Andrew Sandoval just posted a link to “Ultimate Classic Rock”‘s list of the best reissues of the year, and it looked frankly dull for the most part — deluxe editions of ‘classic’ albums we’ve all heard a million times. Elvis, Beatles, Van Morrison, Nirvana. Yes, yes. All very nice, I suppose, but not really any use to anyone. You already know if you’re going to buy box set versions of Rumours or Tommy, and nothing I can say will persuade you not to if you plan to.
These, on the other hand, you might not even realise you wanted. But you do.
Harry Nilsson: The RCA Albums Collection
I reviewed this when it came out, and I stand by everything I said. A gorgeous 17-CD collection, this collects fourteen of Nilsson’s proper albums, along with mono versions of the first two albums and well over a hundred additional tracks (either as bonus tracks on the albums or as bonus discs). It’s *slightly* more Nilsson than you really need, but there’s a hundred and fifty or so tracks here that stand up to any music you’ll ever hear, and even the worst of it is interesting.
Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band: Safe As Milk
Beefheart’s first album doesn’t get much love from his fans, who see it as too poppy. That’s precisely why I *do* love it — this is Beefheart at a point where he and his band still seemed to see commercial success as a possibility, and they were making music aimed at a broad audience but without watering down the strangeness of the music. The result is, at times, incredibly close to the sound of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd by the Monkees (which was recorded around the same time with the same engineer).
This CD reissue restores the original mono mix on CD for the first time, and while it’s not as vast a difference as with some 60s mono versions, it does cohere slightly better this way.
The Beach Boys: Made In California
A six-CD box set of *nearly* all the Beach Boys you need, this is a career-spanning set covering everything from Surfin’ in 1961 to Isn’t It Time in 2012. Roughly three CDs of it is material you’ve already got if you have the slightest interest in the band, but it sounds clearer than ever, while the other three CDs worth of material is made up of unreleased tracks, live versions and alternate mixes, including some truly spectacular unreleased songs like You’re Still A Mystery and Where Is She?
The Monkees Present: Deluxe Edition
The Monkees Present is one of the Monkees’ weaker albums, recorded when pretty much everyone had lost interest in the band, including the band themselves. But Andrew Sandoval and his colleagues at Rhino Handmade have made something of a silk purse from it with this 3CD set, collecting together all the sessions from that era, including in particular several great Nesmith and Dolenz songs which remained unreleased at the time for God knows what reason. Putting it all together in one place shows that there was a great album in there if anyone had been bothered to release one at the time.
Windy: A Ruthann Friedmann Songbook
Ruthann Friedmann is best known for writing Windy for the Association and Candy Apple Cotton Candy for Pat Shannon. This collection of unreleased recordings from the 60s, demos and recordings for a never-released solo album, features both those songs plus versions of High Coin and I Think It’s Going To Rain Today, and has Van Dyke Parks, Curt Boettcher and Randy Newman contributing as producers and musicians, along with Lee Mallory from the Millennium and several of the Wrecking Crew. Soft-pop folk loveliness.
The Family Tree: Miss Butters
This was actually reissued in November 2012, but I didn’t do one of these lists last year and I’m feeling generous. This is *very* much in the mould of Nilsson’s Aerial Ballet, having the same producer, arranger, cover designer and record label (and one song co-written by Nilsson), but also has something of the feel of Odessa or Genuine Imitation Life. It’s a concept album, possibly the first “rock opera” ever, and anyone who likes toytown pop music will love it — song titles like Melancholy Vaudeville Man and Mrs McPheeny (Has Flu In The Chest And Has Needed A Rest For So Long) give you some idea of what kind of thing it is.
The band, after a couple of lineup changes, went on to be moderately successful as The Wackers.
Michael Fennelly — Love Can Change Everything (Demos 1967-72)
Michael Fennelly was one of the most underrated songwriters of the 60s. He wrote and sang lead on Go Back by Crabby Appleton, but these days he’s probably best known for his contributions to The Millennium, including the gorgeous To Claudia On Thursday.
This collection of demos spans his pre-Millennium recordings, The Millennium, Crabby Appleton, and the recordings for his Chris White-produced solo album Lane Changer.
The Paley Brothers: The Complete Recordings
Before Andy Paley became known as a collaborator with the Beach Boys, Madonna, and Spongebob Squarepants, he and his brother Jonathan were playing CBGBs and making catchy skinny-tie pop-punk. This compilation, featuring collaborations with the Ramones, Brian Wilson, Phil Spector and Jonathan Richman among others, shows a very good but not quite great pop duo who even then had the knack of finding great people to work with and writing catchy pop hooks.
Harry Nilsson: Flash Harry
Nilsson’s voice was pretty much shot by the time he recorded this, but he still manages an interesting version of the Van Dyke Parks/Lowell George Latin song Cheek To Cheek, and a decent stab at his own Lennon collaboration Old Dirt Road. It’s hardly essential, but if you’re going to spend the fifty quid for all Nilsson’s other albums in the box set, you might as well add this — the only proper Nilsson album not included in the box — as well and get the complete set. This had never been released on CD before this year, and had been out of print for thirty years, so even though it’s not great it’s nice to have it available.
It’s also bookended by two Eric Idle songs — it begins with Idle singing a song he’d written about Nilsson, and ends with Nilsson’s cover of Bright Side Of Life (possibly the first cover of that song ever recorded) — an appropriate ending for Nilsson’s last ever album.