Wednesday, 24 September 2014

September 2014

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

"Here I am, not quite dying"

Friday, 19 September 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s been downhill ever since.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Bowie - The Comeback King

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

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

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

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

The Next Day

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The 40th Anniversary Reissues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Stuff

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

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

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

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Super Furry Animals

It is almost impossible to describe, other than to just call them “indie”, exactly what genre you would file the Super Furry Animals under. Spiky power pop, techno interludes, acoustic dreaminess, drum and bass breakdowns - they have had a crack at all of these, often all within the same song. They remain one of the most fascinating, original, and glorious bands the UK has ever produced, but never quite got beyond their cult status. Currently on hiatus, their disappearance from the music scene automatically means watching something like Glastonbury on the TV is going to be slightly underwhelming without them around to shake it up a bit.

Formed in 1993, the earliest incarnation of the band was led by future Hollywood superstar Rhys Ifans, but he left before the band even had a sniff of a record deal. In 1995, the group signed a deal with Welsh indie label Ankst, and released their first EP, the now famous “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogochynygofod In Space” 7”. It consisted of four songs, all sung in Welsh - when the band later started to record songs in English, they were viewed as traitors by the more hardcore Welsh speaking inhabitants, and the band responded to this by later issuing a gig freebie, with a Welsh title but which translated into English roughly as “This Is A Song To Save The Welsh Language (Not)”.

After another EP on Ankst, “Moog Droog” (including an early version of later hit “God! Show Me Magic”), the band were ‘discovered’ by Alan McGee, a couple of years after he had discovered Oasis, who signed them to his Creation label, and their debut LP, “Fuzzy Logic”, was issued in 1996. It’s timing saw the band lumped in with the Britpop movement, but the album was a far sparkier effort than some of the Dadrock clones who were trundling around - the incendiary roar of the opening “God!”, now in re-recorded form, the slo-mo vibe of “Gathering Moss”, the astonishing melodic pull of “Hometown Unicorn”, the chugging catchy bounce of “Bad Behaviour”, this remains one of the finest debut albums you will ever hear. Some of the “jazz cigarettes” style references can be dangerously close to student prank style childishness (the lyrical content of “Something For The Weekend”, the obsession with Howard Marks), but musically, it’s top notch.

Creation issued four 45’s from the album, each of them of a monumentally high standard, the last of which was the almost Beatles-esque beauty of “If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You”. One of the planned b-sides was a track called “The Man Don’t Give A Fuck”, which featured a sample from a Steely Dan song. However, problems in getting the sample cleared meant that the single had to appear with the track missing, and once the clearance issues were sorted, the decision was taken to release “The Man” as a one sided blue vinyl 7”, and a 12” containing multiple remixes. A CD edition was also released, but with one song less than the 12. A second pressing, from 2004 in a new cover, was issued as a one track CD and 12” featuring a newly recorded live version of the song, as part of the promo for the “Songbook: The Singles Vol 1” best of set.

1997’s “Radiator” carries on where “Fuzzy Logic” left off - beautiful acoustic strums (“Demons”), hi energy guitar pop (“The International Language Of Screaming”), keyboard driven AOR (“Play It Cool”) and indie rock meets techno insanity (“Mountain People”). It was later reissued in 2005 in the USA with a bonus CD EP of period B-sides (as were the band‘s other Creation era studio albums), whilst Ankst re-released the first two EP’s during 97 to cash in on the band’s new found fame in covers similar to the “(Nid) Hon...” gig freebie single.

The band returned in 1998 with an EP, the 4 track “Ice Hockey Hair”, issued in a semi transparent plastic case. A double A-sided 7” featuring two tracks from the EP was also issued in standard packaging to coincide, featuring “Ice Hockey Hair” on one side and “Smokin’” on the other. “Smokin’” was later included on the rarities album “Out Spaced”, issued later the same year, and was used to compile various B-sides, EP tracks and other rarities from the first five years of the band’s career, including the 7“ mix of “The Man“. Initial copies of the CD came in a “breast shaped” rubber sleeve, available in three different colours.

1999’s “Guerrilla” was previewed by the calypso-like “Northern Lites”, and was another album of genre busting genius, be it the Cat Stevens/Nick Drake-esque vibe of “The Turning Tide”, the bleeping minimalist electro sweep of “Some Things Come From Nothing”, or the fizzy punk roar of “Do Or Die”. Initially released on CD in a slipcase - thus meaning slipcase-less copies are worthless - the second single from the LP was the astonishing, almost lullabye style hush of “Fire In My Heart”, a track that slowly builds to a euphoric, key changing, time shifting climax, and is an absolute work of genius. The NME called it a “psychedelic folk gospel record” which they said confirmed the band as the best british singles group “in ages and ages”.

In 2000, the band made a return to their roots by recording a welsh language LP called “Mwng” and issuing it on their own Placid Casual label. It was in many respects a low key affair, described on Wikipedia as an “understated rock record” with a “wintery persona”, and recorded at minimum cost. The album was previewed by a limited edition 7” called “Ysbeidiau Heulog”, which came backed with the unavailable-anywhere-else flipside “Charge”, a raucous racket actually recorded during a BBC Radio 1 Peel Session, as opposed to being a “proper“ studio recording. “Mwng” itself was issued on coloured vinyl, and despite it’s under the radar style release, it still managed to get into the album charts at number 11. The band had recorded the “lo-fi” album in response to the fact that many radio stations were ignoring the pop nuggets that had been offered up on “Guerrilla”, and reasoned that they may as well sing in their native tongue if radio weren’t even playing their English language recordings.

In 2001, the band moved sideways to Sony - Creation had been half owned by the major since the early 90s, and by now had been officially dissolved. The group’s first effort for the “new” label was 2001’s “Rings Around The World”, another glorious piece of genre-shredding “alternative rock”, which included a cameo from Paul McCartney on the catchy-as-hell “Receptacle For The Respectable“, and - over a decade before the “Beyonce” album - promo videos for each and every song. The CD was issued alongside a DVD edition which included all the clips, bonus tracks and remixes - the bonus tracks were later issued in ‘audio’ form as b-sides of future singles. The “cinematic” album was previewed by the sublime “Juxtaposed With U” 45, a wonderful string driven piece of adult pop, albeit with some magnificently bizarre computerised vocal effects in the verses. The title track, issued as the next single, sounded like a cross between The Sweet and ELO, whilst the album threw up more stunning highlights, like the gospel country trill of “Run Christian Run”, or - in the bonus DVD section - the almost hypnotic marching crunch of “All The Shit U Do”.

2003’s “Phantom Power” followed a similar path by also being issued on a DVD edition. Again, there were moments of inventiveness here that other bands could only dream of - “Out Of Control” sounded like Primal Scream jamming with Johnny Cash, opening track and future 45 “Hello Sunshine” was a glorious piece of lighters-in-the-air pop, complete with the immortal “I’m a minger, you’re a minger too” lyric, whilst album closer “Slow Life” was a mesmerising epic, complete with plenty of strings, an insistently nagging chorus, something that sounded like but probably wasn’t a melodica, and at seven minutes long, was still far too short. It was later issued as the lead track on a download only EP, which was also released in physical form as part of the 2004 remix package “Phantom Phorce”, with the EP in it’s own ’floppy disk’ style sleeve, tucked inside a cardboard sleeve that could be unfolded and shaped into an old arcade style machine. Genius.

Following the release of the “Songbook” collection, the Furries seemed to fall slightly off the radar. It was if they were now the old men of indie, and radio seemed uninterested. 2005’s “Love Kraft” was previewed by the “Lazer Beam” 45, and then once the album was out, no more singles were issued. It was the last release by the band on Epic. They then went back to their roots, again, by signing to indie label Rough Trade for 2007’s “Hey Venus” and 2009’s “Dark Days/Light Years”, an album from which no physical single releases were made. If these do turn out to the final releases by the group, it will prove to be a fairly quiet end to one of the UK’s most fascinating, original, and genuinely superb bands.



Fuzzy Logic (LP, Creation CRELP 190)
Fuzzy Logic (CD, Creation CRECD 190)

Radiator (2xLP, Creation CRELP 214)
Radiator (CD, Creation CRECD 214)

Out Spaced (LP, Creation CRELP 229)
Out Spaced (CD, Creation CRECD 229, with extended mix of “Blerwytirhwng?”, initial copies in rubber sleeve [CRECD 229 L])

Guerrilla (2xLP, Creation CRELP 242)
Guerrilla (CD, Creation CRECD 242)

Mwng (White Vinyl LP, Placid Casual PLC 03 LP)
Mwng (CD, Placid Casual PLC 03 CD)

Rings Around The World (2xLP + 7”, Epic 502413 1)
Rings Around The World (CD, Epic 502413 2)
Rings Around The World (DVD, Epic 201457 9)

Phantom Power (2xLP, Epic 512375 1)
Phantom Power (CD, Epic 512375 2)
Phantom Power (DVD, Epic 202072 9)

Phantom Phorce (2xCD, Placid Casual PLC 07 CD/08 EP, later copies omit the EP and come in standard packaging)

Songbook: The Singles Vol 1 (2xLP, Epic 517671 1)
Songbook: The Singles Vol 1 (CD, Epic 517671 2)
Songbook: The Singles Vol 1 (DVD, Epic 202620 9)

Love Kraft (2xLP, Epic 520501 1)
Love Kraft (CD, Epic 520501 2)
Love Kraft (SACD, Epic 520501 6)

Hey Venus! (LP, Rough Trade RTRADLP 346)
Hey Venus! (CD, Rough Trade RTRADCD 346)

Dark Days/Light Years (2xLP + CD, Rough Trade RTRADLP 546, unique p/s)
Dark Days/Light Years (CD, Rough Trade RTRADCD 546)

SINGLES: 1995-1998

Llanfair PG EP: Organ Yn Dy Geg/Fix Idris/Crys Ti/Blerwytirhwng? (7”, Ankst 057, 1997 reissues exist in different p/s)
Llanfair PG EP: Organ Yn Dy Geg/Fix Idris/Crys Ti/Blerwytirhwng? (CD, Ankst CD 057, 1997 reissue in different p/s)
Moog Droog EP: Pam V?/God! Show Me Magic/Sali Mali/Focus Pocus/Debiel (7”, Ankst 062, 1997 reissues exist in different p/s)
Moog Droog EP: Pam V?/God! Show Me Magic/Sali Mali/Focus Pocus/Debiel (CD, Ankst CD 062, 1997 reissue in different p/s)
(Nid) Hon Yw’r Gan Sy’n Mynd I Achub Yr Iaith (Gig only 7”, Debiel SS 01)
Hometown Unicorn/Lazy Life (Of No Fixed Identity)/Don’t Be A Fool, Billy! (CD, Creation CRESCD 222)
God! Show Me Magic (New Version)/Death By Melody/Dim Bendith (CD, Creation CRESCD 231)
Something 4 The Weekend/Waiting To Happen (7”, Creation CRE 235)
Something 4 The Weekend/Waiting To Happen/Arnofio/Glo In The Dark/Something For The Weekend (CD, Creation CRESCD 235)
If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You/Guacamole (7” in stickered poster bag, initially shrinkwrapped, Creation CRES 243)
If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You/Guacamole/(Nid) Hon Yw’r Gan Sy’n Mynd I Achub Yr Iaith (CD, Creation CRESCD 243)
The Man Don’t Give A Fuck (1-sided Blue Vinyl 7”, Creation CRE 247)
The Man Don’t Give A Fuck (7” Mix)/(Howard Marks Mix)/(Wishmountain Mix)/(Darren Price Mix) (12”, Creation CRESCD 247)
Hermann Love’s Pauline/Calimero/Trons Mr Ur (CD, Creation CRESCD 252)
The International Language Of Screaming/Wrap It Up/Foxy Music/No K (CD, Creation CRESCD 269)
Play It Cool/Pass The Time/Cryndod Yn Dy Lais (CD, Creation CRESCD 275)
Demons/Hit And Run (7“, Creation CRE 283, fold out sleeve)
Demons/Hit And Run/Carry The Can (CD, Creation CRESCD 283)
Ice Hockey Hair/Smokin’ (7”, Creation CRE 288)
Ice Hockey Hair EP: Smokin’/Ice Hockey Hair/Mu-Tron/Let’s Quit Smoking (CD, Creation CRESCD 288)

Note: where two or more editions of a single are listed, this is because the extra tracks on the “extended play” formats were later included on “Out Spaced”.

SINGLES: 1999-2009

Northern Lites/Rabid Dog/This That And The Other (CD, Creation CRESCD 314)
Fire In My Heart/The Matter Of Time/Mrs Spector (CD, Creation CRESCD 323)
Do Or Die/Missunderstanding (Sic)/Colorblind (CD, Creation CRESCD 329)
Ysbeidiau Heulog/Charge (White Vinyl 7”, Placid Casual PLC 002)
Juxtaposed With U/Tradewinds/Happiness Is A Worn Pun (Cassette, Epic 671224 4)
Juxtaposed With U/Tradewinds/Happiness Is A Worn Pun (12”, Epic 671224 6)
Juxtaposed With U/Tradewinds/Happiness Is A Worn Pun/Juxtaposed With U (Video) (CD, Epic 671224 2)
(Drawing) Rings Around The World/Edam Anchorman/All The Shit U Do (Cassette, Epic 671908 4)
(Drawing) Rings Around The World/Edam Anchorman/All The Shit U Do (12”, Epic 671908 6)
(Drawing) Rings Around The World/Edam Anchorman/All The Shit U Do/(Drawing) Rings Around The World (Video) (CD, Epic 671908 2)
It’s Not The End Of The World/The Roman Road/Gypsy Space Muffin (12”, Epic 672175 6)
It’s Not The End Of The World/The Roman Road/Gypsy Space Muffin (CD, Epic 672175 2)
It’s Not The End Of The World/Gypsy Space Muffin/The Roman Road/It’s Not The End Of The World (Video) (DVD in unique p/s, Epic 672175 9)
Golden Retriever/Summer Snow/Blue Fruit (7” Picture Disc in clear p/s, Epic 673906 7)
Golden Retriever/Summer Snow/Blue Fruit (CD, Epic 673906 2)
Golden Retriever (Video)/Summer Snow/Blue Fruit (DVD, Epic 673906 9)
Hello Sunshine (Radio Edit)/Cowbird (7” Picture Disc, Epic 674360 7)
Hello Sunshine (Radio Edit)/Cowbird/Sanitizzzed (CD, Epic 674360 2)
Hello Sunshine (Video)/Cowbird/Sanitizzzed (DVD in unique p/s, Epic 674360 9)
The Man Don’t Give A Fuck (Live, Hammersmith Apollo) (Numbered 1-sided 12”, Epic 675304 6)
The Man Don’t Give A Fuck (Live, Hammersmith Apollo) (Numbered CD, Epic 675304 2)
Lazer Beam/Sunny Seville (7” in black p/s, Epic 676011 7)
Lazer Beam/Sunny Seville/Colonise The Moon (CD, Epic 676011 1)
Show Your Hand/Never More (7” Picture Disc, Rough Trade RTRADS 402)
Show Your Hand/Aluminium Illuminati/Never More (CD, Rough Trade RTRADSCD 402)
Run Away/These Bones (7” Picture Disc, Rough Trade RTRADS 419)
Run Away/These Bones/That’s What I’m Talking About (CD, Rough Trade RTRADSCD 419)