Saturday, 11 May 2013
As a punk rock loving indie kid, I probably shouldn’t like Beyonce. Although now she’s done Glastonbury, it all makes it more “official”. As I type this, Mrs Jay-Z is heading out on a rather delayed tour plugging her fourth LP, and there are stories of ridiculously OTT and extravagant riders, with all photographers bar an official snapper being banned from the gigs, in order for the published tour images to be printed only if they have been given the nod by the lady herself. It’s obviously the sound of someone so far removed from reality it’s frightening, but pop stars have never supposed to be normal.
Whilst it can always be worrying liking somebody whose albums get five stars in the likes of “Heat” magazine (the fact that it is not a music magazine, but a gossip column rag, is the giveaway), there’s simply no getting away from the fact that, like Rihanna, Beyonce’s music is way beyond your usual ho-hum R&B nothingness that gets churned out by the awful likes of Usher. Yes, there have been a few near misses (“If I Were A Boy” is a bit dreary), but there have been some moments of glorious pop, weird left field electronic beats, and incendiary arms in the air high energy romps. And if you don’t believe me, I give you two words that meet all those criteria - “Single Ladies”. End of discussion.
Whilst Destiny’s Child were still an ongoing concern, Beyonce began her solo career in 2002, although she had already featured on a single by Amil back in 2000. She had made an appearance in the Austin Powers movie “Goldmember”, and recorded a song specifically for the soundtrack called “Work It Out”. It was issued as her first official solo single, and although it performed poorly in the States, it was a big UK chart hit, suggesting that Beyonce would probably do OK were Destiny’s Child ever to split - which they eventually did. It was issued on three formats, including Cassette, all of which included exclusive remixes.
Beyonce had already started work on her first solo LP when the single was released, and the end result was issued in 2003 as “Dangerously In Love”. It was trailed by the astonishing “Crazy In Love” single, featuring a memorable horn sample which gave the song an insistent ‘hook‘ - it was classic pop of the highest order. It was so good that it cast a huge shadow over the rest of the LP, and whilst some of the other singles were quite pleasant R&B grooves, parts of the album were too near to being filler material, the insistence of including a number of ballads on the record made it sound, at times, like identikit soul music. “Crazy In Love” nevertheless suggested a solo career could have legs, and it was a massive chart hit worldwide, still regarded by some as Beyonce’s signature tune. In the UK, the iconic promo video got an official release on a DVD Single, along with two different CD editions, and a non-chart eligible 12” issued a week later featuring some more exclusive remixes.
The other singles from the LP were issued in a mixture of formats - “Baby Boy” appeared on three different CD editions, the last of which featured little music but when purchased, gave the buyer the opportunity of downloading a free Beyonce ringtone. “Me Myself And I” was issued on two CD’s and a 12”, but by the time “Naughty Boy” got chosen for single release, the label seemed to be easing up on material, and just a single CD and 12” were issued for this release.
At this point, Beyonce returned to the day job, and another DC album called “Destiny Fulfilled” was issued in 2004. But it would turn out to be their last. A greatest hits album, “#1’s”, appeared in 2005, and was notable in that it featured, alongside oldies from the band’s past, a Beyonce solo track called “Check On It”, a sign I guess that although no one member of the band was bigger than the others, Beyonce was really still the most important. “Check On It” was issued as Beyonce’s next single, and the solo career resumed.
If the debut LP was patchy at times, the same could not be said for the awfully titled but utterly thrilling “B’Day”, issued in 2006. It was an exhilarating blast of left field pop, all juddering rhythms and crackly electro noises, helped in part by the insistence of Beyonce to feature “proper” musicians on the record, as opposed to having it created using computers. It’s a superb record, the Stax horns on “Green Light”, the slinky “Kitty Kat”, the dancehall strut of “Get Me Bodied”, the Crazy In Love-esque pumping of “Freakum Dress”, and the none more beautifully sweet “Irreplaceable”, this was the sound of a woman slaying the likes of Eve and Missy Elliott with ease.
It was originally issued as a basic 10 track album, although in the UK, a couple of extra tracks including “Check On It” were tagged onto the end. It later got a heavily revamped deluxe reissue, the contents of which differed from country to country. The UK one saw the 10/12 track LP now 19 songs in length, with an altered running order, so that a new song, a duet with Shakira called “Beautiful Liar” now opened the album.
The deluxe album used a new cover, and included a free DVD. It consisted of 12 - yes 12 - promo videos, even though barely half of these were actually issued as singles around the globe, and even less got this honour in the UK. The DVD was also available as a separate “Video Album”, and initial copies of that version of the DVD included an extra video for “Still In Love”. However, it ran into legal difficulties, and later pressings removed the clip. The version on the deluxe “B’Day” edition did not include this clip at all, although some sources claim a handful of initial pressings did include it, but if they did, few must exist as I bought my copy on the day it was released and that video is definitely missing.
Some of the new songs on the deluxe edition were then issued as singles in their own right, including the aforementioned Shakira duet and the ballad “Listen”, originally recorded for another Beyonce-starring move, “Dreamgirls”. Videos for both these songs are also on the DVD in the deluxe edition. Of the four singles that were released from “B’Day”, three appeared on two different CD versions and a 12”, it was only “Listen” that appeared on just a single format, the CD.
In 2008, Beyonce returned with her third studio effort, “I Am Sasha Fierce”. In a moment of prog style insanity, the (rather brief) album was split across two discs - the first disc, “I Am” was the genteel public Beyonce, disc 2, the “Sasha Fierce” one was supposed to represent the more feisty side of Mrs Carter. Some editions appeared as a deluxe version with extra tracks on each disc, but it still failed to take the total running time to anything more than what a single CD could have coped with. The album was later reissued in a new cover in 2009 as the “Platinum Edition” with extra tracks, and with the original running order now totally mixed up, so that the mid tempo songs and faster R&B tracks were now intermingled, to some extent destroying the original concept of the LP. The “Platinum” version also included a free DVD of promo clips.
Like “Crazy In Love” before it, “Single Ladies” is in danger of towering over the rest of the record. It came complete with a famous, much imitated video (remember the one in “Glee”?), but musically was an absolute giant of a song - oddball, squelchy beats, catchy as hell, it is really quite an unusual and subversive sounding piece of pop, and yet, it sits alongside “Crazy” as the high point of Beyonce’s career. That’s not to say the rest of “Sasha Fierce” is poor - “Halo” is a rather charming europop-esque high pitched trill, “Video Phone“ a slightly mad piece of minimalist electro clash, and “Sweet Dreams” a euphoric bout of noisy electro pop. It’s certainly not far off “B’Day” in the genius pop stakes.
Originally, “Single Ladies” was not going to be released as a single in it’s own right. In the UK, it had appeared on the flipside of the lead single from the album, “If I Were A Boy”, but was then issued as a single “due to popular demand”. Subsequent singles “Halo” and “Sweet Dreams” were issued as 2-track CD’s and ultra limited 12” singles, with between 1000 and 1500 copies only pressed for each of the latter, although the fifth single from the LP, “Broken Hearted Girl”, was only issued on CD.
2011 saw the release of “4”, the subject of much hype, given Beyonce’s now superstar status. But it was regarded as a bit of a disappointment, as it seemed overladen with ballads. This is not always a bad thing, “Best Thing I Never Had” may feature some of the worst lyrics of all time (“you showed your ass, and I saw the real you”) but it’s a pleasant lighters aloft stroll, although the consensus was that if there had been more tribal stomps like lead (digital) single “Run The World”, it would have been up there with “Sasha Fierce”. Curiously, initial copies of the album which were housed in a different cover came with a free EP which included mostly hi-energy pounding R&B romps and remixes, which made you wonder why they hadn’t been put on the record in the first place. No physical singles were taken from the LP in the UK, although "Best Thing" did get released in Germany, and import copies may have made it to some shops, and to coincide with the current tour, the album is being reissued in it’s “deluxe” cover with a revamped running order with a couple of songs from the bonus EP now installed as part of the main album.
If this were to be a worldwide Bey discography, it would take forever to talk about it. Foreign only singles, variant track listings, dubiously “official” Best Of albums from Thailand...I will leave that to Wikipedia for now. Here instead is the UK stuff. The albums are the original pressings or, where they exist, the revamped later reissues. The singles shown are all of the UK physical releases on all formats, I have omitted most “collaborative” singles, apart from the Shakira one, for ease of use.
SELECTED UK ALBUMS
Dangerously In Love (CD, Columbia 509395 2)
B’Day (CD+DVD, “Deluxe” reissue, Columbia 88697 09125 2)
I Am Sasha Fierce (CD+DVD “Platinum Edition”, Columbia 88697 56937 2)
4 (2xCD, first pressing, Columbia 88697 933582, 2013 repressing features less songs)
Work It Out (Album Version)/(RC Groove Nu Electric Mix) (Cassette, plays same both sides, Columbia 672982 4)
Work It Out (Radio Edit)/(Blow Your Horn Dub)/(Azza’s Nu Soul Mix) (CD, Columbia 672982 2)
Work It Out (Album Version)/(Azza’s Nu Soul Mix)/(Maurice’s Nu Soul Mix) (12”, Columbia 672982 6)
Crazy In Love/Summertime/Crazy In Love (Maurice’s Nu Soul Remix)/(Video) (CD1, Columbia 674067 2)
Crazy In Love (Album Version)/(Adam 12 So Crazy Remix)/(Rockwilder Remix) (CD2, diff p/s with poster, Columbia 674067 5)
Crazy In Love (Video)/(Maurice’s Nu Soul Remix)/My First Time (DVD, unique p/s, Columbia 674067 9)
Crazy In Love (Album Version)/(Instrumental)/(Rockwilder Remix)/(Lego’s Poontin Muzik Dub) (12”, Columbia 674067 6)
Baby Boy (LP Version)/(Instrumental)/Summertime (Featuring Ghostface Killah) (CD1, with insert, Sony 674408 2)
Baby Boy (LP Version)/(Maurice’s Nu Soul Mix)/(Junior Vasquez Club Anthem Remix) (CD2, diff p/s, plus insert, Sony 674408 5)
Baby Boy (CD3, bordered p/s, inner sleeve has details of free ringtone offer, Sony 674408 0)
Me Myself And I (Radio Edit)/Dangerously In Love (Live from “Headliners”) (CD1, Sony 674522 2)
Me Myself And I (Radio Edit)/(Eastern Delight Mix)/Naughty Girl (Live from “Headliners” - Video)/Work It Out (Live from “Headliners” - Video) (CD2, bordered p/s plus insert, Sony 674544 5)
Me Myself And I (Eastern Delight Mix)/(Eastern Delight Mix Instrumental)/(Album Version) (12”, Sony 674544 6)
Naughty Girl (Album Version)/(Featuring Lil Flip)/(Featuring Lil Kim)/Naïve (HR Crump Remix Featuring Da Brat)/Naughty Girl (Live from “Headliners” - Video) (CD, Sony 674828 2)
Naughty Girl (Album Version)/(Featuring Lil Flip)/(Featuring Lil Kim)/(Calderone Quayle Club Mix Edit) (12”, Sony 674828 6)
Check On It (Album Version)/(No Rap Version) (CD, with insert, Columbia 82876 772532)
Check On It (Album Version)/(Instrumental)/(Grizz Remix) (12”, Columbia 82876 772521)
Déjà Vu (Album Version)/(Freemasons Dance Remix) (CD1, Columbia 82876 884352)
Deja Vu (Album Version)/(Freemasons Radio Mix)/(Freemasons Club Mix - No Rap)/(Maurice’s Nusoul Mix)/(Maurice’s Nusoul Mixshow Mix)/(Video) (CD2, diff p/s, Columbia 82876 884372)
Déjà Vu (Freemasons Club Mix - No Rap)/(Freemasons Radio Mix)/(Freemasons Club Mix Instrumental)/(Freemasons Radio Mix Instrumental) (12”, die cut sleeve, Columbia 82876 896841)
Irreplaceable/Ring The Alarm (Freemasons Club Mix Radio Edit) (CD1, Columbia 88697 024472)
Irreplaceable/Ring The Alarm (Freemasons Club Mix Radio Edit)/(Karmatronic Remix)/(Tranzformas Remix)/(Video) (CD2, Columbia 88697 024482)
Irreplaceable (Album Version)/(Instrumental)/Ring The Alarm (Freemasons Club Mix Radio Edit)/(Album Version) (12”, Columbia 88697 025021)
Irremplazable EP (CD 8 track mini album, Columbia 88697 164492)
Listen/Irreplaceable (Dy Speedy Remix) (CD, Columbia 88697 059602)
Beautiful Liar (Album Version)/(Freemasons Remix Edit) (CD1, Columbia 88697 091242)
Beautiful Liar (Album Version)/(Freemasons Remix Edit)/(Maurice Joshua Remix)/Deja Vu (Featuring Jay Z - Freemasons Remix)/Beautiful Liar (Video) (CD2, diff p/s, Columbia 88697 093072)
Beautiful Liar (Freemasons Club Remix)/Deja Vu (Freemasons Club Mix)/Beuatiful Liar (12”, Columbia 88697 093191)
If I Were A Boy/Single Ladies (CD, Columbia 88697 417512)
Single Ladies (LP Version)/(Redtop Remix Radio Edit) (CD, Columbia 88697 475032)
Halo (Original Edit)/(Dave Aude Remix (Radio Edit)) (CD, Columbia 88697 519782)
Halo (Album Version)/(Dave Aude Remix (Radio Edit))/(Olli Collins & Fred Portelli Remix) (12”, diff p/s, Columbia 88697 513881)
Sweet Dreams (Album Mix)/(Steve Pitron & Max Sanna Club Remix - Radio Edit) (CD, Columbia 88697 565722)
Sweet Dreams (Album Version)/(Dave Spoon Remix)/(Steve Pitron & Max Sanna Club Remix)/(Olli Collins & Fred Portelli Remix) (12”, Columbia 88697 577201)
Broken Hearted Girl (Album Mix)/(Catalyst Remix) (CD, Columbia 88697 614332)