
David Bowie - September 2010 / October 2010 / November 2010 / January 2011 / June 2012 / September 2014
Kate Bush - July 2013
Buzzcocks - December 2011
Belinda Carlisle - October 2013
The Charlatans - February 2014
The Clash - May 2011
Elvis Costello - January 2013 / September 2013
Sheryl Crow - June 2013
The Cure - December 2011
Deep Purple - March 2010
Depeche Mode - May 2012
The Doors - December 2013
Bob Dylan - November 2013
Sophie Ellis-Bextor - August 2011
Embrace - November 2013
The Flaming Lips - November 2011
Foo Fighters - May 2014
Peter Gabriel - August 2013
Genesis - April 2011 / January 2014
Girls Aloud - August 2010 / November 2013
Goldfrapp - August 2013
Green Day - June 2014
Deborah Harry - January 2011
Jimi Hendrix - September 2010
Inspiral Carpets - April 2012
The Jam - May 2013
Elton John - August 2012 / September 2012 / October 2012 / November 2012
Joy Division - March 2011
Kenickie - October 2010
The Kinks - November 2010 / April 2011 / May 2013
John Lennon - May 2013
Pixie Lott - February 2011
Madness - November 2011
Madonna - April 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / March 2011 / June 2011 / July 2011 / August 2011 / September 2011 / October 2011 / November 2011 / March 2012 / November 2012 / January 2013 / November 2013 / March 2014
Mansun - August 2011
Dannii Minogue - September 2011
Morrissey - April 2014
Kate Nash - February 2011
New Order - October 2012
Nirvana - June 2011 / December 2012
Oasis - April 2013
Pet Shop Boys - May 2011 / June 2011
Pink Floyd - January 2011 / July 2011
P!nk - April 2012
Elvis Presley - March 2011 / October 2011 / November 2013 / December 2013 / January 2014
Pulp - August 2011
Queen - December 2010 / September 2011
Cliff Richard & The Shadows - July 2011
Rolling Stones - July 2010 / October 2010 / March 2011
The Saturdays - April 2011
Siouxsie & The Banshees - March 2013 / July 2014
Slade - May 2012
Sleeper - December 2013
Smashing Pumpkins - June 2012
The Smiths - June 2010
Britney Spears - November 2010 / December 2010
Bruce Springsteen - February 2012
Status Quo - January 2012
Cat Stevens - February 2012
Rachel Stevens - July 2011
The Stranglers - February 2010 / December 2011 / May 2013 / September 2013 / December 2013 / July 2014 / October 2014
Suede - August 2011
Sugababes - August 2012
Super Furry Animals - September 2014
Supergrass - August 2014
TRex - December 2010
Theaudience - August 2011
Thin Lizzy - February 2013
Tin Machine - December 2010
U2 - March 2012 / December 2012
The Velvet Underground - October 2010
The Walker Brothers - June 2011
Scott Walker - September 2010 / February 2013
The Who - May 2010 / August 2012 / July 2013
Kim Wilde - October 2013

To return to the homepage, you can click on the tab for the current year. Several blogs are in production, with articles on Badly Drawn Boy, Paul Weller, Prince and The Beautiful South due over the next few months.

You can email me using the link above, and if you can add any information, you can add comments to the blog using the link at the bottom of the relevant page. Regards, Jason.

Frankie say NO to downloads!

October 2014

The October 2014 blogs feature a look at Stranglers fanclub and online releases, and part 10 of my 'novel within a website', "How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting". To look at either of these blogs, click the relevant link to your right.

"Don't tell me that aesthetics are subjective"

Sunday, 19 October 2014

How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting: Part 10 - The Death Of The 45

Don’t quote me, but at round about the time I met my wife to be, the record industry was getting worried about the poor state of the UK singles charts, in terms of “units shifted”. I don’t think the two things were connected. It was summer 2003, and the mass of multi formatted singles being issued were not really being translated into mega sales.

Part of the problem was that there was, usually, no “cheap” single release for the floating voter. In 1982, if you wanted a Duran Duran single that you had heard on the radio, you could pick up the 7” for pocket money prices. But with most vinyl singles being pitched at the hipster market, and Cassette singles disliked by many, most floating voters wanted singles on CD - but they were often three or four quid a pop. The VFM aspect was questionable if you only wanted “the hit“.

The powers that be eventually recognised this. And in late 03, early 04, they came up with the “2 track £2 CD Single”. Basically, if somebody was going to multi format their latest 45, by issuing it on two CD editions, the consensus was that one of those editions should be no more than £2, thus making it more attractive to the floating voters - these were the people who turned reasonable chart hits into mega chart hits. These were the people who had given Bryan Adams and Wet Wet Wet enormous hit singles, the likes of which never happened to them again.

But how were you to convince EMI and co to drop their prices? Well, the “2 track” part of it was not that it should only have two extra tracks, but that it would include 2 songs ONLY. The theory, as I understand it, was that bands were routinely being herded into studios specifically to tape new B-sides, so if they now - officially - could release one less per 45, well, they would only need to record one less, and thus save on studio time costs. Any loss in revenue from the sale of the single would be recouped by not having to spend money recording dubious bonus songs, and the label would hopefully also be rewarded with a higher chart position, and, if it worked, an increase in sales and an actual INCREASE in profit.

This seemed like positive news. At the time, the album market had gone into chaotic meltdown, new albums appearing as limited editions, old albums appearing as deluxe editions, the “every gig we play is being released as a new album” insanity from Pearl Jam, the “new live album” from the defunct Doors every few months, a lot of money could be wasted on LP’s, so any savings the consumer could make from the world of the single had to be a good thing.

At first, the introduction of the 2 track £2 single caused major confusion. I seem to recall a Virgin Megastore in London got round it by filling their stores with a “Euro-import” 2 track copy of Kelis’ “Milkshake”, and thus charged £3 for it instead, as it didn’t have the “pay no more than £2” sticker on the front. Atomic Kitten, who up till this point had been tossing out B-sides and remixes like nobody’s business, suddenly figured that the format allowed them to ape what the likes of Madonna had done with the 7” back in the 80s (album track on side 1, and another one on side 2), by sticking out an old hit as “track 2” on their “Ladies Night” single, making the single utterly pointless. Blur, too, seemed to go a bit loopy, issuing B-sides on these 2 trackers that were otherwise available on other formats of the same single.

But there was a bigger problem. At no point, it seems, had anybody factored in the situation that some indie labels were already only charging £1.99 for a single. In the summer of 2004, Franz Ferdinand issued “Michael” on the usual 7” + 2 x CD formats. CD1 had three songs, but so did CD2. As soon as the single hit the shops, their label Domino were told that the sales from one of those CD editions would be discounted from the charts, thus meaning a potentially poor chart position. As such, CD2 was withdrawn from sale, only to be repressed a week later with the offending track 3 missing, but with THE SAME PRICE TAG on the front. Yes kids, even the likes of Domino were more interested in chasing chart positions than offering value for money. That, really, said it all - this disdainful approach was what had put the single in this precarious position in the first place.

Whilst the “2 track £2” single began to establish itself as a format of choice of sorts, it was difficult to know if it was having any real effect on the charts, or people’s bank balances. Singles were still appearing at an alarming rate, on three (or more) formats, and getting a quid off such releases per week was really just a drop in the ocean. When I moved to Birmingham in mid 2004, I took a pay cut, which just made it that more difficult. But did Sony care about me? No, not at all. Everybody just carried on like they had before, a new B-side on a 7”, another one on CD1, and two more on CD2.

With a drop in wages, and thus a drop in disposable income, I had to adopt a special approach to my single buying. Just as I had deliberately “let go” mid 90s CD Singles before picking them up, for less, in Romford’s greatest 2nd hand record shop, “Sounds Familiar” (now demolished), I figured I needed to have a measured and selective attitude to what I bought. By this point, a number of acts had issued singles boxsets, where the box featured repressings on CD of old singles. Where a single had been issued on multiple formats, and in alternate sleeves, the common approach was to issue the CD in the “standard” sleeve, but with all relevant B-sides tagged on as bonuses. So, for anybody who was issuing two CD singles, I point blank refused to buy CD1 (unless it was Madonna), on the basis that any future boxset would use, as it’s artwork, the cover of CD1. In theory, anyway.

But the cost savings were quite minimal. £2 per artist. I was still struggling to balance my love of J Lo with my need to pay some bills. So at one point, I started to “forget” to buy 12” singles as well. The reasoning here, was that the 12” was usually housed in the same sleeve as CD1, and I figured there was probably a white label promo, in a unique sleeve, also knocking about that might turn up in my local Oxfam (quite a few have done, over the years). So that had the potential to save another £4. But not many people really did 12” singles anyway, so again, another drop in the ocean.

By the time we had got married in the summer of 2005, the continuing run of multi formatted singles was still in danger of causing me not being able to afford the required amounts of cat food needed for that week. Ignoring CD1’s, and 12” singles, simply wasn’t enough. Especially as the ongoing flood of “limited edition” first pressings of new albums were surfacing on a regular basis. I decided that, to try and at least keep my hand in, I would generally only buy new singles on one format only (Madonna excepted again, I had come this far getting most of them in, I couldn’t stop now). Pop acts would have their singles purchased on CD2, such as Girls Aloud, for the indie bands it was the 7”, as it was now impossible NOT to find a 7” single with an exclusive B-side contained within. And so, when Franz Ferdinand previewed their second album with “Do You Want To”, I purchased a 7” only, left the multiple CD editions on the racks, and waited for the (never to be announced) singles boxset that would hoover up the flipsides I had left behind. The reason for buying the 7”, rather than the CD2 edition, was that it was cheaper, and arguably, would be harder to track down second hand than the CD2 edition.

But in the grand scheme of things, it still didn’t help. By the time 2006 came round, I was struggling to keep up even with this approach. Trying to keep up with a continual run of deluxe edition albums, meant that the singles became an irritation. But was this not just the story of a man with too many bills, and not enough income? Not really, because record companies were starting to try and “entice” people to buy singles with special deals, that were actually cheaper than they had been five years before. When Ash issued all of their 2001 singles on three formats, they came with stickers advising “get all three for £7.50”. When Belle & Sebastian issued “The Blues Are Still Blue” on three in the spring of ’06, it was “3 for £5”. The impression I got was that the 2 track £2 single had not saved the record industry, and as multi formatting continued to press on regardless, the labels knew they had to try and drop the prices to try and reel the punters in. But I had been damaged and bruised. I bought “The Blues Are Still Blue” on one format only, the 7”, because it was on blue vinyl and had an exclusive B-side - and was cheaper than the other formats. I didn’t buy any of the other singles released from the album (2006’s “The Life Pursuit”) because I had spent all my money on the “special CD+DVD” edition of the LP, and the other singles were not pressed on coloured vinyl. My approach to buying singles was getting increasingly “picky”. But as far as I was concerned, it was the labels themselves that had caused this dilemma.

With the acts for whom I “had the set”, I kept the faith. I continued to buy at least one copy of each Madonna, Britney or Girls Aloud single, but with the indie bands, the shops just felt like a barrage of oppression when you walked in, multiple singles everywhere suffocating me. It got worse. The concept of the “2 track £2” single seemed to irritate the indie bands. The CD single had never been fully taken to heart, vinyl was always “cooler”. For them to now be told “you will have a CD with just 2 songs on”, it seemed to wind them up. So what came of this? Something even more bizarre then the “double CD single set”. Ladies and Gentlemen, we now had the “double 7” release”.

Yes, really. Born out of nothing more than record company greed, the concept of the double 7” bore no resemblance to any form of normality. It seemed to be nothing more than blatant profiteering, from bands and labels who should have known better. At first, it seemed like fun. The now defunct Dogs issued several singles in 2005 as double 7” releases, and given that I was buying all 7” releases at the time, I figured I had no choice but to buy both - my “rules” prevented me from doing otherwise. But there was an element of “collectability” and a “thought out” approach to their singles. The first 7” would come in a gatefold sleeve, and the second in a die cut sleeve which was designed to fit into the back half of the gatefold of 7” number 1. Nice. So you had a sort of double EP. Only with so few songs, they could actually have fitted onto a “normal” EP.

So the VFM aspect, again, was being passed over in terms of chart positions, industry rules, and profits.

By 2007, most “double 7” single” releases had long abandoned the concept of the two singles being released in a style as so they could fit together, and instead, most releases like Badly Drawn Boy’s “A Journey From A To B” were appearing on different editions, in different sleeves, with different flipsides - but with neither in any special form of packaging. It simply felt like another disdainful way of fleecing the fanbases. I responded to this by more or less refusing to buy any singles by anybody, unless they were Madonna or Britney or Girls Aloud, in order to carry on “completing the set”.

But then things started to get confusing. Back in early 2006, the UK chart rules had shifted yet again. Downloads were to be allowed to count towards the chart position, as long as a physical format was due for release a week later. The idea behind this was two fold - to give the floating voters a chance to get hold of the hit they had heard on the radio for cheap (an iTunes download was less than a 2 track £2 single), whilst it would also allow the single to have a bit of chart life - singles were usually hyped up months in advance, that by the time they got released, everybody would buy the thing on day 1, it would go to number 1, and then just disappear the next week. The theory here, was that the download sales would get it into the top 40, and then the physical sales on top would push it up the charts on week 2, just like in the olden days.

This concept went wrong in March that year when Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” entered the charts on download sales at - number 1. The only way, apart from staying at number 1, was down. It was like a year zero for the physical single. Downloading, up until now, had seemed like a niche geeky thing, but now, it seemed as though so many people were fed up with overpriced singles, even at £2 a pop, that they were drawn to the cheapness and immediacy of the download. The single was dying.

As such, I was split between snarling at certain labels for issuing too many formats for a single, to the point where I didn’t know which one to buy - and feeling rather sad that on the other side of the shop, the single was starting to wilt. Arcade Fire issued three singles from their “Neon Bible” album on 7” only, as if to say “the end is nigh”, and I could not help but buy each of them. After all, one purchase and voila! All new b-sides (ie. Just the one) for said single in the bag. But then Biffy Clyro would issue their latest single on the now obligatory indie rock approach of 2 different 7” singles, and a (2 track, perversely) CD single, and I would grumble and sneer and refuse to buy any. The 45 was on the way out, it was just that some of the labels were pretending it wasn’t happening.

When Girls Aloud returned in 2008 with “The Promise”, it appeared on just one format (bar the strange, mail order only, 7” picture disc they issued via their website). It was a 2 tracker, £2 only. No CD2, no 12”, certainly no DVD. It was almost as if it was being issued as a retro style release, a kind of “this is how we used to issue singles” style event. The next single was marketed in exactly the same way. Overnight, a band who had been tossing out double CD single sets left right and centre, simply, went very quiet. It was not just a case of carrying on with a band for whom I had to collect the set, it felt as though I was purchasing the final singles that anybody was going to release on the format.

And so when The Saturdays stepped in soon after to borrow their pop crown, I shifted my attention to them. Each single, on it’s one lone format, was purchased almost as a mark of respect for the old 45. With only one format to worry about, and at £2, it would have seemed rude not to. Biffy Clyro were still issuing multiple singles, as if the death of the single wasn’t happening, but with the vinyl copies starting to creep up in price, and with no obvious version as to which sleeve would or would not be used in my fantasy BC boxset, I often walked away from buying any of them - a throwback to my confused state of mind from several years previous.

But in the main, the single was becoming a very niche format. Downloading was winning. There had been some concern, when downloading of ANYTHING at random could allow an old song back into the charts (no longer did a physical release now need to appear the next week for a chart position to be awarded), about how to display the top 40 in the shop, if some of these things weren’t actually available to buy. But this was resolved - shops usually just shoved all the vinyl, old and new, into a big pile, and all the CD’s, old and new, into another big pile. You just had to rummage through it to see who, if anybody, had released a new record that week - assuming the shop had decided to order it in in the first place.

I began to feel a twinge of sadness towards the old single. The album, well, I had given up there. That was safe, multiple albums being pressed and repressed, that wasn’t on it’s way out - so I simply bought albums at random, caring little if it was a limited edition one or not, the labels had beaten me on that score. Just being able to afford a record of any description, be it with bonus tracks or not, felt like a victory in my cash addled state. But the 45 was different. I had often used it as a barometer of pop culture - it was always interesting to see if what you had bought would make the top 40, and - back in the day - whether or not it would then get the band or singer on “Top Of The Pops” at the end of the following week. I couldn’t just let it get away from me. I figured I needed to keep buying them to try and keep in touch with reality.

In late 08, Florence And The Machine arrived on the scene. We saw them bottom of the bill on the NME Awards tour early next year, and liked what we saw. Kate Bush lite, admittedly, but it never did Tori Amos any harm. With the band relatively new on the scene, I was determined to get in early, not to miss any rarities that might emerge were they to turn into superstars. “Kiss With A Fist” was doing the rounds for less than a tenner, “Dog Days Are Over” was purchased on some bizarre looking 12” that looked like a bootleg, but was apparently official, and when the promo for their first album started “proper” in the summer of 2009, I was - sort of - ahead of the game. Florence’s label were not adverse to a bit of multi formatting, and “Rabbit Heart” appeared on both 7” and CD - but I had made a promise. I purchased the single, CD only because it had more tracks, and felt quite pleased with myself that in a download encrusted world, I was still keeping it real - just about.

But I was in a minority. The long lamented Teletext page, “Planet Sound”, claimed later that same week, that although the single had charted inside the top 20, only 64 copies had been sold in physical form as part of those sales. That, if it was true, was a ridiculous figure. They laughed at Scott when “Climate Of Hunter” dented the album charts on about 15000 copies in 1984. But 64 copies? The single was, more or less, dead.

Singles continued to trickle out, and often, my previously “measured” approach was abandoned. When the so-called “mail order only” Ash singles as part of their A-Z series starting turning up in HMV, it was impossible to resist them. I continued buying the Florence singles, Girls Aloud split up, and Britney stopped issuing singles completely in the UK by the time “3” was being prepped for release. Hell, I even bought a Biffy Clyro 7” in 2010, when the sublime, near perfect power pop of “Bubbles” was too much to resist owning on 45. But it cost £3.99, which seemed an awful lot for an album track backed with a single b-side. Had I bought the other 7” and the CD, it would have come to £9.97. You could buy their latest album for less than that. And it was this insanity, coupled with the rise of the download, that murdered the single. They were being released in small numbers, certain shops simply saw no reason to stock them, and the vinyl editions seemed to be edging up in price. The idea of the 7” being the “cheap” format was no longer valid when the likes of Stephen Malkmus began knocking out 45’s at a fiver a throw. The likes of iTunes, with their “79p for the hit” approach simply appealed to the techies, those careful with their cash, and those people too lazy to actually go to a record shop. The physical single was, more or less, over. All we needed now was a ridiculously priced album format to finally make record collecting even more miserable.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Stranglers on SIS, Coursegood - and beyond!

Perhaps it’s the current state of the record industry, or perhaps just the sign of a band wishing to cut out the middle man when it comes to releasing new material - but either way, a quick look at The Stranglers discography over the last couple of decades have seen an alarming number of audio and video releases that have NOT appeared on the band’s then-current record label. As I type this, fans are awaiting the release of a DVD taped earlier this year in Manchester on their 40th Anniversary “Ruby” tour, which almost certainly will follow previous such releases - and appear as an online only event. But this is nothing new. Because for many years, pre-Baz and pre-Paul, a number of releases had already appeared as “fan club only” records, courtesy of the Stranglers Information Service, AKA the “SIS”.

The SIS were responsible for the publication of “Strangled” magazine, which originally started life in 1977 as a punk fanzine, with a slight bias towards the band, before eventually morphing into more of a fan club magazine at the start of 1980. These “glossy” releases (Volume 2) tended to be more of a band focused magazine, but still with articles written about subject matter that the group thought the readers may be interested in - there were regular contributions by band members themselves. The second issue featured a logo adapted from the famous group logo, although it wasn’t until the first issue of 1981, Volume 2 Number 6, that this special “Strangled” logo was featured on the cover again, before remaining in situ for all future issues. The final issue appeared in 1996, before the SIS turned into an online presence known as “The Rat’s Lair”.

The SIS specialised in making available again Stranglers rarities, such as the repressings of the “Peaches” radio promo, and the “Rattus Norvegicus” freebie single, “Choosey Susie“. In the summer of 1980, they released their first “exclusive” single, when early years outtake “Tomorrow Was The Hereafter” (SIS 001) was issued as a mail order 7”, backed with the “Cocktail” version of “Bring On The Nubiles”, a ten minute long ramble in the studio where Cornwell attempted to record a “muzak” cover of said song - remember the comedy band Raw Sex? It was housed in a plain die cut sleeve, although a later repressing in 1988 was conducted, where each copy was housed in a picture sleeve instead. However, only 1000 copies of the repress were made, and as such, are now highly collectible - resulting in a curious situation where the original release is actually worth less than the reissue.

During the rest of the decade, “new” SIS releases were generally restricted to side projects, rather than proper Stranglers releases. SIS 002 was a single by a band called A Marriage Of Convenience, featuring Jet Black, which saw them having a stab at an - at the time - unreleased Stranglers tune called “My Young Dreams”. SIS 003 was a JJ Burnel solo flexidisc, and indeed, it wasn’t until after Cornwell had left that the next Mark 1 SIS single surfaced, when “New Day Today” (SIS 004) was released on a flexi in 1991. It was included inside an issue of “Strangled” magazine that introduced Paul Roberts to the readership, and so anybody who has the original magazine with the flexi, holds in their hands a piece of memorabilia that effectively shows a passing of the baton.

Having been rather quiet during the 80s, SIS suddenly became rather productive, issuing fan club videos on an annual basis. Now, these are near impossible to find, and I don’t have many of them, so I don’t want to cover them in great detail when I only know what bits of them look like. But, for the record...”Live In Madrid” (SIS 005) was the first one, issued - apparently - before SIS 004, and was a VHS detailing the band’s TV filmed gig in Madrid on November 18th 1986. Although the whole gig is here, the show was, for some reason, split into two, with each half cherry picking bits of the whole show, rather than the first section having the first half, and the second the second. In other words, to watch it in the order in which the songs were played, would require you to keep fast forwarding, then rewinding, then fast forwarding, and so on. It is available on Youtube, last time I looked - albeit still in the wrong order.

“The Meninblack In French” (SIS 006) was the official release of a “Feline” era French TV documentary, including mimed performances of “Paradise” and “London Lady”. “SIS First World Convention” (SIS 007) was exactly that, a video detailing the Mark 2 performance at their 1992 fan convention in Peterborough. “Battersea Power Plus” (SIS 008) documented, what could be found of, the band’s infamous Battersea Park gig in 1978, with a few other bits and bobs. Whilst audio bootlegs exist of the whole show, nobody has been able to track down the complete video footage, even though Hugh has confirmed the entire gig was definitely filmed. The likes of “Peaches” and “Nice N Sleazy” had already surfaced on other VHS releases, but this one is still the only (official) place to find the likes of “Grip” and “Death And Night And Blood”.

1993’s “Live At Fontwell Park” (SIS 009) was the first SIS VHS to come in a proper video case, and documents the band’s “gig in a tent” show at the Southern England racecourse on October 30th that year. 1994’s “Live At Rennes And Other Stories” (SIS 010) documents another gig from earlier on in 1993, along with footage from the second fan convention, at New Cross in London, from September 93.

I seem to remember buying 1994’s “Bodysearch” (SIS 011) in a Virgin Megastore at the time, not sure how that happened. But officially, it’s a mail order only release, documenting most - but not all - of the band’s show at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire on 12th November 1994, as part of the minitour of the same name. The missing songs were held over for inclusion on “The Parr Street Chronicles” (SIS 012), the bulk of which documented a recording session at Parr Street studios.

“Rennes Deux The Return” (SIS 014), from 1995, is a document of a gig held earlier that year at the same venue as SIS 010, hence the title. The audio from this one has also surfaced in bootleg form. “Strangled In London 1996” (SIS 015) documents the band’s 1996 fan convention, and features Mark 2 doing some obscure stuff, which makes it all the more frustrating that it’s so damn hard to find. With SIS and Strangled magazine coming to an end during this particular year, it was thus the final SIS release.

Whilst SIS were issuing these videos, they also made a slightly more hesitant venture into the world of the full blown album. 1993’s “Strangled: From Birth And Beyond” (SIS CD 001) was used to collect the material from the first four SIS singles, along with some previously unheard material by Burnel, Mark 1 (“The Beast”, an outtake from 1984) and a pair of tunes from Mark 2, including the at-the-time concert regular “Mr Big”. The front cover featured images of both line ups of the band.

SIS CD 002 was a reissue of the previously French only JJ Burnel solo album “Un Jour Parfait”, and was followed in 1996 by “Access All Areas” (SIS CD 003) - another one I seem to recall buying in a Virgin Megastore. This was a live CD showcasing, mostly, the typical Stranglers setlist from their 1995 UK winter tour, space constraints preventing the album from being a full document. Nevertheless, the songs that were included were presented in the order in which they were played on the tour, and were sourced from a number of gigs, suggesting that the vaults include the full performances from all these shows. It’s unlikely any will ever get the nod for an official unedited release though, such is the disinterest now in Mark 2 - not least from the band themselves! Other live performances from the tour, from the London Forum on the 16th December, appeared as B-sides to the 1997 “In Heaven She Walks” single, including songs that had failed to make “Access All Areas”.

With the SIS ceasing to exist, some members of the organisation decided to relaunch the fan club as an online entity, called The Rat’s Lair. For well over a decade, it operated as the band’s official webpage, detailing up to date news items, as well as having a link to the band’s online merchandising website. It was through the website that the next batch of fan club releases appeared, starting with reissues in 1998 of “Access All Areas” (Voiceprint SOF 001 CD), “Strangled” (Voiceprint SOF 002 CD) and the release of the brand new “Exclusive Fan Club CD” (Voiceprint SOF 003 CD) - all three were joint releases between the fan club and the independent Voiceprint label. The latter is another hard to find item, detailing a show in Southampton during the late 1997 tour, a tour which saw the band play numbers from “Written In Red” for the first, and only, time.

As the end of 1999 approached, the band formed Coursegood Ltd, designed as their mail order and merchandising enterprise. However, at first, any new music issued through their website was not issued on the Coursegood label, but simply appeared with scant details as to which label it was on - if any - and little detail as regards catalogue numbers (although the info was there if you looked hard enough). The first two mail order releases available through Coursegood were a pair of archive “official bootlegs” issued in 2001, “Rattus Britanicus” (Impress LVL 071 01 6) and “Forgotten Heroes” (Impress PYCD 064 036). Both these CD’s were basically band endorsed re-releases of a pair of old vinyl bootlegs, albeit in new and improved artwork. The oddball catalogue numbers seemed to have been “borrowed” from one of the earlier CD bootleg releases that surfaced in the early 90s.

“Britanicus” was sourced from a show at London’s Roundhouse in 1977. The band played there multiple times that year, and at least three shows were recorded, remaining in the vaults until selected tracks were chosen for 1979’s “Live (X-Cert)” album. “Britanicus” detailed about 40 minutes worth of the show at the Roundhouse on November 6th, but as with so many bootlegs, the issue about how you could condense an 80 minute gig onto a 40 minute slab of vinyl was resolved by simply including 40 minutes worth of material from halfway through the show! So, it starts with a faded in “Dead Ringer”, and ends with “Peaches”. Nothing on here had been officially available before, with the exception of “Dead Ringer” (which was unedited on “Live (X-Cert)“). It’s a nice release, but with tapes of the entire show now doing the rounds online, it’s impressiveness has been dented a bit.

“Forgotten Heroes” documents, sort of, the now famous 1978 tour, where the band, having just released “Black And White”, often took to performing gigs more or less split into an opening half of old stuff (“Black”) and a second half of new songs from the album (“White”), sometimes joined by the stand alone single “5 Minutes”, issued after the “No More Heroes” album and before “Black And White” (this explains why you can hear Cornwell shout “Black And White!” before “Curfew“ on “Live (X-Cert)”). This CD was taped in America, at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland on 3rd April 1978, but seems to be heavily biased towards the earlier material - I guess this is because this particular show was conducted a month or so before the LP came out, so perhaps new material was being "held back". Much has been made of how, with the exception of the edited Battersea show, no mixing desk quality releases from the tour have ever been made available in full through the official channels, so this is the best you’re gonna get.

With still no physical fan club imprint in existence (post SIS) towards the end of 2001, “Live In Poland 2000” was effectively released with no label details, and no catalogue number at all, after receiving it‘s “movie premiere” style preview at the September 2001 convention. It is, as the title suggests, a VHS release of an early period Mark 3 gig, sold through the band’s website. It has been made available more widely now, as a commercial release on DVD in a new sleeve and with the title “Euro Live”, with a 2002 copyright it may have thus actually turned up on the website in 2002, rather than 2001 - I can’t fully remember. Late 2001 did see the release of the web only “Laid Black” (Coursegood CGTSM 001CD), a CD which saw Mark 3 have a crack at bits of the old back catalogue in an acoustic form. As you can see from that catalogue number, the Coursegood imprint was now being used for fan club style releases. “Laid Black” was also issued commercially in 2002, in the same sleeve but on the Zen record label with a new catalogue number. “Euro Live” was also issued on Zen - and given I could find no “Coursegood 2” release mentioned anywhere whilst researching this article, it is possibly safe to assume the original “Live In Poland” was in effect the second Coursegood release, ie. CG2.

Or maybe it was this one - 2003’s “Live At The Apollo”, another release with no label details and no catalogue number, just a CD in a nicely designed sleeve. This is another album with a story. At the end of 1981, the band toured the UK in support of “La Folie” and played a show in Glasgow on 23rd November. It was recorded by Radio Clyde, and in 2003, independent label Alchemy decided to release the show as “Apollo”. For reasons I can’t fully understand, another label - the affiliated Burning Airlines - issued a longer version of it almost immediately, called “Apollo Revisited”. As I understand it, these labels were able to release the show without the band’s permission because, being a radio broadcast, it was the radio station that owned the rights to it, and they could license it to whoever they wanted. The band then arranged to release their own, edited, version of the same show as “Live At The Apollo”, which had the band’s logo intact - thus giving it a more official look - but had four songs missing from the original broadcast. Why? You tell me. The official release meant that, unusually, the band had now given the nod to two official releases from the same tour, as the band’s Jan 82 show at the Hammersmith Odeon on the same tour had been released by the BBC in 1996.

At the time, Mark 3 were working on “Norfolk Coast”, without label support. The album was completed, and the group were seemingly prepared to release it on Coursegood, before managing to get a distribution deal in the UK with EMI. The copyright on the album remained with Coursegood. A follow up mail order live CD documenting the resultant tour was issued via the indie label Absolute, but with a Coursegood style catalogue number - “Coast To Coast” (Absolute AMD CG 3). This partnership seemed to remain in situ for each subsequent Coursegood release.

In 2007, the Mark 4 lineup played some wildly different shows in November 2007, which spawned two mail order only releases. The first was the DVD “Rattus At The Roundhouse” (Coursegood RATTUS 07), filmed during the band’s ‘30th anniversary’ gig at the venue, where they performed a set identical (ish) to the set they played there when last at the venue in 1977. A few weeks later, and the band played one of their acoustic shows in Brugge, as documented on a CD called “The Meninblack In Brugge” (Coursegood CG 004). Both releases have since been given more wide scale commercial releases on the European-based Ear Music label, and whilst both reissues have appeared in new covers (both using similar typography and design approach), it is only the latter that has been retitled second time around, now known as “Acoustic in Brugge”.

“Live At The Apollo 2010” (Coursegood APOLLO 10) is another hard to find DVD, taped on the 2010 tour at the now renamed (former) Hammersmith Odeon, documenting the typical set the band played on their “Decades Apart” tour. Initial copies included a free CD showcasing highlights of the DVD, but even CD-less copies are nearly impossible to find.

My December 2013 blog explains the reasoning behind 2012‘s “The Weekendinblack” (Coursegood CGCP 001), a triple disc mail order set including the band’s (then) new studio album “Giants”, and some bonus discs of audio and video footage from the recent band convention. The deal with EMI by this point had seemingly come to an end, and the standard CD release of “Giants” (Absolute CG 005) was another joint release between the band and Absolute. Different formats exist, with a similar catalogue number, such as a vinyl pressing, a double CD edition and the promo copy sent to purchasers of “The Weekendinblack” as an apology after delays in production of the set. The single issued to plug the album later that year, “Mercury Rising” (Absolute CG 006), was also issued by Coursegood through Absolute.

As also mentioned in that blog, was the fact that several shows on the tour were recorded for a new live album, highlights of which were condensed into 2013’s “Feel It Live” (Coursegood CG 007). Initially released as a mail order CD, it was later sold in the usual retail outlets, with no changes to the catalogue number or basic packaging. The same could not be said of the other 2013 release, “Never To Look Back: The Video Collection 1983-2012” (Coursegood CG 008), a glorious DVD release that is still only available via the band’s merchandising website. Essentially, this was an update of Epic’s 1983-1990 VHS video collection “The Meninblack In Colour”, bolstered by (virtually) all of the band’s promos from the Mark 2, 3 and 4 lineups, thus bringing the story up to date. The sleeve excitedly makes reference to some 16 bonus clips - these are a mix of previously available clips from releases like “Apollo 2010” and “SIS World Convention”, done to either document a single where no promo clip was made (“Sugar Bullets”), highlight one lineup of the band doing a version of a song recorded by another (Mark 3 previewing Mark 4’s “Summat Outanowt”, from the “On Stage On Screen” DVD), or simply to just show something interesting (Mark 3 doing an acoustic “Instead Of This” from the same gig). Also included are promos for singles that never were (“Golden Boy”) along with some previously unseen footage from the band’s Isle Of Wight festival appearance in 2012.

The 2014 tour saw the release of “Here And There: The Epic B-Sides Collection 1983-1991” (Absolute/Coursegood CG 009) on the band‘s merchandising stall. As the title suggests, this was a double CD trawl through the band’s flipsides of the period, following earlier flawed (major label) attempts which either missed half of them out (2013’s “Skin Deep - The Collection” on Music Club Deluxe) or never got off the ground (Epic had planned their own one in the early 1990s). Disc 1 deals with the standard studio B-sides, with the exception of the “Chronicles Of Vladimir” material, which are placed separately at the end of disc 2. Not only do you get all four of the Vlad related flipsides the group issued in the 80s, but you also get the second installment, “Vladimir & Sergei”, which was released only on the JJ Burnel/Dave Greenfield “solo” album “Fire And Water” in 1983, and the previously unreleased - in physical format - “Vladimir And The Pearl” (part 6), a track which never got beyond being recorded by JJ and Dave in anything other than demo form, and was made available - aurally - some years before if you phoned the SIS Telephone Hotline, before later surfacing as a stream-able audio clip on The Rat’s Lair.

The rest of disc 2 includes the “Riot Mix” version of “Hot Club”, and all of the live tracks that appeared as b-sides during the period - along with a couple that were actually issued as limited a-sides, namely “Shakin’ Like A Leaf” from 1985 and “Always The Sun” from 1990. All that is missing is the not entirely musical “An Evening With Hugh Cornwell” and the remixes of “Sweet Smell Of Success” that appeared as B-sides on the remix 12” edition of the same single. It is also worth mentioning that the live recordings are not the “revamped” mixes that were spread across the 2001 expanded edition of “All Live And All Of The Night”, but are the original mixes, meaning you get to hear snippets of “Dead Ringer” and “Down In The Sewer” in some of the fades, along with some long lost things like the “Bradford” version of “Peaches” for the first time in 23 years, and the “Madrid" version of “Was It You” in audio form for the first time in even longer. Nice.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

September 2014

The September 2014 blogs feature a look at Bowie, SFA, and part 9 of my 'novel within a website', "How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting". To look at any of these blogs, click the relevant link to your right.

"Here I am, not quite dying"

Friday, 19 September 2014

How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting: Part 9 - The Deluxe Edition

As mentioned before, I think, on this very site, there were some issues, in the early days of the Compact Disc, as regards releasing double CD albums. The theory was they cost twice as much to produce, so they would cost twice as much to buy. As such, several early “double LP to CD” transfers saw tracks go missing, as there was seen to be no way around how you could get a 90 minute album onto a 74 minute CD (see early pressings of The Bee Gees’ “Odessa”, Elton John’s “Blue Moves” and The Cure’s “Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me”).

Once the labels realised this was a stupid thing to do, making albums only nearly available on CD, they decided that a 2-CD set should be produced where appropriate. It gave a green light to the industry in terms of issuing double CD’s as a matter of course. Peter Gabriel’s “Plays Live” made it into double CD land, replacing the single disc “Highlights” set that had first appeared in 1986ish, and indeed, most other “edited” albums finally got a proper CD release eventually. There was, by the 1990s, no fears about issuing a double CD album. Which is where the Deluxe Edition comes in.

The Deluxe Edition was actually a trademark courtesy of the US division of Universal Records. In 2001, they decided to start re-releasing classic albums in expanded form, taking a record that originally would have been a standard 40 minute long LP, and giving it the full bells and whistles treatment. One of the first, if not THE first, revamps was The Who’s “Live At Leeds”.

I have already talked on this site about how, if any album deserved an extended reissue, then this was the one. Originally issued in 1970 as an edited highlights album designed, simply, to showcase the roar of the band in full flight on stage, the bootleggers got hold of the original tapes and released the show in full, albeit with dubious sound quality at times. Universal decided to counteract this - an earlier 1995 reissue had provided a more rounded, but still incomplete, version of the concert from which the album was compiled, so the idea behind the 2001 release was to finally put the gig out in full.

It wasn’t perfect - cuts made to “Shakin’ All Over” and “Magic Bus” for the original were still in situ, and the running order was reordered so that all of “Tommy” appeared, in isolation, on disc 2 - but it was the best we were going to get. Overall, the sound quality was an improvement over the bootlegs doing the rounds. But what made the package really special was the packaging itself. “Live At Leeds” had originally come out in the days before barcoding, and the 1995 reissue had, by no fault of it’s own, failed to fully capture the spirit of the original, because the rear cover had to be amended to show a barcode. But the 2001 edition got round this.

How? Well, the reissue came in a nice, fancy, fold out digipack sleeve. The original back cover was reinstated - basically a blank canvas, a photo of the original plain rear cover showing the stapled sleeve. The barcode and track listing were instead printed on a clear, see through slipcase that the package slotted into. Beautiful. Inside, the original typography design of the original LP release’s labels were used again for the “labels” on the CD, and you also had a nice booklet as well. It deserved it’s “Deluxe Edition” tag. A classic album, expanded to full length (more or less), housed in some innovative, and faithful-to-the-original artwork. A proper UK release on Polydor was conducted in 2002, so good was this version.

And it’s been downhill ever since.

The Deluxe Edition concept started a wave of expanded reissues of albums good, and not so good, with the choice of bonus material sometimes dubious, scant, or nearly pointless. No longer was it good enough to do a reissue where you shoved on two or three bonus tracks and kept it under single-CD length, what we now had was a plethora of repressings that were bigger, and thus more expensive, than the original album had been. Before long, any old tat starting appearing in “double CD” form, and at inflated prices.

It never used to be like this. Back in the 80s, album reissues were done as budget pressings - EMI reissues came out on their “Fame” imprint, RCA Victor on RCA International, where the album would be ‘scaled down’ a bit from the original release. If it had come in a gatefold, now it would be a single sleeve. Free single? Not this time around. Lyric sheet? Not anymore. But, free singles aside, the front cover was still the same, the music was still the same, and the cost? Less than the latest “new” album by the same artist. The idea was, why should you pay more - in relative terms - for an old album? Why should somebody who had bought the original watch as you got an identical looking reissue 10 years on? Morally they shouldn’t, and so they didn’t. It was, let’s be honest, quite a fair and sensible system. But once “Live At Leeds” was out, the floodgates opened.

A number of classic albums got reissued soon after, but whereas the material “in the vaults” for “Live At Leeds” resulted in a reissue that made sense, others didn’t quite work out as well. I have always struggled with the Deluxe version of their next album, “Who’s Next”. Originally salvaged from the ashes of the aborted ‘Lifehouse’ project, the first expanded reissue of this one, in 1995, added songs that had been left behind when the original concept was abandoned. Apart from a slightly pointless “alternate” “Behind Blue Eyes” (albeit of historical importance, I agree, taped as it was at an earlier session), all of the extra tracks were outtakes and live recordings of songs that were planned for inclusion on "Lifehouse", but didn’t make it onto the final product. It gave you some sort of clue as to what Pete Townshend’s original intention of the record was supposed to be.

But the Deluxe one, from 2003, is a bit of a mess. Yes, all of those bonus tracks are still there, but the sources are often different this time around, and they are scattered around all over the shop. Disc 1 has the original LP, and then 6 bonuses - a mix of “Lifehouse” material and more alternate versions of songs on the main record. The rest of the “Lifehouse” stuff appears, in live form, throughout disc 2 - a tape of the band’s show at The Young Vic in 1971. I just find this approach slightly random.

Now, I know - yes, historically, this gig is also important. The original “Lifehouse” concept was supposed to have involved the band playing a regular residency in this London venue. But it feels so underwhelming. A concert consisting, almost entirely, of new material, the crowd seem quiet. The band seem under-rehearsed. It really does feel like “bootleg” material. And it’s not even the whole gig. It would have been better if the show had been released, in full, as a “proper” double album, despite it’s sometimes haphazard nature, but instead, you were being asked to get “most” of it by rebuying an album you already had - at double CD prices. It seemed a bit cheeky.

Great albums continued to surface under the “Deluxe Edition” banner, but often, the approach to the bonus material seemed a bit half hearted. It wasn’t too long before the main album remained “unblemished”. The reissue of the debut “Weezer” album added no bonuses to disc 1, whilst disc 2 was a rarities set consisting of B-sides, outtakes and compilation throwaways. Interesting to have it all in one place, but not much new stuff for the fan who already has everything. Cat Stevens’ classic fourth and fifth albums, “Tea For The Tillerman” and “Teaser And The Firecat” followed a similar path - the original 35 minute-ish long original on disc 1, and barely 40 minutes of stuff on disc 2. Disc 2 was, sort of, the original album in alternate form, but some of this material was sourced from DVD’s and an existing live album, meaning that not only could it all have squeezed onto one disc in the first place, but the amount of genuinely “new” material you were getting came to about 20 minutes in total. £15.99 for an EP’s worth of unreleased alternate versions? The packaging may still have been deluxe, but the VFM aspect seemed questionable.

More impressive were the albums which had originally been released in the 60s, as these featured the stereo mix on disc 1, and the mono mix on disc 2 - such as Cream’s “Disraeli Gears” - along with some selected rarities used to then pad out each disc. You may disagree, but I always thought this was a clever concept, as one of the mixes was usually much rarer than the other, meaning you could get hold of an album rated at £100+ for a fraction of the cost, plus bonus tracks. OK, so you had a double disc release that really had to be played in two halves (listening to the same album twice in succession had the possibility of making you go mad), but at least you were getting a sizeable chunk of rarities with these ones.

Thing is, as more and more albums got reissued, once the genuine classics from the label were gone, it felt as though lesser records got picked up for a revamp because there was nothing else left. I had always thought Squeeze’s “East Side Story” was their “Pet Sounds”, but it was the preceding record, 1980‘s “Argy Bargy”, which got an expanded reissue in 2008. It was almost as if the material in the vaults suited this one better, as the second disc was a live gig from the time featuring not just stuff from the LP, but earlier big hitters like “Cool For Cats” and “Up The Junction”. Had this gig not existed, it would have been interesting to see if a deluxe pressing would still have been on the cards.

Ditto “Too Rye Ay”, the second Dexys Midnight Runners album. I had always thought, of their three original albums, that this was the bridesmaid, and not the bride. But the other albums had already been reissued, so you almost figured Universal decided they should issue this one to “complete” the set. It’s quite a good record, but this one has “Come On Eileen”, whereas “Searching For The Young Soul Rebels” has “There There My Dear” and “Geno“. You know what I am getting at. It was a perfect example of an album being expanded to such a length, that it overshadowed other, superior, albums by the same act - and all in the name of record company politics. “Rebels” was an EMI release.

And so, eventually, labels other than Universal joined suit, almost because they figured they couldn’t afford to be left behind. Columbia began issuing “Legacy Edition” versions of records like Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”, a genuine modern day classic, which followed a similar path in terms of the track listing approach and slipcase packaging. EMI released the first three Buzzcocks albums in expanded form, not under any specially named banner, but just as bigger versions in fold out sleeves. They were not marketed as “Deluxe” pressings at all. This would be a concept that plenty of more Tom Dick and Harry’s would follow in years to come.

I don’t know if it was something to do with the recession, but later Universal Deluxe pressings began to exhibit an air of a “this‘ll do” approach. Take “Kinda Kinks”, the patchy second Kinks album. Lots of bonus tracks, but the original concept of putting the album in a slipcase was abandoned - instead, you have a “Deluxe Edition” wraparound sticker across the front, side, and rear of the album - successfully ruining the entire artwork in every way imaginable. Why? Tom Petty’s “Damn The Torpedoes”, another genuine must own, was ruined even more - the thick digipack of the Kinks one replaced by a rather thinner example, complete with another wraparound sticker destroying the look of it. It all felt a bit cheap and nasty, a kind of “costs too much to do them like we used to, here’s a shoddier one instead” approach. Oh yes, and not much in the way of bonus material on that one either, another one that only just breached the 80 minute mark across two discs.

Meanwhile, albums that you didn’t think were crying out for an expanded reissue were getting them. I mean, do we really need double disc reissues of records by Taylor Dayne and Hazell Dean? But Cherry Red thought so, and thus set up a reissue label called Cherry Pop in order to do so. Meanwhile, acts on Warner Brothers whose back catalogues were crying out for re-promotion were being denied such treatment, despite having indisputable classics in their hands (Madonna’s “Like A Prayer”, Prince’s “Sign O The Times”). It may have been the artists themselves refusing their material to be revamped, but either way, seeing a Big Fun album get reissued whilst “Purple Rain” didn’t was, quite simply, unfathomable.

No, I am not a pop snob. Indeed, I couldn’t help but treat myself to Cherry Pop’s double disc Kim Wilde reissues from a few years back, as each of them included material unavailable in the UK. But what we were getting now was expanded reissues of records that were quite good rather than stone cold works of genius. “Teases And Dares” is quite good, but it’s not “Parallel Lines”. But what this did prove was that a format previously reserved for classic albums, being expanded with lots and lots of outtakes, was now changing, and was being adopted by other labels in order for them to put out lesser albums in often more straight forward form.

Normality is the key word here. Take another specialist label, Edsel. In recent years, they have taken on reissuing records by artists for whom their original labels couldn’t be bothered. Not sure if this is a key word here. Anyhow, they have reissued not just individual albums by certain artists, but have reissued - en masse - entire back catalogues, or at least catalogues from a specific label. Now, in some cases, this gave me the chance to buy something I’d previously put on the back burner, and I’d get some extra tracks and maybe a mini DVD thrown in for free as well, so thanks for that. But by not exercising any quality control, we started to get expanded reissues of albums that even the artists themselves didn’t like. Suede’s “A New Morning” was torn to shreds when it first came out, so watching Edsel attempt to turn it into some form of long lost classic by adding 29 extra tracks to it a decade on, was nothing short of bizarre - or maybe, surreally admirable. What I am trying to say that no longer were we getting expanded reissues of albums that deserved to be given an expanded reissue. And when we did, the amount of rarities was sometimes dubious. The 30th anniversary “Ziggy” double disc repress included just ONE previously unreleased song, mainly because everything else padding out disc 2 were outtakes and B-sides previously tossed out all over the place. Yes, nice to have it all in one place again, but £14.99 for a “remix” of “Moonage Daydream”. Ever got the feeling you were being cheated?

Yes, normality. The Belinda Carlisle reissues of last year each had one or two previously unreleased mixes per release, and were instead full of 7” mixes and 12” mixes - nice, but the sort of stuff anybody with a record player probably already had. Although if you read the comments they leave on, I seem to be the only record collector in the entire world who still has a turntable, because people started to froth with excitement over this sort of stuff when the track listings were announced. Wasn’t this the sort of stuff they used to put out on bog standard Greatest Hits albums? Or 12” Remix collections? If you are paying £14 for an album you already own, don’t you want something “new”? Back at Universal, they continued to release in “Deluxe” form, albums previously available in non-deluxe but expanded form, with barrel scraping being conducted in order to pad the releases out (the choice of bonuses on “The Who Sell Out” for example, a classic album which now sounded slightly messy). And then, when it came to reissuing the pre-1990 Cure back catalogue, a band who were now on Universal by default, the decision was taken that EVERY album affected would be given the Deluxe Edition treatment, despite the fact that “Three Imaginary Boys” and “The Top” are hardly in the same league as “Seventeen Seconds” or “Disintegration”. That is what we had come to. Normality.

Occasionally, but only occasionally, an album would get the “no frills” reissue treatment, although when the Pet Shop Boys issued the “Remastered” series of pressings of their earlier records in the late noughties, it came some years after all had been issued, in expanded form, as “Further Listening” 2-CD releases back in 2001, so you felt like you were paying out for something which you knew had something missing. A bit like buying a car, and then realising that the big space in the back probably should have had an extra seat there instead.

The Deluxe Edition had confused matters. In many instances, these double disc repressings were of albums most people already had, and you were being “enticed” to buy them via the carrot dangling “previously unreleased material”. As time went on, more and more appeared, but with less and less carrot dangling. Albums of dubious quality got the nod (Costello’s “Goodbye Cruel World”), whilst better pieces of work remained lost in no mans land, still only really available in the same format as they had been since they first made it onto Compact Disc (“Scott 4”, “Casanova” by The Divine Comedy). Albums appeared on double disc with either poor amounts of bonus material (all of the recent Queen reissues), or with what seemed like lots of stuff, but most of it simply lifted from the B-sides of old singles (Pulp’s “Different Class”). Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the Edsel blanket approach would see an artist deserving of (re) recognition getting the chance to stick their head over the wall again (The Jesus And Mary Chain) and sometimes, there would be a Deluxe Edition reissue of an album that really deserved it, such as Lizzy’s “Live And Dangerous”, but the sheer number of expanded, and price enhanced, reissues turning up seemed to water down the original concept. What had felt like something being reserved for a genuine classic album, was now being afforded to things like the post-Ozzy Black Sabbath live album “Live Evil”. Was there really such a demand for that?

It seemed to tie in with the whole “Mojo”-esque view of looking back, a never ending stream of nostalgic releases viewed through those rose tinted glasses. I already had “Aladdin Sane”, and I didn’t really need to keep buying it again every 10 years. Of course, the excuse was that “improvements in technology” meant that a newly remastered CD would apparently sound much better than the original “not remastered” CD from the 1980s or whenever, but it still felt like it was the record industry milking the cash cow that was the hardcore record collector. And as Deluxe reissues of albums I had bought on vinyl for a fiver kept coming out one after the other, including some I had no burning desire to rebuy, I began to be rather “selective” about which ones I bought. As the mid 00’s approached, it seems I wasn’t the only one counting their pennies. Next month, how the record companies killed the single.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Bowie - The Comeback King

When I published my first “Classic Albums” blog back in the summer of 2012, for “Ziggy”, everyone had assumed by this point that Bowie had retired - be it through ill health, an attempt to preserve his image, or simply to try and live a normal life. Little did anyone know that he was actually in the middle of making a new record.

The news, on his birthday in January 2013, that a new Bowie album called “The Next Day” was ready for release was a piece of marketing genius. It came so out of the blue, it was astonishing. I think I told somebody at work it was the single most important thing that had happened since the invention of the telephone. Only Bowie could have pulled a rabbit out of the hat like this. New (download only, admittedly) single online straight away, complete with video, followed by the preview of the album cover art, in which he simply recycled the cover of “Heroes” by sticking a great big white square over the was almost too clever for words. In this day and age where everybody is Instagramming everything they do, and telling you on Twitter they have just started a demo for the new album, which will be ready in 2 years time...well, for Bowie to return like this, it just showed you why he was always ahead of the game - and still was. Beyonce got a similar level of acclaim from the mainstream press when she did a similar thing at the end of the same year, but as ever, Bowie had really done it first. And to come from somebody who some people thought was on his deathbed - as I say, absolute indescribable genius.

Everything about this new record was executed brilliantly. A complete lack of interviews, no tour, new images slowly drip fed to the media at his own discretion, here was a man who did not need to be on Facebook every day posting pictures of his breakfast. And the fact that he was then rewarded with a number 1 album, after abandoning all the usual routes of promotion that are supposed to go into big releases like this, was so intelligent it hurts. Proof that selling your soul to radio playlist committees and TV interviewers can be avoided if you have the guts and bravado to do so. Christ, even the new Led Zeppelin reissues are being plugged months before they are due to come out - and they are not even properly new records! Furthermore, the LP itself was a great effort, not quite up to the standard of those 1970s ones obviously, but easily a match for it’s predecessor, 2003’s “Reality”, with several moments of unquestionable brilliance. Not only was the greatest musical artist of all time back, but he had not put a foot wrong at all as he executed his gloriously unconventional return.

Alongside the slow slew of EMI related cash in singles that have been trickling out since Spring 2012, Bowie’s return has resulted in new product both from his new album, and also from other sources - making the last couple of years something of a veritable Bowie feast. So I thought it would be worth just having a quick look at these releases, just to try and bring the story up to date from my last “normal” Bowie blog back in 2011, especially as there is a new 10" single ("Sue") out later this year to coincide with a new Bowie best of ("Nothing Has Changed") that, in it's 3-CD variant, will cover his career from 1964 to the present day.

The Next Day

Issued on the usual formats in March 2013, “The Next Day” was also available in 2 different CD editions - the increasingly common approach of releasing a “normal” version (Iso 88765 461862) and a “slightly posher, nearly deluxe” edition (Iso 88765 461922). The latter featured three extra tracks, taking the total on the album to 17 songs and a running time of just over an hour. A second “download only” single, “The Stars Are Out Tonight”, was released just before the LP release, before getting a Record Store Day release as a white vinyl 7” in April 2013 (Iso 88883 705557), backed with “Where Are We Now”, which had been the first download single. Extra copies were pressed for distribution around the EU, identifiable by an alternate catalogue number and, if you break the shrinkwrap, a different label design on the b-side.

The “white square” imagery was extended, in one form or another, to the subsequent releases. The title track was issued as a square shaped picture disc (Iso 88883 741287), although the “picture” was simply a white square with Bowie’s name and the song title on the front. Both sides played the album mix of the song. Follow up 45 “Valentine’s Day” (Iso 88883 756667) came in a sleeve which had, as it’s front cover, the lyrics printed on a white square - the single itself was a 7” picture disc, with closeup images from the original “Heroes” album cover adorning each side of the record. The b-side was one of the tunes from the “deluxe” version of the LP, “Plan”.

In November, the album was reissued in expanded boxset form as “The Next Day Extra” (Iso 88883 787812). The front cover was now a complete white square with name and title, the remnants of the “Heroes” cover from the original pressing no longer in situ on the front image. The new version of this album was a triple disc affair - the original 14 track album, a bonus album called “Extra” and a DVD with clips for all of the singles released so far, dubbed “Light“. Each disc came in it’s own sleeve, and there were several booklets as well, including one with nothing but blank white pages.

The bonus tracks from the original “deluxe” version were moved onto disc 2, where they were joined by 5 new songs and remixes of “Love Is Lost” and “I’d Rather Be High”. “Love Is Lost” was planned as the next single, and a video was made, meaning that the “Light” disc thus only featured some, and not all, of the promo clips for the record.

“Love Is Lost” appeared on 12” only (Iso 88843 016561), pressed on white vinyl, with the remix version serving as the A-side and the remix of “I’d Rather Be High” on the flipside. Again, the “white square” imagery was used as part of the artwork. The single included an exclusive track (for now), as a heavily edited mix of the remix of “Love Is Lost” finished the single.


The video and lyrics of “Where Are We Now” referenced Bowie’s time in Berlin in the late 70s, alongside - of course - the decision to recycle the artwork of “Heroes” that dated from the same period. This seemed to spur EMI into jumping on the bandwagon, and so in May 2013, they issued the 5xCD set “Zeit! 77-79” (EMI DBZEIT7779).

This box basically covered the “Berlin” years, featuring reissues of the three so-called ‘Eno Trilogy’ albums, “Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger”, alongside the live album that appeared slap bang in the middle, 1978’s “Stage”. The catalogue number references the time frame in which the albums were released, although Low had been recorded during 1976.

As regards the three studio albums, these were repressings of the “bonus track-less” editions of the albums that EMI had reissued in 1999, and were still the current editions if you were to buy them individually in the shops. But “Stage” had been revamped in 2005, and the box included this edition - the original album remixed, extra tracks added, and the running order changed. For those of us old enough to have bought “Stage” years ago, who were then too lazy/skint to buy it again in 2005, well, appearing in a boxset which cost no more than “The Next Day” had done was too good to miss. Yes, this release screams “cash in” from start to finish - the packaging is relatively simple, just the CD’s shoved into an upturned slipcase which can make them difficult to ’extract’ - but it looks lovely, and does also show how, in such a short space of time, Bowie was virtually untouchable by this part of the decade - “Sound And Vision”, “Boys Keep Swinging”, “Blackout”, etc, etc, etc...solid gold from start to finish.

The 40th Anniversary Reissues

I do get confused nowadays as to which label owns which label, given that EMI and RCA - once rival record companies - all now seem to be part of the bigger Sony/Columbia Records conglomerate. But EMI still seems to exist in one form of another, albeit as part of the Parlophone imprint, which goes someway to explaining how alongside Bowie’s return, a series of seemingly unconnected releases have appeared from his (sort of) former record label.

Since 2012, each of Bowie’s UK single releases from the glam years have reappeared as 40th anniversary repressings. Some have been released as Record Store Day releases, thus doubling in price by the end of the day as they hit eBay, whilst others have seemingly been pressed in larger numbers, thus keeping the value down to a reasonable level - or maybe, it’s just that the RSD ones have had their values artificially affected upwards by the scalpers.

Either way, it’s difficult to ignore these releases, and whilst few are offering anything “new”, they are quite interesting and even I have found it difficult not to buy one when my local HMV decides to stock copies. Each of the reissues are 7” picture discs, with the original b-side altered for something else related to the period, and come in sticker sealed clear see through sleeves. Releases up to “Life On Mars” are on the EMI label, with all others appearing on Parlophone instead - but the basic concept remains.

I have already mentioned the 2012 reissue of “Starman” (EMI DBSTAR 40), which included on the flip the audio from the famous TOTP performance of the same song. This was a RSD release, so copies have now hit triple figures, ridiculous when you consider the original pressing is worth next to nothing in comparison. The reissue of “John I’m Only Dancing” (EMI DBJOHN 40) turned up later the same year, which did the clever - but pointless - thing of having the normal single mix on side A, and the “sax” mix on side B. Again, an original copy can probably be picked up in a charity shop for loose change, but the 2012 edition is hovering around the £35-50 mark.

The reissue of “The Jean Genie” (EMI DBJEAN 40) coincided with the US “Black Friday” event, but copies of the single were issued in both the US and the UK - again, UK copies are selling for similar amounts to “John”. The b-side is another one of those “live vocal” performances from “Top Of The Pops”, and in keeping with the two preceding releases, is thus an alternate version of the a-side. It is worth pointing out that whilst these TOTP mixes are the first time they have ever been released officially, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that these performances have been shown on TV in recent years, and going onto Youtube will give you both the sound - and vision.

The b-side of the first 2013 reissue, “Drive In Saturday” (EMI DBDRIVE 40), was another previously unreleased audio mix of something that exists online, a performance of the track on the Russell Harty show in 1973. But the first real rarity seemed to occur with “Life On Mars” (EMI DBMARS 40), which included on the a-side, a Ken Scott remix of the track, done back in 2003 for a seemingly abandoned reissue of “Hunky Dory”. The flipside is a live recording that had previously surfaced on the expanded 2003 reissue of “Aladdin Sane”, but this is all a bit academic, as there remains material on that record that has not resurfaced since. So not a real box ticker there - but worth getting for that A-side mix, even if it does sound fairly similar to the album version. Again, some editions of the new best of are planned to include this rarity.

“Sorrow” (Parlophone DBSOZ 4030) is a bit of a looker, although the photoshoot from which the image is taken was also the original home for the picture that adorned the - cheaper - black vinyl picture sleeved reissue from 1983. The a-side is the standard album mix off “Pin Ups”, albeit with a 2013 copyright date because of it being a digital remaster. The flipside is a live version taped in 1983, hence the “4030” catalogue number, lifted from the “Serious Moonlight” VHS.

“Rebel Rebel” (Parlophone DBREBEL 40) follows the same path as “John”, with the UK single mix on the A-side, but the freaked out US 7” mix on the flip. 2014’s RSD release was “Rock N Roll Suicide” (Parlophone DBROCK 40), which saw the price tag - on day one - hitched up to more than the releases that preceded, and indeed, followed it. Blatant profiteering and further proof that this event all seems like one big con which isn’t saving independent stores, but is adding to the major label‘s coffers. Anyway, I digress. Nice Ziggy image on the front, with the Hammersmith Odeon performance of the same song from the final Ziggy show (and album) on the other side.

The iconic “Dave plus Dog“ image was enough to entice me to shell out for “Diamond Dogs” (Parlophone DBDOGS 40) earlier this year, although again, there’s nothing here that we don’t already know about. The 7” edit on the A-side, and the version off “David Live” on the back. Sign of the times, is that the latter is the (apparently) slightly remixed 2005 remix, done for when the record was reissued, which is “making it’s debut on vinyl” this time around. Remember when the rage was for a vinyl recording being made available on CD for the first time? How times have changed.

Whilst these releases have generally been ("Jean Genie" aside) pitched at the UK market, there is another US one worth mentioning. In America, the “Diamond Dogs” long player was promoted at the time by the “1984” single, and the 2014 Record Store Day event over there saw a picture disc reissue of said 45. Suffice to say, it will cost you an arm and a leg to track this one down, and you will have more chance getting the original pressing (or the 1984 release issued to help promote the “Fame And Fashion” best of).

The next picture disc release in the UK is shaping up to be quite interesting. On the face of it, nobody really needs a reissue of “Knock On Wood” (Parlophone DBKOW 40). But 1974’s “David Live” was promoted by different singles on different sides of the Atlantic. So whilst the UK got this much maligned cover, the US got a live version of “Rock N Roll With Me”, and the forthcoming 7” release features KOW on side 1, and RNRWM on side 2 - with the single being marketed, of sorts, as a double A side release. This means that “Rock N Roll” is technically being released as a UK single for the first time ever. Both tracks again appear in their “tarted up” 2005 remix form.

Other Stuff

In my “Bowie On Vocalion” blog, I made reference to Bowie’s early period singles on the Parlophone label in 1965, one with The Manish Boys and one as “Davy Jones”. Both were later coupled together on an EMI 7” EP in the late 70s, and again in the 80s by See For Miles on a 10” and then a 12“, before resurfacing as a CD single in 1990.

Well, whilst Bowie’s current label were putting out their 2013 RSD release, EMI/Parlophone decided to get in on the act by releasing “Bowie 1965!” (Parlophone GEP 8968), a 7” that once again cobbled the four tracks from these two 45’s onto a single EP. Nice sleeve, and a nice idea to get all this stuff into one place again for those of us who simply cannot afford the original pressings, but the RSD connection has seen the price rise after day 1, and it hasn’t really dipped. Copies never seem to go below the £20 mark for it, whereas the earlier reissues, including the CD edition, are pitched somewhere nearer the £10-15 mark.

Not something I was ever aware of until recently, was the fact that in those pre-Space Oddity years, Bowie briefly joined a mod group called The Riot Squad, who existed for two or three years in the mid 60s, and went through an alarming number of lineup changes. They never managed a full album, but did issue several singles. By early 1967, Bowie had joined and became their latest singer. A number of songs were taped in the studio with him on vocals, but he left relatively quickly to resume his solo career and the release of his debut LP. These songs were unearthed in 2012 and made available to download, before all four songs turned up on the 2013 7” EP “The Toy Soldier” (Acid Jazz AJX 329S).