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.

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