When it comes to shopping for music during the holidays, the greatest hits album or boxed set is always a guaranteed safe bet for its well-known songs, a few surprises or rarities and dedicated packaging. This year saw some archival music released from Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Clash. With Black Friday upon us, here are a few more noteworthy reissues that came out recently, covering the genres of rock, punk, folk and R&B.
The Velvet Underground
"White Light/White Heat: 45th Anniversary Edition"
The reissue of the Velvet Underground's second album from 1968 is particularly poignant given it's the first official VU release after Lou Reed's death in October. Like the first album, "The Velvet Underground and Nico," "White Light/White Heat" provided the sonic template for many future punk and alternative rock bands with a sound that bordered on noisy rock and roll in the title track and "I Heard Her Call My Name"; and experimental art rock with "The Gift" and the 17-minute opus "Sister Ray." This particular reissue marking the album's 45th anniversary not only contains the original album but also the mono versions of the songs, outtakes, and a live 1967 performance at New York's Gymnasium.
"The Complete Album Collection Vol. One"
Bob Dylan's music has been frequently compiled in various hits collections, but this latest set usurps them all. "The Complete Album Collection Vol. One" is exactly that: all of the legend's 35 studio albums plus six live albums and a 2-CD set of non-album tracks and B-sides. It spans 50 years' worth of music, from his self-titled debut from 1962 to last year's "Tempest" -- and in between are many of his iconic works including "Bringing It All Back Home," "Highway 61 Revisited," "Blonde on Blonde" and "Blood on the Tracks." In addition, some of his other albums such as "Dylan," "Self Portrait" and "Empire Burlesque" have been newly remastered particularly for this set. It's a mammoth listen to say the least, but it conveniently puts all the great and historic music in one box.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
"Miami Pop Festival"
"Hear My Train A Comin'"
Proof of the ongoing popularity of guitar god Jimi Hendrix is the
fact that new music continues to be unearthed long after his death from more than 40
years ago. This latest release is no different as it is a collection of
live performances -- all previously unreleased -- by Hendrix and his
Experience band mates Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell at the Miami Pop
Festival in 1968. The track list includes some of the axe-master's most
famous songs including "Fire," "Hey Joe" and "Foxey Lady." Also
coinciding with the release this live album is "Hear My Train A Comin,'"
an excellent documentary on Hendrix that previously aired on the PBS "American
Masters" series -- its archival of Hendrix in performance onstage is one to marvel at.
"The Sire Years (1976-1981)"
The Ramones were downtown New York's answer to the punk scene that was happening over in the U.K. in the mid '70s -- four guys from Queens who brought rock and roll back to its essential basics with guitar-driven aggression and '60s melodies. This collection encapsulates the band's prime years during their tenure with Sire Records, especially the first four albums: the immortal self-titled debut, "Leave Home," "Rocket to Russia" and "Road to Ruin." Tracks such as "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Beat on the Brat," "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" are a few of the beloved tracks on this set. The Ramones continued to rock on into the '80s and '90s, but this collection of the music from the group at its creative peak is absolutely essential
"Playlist: The Very Best of Big Star"
"Electricity by Candlelight-2/13/97"
The fact that the early '70s Memphis-based Big Star never hit the big time is what gave the band its mystique and legend. The group crafted three brilliant albums of pure perfect power pop during its brief span. Over the years, Big Star's cult stature has grown thanks to the music critics and admirers, some of whom would go on to form their own Big Star. (An excellent documentary film about the band, "Nothing Can Hurt Me," came out this year). This compilation offers highlights of the band's fine work both in the studio and live: "September Gurls," "Feel," "The Ballad of El Goodo" and "Thank You Friends." By no means should this be regarded as a substitute for not buying the first three albums, but at least it serves as in introduction for those who never heard of Big Star. Meanwhile, for fans of Big Star singer and guitarist Alex Chilton, there's "Electricity by Candlelight," a recording of a live and loose acoustic 1997 performance at New York's Knitting Factory. (It was taped by a fan when the electricity was out). The sound quality's roughness and the crowd's cheers lend a certain charm to the music. The night found the late Chilton covering songs, including "Wouldn't it Be Nice," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and "I Walk the Line."
"The Studio Albums (1969-1987)"
No question the definitive progressive rock band of all time, Yes combined dazzling instrumental playing that drew from rock and classical influences with spiritual lyrics and themes. As opposed to the conventional pop song that would clock in at three or four minutes, a typical Yes track could be a 20-minute piece that would occupy an entire side of an album -- although in the '80s, the band a scored a No. 1 hit with the more mainstream "Owner of a Lonely Heart." Several of the band's finest albums in this set include "Fragile," 'The Yes Album," "Close to the Edge," "90125" and even the underrated "Drama"; the band's 1987 record "Big Generator" also makes its remastered debut particularly for this set. Now that the band has been nominated for induction Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this set couldn't have arrived at a better time to make a case for Yes's important contributions to music.
"The Essential James Taylor"
Along with Carole King and Jackson Browne, James Taylor epitomized the singer-songwriter genre of the '70s with hits such as "Sweet Baby James," "Fire and Rain," "You've Got a Friend" and "Her Smiling Face." This set from Sony's "Essential" series is the first 2-CD compilation that covers J.T.'s years on Warner Bros. and Columbia Records -- it pretty much contains almost every memorable hit song as well as a few live tracks and a group collaboration featuring acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma on "Hard Times Come Again No More."
"Give Me Strength: The '74/'75 Recordings"
"Give Me Strength," a new Eric Clapton six-disc retrospective, focuses on the career comeback of Slowhand in the mid '70s after he overcame a heroin addiction. Relocating to Miami to work with producer Tom Dowd, Clapton recorded what would become one of the biggest albums of his career in 1974. That record, "461 Ocean Boulevard," yielded a hit cover version of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff." The music from the album was more groove and pop-oriented tone than emphasizing his well-known rock guitar heroics, an approach that would sort of mark the rest of his recording output through today. In addition to "461 Ocean Boulevard," the set also features its follow-up, "There's One in Every Crowd," and the live album "E.C. Was Here" -- plus a plethora of bonus songs, including several tracks Clapton recorded with blues guitarist Freddie King in 1974.
The Three O'Clock
"The Hidden World Revealed"
"Just Desserts: The Complete Waitresses"
These two alternative rock bands from the '80s were on the opposite ends of the spectrum both musically and geographically, though they produced some terrific -- if under appreciated -- music. The band Three O'Clock from Los Angeles came from the Paisley Underground scene (which also produced the Bangles and the Dream Syndicate), whose sound was more akin to '60s jangly guitar, psychedelic-power pop. "The Hidden World Revealed" is a 20-track chronicle of what maybe the most gorgeous and catchiest music ever made that were hits. On the other hand, the Waitresses from Akron, Ohio had a little better luck thanks to "I Know What Boys Like" and the holiday staple "Christmas Wrapping." It's prototypical New Wave music with a downtown New York sensibility -- the band's late singer, Patty Donahue, even recalls a bit of Debbie Harry in her voice. "Just Desserts" collects all the music from the band's two '80s albums for the first time, "Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful" and "Bruiselology," along with a B-side to "Christmas Wrapping" titled "Hangover 1/1/83."
"Over the Bridge of Time: A Paul Simon Retrospective 1964-2011"
"Complete Album Collection"
This latest 20-track chronicle of Paul Simon's works covers his mid-'60s work as one-half of Simon and Garfunkel, through his 2011 album "So Beautiful or So What." Because the music occupies just one CD, not every hit or well-known song from this artist is represented (i.e. "Mrs. Robinson," "Kodachrome" "Love Me Like a Rock" are some of the omissions). Rather, it should be seen as a compact overview of Simon's extraordinary career as a songwriter beginning with early S & G iconic folk rock hits "The Sounds of Silence" and "Bridge Over Troubled Waters; through '70s solo hits "Still Crazy After All these Years"; to his explorations in the mid '80s and '90s of South African and world music in "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" and "Spirit Voices." It's a fine introduction for new fans, but for those wanting more, there's also the "Complete Album Collection," which contains every Paul Simon solo studio and live record released, making it a total of 15 discs.
Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Creedence Clearwater Revival"
One of the most important bands in rock and roll history, Creedence Clearwater Revival produced an amazing amount of hit music between 1967 and 1972 that defined a generation: such legendary hits as "Proud Mary," "Born on the Bayou," "Fortunate Son" and "Bad Moon Rising" continue to resonate. Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist John Fogerty, CCR made the most authentic-sounding American roots and swamp rock music that ever came out of Southern California. This 6-CD set, which was originally issued in 2001, has been released again containing all the music that the band had ever recorded as well as live performances and tracks from its previous incarnation as the Golliwogs.
"Never My Love: The Anthology"
Donny Hathaway died tragically in 1979 at the age of 33 but left an indelible mark on '70s soul music with his tender yet powerful gospel-inflected voice. He is perhaps best remembered for his lovely duets with Roberta Flack on such romantic songs as "The Closer I Get To You" and "Where is the Love." But there's more to his story as evident on this new four-disc retrospective. In addition to his own recordings and collaborations with Flack, "Never My Love" also features unreleased studio tracks and live performances at New York's Bitter End from 1971, which captured him covering John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," Carole King's "You've Got a Friend," and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."
Tell us: Do you plan to pick up any of these collections?