Sunday, 17 November 2013

November 2013

The November 2013 blogs feature a look at Madonna's "Immaculate Collection", Embrace's "The Good Will Out", Girls Aloud, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley. To look at any of these blogs, click the relevant link to your right.

"Last Gas pa pa pa pa pa pa pa pa"

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Girls Aloud: The Final Year

Well, what a depressing comeback that turned out to be. For so long, Girls Aloud had always seemed like the most punk rock of all the girl bands, the one reality TV show act who outstripped their rivals by a country mile. And so when they announced their hiatus was over in the fall of 2012, it was time to rejoice.

But the news that their return was in conjunction with a new greatest hits album, and not a new studio album...well, I should have seen it coming. As the resultant tour finished earlier this year, the band were straight onto Twitter announcing their split. Their return had been nothing more than a JLS-style final fling, a quick money making couple of months back together, and the usual gumph about “musical differences”, and “wanting to move forwards“. Why oh why, can’t we have a pop group who DO want to stay together for more than a decade, who DO want to make a career out of it? I guess they have all earned enough money never to need to work again, and a couple of them do seem to actually now hate one another which doesn't help, but it’s a shame. Cheryl excepted, it’s difficult to see how any of them will stay in the public eye at the same level as they did before, but I guess, if they have had enough, then they have had enough. Good on Nadine though for sticking her neck out and claiming she never wanted them to throw in the towel. It almost makes you wish she could do a “Robert Smith” and simply keep the name, get four new girls in, and make another studio record.

My last GA blog, back in 2010, made reference to a career spanning singles boxset that, at the time, covered the band’s entire career up until that point. The new live DVD, reunions excepted, is thus surely going to be the final word, and so I thought I would do a follow up article to tie up the loose ends.

“Ten”, so named as their return marked the tenth anniversary of debut single “Sound Of The Underground”, featured 14 old hits, and four new recordings. One of the new songs, “Something New”, was issued as the preview single for the album in late 2012, and appeared as both a blue vinyl 7” backed with the “Seamus Hajii Radio Mix” (Polydor 372 133-0) and a 4 track CD Single with mixes by Fred Falke, Alias and Jim Elliott (Polydor 372 132-8). For the album, this song started proceedings, and the 14 oldies then followed, in sort of reverse release date order - the singles from albums two to five appeared with material from the most recent album first, each chosen song appearing in order of the date of single release, then after the latest/last single from that album, it was onto material from the LP before. Songs from the debut appeared near the end, in actual reverse release date order so that "SOTU" thus appeared last. Where they existed, radio edit mixes were used - the tracks affected being “Can’t Speak French” and all three of the 45’s from “Out Of Control”. The choice of tracks was, arguably, controversial, as just one song from their best LP, “Chemistry”, was included (“Biology”) but the inclusion of the non-album single “Something Kinda Ooooh” (only previously available on the previous hits album) was a worthy inclusion. The remaining three new songs were then placed at the end of "Ten" after "Sound Of The Underground" (Polydor 371 730-3).

Given that it is now almost law to have to release your new album as some form of “special edition”, a limited run were issued as a double CD set, with the second disc consisting of fan favourites, voted for on the group’s website. Ten songs were included, a mix of B-sides (“Memory Of You”), album tracks (“Graffiti My Soul”), and hits that, perhaps, should really have been on the main album to start with (the sublime “Whole Lotta History”). The double disc edition was housed in a vinyl style cardboard gatefold sleeve (Polydor 372 201-3).

As well as the double disc edition, a wallet emptying box set was also released, housed in a simple looking square black box, with nothing more than the band name and album title printed, almost invisibly, on the front (Polydor 372 201-8). This edition included the double disc album, and an exclusive double DVD, “The Passions Of Girls Aloud”. This was an ITV show from the “Tangled Up” era, where everybody (except Nadine, she was holidaying in the USA) got to indulge in one of their passions in front of the camera, be it Sarah trying to play polo, or Kimberley doing a stint in the West End. Quite why an old TV show was being exhumed nearly five years after the event is possibly questionable, but given that another Girls Aloud TV show had been officially released on DVD some years earlier (2006’s “Off The Record”), you can maybe see why this was done. The DVD came in the same sleeve used for the “fan edition” version of the “Tangled Up” CD. The rest of the box featured some nice art prints - one of each of the girls, and one featuring all five - and although you could argue it retailed at a lot of money for what was basically a posh “best of”, it’s quite a nice thing to own.

Also released at the same time as these three editions was a DVD, called “Ten - The Videos” (Polydor 372 215-6). Simply, this includes the 14 videos for the 14 oldies from the CD edition, plus the clip for “Something New” at the start. The running order follows the same "sort of reverse" approach as the LP. Trouble was, no sooner had it hit the stores, than a video was released for the download only single “Beautiful Cause You Love Me” (one of the other new songs on “Ten”), thus making the DVD rather defunct. With all of the band’s clips available on earlier DVD releases, the inclusion of “Something New” on this DVD did mean, briefly, that all of the band’s clips were available officially on the format, but the release of the “Beautiful” video changed all that barely days later! For some bizarre reason though, no attempt has been made to include the “Beautiful” video on any other official release since, so this DVD does at least - sort of - bring the story up to date as regards "officially available" clips, if that makes sense.

With the band ceasing to exist after a show in Liverpool in March 2013, the next release was a 7-CD boxset called “The Collection”, issued in May (Polydor 372 920-7). This included all five albums, as well as an (edited) audio edition of the “Tangled Up Live” DVD performance. The final disc featured a selection of B-sides (and three “non album“ A-sides), but given that not a single note of music here was previously unissued, it was really only of interest to completists and anybody who might have “missed” something beforehand, and wanted to play catch up quickly. The audio rip of the “Tangled Up” show did seem to be of great interest to some, though. Copies retail still for about £30, quite good value for a box set with this much material, but a lot to pay for nothing exclusive. For those of you who need to know these things, the version of the debut LP that appears is the original version, the one that climaxes with “Everything You Ever Wanted”, and not the later reissue that added things like “Girls On Film”.

And so we come to the (probable) finale, “Ten: The Hits Tour 2013” (Polydor 375 279-2), a DVD released earlier this month that documents one of the band’s gigs from the final tour, albeit in edited form (their cover of “Call Me Maybe” missing due to licensing issues). The decision to release it, minus any extras, has seen the band and record company come in for some stick - instead of it being an all guns blazing celebration of the group, it’s been seen as a low key, thoughless, cash in job - trundle around the net and you will see people asking where the free CD is, why isn’t it on Blu-Ray, etc, etc. Nadine has again stepped forward to join in the argument, stating she had filmed some two hours of backstage footage at a Manchester gig on the basis some of it would be included as a bonus feature. As a document of the tour, it does it’s job, but given that earlier DVD releases were a bit more “fancy”, you can see why people are grumbling. Why could it not at least have had the two new music videos from the accompanying LP on it, like all the other live DVD's did? Maybe, by being released at a time when the band members had all gone off to start doing other things, you do wonder if there simply wasn’t any desire by anybody to put the effort in (it’s basically a DVD release of an earlier filmed-for-TV job), so respect to Nadine for voicing her concerns.

But as ho hum as their finale was, the fact remains that Girls Aloud have left behind them a big pop shaped hole in the music industry. Watch the "Ten" DVD, and try not to swoon at the near faultless pop genius of "The Loving Kind". You can't. With Radio 1 getting worse every day as it simply plays what is in the charts and not much else (and I tell you, there is some awful stuff in the top 40 right now), and indie rock continuing to struggle to get it’s head back over the parapet, the mainstream is now reverting to the horribleness it offered us in the 80s. When Girls Aloud were around, there was a voice of reason to stand against all the chart rubbish. And now they have gone. The Saturdays, it’s over to you.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Classic Albums No.12: The Good Will Out

Even before they had split up, a number of bands were being touted as the “New Oasis” in the late 1990s. The eventual winners were crowned after the millennium, when Kasabian emerged as a far more camp looking (just look at Serge‘s outfits), but equally primal, rock beast.

But before then, the most likely contenders were Embrace. They too were led by a pair of brothers, and they too had a swaggering arrogance, utterly convinced of their brilliance, despite what people might have thought of them. I seem to recall seeing them in a tent at a 1997 festival, where despite being billed to play for 40 minutes, played for only about half an hour before leaving the stage, effectively saying “we know how good we are, we don’t need the full 40 minutes to prove it to you”.

Although they made a Coldplay endorsed comeback in the noughties, Embrace have spent the last seven years seemingly doing nothing, but they are back on another phoenix from the flames style return. But still, some of you might think that for me to suddenly throw them here into my classic albums list might seem like an insane curveball. But the fact is, that their 1998 debut LP “The Good Will Out” is a masterpiece, a glorious, over the top, relentlessly epic piece of rock and roll, an album that is not afraid to start off in a bombastic manner, and to then keep the pace up for the remainder of the record. Everytime I listen to it, it reminds me just how unambitious so many other records were that followed it. It even out-Oasised Oasis’s later efforts.

As with so many other bands, the formative years of the group stretched throughout the nineties, with not so much as a sniff of a record deal, although self produced cassettes were made, as were changes of musical direction. In 1997, the group released their first record via that regular indie band “debut 45” route, when Fierce Panda issued the “All You Good Good People” single. Whilst most Fierce Panda 45’s were scratchy, lo-fi, 3 minute anti-pop releases, this one went the other way. Big, booming, over the top choruses, a big booming over the top middle eight, which resulted in the final section of the song being an entirely big, booming, over the top finale. It was over six minutes long, longer than both sides of the usual FP 7”, full of (over) confidence, and not afraid to be bold enough to make a huge, roaring, impact. The b-side was no different. “My Weakness Is None Of Your Business” starts off as a genteel piano ballad, and then about halfway through, WHOOMP! A big key change, marked by a big noise of guitars and terrace anthem style vocals, the song suddenly goes into full on lighters aloft, arms in the air mode, before gliding to a beautiful, understated, finish. For a debut single, it was quite remarkable.

Subsequently signed to Hut Records, Embrace’s reputation started to build, and their next single was the first of several EP releases, where the group used the 4-song format to demonstrate their knack for both delicate Verve-esque balladry, and full blown, high energy “lad rock”. The “Fireworks” EP featured songs that were to be (mostly) included on the debut LP (depending on which country you lived in), with the title track - appearing as track 4 - another combination of beautiful pre-Coldplay Coldplay-style piano flourishes and big walls of guitar noise. Arguably better was track 1, “The Last Gas”, an utterly incredible piece of anthemic guitar rock, a barrage of Oasis style noise with Danny McNamara struggling to be heard over the sheer onslaught of sound blasting out of the speakers. McNamara would often be criticised for his vocals over the years, and he sounds a bit like he’s being strangled on this one, but that just makes it even better - you almost feel that the reason he is struggling to sing perfectly in tune is simply because the sheer power of the song has knocked him sideways, and continues to do so throughout.

“One Big Family”, the lead track on the next EP of the same name, repeated the trick - this time with brother Richard trying in vain to be heard over the looping grooves and the wailing guitar lines. Complete with another magnificent terrace anthem style chorus, it was the closest the band ever really got to Stone Roses style dance-isms, the song later being remixed by Paul Oakenfold. This EP was their first top 30 hit, and unlike the “Fireworks” EP, the extra tracks would not make it onto any versions of the debut album, although some would reappear in re-recorded form as B-sides the next year.

In the fall of 97, a re-recorded version of “All You Good Good People” was issued as the next single. Again, it was to be issued as an EP, although in an attempt to hit the charts at a higher position than “One Big Family”, two distinctly different versions of the EP were to be released, one of which would feature both an edited mix of the track as it’s lead song, along with the Fierce Panda original as one of the extras. This bout of multi formatting did the trick, and bolstered by radio play and a continuing buzz surrounding the band, the single hit the top 10. Embrace had arrived.

With the album scheduled for a summer 1998 release, it was previewed by the May release of “Come Back To What You Know”, another quiet/loud beast of a record, easily the match of anything the band had released on 45 so far. (Claim to fame - A subsequent gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire in May 2000 was filmed by MTV, and at one point, the camera zooms in on me and several other nutters pogoing like mad people during this one!) The “EP” concept was still in place, 4 tracks on each format, although the single was not marketed as such, and each format just listed the a-side as the title of the single.

“The Good Will Out” appeared in June. Reviews were highly positive, the album went to number 1, and sold quickly. They were the Arctic Monkeys of their day. For once, the hype was justified. It is a glorious piece of work, a record that seemed to suggest that Embrace were going to take over from Oasis, now that “Be Here Now” had caused Gallagher lovers to scratch their heads in confusion.

What I love about the record is that it’s ambition is absolutely towering. A lot of albums have some good singles, and a bit of filler, and the running order could easily be rejigged, and it wouldn’t really matter. But you get the impression that Embrace really worked on this record with a view as to how it should sound, how it should start, and how it should end. So, it starts with a string section tuning up, a bit like the end of “A Day In The Life” going backwards, before rolling into “All You Good Good People” - and we’re off.

Subsequently, three more singles follow straight away thereafter - there really seems to be a statement of intent here. But as soon as you hit the first “album track”, the quality simply remains sky high - the simmering beauty of “Higher Sights” is followed by the astonishing “Retread”, which starts off slow and quiet a la “Fireworks”, then explodes into a wall of sound midway through. The impact is incredible, McNamara‘s vocals sound tearful, choked up and‘s stunningly beautiful, and noisily powerful at the same time.

Nothing lets up during the second half - “I Want The World” nails it’s colours to the mast straight away, a constant wall of sound that again nods it’s hat to Liam and Noel, as does “You’ve Got To Say Yes”, which also manages to sound like Shed Seven and The Charlatans colliding with the Happy Mondays and Echobelly at the same time. Such is the sheer energy that has buzzed through the record by this point, you could forgive it for tailing off, but when “The Last Gas” kicks in after “Fireworks”, it simply re-energises the whole thing again, and takes the record to an even higher level of fist punching, anthemic, high octane rock and roll.

The record finally starts to calm down during the final quarter - the piano driven beauty of “That’s All Changed Forever”, the sublime horn filled simplicity of “Now You’re Nobody”, the latter being mostly instrumental during it’s final section, proof that the band did not necessarily need to follow the verse chorus verse formula that some of the singles adopted.

The album closes with the title track. A magnificent, “Hey Jude” style finale, seven minutes long, with an insistent “sha la la” sing along ending that stretches the song onwards to the climax, with a slow, lengthy fade out prolonging the sheer genius of the record. There are some who will tell you that a lot of these songs have nicked their ideas from other sources, and that this is nothing more than overblown, “meat and potatoes” indie, with the sheer wall of sound a noisy mistake hiding potentially half-decent ideas. This is nonsense. The album’s brilliance lies in the fact that it knows exactly what it is doing, every key change, every epic power chord, every “la la la” shout in lieu of a lyric appears in the right place, this is an album where everything has been crafted perfectly - the intro, the outro, the sheer heart tugging beauty of the slower numbers, the soaring powerhouse genius of the rockier ones, “The Good Will Out” is absolutely magnificent. Whenever you hear it, you automatically want to get the lighters out for “My Weakness”, you want to jump around like a loon to “One Big Family”, and you want to do a communal clap along to the title track - the whole thing, I guess, is really as catchy as hell, the hooks are as brilliantly executed as they would be on a Beyonce or Britney song, only with added walls of sound.

With the album having arrived and marked Embrace as serious contenders to the Britpop crown, “My Weakness” was issued as the next single, in a different form to the original ‘Fierce Panda’ mix. The second CD was a live EP dubbed “The Abbey Road Sessions”, with all three songs having been taped at the legendary London studios in the fall of 1997. The ‘second half’ of the release was issued as a mail order only CD release some months later, known as “The Abbey Road Sessions Part 2”, and was designed to slot into the packaging of the first half.

“The Good Will Out”, meanwhile, was issued as a 12” single in late 98, I guess it was issued on this format only to try and reinforce the epic nature of the track - it probably wouldn’t have looked quite as impressive had it been squeezed onto a 7” single in edited form. B-sides were all previously released EP material, although the version of “Blind” that appeared on side 2 was a mix previously unissued in the UK - known as the “Road Version”, it had appeared on the US version of the LP, instead of “You’ve Got To Say Yes”.

Embrace were never able to top “The Good Will Out”. 2000’s “Drawn From Memory”, at times, maintained the full on rock and roll of it’s predecessor (“New Adam New Eve”, “Yeah You”), whilst the Motown-esque stomp of “You’re Not Alone” was near faultless, but at other times, in what seemed to be an attempt to do something different from the debut, it never fully worked - the bizarre kazoo solo in “Hooligan”, the slightly enforced quiet/loud structure of “Save Me” didn’t have the same oomph as when it was employed on the likes of “All You Good Good People”. 2001’s “If You’ve Never Been” was mostly downbeat, the two singles issued both “arms aloft” ballads, giving no indication to the heavier side to the band. 2004’s “Out Of Nothing” restored some pride, the likes of piano driven (Coldplay written) tunes like “Gravity” balanced out with balls to the wall rockers like “Ashes”, but by the time of 2006’s “This New Day”, the likes of Radio 1 were beginning to disown them, and the final single from the LP, “I Can’t Come Down”, failed to dent the top 40, whilst reviews were rather mixed. Embrace went into hiding.

But it’s not really fair to compare any of these records to the debut. Last time I listened to “This New Day”, it sounded quite good, but the fact was that Embrace had released a first LP that few people would be able to ever match, not least themselves. Whenever I listen to it, it never ceases to amaze - it’s sheer ambition is something to be lauded, and yet it manages to create this euphoric atmosphere without having to resort to Muse style histrionics. I’m not the only person who thinks it’s the work of genius, and although the idea of claiming a “Britpop” style record to be one of the best ever made might seem like the work of madness, I do not care. “The Good Will Out” is a storming record, truly astonishing at times, magnificently OTT, and supremely confident in it’s bolshy arrogance. It’s obvious that when the band played that “shortened” festival set in 1997, they knew exactly how good their first album was going to be - and they were not wrong. Monumental stuff.

Oh yes. And welcome back.


So good is that first album, I am not sure what I could write about the others. So I thought I’d use this opportunity to list all of the Embrace studio albums (and singles) from the UK up to the present day, just in case I never get round to doing another article on them. One or two albums were reissued with freebies following their initial release, and those are the ones in the list. As for the 45’s, Embrace usually issued something exclusive or at least rare on most releases, so all of the singles are shown. It’s only really the 1-sided “I Can’t Come Down” which is a bit pointless, edited for the promo, but with the LP mix on the 45. Quite a few of the latter period B-sides appeared on 2005’s “Dry Kids” rarities set, and so even though some singles are of interest because of their unique sleeves, or the fact that a lot of the 7” singles were pressed on coloured vinyl, some of these B-sides can now be found on “Dry Kids”, making one or two formats “defunct”.


The Good Will Out (CD, Hut CDHUT 46)
Drawn From Memory (CD, Hut CDHUT 60)
If You’ve Never Been (CD, Hut CDHUT 68)
Out Of Nothing (CD+DVD, Independiente ISOM 45CDX)
This New Day (CD+DVD, Independiente ISOM 60CDX)


All You Good Good People (7” Mix)/My Weakness Is None Of Your Business (Numbered 1300 only 7”, Fierce Panda NIN 29)

Fireworks EP: The Last Gas/Now You’re Nobody/Blind/Fireworks (Cassette, Hut HUTC84)
Fireworks EP: The Last Gas/Now You’re Nobody/Blind/Fireworks (12“, Hut HUTT84)
Fireworks EP: The Last Gas/Now You’re Nobody/Blind/Fireworks (CD, Hut HUTCD84)

One Big Family/Dry Kids/You’ve Got To Stop To Get Better/Butter Wouldn’t Melt (Cassette, Hut HUTC 86)
One Big Family/Dry Kids/You’ve Got To Stop To Get Better/Butter Wouldn’t Melt (12”, Hut HUTT 86)
One Big Family/Dry Kids/You’ve Got To Stop To Get Better/Butter Wouldn’t Melt (CD, Hut HUTCD 86)

All You Good Good People/You Don’t Amount To Anything This Time/The Way I Do/Free Ride (12“, Hut HUTT 90)
All You Good Good People/You Don’t Amount To Anything This Time/The Way I Do/Free Ride (CD1, Hut HUTCD 90)
All You Good Good People (Radio Edit)/One Big Family (Perfecto Mix)/All You Good Good People (7” Mix)/(Orchestral Mix) (CD2, HUTDX 90)

Come Back To What You Know/Love Is Back/If You Feel Like A Sinner/Perfect Way (12“, Hut HUTT 93)
Come Back To What You Know/Love Is Back/If You Feel Like A Sinner/Perfect Way (CD1, Hut HUTCD 93)
Come Back To What You Know/Butter Wouldn’t Melt (Live, London ICA 24.7.1997)/Dry Kids (Live, London ICA 24.7.1997)/Come Back To What You Know (Orchestral) (CD2, Hut HUTCDX 93)

My Weakness Is None Of Your Business (New Version)/Feelings I Thought You Shared/Don’t Turn Your Back On Love (Cassette, Hut HUTC 103)
My Weakness Is None Of Your Business (New Version)/Feelings I Thought You Shared/Don’t Turn Your Back On Love/One Big Family (Perfecto Mix) (12“, Hut HUTT 103)
My Weakness Is None Of Your Business (New Version)/Feelings I Thought You Shared/Don’t Turn Your Back On Love (CD1, Hut HUTCD 103)
My Weakness Is None Of Your Business (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997)/Higher Sights (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997)/Retread (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997) (CD2, Hut HUTCDX 103)

The Good Will Out/Butter Wouldn’t Melt (Live, London ICA 24.7.1997)/Dry Kids (Live, London ICA 24.7.1997)/Blind (Road Version) (12”, Hut HUTT 107)

The Abbey Road Sessions Part 2 EP: All You Good Good People (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997)/That’s All Changed Forever (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997)/You’ve Got To Say Yes (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 19.10.1997) (Mail Order Only CD, Hut HUTCD 109)

Hooligan/I’ve Been Running/I Can’t Feel Bad Anymore (Cassette, Hut HUTC 123)
Hooligan/I’ve Been Running/I Can’t Feel Bad Anymore/Like A Believer/With The One Who Got Me Here (12“, Hut HUTT 123)
Hooligan/I’ve Been Running/I Can’t Feel Bad Anymore (CD1, Hut HUTCD 123)
Hooligan/Like A Believer/With The One Who Got Me Here (CD2, Hut HUTDX 123)
Note: this was the first of a number of Embrace releases which included a non chart eligible 12” release, issued after the original 45, with all the relevant B-sides on the one disc.

You’re Not Alone/Brothers And Sisters/Happy And Lost/Come On And Smile/A Tap On Your Shoulder (12“, Hut HUTT 126)
You’re Not Alone/Brothers And Sisters/Happy And Lost (CD1, Hut HUTCD 126)
You’re Not Alone/Come On And Smile/A Tap On Your Shoulder (CD2, Hut HUTDX 126)

Save Me/Get On Board/Still So Young (Cassette, Hut HUTC 133)
Save Me/Get On Board/Still So Young/Save Me (BBC Radio 1 Evening Session Version February 2000)/(Perfecto Mix)/(Reverend Bass Mix) (12“, Hut HUTT 133)
Save Me/Get On Board/Still So Young (CD1, Hut HUTCD 133)
Save Me (BBC Radio 1 Evening Session Version February 2000)/(Perfecto Mix)/(Reverend Bass Mix) (CD2, Hut HUTDX 133)

I Wouldn’t Wanna Happen To You (New Version)/The First Cut/I Know What’s Going On/Top of The Heap/3 Is A Magic Number (12", Hut HUTT 137)
I Wouldn’t Wanna Happen To You (New Version)/3 Is A Magic Number (Numbered Blue Vinyl 7”, Hut HUT 137)
I Wouldn’t Wanna Happen To You (New Version)/The First Cut/I Know What’s Going On (CD1, Hut HUTCD 137)
I Wouldn’t Wanna Happen To You (New Version)/Top Of The Heap/3 Is A Magic Number (CD2, Hut HUTDX 137)

Wonder/Anywhere You Go/Everyday (Cassette, Hut HUTC 142)
Wonder/Anywhere You Go/Everyday (CD1, Hut HUTCD 142)
Wonder/Today/Caught In A Rush/Wonder (Video) (CD2, Hut HUTDX 142)

Make It Last (Single Version)/Fight Yer Corner/It’s You I Make It For/Make It Last (Video) (CD1, Hut HUTCD 144)
Make It Last (Orchestral Version)/Giving Forgetting And Giving In/What You’ve Never Had You’ll Never Have (CD2, Hut HUTDX 144)
Make It Last (Live, Secret Gig #6 28.7.2001 - Video)/Over (Live, Secret Gig #6 28.7.2001)/The Good Will Out (Live, Secret Gig #6 28.7.2001) (DVD, Hut HUTDVD 144)

Gravity/Wasted (Red Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 87S)
Gravity/Too Many Times (CD1, Independiente ISOM 87SMS)
Gravity/The Shot’s Still Ringing/Waterfall/Gravity (Video) (CD2, Independiente ISOM 87MS)

Ashes/Enough (Yellow Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 89S)
Ashes/Maybe I Wish (CD1, Independiente ISOM 89MS)
Ashes/Flaming Red Hair/How Come/Ashes (Video) (CD2, Independiente ISOM 89SMS)

Looking As You Are/The Final Say (Grey Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 91S)
Looking As You Are/Madelaine (CD1, Independiente ISOM 91MS)
Looking As You Are/I Ache/Soldier’s Hours/Looking As You Are (Video)(CD2, Independiente ISOM 91SMS)

A Glorious Day/Hallelujah (Orange Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 94S)
A Glorious Day/Milk And Honey (CD1, Independiente ISOM 94MS)
A Glorious Day/Feels Like Glue/Red Eye Shot (CD2, Independiente ISOM 94SMS)

Nature’s Law/Soulmates (Orange Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 103S)
Nature’s Law/Deliver Me/Collide (CD, Independiente ISOM 103MS)
Nature’s Law (LP Version)/(Video)/(Live, Manchester MEN Arena 16.12.2005 - Video)/(Behind The Scenes Video) (DVD, Independiente ISOM 103DVD)

World At Your Feet/What Lies Behind Us (7” Picture Disc, Independiente ISOM 107S)
World At Your Feet/Celebrate (CD1, Independiente ISOM 107MS)
World At Your Feet/Love Order/Whatever It Takes/World At Your Feet (Video) (CD2, Independiente ISOM 107SMS)

Target/Just Admit It (Red Vinyl 7”, Independiente ISOM 110S)
Target/Run Away (CD1, Independiente ISOM 110MS)
Target/One Luck/Thank God You Were Mean To Me (CD2, Independiente ISOM 110SMS)

I Can’t Come Down (1-sided etched 7”, Independiente ISOM 115S)
I Can’t Come Down/Contender (Live)/Heart And Soul (Live)/I Can’t Come Down (Live, Manchester Apollo) (CD, Independiente ISOM 115MS)

Note: for interest, the “notable” B-sides on “Dry Kids” are “The Shot’s Still Ringing”, “Waterfall”, “Too Many Times”, “Maybe I Wish”, “Flaming Red Hair”, “How Come”, “Madelaine” and “Milk And Honey”. Aside from the usual DVD releases, there also exists a “hits” set from 2002 called “Fireworks”, which was also issued on DVD. The audio contains nothing particularly unusual, so the DVD version is the one to track down.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Madonna: The Immaculate Collection

Nowadays, the average time between studio albums is quite significant. The upshot of this, is that when somebody like Kelly Clarkson or Christina Aguilera decides to release their first greatest hits record, it more or less has to include all of their singles, because even though they may have been in the business for nearly a decade, the amount of material they actually released in that time frame is relatively small. It’s difficult to not look at “Keeps Gettin’ Better” and just think to yourself, “Xtina, you should have waited a few more years before doing this, so you’d have more material to choose from. You wouldn‘t have had to do that pointless “Genie 2“ if you‘d have done that”.

When Madonna issued her first hits collection in 1990, it coincided - roughly - with the eighth anniversary of her first 45. And yet “The Immaculate Collection” could have done with being twice as long. Despite the fact that it was a double LP, huge numbers of hits got left off, and you could have a lengthy discussion about what was missing and if it should have been missing or not. Madonna had, basically, been quite prolific during the eighties, and a 17-song singles collection really wasn’t long enough.

But even so, ignore what’s missing from this record, and look instead at what made the final cut. Whilst Madonna would go on to make greater albums in the 90’s and 00’s than most of her 80’s back catalogue (“Like A Prayer” excepted), her early period singles were quite often the work of genius. Some of the albums would have a bit of filler, but the singles were often solid gold, records that invented every pop star that followed and today, still sound glorious, putting to absolute shame the shower of so-called pop stars that we have today (take your pick here. But I‘ll start you off with Justin Bieber).

“The Immaculate Collection” stands as the best of all of Madonna’s three best of sets - “Celebration” suffered from a track listing seemingly put together at random, “GHV2” suffered by having to include interesting, but not very “pop”, singles from the 90’s and beyond - but this one, simply by having the likes of “Holiday”, “Into the Groove” and “Crazy For You” on it, automatically had an unfair advantage over everything that had to follow.

Although this record was Madonna’s first hits set to be released commercially, it was not necessarily her first compilation. In the UK, two promo only releases had surfaced beforehand. Following her North American tour of 1985, Madonna’s two subsequent World Tours in 1987 and 1990 included selected dates in the UK, usually in London only. Each time, the UK leg of her record company decided to create an instore sampler cassette (and VHS collection) to coincide. The first of these was 1987’s “It’s That Girl”, cribbing it’s title from the “Who’s That Girl” single/movie/soundtrack album. It was a 14 track selection of selected singles, running in “hit” order rather than release date order, so 1986 hit (and 1984 flop) “Borderline” thus appeared at the start of side 2, as opposed to being somewhere near the start of side 1.

In 1990, what was effectively a (sort of) expanded version of this release appeared under the banner of “She’s Breathless” - Madonna’s latest studio effort at the time, of course, was titled “I’m Breathless”. Again, the release appeared on both VHS and Cassette, and this latest cassette release was 20 songs in length. Where they existed, the edited 7” versions of the selected songs were usually used - “Holiday”, “Borderline”, “Live To Tell”, “Open Your Heart” and “La Isla Bonita” were all affected. They were joined by fifteen more hits, covering the period from 1984 to 1990 - “Like A Virgin”, “Material Girl” “Dress You Up” and “Angel” from the second LP, the two remaining UK singles from “True Blue”, “Who’s That Girl”, “Causing A Commotion”, “Into The Groove”, and all six of the singles issued in the UK from 1988 onwards, from “Like A Prayer” to “Hanky Panky”. One of the advantages of having the release on Cassette, was that it was able to play for longer than a single CD - indeed, you could argue that when compared to “The Immaculate Collection”, “She’s Breathless” was possibly a better overview of Madonna on 45.

As the end of 1990 approached, the promo campaign for “I’m Breathless” was apparently abandoned (the likes of “Sooner Or Later” and “Now I’m Following You” had been lined up as possible singles, explaining why they had been played during the Blond Ambition tour) and attention instead turned towards putting together Madonna’s first greatest hits LP to be released commercially. The album was a play on words of the religious dogma, the ‘immaculate conception‘, and was to consist of fifteen old hits and two new recordings. The old hits were to be tampered with for the release, many of the songs either being edited slightly (“Crazy For You”), edited heavily (“Holiday”) or totally remixed to make them more dance floor friendly (“Like A Prayer” and “Express Yourself”). The new mixes were to use the relatively new Q-Sound technology, whilst the new songs - despite what Wikipedia says - were also to be mixed using Q-Sound (this confusion comes from the fact that when the first of these new songs, “Justify My Love”, was issued as a single in Germany, one of the remix CD single releases listed one of the mixes as the “Q-Sound Mix” - but this was simply to indicate it was the album version, and not an extended remix). Q-Sound, without getting too technical, was a relatively shortlived attempt at trying to create a 3-D sound system, but no more than 100 albums were ever mixed in Q-Sound before the concept was more or less ditched for LP releases during the second half of the 1990s.

Q-Sound revamping aside, the tracklisting only occasionally followed the concept of “She’s Breathless” - “Lucky Star“, missing from “She‘s Breathless“, was included. Again, the album ran in “hit order”, which is why this song appeared after “Holiday”, despite having been released in the UK back in 1983, several months before “Holiday” first appeared on 45. Meanwhile, “Crazy For You”, having previously been issued as a stand alone 45 on Geffen, was to be included in the set, having been on neither “It’s That Girl” nor “She’s Breathless” due to licensing issues. The upshot of this, was that of the 20 songs on “She’s Breathless”, only 13 appeared on “The Immaculate Collection” - not one of Madonna’s three UK singles from the “Who’s That Girl” soundtrack were to be included at all.

The two new songs, “Justify My Love” and “Rescue Me”, were taped in August 1990, following the final Blond Ambition show in Nice earlier that month. The former was co-written by new soul kid on the block Lenny Kravitz, and was scheduled to be released as the first single from the album. A now famous, and rather smutty, promo video was created, and promptly got banned by MTV in North America, resulting in a special VHS single having to be released that contained the clip, so that US Madonna fans would get to see what all the fuss was about.

Released just in time for Christmas, “The Immaculate Collection” was a critical and commercial success. It was released on the three regular formats of the time - double vinyl, long play cassette and CD, with the two new songs placed at the end of the album. The LP was housed in a gatefold sleeve, with custom designed inner sleeves for each slab of vinyl. In keeping with tradition, copies pressed specifically for the UK market used the “WX” catalogue numbering system, as did the Cassette release. The CD edition, as per all previous UK releases, used the same “7599” numbering system as already in use in Germany, meaning that there was no obvious difference between a UK CD and a German one. There was some difference between the UK editions in terms of the artwork inside, a lack of space on the vinyl edition for example meant that the picture in the middle of the booklet of the CD edition was nowhere to be found on the LP version.

“Rescue Me” was later released (in edited form) as a single to coincide, with most countries using a stunning still from the “Justify My Love” video for the front cover. In the UK, the Q-Sound mix of “Crazy For You” was issued as the next single instead, and also used the video still as it’s front cover. “Rescue Me” was then released as third single in the UK, and was housed in a completely different “wetsuit” picture sleeve. We covered the ins and outs of what was served up as B-sides of these singles in my earlier Madonna Singles blogs.

As well as the three standard audio formats, a boxset version of the album was also released, under the title of “The Royal Box”, retailing at an - at the time - expensive £50 price tag. Housed in a 12” square box using the same “M” logo for it’s picture sleeve as the regular album, this elaborate release included a special version of the album, the normal 17 track affair but in a shiny satin digipack sleeve, and a special version of the accompanying VHS release (also talked about on this site in a previous article). This edition of the VHS used the same front cover as the standard retail release (the image of Madonna from the back of the LP was used on the front of the video), but it came in a card gatefold sleeve, with a bonus video of Madonna’s performance of “Vogue” from the 1990 MTV VMA’s. Also included was a poster featuring an image from that very performance, and a set of postcards, held together in a fancy band. All copies of the box came with a sticker detailing what was inside, so any box that is missing any of these, especially the poster or all of the postcards, is probably worthless. In the USA, where the Music-Cassette format was still immensely popular, the boxset was issued as both a CD+VHS set, and an MC+VHS set. In late 1992/early 1993, there was a Digital Compact Cassette release, another European pressing but sold in the UK as well, and a Mini Disc edition, again pressed in Germany, but possibly sold here, although I don’t think the format had quite taken off here at that point (and never really did).

In the UK, a fourth single was released to help plug the album, although it was the original LP/7” mixes of “Holiday” (rather than the Q-sound mix) that turned up as the a-side of this latest Madonna single, itself being released in the UK for the third time. The CD edition (and limited second Cassette release) were issued in EP style as “The Holiday Collection”, in a claret and blue sleeve replicating the artwork of the album, and included three old Madonna hits that had made it onto “She’s Breathless” but not “Immaculate” - although not necessarily in the same mixes. The tracks were "True Blue", "Who's That Girl" and "Causing A Commotion".

The album has certainly had legs - when Madonna toured Australia for the first time in 1993, both this and her most recent studio effort, 1992’s “Erotica”, were reissued in numbered digipack sleeves, with the CD’s pressed in gold, as opposed to regular silver. And even now, the album remains on catalogue, easily available to get in big shops and online, despite the fact that “Celebration” was supposed to have superseded it. The VHS release has also made it onto DVD, and was later included in a boxset called “The Ultimate Collection”.

Whilst it may have taken until 1989 for Madonna to release her first genuinely classic LP, “The Immaculate Collection” shows just how far ahead of the game she was when it came to making pop singles in the 80’s. It may have taken me a while to realise this, but when you listen to this record, it really shows you that Madonna was leading the pop pack, and simply went even further in front when the likes of “Ray Of Light” and “Confessions On A Dance Floor” appeared later on. It stands today as a great “hits” set, up there with the likes of “Singles Going Steady” or “ChangesOneBowie” as a snapshot of an artist at the peak of their powers. The decision to tart up “Like A Prayer” wasn’t the best decision in the world, but if you want to learn about pure pop music in the space of 75 minutes, this album should help you on your way.


In case you were wondering, this is the fourth instalment in my rambling set of articles looking at Madonna’s UK album releases, so as per the previous articles, the list below shows all of the UK (and sort of UK) releases that were issued at various times. Although Madonna’s “semi compilation” album from 1995, “Something To Remember” has been the recipient of a vinyl repressing this year, following on from the 2012 vinyl reissues of Madonna’s studio albums from 1983 to 1992, there has been no repressing for this album (nor 1994’s “Bedtime Stories”). So this list, I think, is all you need to know about the UK releases.

I have also listed selected UK and overseas singles (and promos) which I think are of interest. The list is not totally complete, but it does - in my opinion - cover the range of notable releases in terms of design and music that surfaced in relation to the promo campaign for the record.


The Immaculate Collection (2xLP, Sire WX 370)
The Immaculate Collection (Cassette, Sire WX 370 C)
The Immaculate Collection (CD, Sire 7599-26440-2)
The Immaculate Collection (DCC, Sire 7599-26440-5)
The Immaculate Collection (MiniDisc, Sire 7599-26440-8, possibly Europe only)
The Immaculate Collection (VHS, Sire 7599-38214-3)
The Immaculate Collection (DVD, Sire 7599-38195-2)
The Royal Box (CD+VHS boxset, Sire 7599-26464-2)
The Ultimate Collection (2xDVD boxset, Sire 7599-38519-2, double pack which also includes a re-pressing of “The Video Collection 93 : 99")


Justify My Love (William Orbit Mix)/(LP Mix)/Express Yourself (Shep’s ‘Spressin’ Himself Remix) (12” Picture Disc in clear sleeve with insert, Sire W 9000 TP)
Justify My Love (Video)/Vogue (1990 MTV VMA’s) (VHS, Warner Music Video 7599-38225-3)
Justify My Love (LP Mix)/(William Orbit Mix)/(Hip Hop Mix)/Express Yourself (Shep’s ‘Spressin’ Himself Re-Remix)/Justify My Love (The Beast Within Mix) (US CD, Sire 9 21820-2, remix of “Express Yourself“ never issued in UK)
Justify My Love (Hip Hop Mix)/(LP Mix)/(The Beast Within Mix) (German CD in light blue p/s, Sire 7599-21851-2, possibly the only release of this single in a “non-white“ sleeve)
Justify My Love (Orbit Edit)/(Hip Hop Mix)/(William Orbit Mix)/(The Beast Within Mix) (US Promo 12” in stickered die cut sleeve, Sire PRO-A-4613, “Orbit Edit“ is a promo only remix)
Crazy For You (Q Sound Remix)/Keep It Together (Single Remix) (Shaped Picture Disc in clear sleeve with insert and plinth, Sire W 0008 P)
Crazy For You (Q Sound Remix)/Keep It Together (12” Remix)/Into The Groove (Shep Pettibone Remix Edit) (12”, Sire W 0008 T, final track exclusive to UK)
Crazy For You (Q Sound Remix)/Keep It Together (12” Remix)/Into The Groove (Shep Pettibone Remix Edit) (CD, Sire W 0008 CD, final track exclusive to UK)
Rescue Me (7” Mix)/Spotlight (Fade) (7”, Sire W 0024, B-side exclusive to UK)
Rescue Me (Titanic Mix)/(Houseboat Edit)/(Lifeboat Mix) (12”, Sire W 0024 T, track 2 exclusive to UK)
Rescue Me (Titanic Mix)/(Houseboat Edit)/(Lifeboat Mix) (12” in stickered p/s with poster, Sire W 0024 TW, track 2 exclusive to UK)
Rescue Me (7” Mix)/(Titanic Mix)/(Demanding Dub) (German CD1, Sire 9362 40034 2, blue “JML” p/s with dub remix unreleased in UK)
Rescue Me (SOS Mix)/(Lifeboat Mix)/(Houseboat Mix) (German CD2, Sire 9362 40035 2, black and white “JML” p/s including mixes unreleased in UK)
Rescue Me (7” Mix)/(Alternate Single Mix) (Japanese 3” CD, Sire WPDP-6267, “JML” p/s, unique b-side)
Rescue Me (Titanic Mix)/(Lifeboat Mix)/(Lifeboat Dub)/(Houseboat Mix)/(Houseboat Dub)/(Demanding Dub)/(SOS Mix)/(Disaster Dub) (US 2x12” Promo, Sire PRO-A-4710, stickered die cut sleeve, several mixes commercially unreleased anywhere in the world)
Holiday (Edit) (Promo CD, Sire SAM 800, black and white p/s)
Holiday (Edit)/True Blue (7”, Sire W 0037, colour p/s)
Holiday (Edit)/True Blue (Cassette, Sire W 0037 C, colour p/s, later copies reissued with interview cassette)
Holiday (Edit)/True Blue (1-sided 12” Picture Disc in clear sleeve with insert, Sire W 0037 TP)
Holiday/Where’s The Party/Everybody (12”, Sire W 0037 T, colour p/s)
The Holiday Collection EP (CD, Sire W 0037 CD)
The Holiday Collection EP (Cassette, Sire W 0037 CT)

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Budget Presley: Elvis On Camden & RCA International, 1969-1977

Back in 2011, I did an Elvis blog about the 1996 boxset “The Original Elvis Presley Collection”, a 50-CD trawl through his career which was designed to give you an overview of what The King got up to before his death. It started with his 1956 self titled debut, and ended with the final album released before he passed away, 1977’s “Moody Blue”. The remainder were a mix of studio albums, live albums, selected compilations, and movie soundtrack releases.

I mentioned in a follow up blog the same year, that the box didn’t quite tick all the boxes. The movie years had been dealt with via a series of early 90s compilations issued under the “Double Features” banner, which usually cobbled two original soundtrack LP’s onto one CD. Some of the original albums had been a bit short on material, and their running time was padded out by including some random, non-movie songs, as part of the package - but the “Double Features” releases dealt purely with movie songs, so these unrelated tunes “went missing” when the boxset was released.

Some of the “Double Features” albums dealt with movies where there had been no soundtrack album, maybe just an EP, or in some cases, seemingly nothing at all. Aside from the usual “previously unreleased” tunes being dragged out of the vaults, there seemed to be a lot of “previously available” songs filling these CD’s up. Where had all this stuff actually come from?

Well, in the late 1960s, RCA began to release budget priced Elvis albums in the USA on their RCA Camden imprint. Whilst most budget albums usually cobble together songs you can already obtain on other releases, these ones initially did not. Each album seemed to include numerous songs that were previously unreleased, with many of them having dated from recording sessions from the movie albums period. When the “Double Features” CD’s were released, these budget albums were often thus the source for some of the more obscure (but “previously available“) material.

Of interest, is the fact that some of the material making it’s debut on these budget records was not movie material at all, and thus, these songs did not get a second lease of life in the box. So, just as the decision to not issue the original soundtrack albums in their original form meant the likes of “Guitar Man” were missing from the boxset, so were more obscure oddities like “Too Much Monkey Business”, because by the time Elvis had died, these songs had never been put onto another “proper” LP, and thus were also absent from the box.

Long dismissed as patchy, cheap, and irrelevant affairs, the budget albums are now seen as being quite important parts of the Elvis back catalogue, and with some songs seemingly unavailable anywhere else (or certainly not cheaply), many of them have actually been deemed important enough to warrant a release on CD, at least in the USA.

In this article, I have listed the single and double disc budget albums that surfaced in the UK before Elvis’s death - in other words, albums that would have been valid for inclusion in the boxset had RCA gone down that path (the double albums had a running time of roughly an hour, so were well within CD-length). In the late 60s, the UK arm of RCA had their own budget imprint, and initial albums were thus released on RCA International instead. International later became more of a reissue label, and releases during the seventies slowly moved from International to the UK RCA Camden imprint. All of this is detailed here. I have tried to explain what was of interest at the time of release, and what is still of (reasonable) interest now. It’s not perfect, but hopefully it fills in another section of important releases in the Elvis catalogue that the boxset seemed to completely miss.

Flaming Star (1969 RCA International INTS 1012)

Although “Flaming Star” seemed to consist, on first glance, of entirely movie soundtrack material, given that the title track of the LP shared it’s name with a movie of the same name, it was actually more of a compilation album - albeit one that, when released, offered up a chunk of previously unheard Elvis songs. The title track was the only song previously available, and the remaining songs were mostly from sessions that were conducted for the purposes of recording songs for soundtracks of some of Elvis’ films. The odd ones out appeared at the end of each side, as the cover of “Too Much Monkey Business” was, more or less, a one off, whilst the live version of “Tiger Man” that closed the record had been taped at the recent, famous, NBC TV Special. All of the movie related material has since appeared on the “Double Features” CD’s, whilst the NBC album was reissued in 1991 with extra tracks taped at the show but not included on the original LP - “Tiger Man” was included on the reissue, and as the boxset includes the 1991 edition of the album, it thus also includes “Tiger Man” itself.

“Too Much Monkey Business” has appeared on a few expensive Elvis sets, including the “From Nashville To Memphis” 5 CD box, and this years FTD set “Stay Away Joe”. “Flaming Star” is one of several budget albums that have been given a US CD release, so you should at least be able to hunt this track down simply by buying the CD version of this album, quite easily available from the usual places.

It is also worth pointing out that, after the UK albums shifted from being issued on International to Camden, Elvis albums continued to appear on the imprint until long after his death, and whilst most were “new” compilations, “Flaming Star” got a second lease of life in the eighties, and the image shown above is of the later Camden reissue, catalogue number CDS 1185.

Let’s Be Friends (1970 RCA International INTS 1103)

If “Flaming Star” might have seemed like a bit of a one off, well, it actually wasn’t. This one went down a similar path, with the title of this LP sharing the name of the third song on side 1 of the record, a previously unissued recording that had been recorded during sessions for the “Change Of Habit” movie. Where this one differs slightly is that in the end, no form of soundtrack release (EP or LP) ever actually appeared for that film, unlike “Flaming Star“. Again, most of the remainder of the album was previously unreleased movie soundtrack material, again now to be found across the “Double Features” albums.

There are three odd ones out though - two songs, unconnected to any of Elvis’ films, are thus not on any of the “DF” releases - the two songs in question are “If I’m A Fool” and “I’ll Be There”. Meanwhile, the version of “Mama” that appears at the end of side 1 was for some reason edited when put out on the “Kid Galahad”/”Girls Girls Girls” CD release, so this mix is exclusive to this LP.

Whilst a CD version of the album does exist, a certain amount of artistic license has been carried out, with some alternate versions of some songs - in particular, the version of “Mama” is the edited version, and not the original 1970 vinyl version, whilst “Let’s Forget About The Stars” seems to be a completely unique mix.

Almost In Love (1970 RCA International INTS 1206)

Just as there are two distinct sleeve variations of “Flaming Star” (three if you include the ‘promo only’ Singer original), “Almost In Love” appeared in a completely different sleeve in the UK to the US edition - Google it, and it will probably be the US sleeve that comes up most often.

Once again, it’s previously unavailable movie material that fills this one up, and whilst this stuff later became available on the relevant “DF” albums, also on here are two songs that would later be remixed for the newbie generation in the Noughties - get this album, and you will be rewarded with the original versions of “A Little Less Conversation” and “Rubberneckin”. Solid gold, I think you’ll agree.

Again, two “rarities” can be found on this album, another one that is now available on CD. “My Little Friend” is an outtake from 69 not totally easily found elsewhere, although it did appear as a UK B-side at round about the same time as this album came out (and on a later Camden release), whilst side 2 includes hit 45 “US Male”, one of several latter period singles that missed out on the box simply by never making it onto a “proper” Elvis album before his death. As regards these CD repressings, the front cover of this one proudly displays the RCA logo and original US catalogue number, but not the Camden logo. There also seem to be two editions of this one, some ending with “Stay Away” and others with “Stay Away Joe”.

You’ll Never Walk Alone (1971 RCA Camden CDM 1088 / CDS 1088)

So this is where it starts to get confusing. Elvis’ first “proper” UK Camden album, with the title completely absent from the (superb) front cover, this one mostly dealt in material already available. It’s devoted to Elvis’s gospel recordings, and interestingly, was released in both mono and stereo editions - hence the two different catalogue numbers (although the stereo one is hyper rare, and in a different cover). Unless I am very much mistaken, no other budget albums from the period were released in such a way, but I think the stereo one was withdrawn so maybe that‘s why.

Don’t ask me why the next budget album saw a return to the International imprint, but it did - although only briefly. Anyway, this album was notable for still including some previously unreleased songs, just a lot less than earlier albums first did at the time, and whilst “Let Us Pray” did get a second lease of life when it appeared on the “Live A Little/Trouble With Girls/Charro/Change Of Habit” ‘Double Features’ CD, track 2 on this LP, “Who Am I”, is a bit more obscure - although the version of “His Hand In Mine“ in the boxset has a revamped track listing with this track appearing at the very end of the disc. This seems to be a repressing of a UK/European only reissue from 1988 which added several bonus tracks at the end, but with little fanfare, and most other editions available separately don’t include it.

You can get this one on CD - I assume it must be the stereo mix - and the title sort of appears on the front now, as the left hand side of the CD casing includes the title printed downwards. This is one of a number of budget albums that later got included, without much excitement, as part of a double album (budget) set - more info about that later on.

C’mon Everybody (1971 RCA International INTS 1286)

And so now, things start to become a bit more, well, “compilation album” related, as the vaults of rarities started to empty.

This album - again issued stateside in a totally different sleeve - cobbled together bits and pieces from some of the soundtrack EP’s that Elvis had released in the 60’s, where not enough material could be cobbled together to make a full length soundtrack LP. The title track of this album had appeared on the “Love In Las Vegas” EP, and the rest of the album was sourced from this EP and the EP’s for the “Follow That Dream”, “Kid Galahad” and “Easy Come Easy Go” movies.

All of the songs from this LP can now be found on those “Double Features” CD’s, and that probably explains why there seems to be no CD repressing for this one, as there probably isn’t any demand. Hunting down the original LP should not be too hard though, and you might not even have to pay more than the 99p it originally sold for when new in 1971.

I Got Lucky (1971 RCA International INTS 1322)

Essentially, a follow up to “C’Mon Everybody”, this one followed a similar path by including more material from the same EP releases that had filled up it’s predecessor. However this time, the album veered very slightly off the path by also including “Fools Fall In Love”, issued as a stand alone single in Australia in 1967 (and as a UK B-side at the same time). The relative scarcity of this song probably explains why this one can be picked up on CD, although other Elvis boxsets do also include it.

In 1975, the album was reissued on the Camden imprint, the original “simple” image of Elvis on stage replaced by a more garish looking sleeve (above), although the same shot of Elvis was used on the cover. It was given a new Camden style catalogue number (CDS 1154) and thus became the first RCA International budget release to get a re-release whilst Elvis was still alive.

As an aside, CDS 1155 was a repressing of the 1957 “Elvis’ Christmas Album”, with a slightly revamped running order, which in itself, was a repackaged version of an earlier RCA International release, again using the same Elvis image, but with a different overall design. I have a cassette version of this album, which used a different cataloguing system to the Camden vinyl pressings (CAM 462, for your information).

Elvis Sings Hits From His Movies (1972 RCA Camden CDS 1110)

On the face of it, and especially post-”Double Features”, you might think with this one, “well, what’s the point?” But it’s not quite as simple as that.

First up, “Guitar Man” is on here. It did make it onto the original soundtrack LP version of “Clambake” (as did “Big Boss Man“, also on here), even though they weren’t actually in the film. But the original version of this LP was, to give it it’s full title, “Elvis Sings Hits From His Movies Plus Two Recent Hits”, and these were the two hits it referred to, even if they weren‘t really THAT recent. It’s also quite interesting to think that both had appeared on two Elvis albums before 1973, and yet both were missing from the 96 Box because of the choice/non-choice of albums for that collection.

Then, we also have songs that, when they turned up on the “Double Features” sets, were remixed for those releases. What you have here, of course, are the “original” mixes. Songs affected are the gloriously raucous “Down By The Riverside” and “Frankie And Johnny”. Also on here is the original LP version of “You Don’t Know Me”, which was actually replaced on the “Double Features” release by an alternate “original film” version.

Again, these oddball rarities probably explain why a CD pressing has been made in recent times, where it has been retitled slightly to read “…From His Movies Volume 1”, because soon after, on my birthday actually, a Volume 2 set appeared before 1972 was over.

Burning Love And Hits From His Movies Volume 2 (1972 RCA International INTS 1414)

And here it is. Now, this is another slightly strange one. Back to RCA International again, and the labels read “RCA International (Camden)”, just like the late 60’s/early 70’s UK International releases did. But whilst those ones also featured this legend on the cover art as well, there is no mention at all of “Camden” on the cover of the UK version of this LP.

This one followed a similar path to “Volume 1”, in that it was an album featuring a couple of songs previously on 45 only, padded out with movie soundtrack material. Unlike “Volume 1” though, the two songs here were both sides of the very recent “Burning Love” single, another big latter period hit.

Everything else was from already released movie albums, and so even though you could argue that “Burning Love”, when released as a single, was a preview of this album, the random nature of what was actually on this record (everything apart from the single was all at least five years old), means it’s difficult to not look at this album as anything other than a comp. Nonetheless, a CD pressing exists - a worthy release given that the original UK pressing was actually quite shortlived, and can now sell for a whopping £60! Later pressings, including those from other countries, can usually be hunted down for a lot less.

Separate Ways (1973 RCA Camden CDS 1118)

Back to Camden again for what is probably one of the more well known Elvis sets. Following on from the preceding two Long Players, this one again coupled both sides of an Elvis single (“Separate Ways”/”Always On My Mind”) with more songs from soundtrack albums, and - seemingly at random - the ancient “Old Shep” from his second album, “Elvis”, released way back in 1956.

There are two different sleeve designs again, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are from. On both, the image of Elvis is the same, but it is the design of the motorway Elvis is standing on that is different on the UK one to the US one. Strange, but totally true.

Again, a CD pressing exists, which I suppose does at least mean there is a “proper” Elvis Studio album upon which “Always On My Mind” can be obtained. Fact fans may also be interested to know that all of the songs from this album formed disc 1 of the posthumous “Elvis Presley Collection Volume 2” (PDA 042), with disc 2 being the next Camden release. Which was...

Easy Come Easy Go (1975 RCA Camden CDS 1146)

And so, we come to probably the first rather pointless budget compilation. A 12 track release using, strangely, the exact same image from the UK “C’mon Everybody” album, this includes songs that seem to have already mostly appeared on other budget albums in the first place.

Some, originally, had been from soundtrack EP’s (the aforementioned “C’mon Everybody”), some from original Soundtrack albums from the 60’s (“Guadalajara”, from “Fun In Acapulaco”), and with nothing previously unreleased, it means we finally get to an album that, thanks to it’s slightly random nature, probably deserves it’s “budget price” tag.

As with “Flaming Star”, the title track not only appears on the album, but shares it’s name with a movie - and confusingly, there is now an “Easy Come Easy Go” expanded CD release on the Follow That Dream label, which - of course - is an expanded version of the original movie tie in EP of the same name. Suffice to say, no CD repressing of this “version” of the album actually exists. Some of the mono stuff has been “electronically reprocessed for stereo”, but whether any sound radically different to any other existing mono or true stereo mixes, well, my tinnitus stops me from confirming either way!

The US Male (1975 RCA Camden CDS 1150)

Another slightly pointless one, this seems a random mix of songs on earlier budget albums, so is probably only of interest to the completists. Although there would be more Elvis LP comps thereafter, none in the UK appeared on Camden, so this became the final single disc RCA budget album to be released whilst Elvis was alive.

The front cover image of Elvis was used again on a triple disc Camden release, simply titled “Elvis Presley”, which also included “US Male”, plus plenty more. An “Elvis Presley Volume 2” release, using the same cover as the “You’ll Never Walk Alone” album was later issued as a follow up, another triple album affair, both of which seemed to cobble together existing budget albums into one big “pack”. Check out the Elvis Shop London website, which has a section devoted to Worldwide LP’s, and a section on UK Camden albums - although it is a site through which you can buy some of these records, it also doubles up as a discography, and you can see images of these two records on the site.

Camden albums continued to appear after 1977 - some seemed to continue the “compilation” album theme (“Double Dynamite”), some followed the reissue path (“Girls Girls Girls”) and some offered up previously unreleased material (“The King”). It might take me quite a bit of research, but I would like to look at some of these albums in a future blog.

The Elvis Presley Collection (1976 RCA Camden PDA 009)

Unless I am very much mistaken, this was the only double or triple budget release to appear before Elvis’s death. The PDA cataloguing system actually comes from Pickwick Records - the budget releases were a sort of collaboration between RCA and Pickwick, and later releases would actually appear on the Pickwick imprint, with the labels designed to look like an old RCA label.

This one basically cobbled together the material from two older budget albums into one big double album - material from “You’ll Never Walk Alone” on sides 1 and 2, complete and in the same order, and the “Hits From His Movies” on sides 3 and 4, ditto, although nowhere does it mention that you are actually dealing with a pair of “sleeveless” reissues of older budget releases. Two more releases in this series followed during the remainder of the 1970s.

Elvis albums continued to appear on the RCA International imprint after his death alongside Camden and Pickwick (and K-Tel) albums, and whilst International would often be thought of as dealing with straight forward reissues, some were career spanning comps. You may or may not be more confused when you factor in the situation that major, non budget, releases continued to appear on the mainstream RCA Victor imprint, such as 1984’s “Elvis’ Golden Records 5”, a long delayed follow up to Volume 4 which had appeared in the 60s, and finally got round to putting a lot of the big 70s hits in one place. This blog, you will be pleased to know, is the first of a trio of Elvis articles looking at singles and compilations, and in two months time, there will be a look at selected best ofs and boxsets that gathered this stuff together. In the meantime, check out which should wet your appetite for all things Presley.

The more I listen to and research Elvis, the more fascinated I become by the material that seemed to slip through the net when the 1996 box appeared. It thus makes sense to also look at Elvis’s UK 45’s, and when they appeared on LP in the UK, and an Elvis Singles blog will be published on this website next month.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Dylan On LP

It is all too easy to overlook the genius of Bob Dylan. Sometimes, you will think, “oh, he did all those acoustic records, they all sound the same”, and then you’ll listen to one of them and realise just how vibrant the music is and how clever the words are. Or you’ll pick up an electric album from the 60s and go “well, I can remember ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, what does the rest of it sound like again?”, and then you’ll listen to it and the sheer force of somebody in the middle of reinventing an entire genre will knock you sideways.

I sometimes, when thinking of my favourite singers, tend to forget about Dylan. And then, you will play “Blonde On Blonde” or a career spanning hits set, and you will be left in sheer wonderment about what you have just heard. 2012’s “Tempest” wasn’t just one of his best albums, it was one of the best albums of the year, and 2013’s “Another Self Portrait”, the latest in his “Bootleg Series” of ’specialist’ albums, has kept him in the public eye.

Dylan’s back catalogue can be easy to get confused by - albums that weren’t proper albums, dalliances with labels other than CBS or Columbia, live albums appearing without warning...I thought it would be interesting to detail exactly what Dylan has released in the UK on the long playing format, if only to make it clearer for myself.

(Before we continue, a note: the catalogue numbers listed against each album relate to (usually) the original CD pressing, be it the 1980s era reissue of something originally from the days of vinyl, or the original (and sometimes limited edition) pressing where the album was debuting on CD on day 1 of it‘s release. Before you start quibbling about why some catalogue numbers differ “design wise” from LP to LP, the list is based on what was in the shops in 1991, so for some in the 4xxxxx series, earlier (but long deleted) editions may exist. Basically, the list of albums from 1962 to 1986 is taken from the “mid price” catalogue that was included in Dylan CD reissues during 91, for later albums, it is the original release based on what is shown on the Discogs site, or what we actually have in the Shergold houses. Where details of a second edition are required, such as a notable original release, this is listed as well).


Dylan had started performing in the late 1950s, eventually signing to the CBS/Columbia stable in late 1961. His debut LP was issued the following year, “Bob Dylan” (Columbia CD 32001), which did little at first in either the UK or the US, and has long been the forgotten Dylan album of all his 60s output, regarded as a decent folk debut, but overall lacking in the genius that was to follow - for a man who later came to be seen as a remarkable songwriter, there are few originals on here. Now that it is over 50 years old and thus out of copyright, plenty of dubious looking labels have thus “acquired” the rights to reissue it, and there are an alarming number of variant versions flooding the market. Take your pick as to which one you buy, although there is one - in a new sleeve but with the same title - which offers the mono mix on one CD, and the stereo on another - plus both sides of the hastily withdrawn “electric” 45 from the period, “Mixed Up Confusion”.

1963’s followup, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (Columbia CD 32390), was much better received, and is generally regarded as something of a folk classic - aside from it’s iconic cover, it features songs that more or less became standards, protest songs so famous that they took on almost hymn like qualities, such as “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. Dylan also took to using his name in several song titles, such as “Bob Dylan’s Blues”, and would repeat this trick a few more times on subsequent LP’s. It is worth noting that the original Columbia CD pressing looks awful, the CBS logo as featured on the UK original simply “blacked out” (technically, they were different record companies in the UK at one point), as opposed to either leaving it in situ or simply redesigning the artwork. Subsequent pressings, such as that in the 2003 15-CD boxset “Bob Dylan Revisited” (US only, Columbia H 90615-S1), show the Columbia logo quite proudly.

The folk records continued with 1964’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (Columbia CD 32021) and “Another Side Of Bob Dylan” (Columbia CD 32034), both big hits in the UK and the US (bigger in the former), with Dylan starting to hit his stride. But the future was spelled out the following year on “Bringing It All Back Home” (Columbia CD 32344), with half the record devoted to electric music, and all the better for it. My favourite Dylan stuff has always been the more raucous rock and roll material, and this LP really nails it - the vibrant stream of consciousness that is the famous opener “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (some copies of the album were released using this as it’s title), the snarling “Maggie’s Farm”, the genteel “Love Minus Zero”...and when Dylan does return to his roots, he does so brilliantly - the jangling “Mr Tambourine Man” and the beautiful “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”. Before the years end, another stone cold (electric) classic was out in the stores in the form of “Highway 61 Revisited” (Columbia 460953 2), home to arguably Dylan’s most cherished composition, “Like A Rolling Stone”.

My favourite one is probably 1966’s double “Blonde On Blonde” (Columbia CD 463369 2), with several numbers taking the basic ’verse chorus verse’ structure, but expanding the concept over a much lengthier timeframe, creating some quite epic performances. “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”, driven along by some distinctive Al Kooper organ work, trundles on for seven minutes whilst the closing “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands”, a tearful, stunning, and quite remarkable piece of music, fills up the entire final side of the record, weighing in at 11 minutes in length.

And then, things started to go wrong. Following the famous “Judas” incident at a Manchester gig on the “Blonde On Blonde” tour, Dylan was later involved in a (slightly mysterious) motorcycle crash, and effectively withdrew from public view. His backing band on the tour, later to become in their own right, The Band, recorded some demos with him, that were to be offered to other artists to record - the material was later issued as 1975’s “The Basement Tapes” (Columbia 466137 2). Dylan then recorded his next “proper” LP, 1967’s “John Wesley Harding” (Columbia 463359 2), regarded by many as a classic, but to me, an underwhelming record, one that faced with having to follow up “Blonde And Blonde”, was always doomed to failure. You only need to hear the minimalist shuffle of “All Along The Watchtower”, then listen to Hendrix’s mighty reinterpretation, to realise that maybe, just maybe, Dylan was much better when he was in full blown electric mode.

Better was 1969’s country influenced “Nashville Skyline” (Columbia CD 63601), complete with a duet with Johnny Cash, and a glorious piece of slide guitar driven beauty in the form of hit single “Lay Lady Lay”, topped off brilliantly with Dylan’s stylised vocal approach. Dylan himself, remained relatively distant, having more or less stopped touring - just as the 60s started to close in on themselves with Vietnam and Altamont, the “voice of a generation” seemed as though he didn’t want anything to do with any of it. Instead of playing the famous Woodstock festival, he and The Band travelled to the UK to play The Isle Of Wight one instead (although he did play the follow up event in 94).

Depending on who you ask, 1970’s “Self Portrait” (Columbia 460112 2) was either a preview of the full blown Americana scene that would sweep the US, or was the sound of a man deliberately trying to destroy his own image - even the shabby cover image looks bizarre. Several tracks from the IOW gig were included to pad out the running time of an album overflowing with covers. Follow up “New Morning” (Columbia CD 32267) was regarded as a superior record, with his treatment of George Harrison’s “If Not For You” a charming little opening number.

Whilst other artists were starting to embrace the 70s, and were starting to move with times, Dylan seemed to retreat further. Several new recordings made in 1971 did at least make it onto a compilation album at the time (more about those later), whilst the glorious “George Jackson” single was rush released at the end of the year, a return to highly politicised material, but a song which remains slightly lost in the back catalogue (it did resurface in 2003, when Columbia allowed people to put together their own “Custom Mix” CD, giving online consumers a choice of rarities and front cover images to be compiled onto a personal, professionally pressed, Compact Disc). Indeed, had Dylan not gone into acting, then we may not even have got 1973’s largely instrumental “Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid” (Columbia CD 32098), as this served as a soundtrack album to Dylan’s latest movie outing.

Dylan decided to leave Columbia for pastures new, signing to Asylum in the USA and Island in the UK. Columbia decided to mark his departure with the cash in “Dylan” release (Columbia CD 32286), an album of previously unheard outtakes seemingly compiled without Dylan’s say-so. Reunited with The Band, 1974’s “Planet Waves” (Columbia CD 32154) was seen as a return to form, the highpoint being the anthemic “Forever Young”, split into two halves and placed at the end of side 1 and the start of side 2 respectively. As you can see from the CD catalogue number above, the album was later bought back by Columbia for subsequent reissues.

Dylan and The Band toured in 1974, the results being compiled on a live album called “Before The Flood” (more about that later as well). However, Dylan was unimpressed with the sales of “Planet Waves”, blamed the record company and decided to head back to Columbia just in time for 1975’s stunning “Blood On The Tracks” (Columbia 467842 2), pretty much an entire album detailing the break up of his marriage. Equally thrilling was 1976’s “Desire” (Columbia CD 32570), Dylan’s sound now having been expanded via the use of accordion players and violinists, and with several songs again using the epic song writing style found on “Blonde On Blonde” - “Joey” is over eleven minutes long, whilst the opening “Hurricane” is a storming eight and a half minute lament about boxer Rubin Carter, falsely imprisoned on a triple murder conviction. Despite it’s length, and sometimes controversial lyrics (“and to the black folks, he was just a crazy nigger, no one doubted that he pulled the trigger”), it was issued as a single, with the first half of the song appearing on side A, and the remainder on the flip.

Following up “Desire” was never going to be easy, but 1978’s “Street Legal” (Columbia CD 32389) was a decent attempt, a sort of “pop” record, which included a sterling sax driven opener in the form of “Changing Of The Guards”. However, it has become more famous in recent years for it’s “poor” sound quality, and the album was reissued in remixed form in 1999 (Columbia 494788 2). All subsequent reissues have used the 1999 mix.

Dylan then really went off track - discovering God, becoming a practising Christian, and releasing a series of “religious” themed albums that confused and upset many followers - 1979’s “Slow Train Coming” (Columbia CD 32524), 1980’s “Saved” (Columbia CD 32742) and 1981’s “Shot Of Love” (Columbia CD 467839 2). There are some decent songs scattered amongst them, and you don’t have to be a church goer to appreciate the music, but the overall view from the critics was that Dylan was losing his way.

Simply by moving away from non-secular music, 1983’s “Infidels” (Columbia 460727 2) is thus seen as (another) return to form, and the music at times is quite impressive, many numbers weighing in at six minutes in length, and although the 1980s production threatens to kill the record stone dead, there is enough brilliance in “Jokerman”, “Sweetheart Like You” and “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” to rescue the album. 1985’s “Empire Burlesque” (Columbia CD 467840 2) more or less carried on where “Infidels” left off, “When The Night Comes Falling” is a particularly impressive piece of work, but some critics bemoaned the production style.

But as his recording career seemed to be getting back on track, Dylan was starting to test even his most vocal supporters - he began to perform controversial concerts, where not only would he reconstruct his most famous numbers on stage, but would sing in a sometimes indecipherable style, audiences sometimes not recognising what he was playing until he sang the title of the song in the middle of the first chorus. Meanwhile in studio land soon after, things started to slide again, as critics were not that impressed with his latest offerings, with both 1986’s “Knocked Out Loaded” (Columbia CD 467040 2) and 1988’s “Down In The Groove” (CBS 460267 2) largely dismissed, although the latter did spawn a single, “Silvio”, which became a hit in several countries. It was at this point that Dylan started his so called “Never Ending Tour” - a slightly stripped back approach that has been more or less in place ever since. Dylan has toured every year, even when there has seemingly been no product to promote, and although the man himself didn’t coin the phrase (shows in the mid noughties, famously, saw him not even playing guitar on stage, thus suggesting that one tour had “ended“ and a new one had begun), and the fact that there have been huge gaps between one leg of the tour and another, it’s become almost a cult in it‘s own right - there are even several books devoted to the subject.

1989’s “Oh Mercy” (CBS 456800 2) was seen as (yet another) return to form, the Daniel Lanois produced effort dragging Dylan out of his 80s slump, with the opening “Political World” a chugging, twanging piece of hobo-rockabilly, giving Dylan a minor UK hit single. However, 1990’s “Under The Red Sky” (CBS 467188 2) saw his comeback stumble slightly, critics confused by the sometimes “childish” material.

For whatever reason, Dylan stopped writing his own material at this point. Subsequent albums such as 1992’s “Good As I Been To You” (Columbia 472710 2) and 1993’s “World Gone Wrong” (Columbia 474857 2), consisted entirely of covers. But 1997’s monumental “Time Out Of Mind” (Columbia 486936 2) was Dylan’s greatest album since “Desire”, overflowing with astonishing material. The rumble of “Cold Irons Bound”, the simplicity of “To Make You Feel My Love” (slap anybody who mentions the Adele version, especially those who actually thought she wrote it - I know of at least one celebrity who said this in an interview), whilst the staggering “Not Dark Yet” seems to reference Dylan’s own near brush with death earlier in the year (“it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there”). The album was laden with praise, and Dylan got an invite to the Grammy Awards the following year, where he performed a now famous version of album opener “Love Sick”, complete with stage invader - Dylan remained so nonplussed at his appearance, I am still not sure if he actually planned it himself. I then saw Dylan (opening) on a co-headline tour with Van Morrison that summer, and despite playing what I considered a short set, it was nothing short of breathtaking - one of the finest gigs I have ever seen in my life.

Ever since, Dylan’s stock has remained sky high. 2001’s “Love And Theft” was the subject of excitable reviews, even if it seemed - on the face of it - to be a more light hearted and joyous affair than the previous LP (the opening song is called “Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee”). Initial copies came with a free bonus CD including a couple of early 60s outtakes (one of which was an alternate take of “The Times They Are A-Changin’”) (Columbia 504364 9). 2006’s “Modern Times” was also issued in limited edition form, with copies including a free 4-track DVD of live performance and promo clips (Columbia 82876 88306 2). 2009’s “Together Through Life” (Columbia 88697 43893 2) debuted in the UK charts at number 1, and even though the news that Dylan was then planning a Christmas album was met with incredulity by BBC Radio 5 (they played a clip of the album, and wondered if it was a “Self Portrait” style joke), “Christmas In The Heart” (Columbia 88697 57323 2) was actually seen by critics as a heart warming and quite charming affair.

Dylan’s most recent studio effort is 2012’s staggeringly glorious “Tempest” (Columbia 88725 45760 2), another return to the epic song writing style of “Desire”, with just 10 songs in 70 odd minutes. Initial copies came with a free notebook, which included archive images of magazine covers that Dylan had graced in the past - it’s engrossing, as some of the magazines he appeared on were not quite what you might have expected - “Rock And Folk”, yes, but “Valentine”, which “brings you love stories in pictures”? Absolute genius.


Strangely, for a man whose concert schedules have inspired rabid fan devotion, Dylan has never quite hit the spot with his live albums. Some of the “Bootleg Series” releases did better (more of that in a bit), but most of his “standard” live releases have resulted in shrugs of shoulders from the critics.

First up was the previously mentioned “Before The Flood” (Columbia CD 22137), another Asylum/Island release now back on Columbia. Credited to ‘Dylan And The Band‘, it thus features a number of Band numbers on which Dylan is absent, at least, vocal-wise. If you love both acts, you’re quids in, if not, well, I guess that’s what the “skip” button on the CD player is for. I have always quite liked 1976’s “Hard Rain” (Columbia CD 32308), lifted in part from a TV filmed gig in May of that year. Sourcing material from his two then most recent (classic) albums, plus a few old hits, to these ears, is solid gold, but the critics decided it was “average”.

Similarly, I quite enjoyed 1978’s “At Budokan” (Columbia 467850 2) last time I heard it, a double LP originally released only in Japan (the album was issued worldwide in 1979 to stop expensive imports flooding the market), where Dylan revamps the stuff from his folky past with a never ending raft of big hitters. Apparently, it is “slick and sterile”. 1984’s “Real Live” (Columbia 467841 2) didn’t seem to do anything other than operate as a document of the latest tour, as the likes of “Maggie’s Farm” were appearing on their third live album out of a possible three.

1989’s “Dylan And The Dead” (Columbia 463381 2), from a 1987 tour where The Grateful Dead operated as Bob’s backing band, was savaged upon release, even though the choice of material is quite nifty IMO (“I Want You”, “Gotta Serve Somebody”, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, etc) - again, last time I listened to it, I don’t recall recoiling in horror. I also quite like the “garish” but retro front cover.

1995’s “MTV Unplugged” (Columbia 478374 2) should have been, in theory, the greatest album from the whole Unplugged phenomenon given Dylan's folk background, but Bob was forced into a semi greatest hits/oldies set, and whilst some love it, others are unsure. I can’t quite remember what it sounds like, but when I look at the track listing, I can’t actually remember what half those songs sound like, so that doesn’t help. I think it’s actually quite good from what I remember, but not a towering achievement. I’m more fascinated by the Japanese only “Live 1961-2000” from 2001 (SME Records SRCS 2438), which does what it says on the tin, and by featuring no less than 16 songs, probably does a better job of trying to document Dylan on stage than some of the earlier, shorter, LP’s. Although Wikipedia dismisses it with the statement “all of the tracks are available on other releases”, I’m not quite sure they are, or at least, are not available that easily. “Somebody Touched Me” taped down in Portsmouth in 2000 - where else did that appear? It includes an incendiary take on “I Don’t Believe You” from the “Judas” gig in 66, which makes it worth the price of admission alone.

Since then, Dylan’s live “non Bootleg Series” releases have been purely of the retro variety. 2005’s “Live At The Gaslight 1962” (US only, Columbia A 96016) was notoriously only available through Starbucks coffeehouses at first, although a number of copies turned up in the UK and were sold through mail order collectors outlets. 2006’s “Live At Carnegie Hall 1963” (Columbia SAMPCM 15009 2) may be referred to as an EP by some, but with a running time of 32 minutes, is longer than some 1960s albums. In the UK, it was a Virgin Megastores freebie, given away to anybody who bought two Dylan CD’s in the store at the same time. 2011 saw the official release of a ‘sort of already available’ album called “In Concert Brandeis University 1963” (Columbia 88697 84742 2), but with a running time of less than 40 minutes, of which even the opening number is “incomplete”, it all sounds a bit “bootleg-esque”, and probably explains why it was originally issued as a bonus album with another Dylan release.


Whilst Dylan did manage a few non album 45’s in his career, there weren’t enough to fill up an entire LP. However, the amount of material that Dylan has amassed, including those on single releases, are sizeable enough to warrant several collections, a way, maybe, of getting the floating voter into his work.

The first such release was 1967’s “Greatest Hits” (Columbia 463088 2), notable for being issued in the UK and US in different covers, and with different track listings. The US edition featured an image of Dylan on stage, bathed in blue light, and featured Dylan’s greatest ever recording, the stand alone hit “Positively 4th Street”, generally seen as a snarling attack on the folk community who were horrified at his betrayal of his roots by going electric. The UK version of the album, criminally, ignored it, and consisted entirely of singles that were all already available across the studio albums still in the shops.

In the UK, there was a curious follow up almost immediately, “Greatest Hits Vol 2” (Columbia 471243 2). This was something of a hotchpotch release, featuring some of the songs from the first volume, and a mish mash of album tracks. The “official” follow up was 1971’s “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol II”, a sprawling double album affair, including the aforementioned six new songs taped that year (one at the start of side 1, the rest at the end of side 4), and housed in another “Dylan on stage bathed in blue light” front cover photo, albeit from a completely different gig. The use of brand new material on this meant that a UK release was a no-brainer, but because there had already been a “Volume 2” release, the UK edition appeared under the messily titled “More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits” banner instead (Columbia 467851 2).

“Volume 3” (Columbia 477805 2) eventually turned up in 1994, covering the period from 1971 onwards. The album’s big selling point was the inclusion of a new song called “Dignity”, actually an outtake from the “No Mercy” album sessions, and also released as a single. In 2002, the North American versions of Volumes 1-3 were issued in a US/Canadian boxset titled “3 Classic Albums” (Columbia CSK 86024), which included a free bonus live EP called “Live And Rare”. I think all of the four songs which appear on here have also appeared on other albums or singles, but often in “not easy to find form”, but if you can still find a copy of the box, it’s a nice starting point. It will probably set you back a few quid though - I think I paid about £35 for mine when it was first out, and it seemed to get superseded by a “Greatest Hits Volumes 1-3” boxset in the US a year later, so good luck in finding one.

In the UK, the success of “Time Out Of Mind” in 1997 put Dylan firmly back in the public eye, and to celebrate, a new hits set called “The Best Of Bob Dylan” (Columbia SONYTV 28CD) was released in 1998. Effectively an attempt to cram the best bits of all the earlier hits albums into one CD, it’s a decent attempt, and to reel the punters in, an alternate version of “Shelter From The Storm” was used to close the record, previously only available on the 1996 soundtrack album to the “Jerry Maguire” movie. In 2000, a more sprawling follow up, “The Best Of Bob Dylan Vol 2” (Columbia 498361 9) appeared, notable for including the ‘stand alone’ 45’s “Things Have Changed”, “Dignity” and “Positively 4th Street“, alongside more hits and non hits from the 60’s up to the present day. Initial copies included a bonus live CD EP, with previously unissued recordings of “Highlands” and “Blowin’ In The Wind”.

There have been several best of releases since, but most seem to cover the same ground. In North America, a limited edition best of called “The Essential Bob Dylan” (Columbia CK 85168) appeared the same year, with nothing particularly rare, but notable for at least running in chronological order. The “Essential” series has been used by Columbia for other collections from artists on their roster, with many actually being reissued again and again, often with new covers each time, and there are now in fact numerous “editions” of the Dylan one easily available, the most recent one from 2010 also featuring an altered tracklisting.

In 2007, another hits set called simply “Dylan” surfaced - available as either a single disc release, double disc release, or a “deluxe” 3-CD boxset (Columbia 88697 10954 2), none of these versions include anything you couldn’t already get on other albums. There have since been several budget collections such as “The Collection”, “The Real Bob Dylan” and “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’”, all slightly random trawls through the back catalogue. And if that wasn’t enough, this month sees the release of “The Very Best Of Bob Dylan”, a single or double disc trundle through the hits once again. Often overlooked is 2010’s “The Best Of The Original Mono Recordings” (Columbia 8869 79167 2) - issued to coincide with a boxset of mono repressings of Dylan’s early period albums, this does exactly what it says - a selection of tracks from the box, plus “Positively 4th Street”.

Aside from the aforementioned “3 Classic Albums”, a number of boxsets also exist. Absolutely essential is 1985’s “Biograph” (CBS CDCBS 66509), a triple disc run through of album tracks, singles, rarities (such as the non album 45 “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” from the late 60’s) and a smattering of previously unavailable live and studio stuff. It is not in chronological order, but this matters not, as the track listing is superb, and the choice of material inspired.

If you can’t afford the wallet emptying “Complete Album Collection Vol 1” 47-CD set also being released this month, you could cut a few corners by getting some of the 2-in-1 and 3-in-1 CD boxsets that have surfaced over the years, although some of the ones from the 1990’s are probably now very hard to track down. The 1991 catalogue insert refers to several of these, which I think are near impossible to find now, but you often find the same set of albums get compiled into later sets. I think it was in the early noughties that I hunted down two 3-in-1 boxsets which between them, included the six albums from the 60’s that more or less defined Dylan’s entire career - the first one includes the three best folkie albums “Freewheelin’”, “The Times” and “Another Side” (Columbia 488673 2), issued in 1996, whilst a 1999 one coupled the three “electric” albums “Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61” and “Blonde On Blonde” (Columbia 496368 2). What is notable about this one, is that the CD’s included (in mine at least) seem to be repressings from different dates, as the catalogue number “format” on each is completely different!

As for the 2-in-1 sets, any you find will either be two albums, in their original packaging, inside a specially designed box (the debut album was available in one of these at one time), or as a special double disc album, with a suitably altered front cover. I have one of these which couples “Highway 61” and “John Wesley Harding” (Columbia 466831 2) - each disc has the same catalogue number, so “61” is ‘disc 1’ and “JWH” is thus ‘disc 2’ and the booklets from an earlier CD pressing of each are then included in the packaging. There are a few more of these in existence, but again, they seem to date from circa 1992 and so are hard to track down.

If you fancy getting some of Bob’s “less celebrated” 80’s or 90’s albums, and don’t want to pay through the nose, there are a pair of “Original Album Classics” triple disc releases, each featuring the relevant album in it’s own card sleeve inside - one couples “Empire Burlesque”, “Down In the Groove” and “Under The Red Sky” (Columbia 88697 742502), another has “MTV”, “World Gone Wrong” and “Good As I Been To You” (Columbia 88691 901502).

The Bootleg Series

I could be wrong, but such was the inactivity on Dylan’s “Bootleg Series” in the nineties, it seemed to me that it maybe wasn’t going to be a “series” at all. The first release was 1991’s “Rare And Unreleased 1961-1991” (Columbia 468086 2), which as the title suggests, was a 3-CD trawl through Bob’s rarities archives. The set was dubbed “Volumes 1-3”, even though you couldn’t buy any of said volumes individually - when the series was resumed in 1998, each “release” counted as a single volume, irrelevant of how many discs there were.

The releases thereafter began to appear with slightly more regularity, although there seemed to be an air of randomness as to what appeared, and the order in which it appeared. Next up was “Live 1966 The ‘Royal Albert Hall’ Concert” (Columbia 491485 2), a document of the famous “Dylan Goes Electric” show in Manchester that year. The ’Royal Albert Hall’ section of the title comes from the fact that it existed in bootleg form for years, with the bootleggers incorrectly suggesting it had been taped at the London venue.

2002 saw the release of Volume 5, “Live 1975 The Rolling Thunder Revue”, initially released as a triple disc document of the tour of the same name (Columbia 510410 3). The initial releases included a free three track DVD housed inside it’s own sleeve, later pressings omitted the freebie. The general attitude towards the album was one of apathy, it was pieced together using material from multiple shows (there is even fading in and out between some numbers), and fans claimed it failed to properly document a typical show from the tour.

Volume 6 was 2004’s “Live 1964 Concert At Philharmonic Hall” (Columbia 512358 2), whilst Volume 7 was another career spanning rarities set (well, from 1959 to 1966 anyway), “No Direction Home” (Columbia 520358 2), released to tie in with the Martin Scorsese movie of the same name.

Dylan made his venture into the super deluxe boxset work in 2008, when Volume 8 “Tell Tale Signs: Rare And Unreleased 1989-2006” was issued. It appeared as both a single disc highlights set for about £10, in a different coloured sleeve to all other editions (Columbia 88697 34747 2), a 2-CD release (Columbia 88697 35795 2) for about £20, and an American 3-CD boxset import for about...£100. Yes, a ton. Dylan came in for some stick over this, asking people to pay £80 for a CD’s worth of outtakes and a book, but it was merely the first of many such releases by “heritage” acts that started to emerge, and it now looks like a release that is simply par for the course.

Volume 9, from 2010, was “The Witmark Demos” (Columbia 88697 76179 2), a series of recordings made between 1962 and 1964, potentially for official recording and release by other artists. Some more of this material had appeared on earlier “Bootleg Series” releases. And this year saw the release of the aforementioned “Another Self Portait”, issued as another deluxe boxset and also a more affordable 2-CD set (Columbia 88883 734872). This one cobbles together material from the “Self Portrait”/”New Morning” period of the late 60s/early 70s, along with more material from the Isle Of Wight gig. The boxset adds the original “Self Portait” album and a CD devoted entirely to the Isle Of Wight show.

I would hope to do an article on Dylan’s UK 45’s at some point, but am missing quite a few, so don’t feel too confident yet in trying to write about something I don’t know enough about. Still, that’s more than enough to be getting on with for now. Thanks, Sir Bobness.