Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide 2018 Part 9: Music Box Sets, Vinyl, and Reissues (Part One)

Featuring The Band, David Bowie, Prince, Pet Shop Boys, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, The Cranberries, The Beta Band, and More

Dec 20, 2018
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Welcome to part 9 of our Holiday Gift Guide 2018, which centers on music box sets and reissues, some on CD and some on vinyl. We're splitting this section into two parts, as we were sent quite a few releases to include in it. This installment includes releases from The Band, David Bowie, Prince, Pet Shop Boys, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, and more.

We have previously posted part 1 of our 2018 gift guide (for video games), as well as part 2 (for board games), part 3 (for technology), and part 4 (for collectibles). Then there was part 5, for toys and other gifts for kids and parents, which was split into two parts: one on kid-friendly toys, books, and DVDs/Blu-rays and another one on kid-friendly board games and technology. Part 6 covered apparel and household items. Part 7 was the first installment of our guide for DVDs and Blu-rays. And Part 8 was a drinking guide.

And in the next week or so we will still also be posting more gift guides centering on more DVDs/Blu-rays, more music box sets and reissues, and books and comic books. And don't forget that Under the Radar subscriptions also make a great gift. Plus donating to the charity of your choice in the name of the gift receiver is also a good way to go.

 

The Band: Music From Big Pink: 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition (Capitol)

RRP: $67.49

The Band may have one of the most boring, non-descript names in rock music history. Although, in fairness, the group took the name back in 1968, when rock 'n' roll was still relatively young. Also, if you do a Google search for "The Band" they are still top result, so they have transcended their name. After all, not every band has their farewell concert (in 1976) filmed by Martin Scorsese and turned into an acclaimed documentary, 1978's The Last Waltz. Although, The Band reformed in 1983, albeit without Robbie Robinson.

The Band's 1968-released debut album, Music From Big Pink, perhaps remains their best known full-length (certainly its single "The Weight" was my introduction to them). In honor of its 50th anniversary its been reissued in a Super Deluxe Edition. It includes the original album on both CD and Blu-ray with 5.1 surround high resolution audio. Each includes six bonus tracks, although only an a cappella version of "I Shall Be Released" is previously unreleased. Then there's the album on vinyl, a double LP. Plus there is a 7-inch single for " The Weight" (with the regular version of "I Shall Be Released" as the B-side). Also included is a book featuring photos from the recording sessions by Elliott Landy, as well an essay on the album by David Fricke of Rolling Stone Magazine. (Buy it here.)

The Beatles: The Beatles (The White Album) (Super Deluxe) (Apple Corps Ltd./Capitol/UMe)

RRP: $129.99

I first bought The Beatles' 1968-released self-titled album (commonly referred to as The White Album due to its stark white album cover that simply features the band's name on it) in college. This was several years before I met my future wife and there was a girl who lived in my university housing complex that I liked. Her name was Martha and the album featured the song "Martha My Dear." I guess I somehow thought the song would be useful in wooing her, I'm not sure. Whatever I did with it, it didn't work. Paul McCartney wrote "Martha My Dear" for his ex-fiancée, actress Jane Asher, who had broken off their engagement that summer after catching him in bed with another woman, so it's perhaps not exactly a happy love song anyway.

The recording of The White Album in general wasn't exactly a happy time for the band. The sessions were filled with tension between its members. In the past wives and girlfriends weren't generally allowed in the studio when The Beatles recorded, but for this album John Lennon's future wife Yoko Ono was a constant presence at Abbey Road, with the others members then inviting their current partners into the studio. At one point Ringo Starr briefly quit the band and had to be wooed back by the other three members (he was finally welcomed back to find his drum kit covered in flowers, as a peace offering). Longtime Beatles producer George Martin also took a break from the sessions to unexpectedly go on vacation. Recording engineer Geoff Emerick also walked away from the sessions. Lennon would leave the band the following year and they would officially announce their breakup in 1970, although they would still release three more albums after The White Album.

Regardless of the difficult circumstances surrounding the recording of the album, it is considered a classic. The double album features some iconic songs by the group, including George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and Paul McCartney's "Blackbird." Then there's "Revolution 9," The Beatles' longest song at 8:22, an experimental sound collage made with tape loops and samples. Ono helped put together the avant-garde track. "Don't Pass Me By" was written by Ringo Starr, marking his first solo songwriting credit on a Beatles album.

The Super Deluxe edition of this 50th anniversary reissue of the album includes a new 2018 stereo mix of the album by George Martin's son, Giles Martin, alongside mix engineer Sam Okell, spread across two CDs. A third disc features 27 demos recorded by the band at Harrison's house. Then there are three more discs of material from the album sessions, featuring various alternate takes, rehearsals, instrumental versions, and jams, including a 13-minute version of "Helter Skelter." Much of this material is previously unreleased. A Blu-ray disc has a 5.1 mix of the album. Then there's the handsome accompanying coffee table book that features interviews and essays on the album, including detailed discussion of each of its songs, as well as plenty of behind the scenes photos and reproductions of handwritten lyrics. There's a forward by McCartney and an introduction by Giles Martin. In his opening to the book McCartney sums up The White Album as such: "We had left Sgt. Pepper's band to play in his sunny Elysian Fields and were now striding out in new directions without a map." Any Beatles fan would do wise to follow the band to this album's uncharted territory, with this reissue opening up many previously unseen lands. (Buy it here.) 

The Beta Band: The Three E.P.'s (20th Anniversary Remaster) (Because Music)

RRP: $33.98

It's hard to believe that The Beta Band's The Three E.P.'s turned 20 this year. That EP collection/kinda debut album is still just as fun and challenging a listen two decades later and has been reissued. The 1998 collection got greater exposure thanks to a scene in the 2000 movie High Fidelity, in which indie record store owner Rob Gordon (John Cusack) announced to his employees "I will now sell four copies of The Three E.P.'s by The Beta Band" before putting on the collection's "Dry the Rain." The album used to be on the jukebox at Swinger's diner on Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles and I would sometimes put on the strange 16-minute track "Monolith," just to see reactions from the other diners. This reissue doesn't include any bonus tracks, but it has the collection on vinyl and CD in a new remaster. (Buy it here.)

David Bowie: Loving the Alien [1983-1988] (Parlophone/Rhino)

RRP: $117.98

Rhino/Parlophone's David Bowie reissues series continues with a fourth box set. They have been collecting all of Bowie's albums in chronological order. Loving the Alien covers his mid-1980s work, a commercially viable period, even if some critics might prefer his earlier work. The box set includes three studio albums: 1983's Let's Dance (featuring the title track, "Modern Love," and "China Girl"), 1984's Tonight, and 1987's Never Let Me Down. Then there's a brand new 2018 version of Never Let Me Down, overseen by producer/engineer Mario McNulty and featuring Bowie's original vocals, but with the music re-recorded for a less 1980s sound. Before his death, Bowie had expressed interest in reworking the album and in 2008 he had McNulty redo the album's "Time Will Crawl." There's also the previously unreleased live album, Serious Moonlight (Live '83), recorded in Vancouver, Canada in 1983. Plus there is the previously released live album Glass Spider (Live Montreal '87). Loving the Alien also includes two compilations: Dance (featuring various extended remixes from the era) and Re:Call 4 (including single versions and soundtrack songs, such as five tracks from the Labyrinth soundtrack). (Read our full review of the box set here.) (Buy it here.)

David Bowie: Aladdin Sane (45th Anniversary Silver Vinyl) (Parlophone/Rhino)

RRP: $26.99

For those who prefer their David Bowie to be glam, there's this 45th anniversary silver vinyl version of Aladdin Sane. The album was Bowie's sixth and was released in 1973, in between 1972 The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and covers album Pin Ups (released later in 1973). The album was described by Bowie as "Ziggy goes to America" as it was written while traveling across America for the Ziggy Stardust tour. Hence there are American city names in parenthesis after most of the song titles on the tracklist on the actual vinyl, indicating where each song was written. The album's best known song, "The Jean Genie," appears on side two, right after a spirited cover of The Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together." (Buy it here.)

Phil Collins: Plays Well With Others (Rhino/Atlantic)

RRP: $33.61

Phil Collins has had a long and storied career, starting as a child actor in the 1960s, then as the drummer in Genesis in the 1970s, then as the frontman of Genesis in 1976 when Peter Gabriel left, and then as a hugely successful solo artist in the 1980s and 1990s while also still in Genesis. He was the only artist to perform at both the British and American Live Aid charity concerts in 1985, performing first at the London show and then taking the Concorde across the Atlantic to later perform at the Philadelphia show. Most of Collins' solo work has been reissued over the last few years, but Plays Well With Others is a four-CD collection that takes a different approach. It mainly contains songs by other artists that Collins played drums on or otherwise contributed to. Disc one features songs from 1969 to 1982, starting with Collins' first band Flaming Youth and including songs by Brian Eno, John Cale, Robert Fripp, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, and others. Disc two covers 1982 to 1991 and features Adam Ant, Philip Bailey, Eric Clapton, Howard Jones, Paul McCartney, Tears for Fears, and the Band Aid charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas (Feed the World)," among others. Disc three covers 1991 to 2011 and the most curious track might be a cover of Collins' own "In the Air Tonight" by Lil' Kim (featuring Collins). Then disc four consists of live tracks from 1981 to 2002, including a live version of "In the Air Tonight" and performances Collins did with George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Annie Lennox, Bryan Adams, Joe Cocker, Bee Gees, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones, and The Buddy Rich Band. In other words, Phil Collins gets around. (Buy it here.)

The Cranberries: Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? (25th Anniversary Edition) (Island/UMe)

RRP: $27.00

Before Dolores O'Riordan, frontwoman for 1990s Irish alt-rock band The Cranberries, unexpectedly died in London in January, the band was already working on a 25th anniversary reissue of their 1993-released debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? The album, which was produced by Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur), wasn't an instant hit. But a tour supporting Britpop mainstays Suede earned them further attention and soon MTV was playing the videos for "Linger" and "Dreams," which led to the album eventually reaching #1 on the U.K. album charts and it selling over five million copies in America. Their 1994 sophomore album, No Need to Argue, was an even bigger success, selling seven million copies in America. It was also produced by Street and was fueled by political hit single "Zombie," which O'Riordan wrote in response to a 1993 IRA bombing that killed two children. They never quite matched the success of their first two albums, with "Linger," "Dreams," and "Zombie" remaining their best known songs two decades later. But those are some great songs to be known for.

This four-CD reissue of Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? contains a remastered version of the original album on disc one. Disc two features album outtakes, B-sides, their debut EP, and their early demos (recorded when they still sported the longer band name The Cranberry Saw Us). Disc three contains two live shows: a three-song set at Cork Rock in 1991 and a 16-song concert from 1994 at the 1990s Irish music festival Féile. Finally, disc four has three radio sessions, including a John Peel session from 1992. The box set also includes a nice book on the album, various black & white photo prints, and a fold out poster. (Read our full review of the box set here.) (Buy it here.)

Neil Diamond: 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition (Capitol/UMe)

RRP: $84.99 

Neil Diamond's "America" means a lot of my wife. She has strong memories of hearing the song as a child. It was recorded for the soundtrack to The Jazz Singer, a remake of the 1927 film starring Al Jolson that was the first talkie, essentially wiping out the era of silent films. Diamond starred as an aspiring singer in the 1980 version. Alas the film was a flop with critics and not much of a commercial success either. It was nominated for several Golden Raspberry Awards (the Razzies) in their first annual awards, with Diamond winning for Worst Actor. The film's soundtrack album was a different story: selling five million copies, it became Diamond's biggest U.S. album ever. It also spawned three hit singles: the aforementioned "America," "Hello Again," and "Love on the Rocks." This new box set has all three songs, including the original short demo version of "America," which then leads into the studio version of the song. The six-CD 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition includes songs from across his career, from his 1966 debut album, The Feel of Neil Diamond, to 2014's Melody Road, his first album for Capitol since The Jazz Singer soundtrack. It features 14 previously unreleased tracks, with 12 of them in the sixth disc. (Buy it here.)

Glenn Frey: Above the Clouds: The Collection (Geffen/UMe)

RRP: $23.76

Your enjoyment of this collection will be dependant on your level of '80s nostalgia. If you only know Glenn Frey's biggest hits of the decade, "The Heat Is On" (as featured in the 1984 hit Eddie Murphy action/comedy Beverly Hills Cop) and 1985's "You Belong to the City," then you may be curious to check out the other 56 songs on Above the Clouds, where you'll find such tracks as 1984's "Smuggler's Blues," which is about drug smugglers and was fittingly featured in an episode of Miami Vice that was named after the song and guest-starred Frey as an airline pilot. Then there is "Sexy Girl," also from 1984, which is about a, well, sexy girl. The 4-CD set includes two discs of singles from the former Eagles frontman who passed away in 2016, a 1992 live concert in Dublin, and a remixed and remastered version of the lone album by Longbranch Pennywhistle, Frey's pre-Eagles country-rock band with John David Souther, originally released in 1969. In short, if you (or the gift receiver) love a heavy dose of sexy and smooth saxophone in your 1980s songs, then this collection is glorious, if not then it might be more tedious. (Buy it here.)

 

Aretha Franklin: The Atlantic Singles Collection 1967-1970 (Atlantic/Rhino)

RRP: $11.99

One of the biggest musicians we lost in 2018 was Aretha Franklin. As its title suggests, this two-CD collection features the Queen of Soul's singles for Atlantic Records from 1967 to 1970. And what a run of hits it is: "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," "Respect," "A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like)," "Think," "I Say a Little Prayer," and so on. There are also some covers of songs first made notable by other artists, including The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and "Let It Be" and The Band's "The Weight" (see above for more on them). These days it can take artists many years to record follow-up albums, so it's amazing what Franklin accomplished in three short years. (Buy it here.)

John Lennon: Imagine - The Ultimate Collection (Geffen/UMe)

RRP: $72.00

After leaving The Beatles in 1969, John Lennon would go on to make several albums, both solo and with his wife Yoko Ono, but his best known post-Beatles work might be 1971's Imagine, in part because of its title track. "Imagine" is an anti-religion, anti-politics, anti-war, open-the-borders anthem that has inspired many. Lennon later admitted that Ono deserved a lot of credit for the song and finally in 2017 she received a co-writing credit on it. The rest of the album also layers a commercial sheen, thanks in part to producer Phil Spector, onto some weighty topics, with the song title "I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier Mama I Don't Wanna Die" speaking for itself.

This new reissue features the album and various bonus tracks on two Blu-ray discs and four CDs. Included are different takes, mixes, and extended versions. There are also other singles from the era, including holiday classic "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Read our full review of the reissue here. (Buy it here.)

Pet Shop Boys: Please, Actually, Introspective, Behaviour, Very, and Bilingual Vinyl Reissues (Parlophone/Rhino)

RRP: Please: $12.22; Introspective: $16.35; Actually, Behaviour, Very, and Bilingual: $17.49 each

Listening to these Pet Shop Boys reissues, and especially the song "Left to My Own Devices" (from 1988's Introspective), I had the thought that they really should've done a 1980s James Bond theme song. A little bit of research later and it turns out they were in the running to do the theme for 1987's The Living Daylights, Timothy Dalton's first turn as 007. The job actually went to Norwegian pop group a-ha and their song, "The Living Daylights," even though the band clashed with iconic Bond films composer John Barry, is one of the more underrated Bond songs. You can find supposed instrumental demos of Pet Shop Boys' submission to the film's producers and they don't really sound all that Bond like. (Much like how Pulp seemed like the perfect '90s band to do a Bond song, but their submission for the Pierce Brosnan film Tomorrow Never Dies, later released as a B-side under the title "Tomorrow Never Lies" is far from the best Pulp song, just like how Sheryl Crow's official theme for the film is one of the more forgettable Bond songs.) Pet Shop Boys' attempt was eventually reworked as "This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave," from their 1990 album Behaviour.

Both Introspective and Behaviour have been reissued on vinyl, alongside the duo's 1986 debut album Please (the one with "West End Girls"), 1987's Actually (the one with "What Have a Done to Deserve This" and "It's a Sin"), 1993's Very, and 1996's Bilingual. Pet Shop Boys' albums from the era, especially their '80s and early '90s work, have aged very well and sound great on these reissues. (Buy Please here. Buy Actually here. Buy Introspective here. Buy Behaviour here. Buy Very here. Buy Bilingual here.)

Elvis Presley: '68 Comeback Special (50th Anniversary Edition) (RCA/Legacy)

RRP: $74.00

It's not like Elvis Presley ever left the public consciousness in the 1960s, but he did step away from touring to focus on his movie career, under the guidance of his manager Colonel Tom Parker. He still released music, but they were soundtracks to his films. The movies did well at the box office and the soundtracks sold well, but the Presley's films were generally formulaic comedies whose budgets got cheaper. The films started to make less money and Presley felt disconnected from the music-side of career and longed to get back to performing live. Hence this TV special for NBC was hatched. It was originally titled Singer Presents...Elvis, due to corporate sponsorship, but later became known as the '68 Comeback Special, even though Presley was only 33 when it was recorded. In it he performed in a TV studio to a live audience. The special was a ratings hit and it led to Presley getting back on the road and recording new non-soundtrack music, such as his 1969 single "Suspicious Minds," one of his biggest hits. This 50th Anniversary Edition includes two Blu-ray discs with the original special, as well as bonus footage, including additional takes. Then there are four CDs featuring the audio of the special, plus audio of various takes and rehearsals. Presley's comeback lasted a few years, but alas around the time of his divorce from Priscilla Presley in 1973 his health began to deteriorate and his drug use increased. He died in 1977, only nine years after this special, at the relatively young age of 42. (Buy it here.)

Prince: Piano & A Microphone 1983 (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $17.49 for vinyl, $9.99 for CD

When Prince passed away in 2016 he left behind a huge vault filled with unreleased material and so we can probably expect new albums from him for years to come. The new album Piano & A Microphone 1983 is culled from a previously unheard home studio cassette recorded in 1983 at Prince's Kiowa Trail home studio in Chanhassen, MN and just features Prince singing and playing piano. The album's version of "Mary Don't You Weep," a cover of a 19th century spiritual, was featured in the end credits Spike Lee's acclaimed 2018 movie BlacKkKlansman. The final version of "17 Days" became the B-side to 1985's "When Doves Cry" single. Piano & A Microphone 1983 includes an early version of future hit "Purple Rain" and a cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You." The booklet includes new liner written by Prince's then engineer Don Batts, plus previously unseen candid photos of the artist. The album's "Wednesday," "Cold Coffee & Cocaine," and "Why the Butterflies" are all previously unreleased. (Buy it here.)

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