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Archival excitement this autumn for music fans

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A bounty of previously unheard gems from some of the biggest names in music are seeing the light of day this fall in a variety of archival box set career retrospectives, rarities collections and expanded reissues.

In this unprecedented year without concerts, many artists are looking for ways to continue connecting with fans. A box set covering their career, or an expanded version of a classic album, can be mightily satisfying for the music lover seeking more than just the greatest hits.

35 years after Bob Dylan’s “Biograph” box triggered an industry trend toward multi-disc artist retrospectives, the box set continues to be a sought-after collectible for the music fan who prefers a tangible listening experience in the digital age.

Of course, the audio content included in most box sets is also available in digital form, usually at a considerable savings compared to the price of the physical set. For example the super deluxe version of Prince’s “Sign of the Times” will set you back about $160 as a CD/DVD box. The digital version retails for less than half that.

The website www.Pauseandplay.com has been a leading worldwide source for new music release dates and related information since 1997, offering weekly release schedules for vinyl, CD, digital downloads and reissues, including box sets.

Pauseandplay.com founder and webmaster Gerry Galipault says he believes the Covid-19 pandemic, and its effect on the concert industry, may lead to more record labels, artists and bands giving a closer look at what unreleased goodies could be collecting dust in their archives.

“I would hope so,” Galipault responded during an interview conducted via email. “Look at the success of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours.’ Some random guy makes a TikTok video of himself longboarding while drinking Ocean Spray cranberry juice and lip-syncing to ‘Dreams.’ It goes viral, and even Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood do videos in response, then ‘Rumours’ climbs back onto the chart and goes top 10 for the first time in 43 years. That shows the power of a classic song and a classic album.”

When the pandemic first made an impact in late February and early March, Galipault says release dates “were getting scratched out left and right” making it difficult to keep up with the delays and shuffled schedules.

“It started to settle down around May and June,” he says, “because artists were in lockdown and haven’t been able to tour, they found their creative outlets at home or in their own studios.”

Galipault cites Bon Jovi’s “2020” as a title that was delayed for several months while the band retooled the record by adding a couple of topical songs, as well as a forthcoming title from a legend who spent part of his lockdown recording at home.

Paul McCartney will share the fruits afford by his confinement on “McCartney III,” due on December 11, which will feature the legend performing every instrument and singing all lead and backing vocals, as he did on “McCartney” in 1970 and “McCartney II” in 1980.

While it may appear that more box sets are being issued this fall, Galipault says he doesn’t see a big difference compared with previous busy fourth quarters.

“In the streaming era, catalog sales aren’t the bread and butter for record companies like they used to be,” he says. “It’s the true fans - the loyal ones - that are buying box sets and collectibles.”

Here’s a sampling of some of this autumn’s most eagerly anticipated box sets.

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Prince – “Sign of the Times” (Warner Bros.; out now)

Several different versions of Prince’s epic 1987 double LP were released last month, including a remastered triple CD, and a super-deluxe box set with 8 CDs and a DVD in an LP-sized set containing a 120-page hardcover book that is also available as a 13-disc vinyl collection. The big set includes 45 previously unreleased studio songs and a live 1987 show recorded in the Netherlands. The DVD contains an unreleased concert filmed at Prince’s Paisley Park studio in Minneapolis on December 31, 1987, that featured his only onstage collaboration with legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. The box includes a 120-page hardcover book with unseen images and Prince’s handwritten lyrics.

Tom Petty – “Wildflowers & All the Rest” (Warner Bros.; out now)

Petty’s beloved 1994 album, one that was particularly meaningful for him, has been reissued in multiple formats in several different versions. A 2-CD/3 LP deluxe edition contains the remastered album and a 10-track bonus album. The deluxe edition, out as a 4-CD/7-LP box, adds 15 demos and home recordings, plus live versions of each song from the album recorded by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers from 1995 – 2017. The super-deluxe version adds yet another CD and two extra LPs containing 16 alternate studio versions. A 60-page book with essays and annotated notes is included.

Grateful Dead – “American Beauty 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition” (Warner Bros.; October 30) 1970 was a good year for the Dead. In the summer, they issued the instant classic “Workingman’s Dead,” (already reissued in deluxe form earlier this year) which jettisoned jams in favor of meticulously crafted songs by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter that combined elements of classic country with folk and rock, and became a landmark example of hippie Americana. A few months later, they upped the ante with “American Beauty” and a new batch of tunes that are among the best in the band’s catalog. A 3-CD version includes the remastered album and a 2-CD concert recorded in Port Chester, NY, on February 18, 1971.

(Fans who wish to take a deeper dive into both of these classic Grateful Dead titles are urged to check out the digital companion collections for “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty” called “The Angel’s Share.” Dozens of unmarked 16-track reel to reel tapes containing session outtakes and demos were recently discovered in the vault, revealing partial and complete studio takes and illuminating band interaction as we hear the Dead work out the arrangements and harmonies for most of the songs. It’s goosebump stuff, and relatively cheap (starting at $12.99) from www.Dead.net.)

U2 – “All That You Can’t Leave Behind – 20th Anniversary” (Interscope; October 30)

20 years to the day after its initial release, U2’s 7-Grammy winning LP will see a multi-format anniversary release. The band’s 10th album at the time included the hits “Beautiful Day,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” “Elevation,” and “Walk On.” The standard reissue adds a bonus track (“The Ground Beneath Her Feet”) while the deluxe version adds a 2001 concert recorded in Boston. The 5-CD/11-LP super deluxe set rounds up virtually everything the band could find relating to this LP including all of the appropriate B-sides and bonus tracks, outtakes, alternate versions and remixes, a book and a poster.

Elton John – “Jewel Box” (Ume/EMI; November 13)

Elton’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour was halted by COVID, which gave the troubadour time to put together this massive set referred to in a press release as the “ultimate exploration” of his back catalog. “Jewel Box” will offer up a bounty of unreleased material dating back to the 1960s in 6 formats, including an 8-CD box. A 4-LP version will offer up deep cuts curated by Elton himself. A 3-LP rarities and B-sides collection rounds up 65 tracks recorded between 1965-1971, it includes demos and early collaborations with lyricist Bernie Taupin. A 2-LP edition called “And This is Me” includes the songs mentioned by name in Elton’s biography, “Me” (updated and reissued to coincide with this release). The 8-CD edition is housed in a hardcover book.

Buck Owens and The Buckaroos – “The Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966” (Omnivore; November 6)

This might not be a box set in the technical sense, but it’s an essential archival release.

Over the last decade, Omnivore Recordings has become a trademark of quality and one of the most reliable labels specializing in reissues and historical recordings. They tend to go the extra mile by seeking out the correct tapes, providing accurately annotated liner notes and beautiful packaging on collections that become essential editions to the artist’s respective discographies.

The label has released six Buck Owens collections to date, including two sets of alternate takes and live performances, and last year’s double disc set of 1971-1975 singles sides recorded for Capitol.

This is where the ‘Bakersfield Sound’ began, on this 2-disc set of 50s and 60s singles, all taken from the first generation master mono tapes. We hear Owens and his band become a confident whip-tight outfit of California country cats who dare to rock, ultimately posing more than a little threat to Nashville’s industry dominance of the day.

Aretha Franklin – “Aretha” (Rhino; November 20)

This comprehensive overview of the 6-decade career of Aretha Franklin promises to put her life and music in perspective. Beginning with her earliest single recorded in 1956, this box set, arranged mostly chronologically, collects 81 tracks on 4 discs, 19 of which make their CD and digital debut.

Her early Columbia Records material is sampled with 10-tracks, while the bulk of this set focuses on her career-defining tenure with Atlantic Records, heard here in a mix of master takes (“Respect,” “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You”) and alternate versions (“Think,” “Chain of Fools,” “Rock Steady.”) The third chapter of Franklin’s career saw the icon scoring a number of hits for Arista Records, represented here with cuts like “Freeway of Love,” “Jump to It” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves,” recorded with Eurythmics.

Unreleased work tapes and demos allow the listener to eavesdrop on Franklin in the studio as she worked out arrangements and phrasing.

Neil Young – “Archives II” (Reprise; November 20)

Some artists are overwhelmed with the body of work they’ve created. Neil is of those guys, and he’s been talking about releasing a series of massive archival sets since the mid-1980s when rock boxes started to become a thing.

Young’s “Archives 1” appeared in the summer of 2009, and presented an overview of his recorded output from 1963 to 1972 in a 10 DVD/Blu-ray/8-CD set that mixed released material with nearly 50 unissued tracks. Volume II, focusing on the fruitful period from 1972-1976 was supposed to follow soon thereafter, but time is fluid in Neil’s world, and fans have learned to take his promise of a real release date with a grain of salt.

The 10-CD ‘Volume II’ box is here – that’s the good news. The bad news: it’s already sold out, at least in physical form. Somehow, the product code leaked early, which allowed savvy fans to snap up every one of the 3,000 boxes produced at $250 a pop. That seems like a ridiculously low number of sets to produce for an artist with a fairly rabid global fan base like that of Young’s, but his ultimate goal is to direct more fans to his online archive.

Each physical set comes with a download code and a one-year subscription to the Neil Young archive, which provides audio at a much higher resolution than that of a 16-bit CD.

Neil posted an apology to fans who were shut out of the first production run, and promised a second batch of ‘Archive II’ boxes in 2021, before reversing course a few hours later and admitting that they are in fact sold out.

The Kinks – “Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part one” (Sanctuary Records; December 18)

Following the rapturously received Kinks box sets for “The Kinks Anthology,” “Village Green Preservation Society” and “Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) comes this 3-CD 50th anniversary box for the album that put the band back on the map in America.

A hilarious and heartbreaking takedown of the music industry (the same one that banned The Kinks from touring here for 5 years), “Lola” is best known for its top-10 title track and the follow-up single “Apeman” (each presented here in four unique versions).

The album’s strength lies in Ray Davies songs like the union-busting “Get Back in Line,” the industry-indicting “Top of the Pops,” the road song “This Time Tomorrow,” Dave Davies’ “Strangers,” and the beautiful and emotional “Anytime,” inexplicably left on the shelf for decades before it finally appeared on a Kinks set in 2014.

A remastered version of the album’s original mix is presented along with fresh remixes, alternate versions, live takes, demos, mono single versions and spoken word commentary from the Davies brothers.

George Harrison – “All Things Must Pass” (Apple; TBA) We know it’s coming, according to George’s family, but a 50th anniversary box set for George Harrison’s epic 1970 triple LP, his first release after the breakup of The Beatles, has yet to be officially announced.

Harrison often spoke of his large archive of unreleased material, and even employed former Beatles engineer Ken Scott to help him make sense of it, but only a few gems have been officially released in the 19 years since Harrison’s death.

In March, Dhani Harrison told Rolling Stone: “We have people digging through mountains of tapes, and they keep coming, boxes and boxes of them.” George’s widow, Olivia, hinted at a 50th anniversary box set for “All Things Must Pass,” that would presumably include outtakes, demos, early versions of the songs, and a fresh remix in 5.1 surround sound that might peel back some of the thick reverb applied by producer Phil Spector. She also teased a multi-media production for a film based on Harrison’s only US tour, a 1974 outing that found the former Beatle in good humor but raspy voice, accompanied by a cracking band performing new arrangements of the songs.

We were supposed to see a 50th anniversary box for The Beatles’ “Let It Be” this year, accompanied by director Peter Jackson’s reimagining of the final Beatles film, but both were postponed until 2021. That does leave a hole for this set to slip out, but official word awaits.

Last modified on Wednesday, 28 October 2020 11:32

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