Presents from the past
by Gregg Shapiro
If you are still in search of the perfect gift for the music-lover on your list, even after the holidays, here are suggestions for that special someone, even if that special someone is you.
Vinyl variety: Originally released on CD in 2007, the live Judy Garland compilation Greatest Hits Live (Savoy Jazz) makes its vinyl debut on pink vinyl, no less! Comprised of 14 legendary performances from the diva's 1963-64 musical variety TV series, it features staples from her repertoire "The Man That Got Away," "Swanee," "Smile," "What'll I Do" and, of course, "Over the Rainbow." Particularly delightful are duets with Ray Bolger ("If I Only Had a Brain"), Tony Bennett ("I Left My Heart in San Francisco"), and the now classic 1963 pairing with Barbra Streisand on "Get Happy"/"Happy Days Are Here Again."
The vinyl for the 40th anniversary reissue of Diana Ross' eponymous 1976 Motown album may not be pink (it's black), but it's beloved by her queer fans. The now-famous cover photo, taken by legendary gay photographer Victor Skrebneski, on which Ross gave good face, sets the mood for what's inside. Album opener "Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going?)" became a standard for drag queens around the globe. Ballads such "I Thought It Took a Little Time (But Today I Fell in Love)" and "After You" also showed Ross at her best. The almost eight-minute "Love Hangover," Ross' crossover disco sensation (heard in Looking for Mr. Goodbar) that made her a full-fledge disco diva, paved the way for later club classics "The Boss," "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out." This 40-year-old album sounds as timeless as ever.
The fourth of Fleetwood Mac's multi-platinum studio albums, 1982's Mirage (WB), has been reissued in a marvelous expanded deluxe edition, including the original LP on 180 gram vinyl, three CDs and one DVD audio disc. In addition to two massive hit singles, Christine McVie's "Hold Me" and Stevie Nicks' "Gypsy," Mirage found the band returning to the more commercially accessible sound of 1977's Rumours , although traces of 1979's Tusk can be heard in Lindsey Buckingham tunes "Empire State," "Book of Love" and "Can't Go Back." Nicks also shines on "Straight Back" and sweet country emotion of "That's Alright." The second disc features 20 "outtakes & sessions" and includes the Mac's cover of Bob Nolan's "Cool Water," previously available on the second edition of the Revenge of the Killer B's compilation. The third disc was recorded live at the Forum in LA in 1982, and the DVD audio presents Mirage in 5.1 Surround and 24/96 Stereo Audio.
Learn (Frontier) by Rikk Agnew Band, on 180-gram vinyl, is a new album with deep roots in the past. Agnew, the singer-songwriter of influential 1980s O.C. hardcore punk band The Adolescents and Goth outfit Christian Death, is still a brutal force to be reckoned with. But don't be fooled by the hopeful tone of the anthemic, accessible opener "I Can't Change the World" – Agnew hasn't softened in the least. "Ripped to the Tits" is a cautionary tale about excess and moderation. "Bash!" confronts police violence, and the title track asks "What the hell is wrong with society?" "Punkbelly" introduces us to a frightening new kind of ailment.
Discs by the numbers: When the David Bowie box set Five Years 1969-1973 was released in 2015, he was still alive. The second installment in the CD box set series, Who Can I Be Now? [1974-1976] (Parlophone), proves that time, like Bowie, changes with the subtlety of a chameleon, arriving as it does eight months after Bowie's passing. Focusing on three studio albums – the glammy Diamond Dogs ("Rebel Rebel," "1984"), the Philly soul/disco of Young Americans ("Fame") and the groundbreaking Station to Station ("Golden Years"), presented in the original 1976 version as well as the 2010 Harry Maslin mix – Who Can I Be Now? is a fitting title. The set includes live recordings, two versions of 1974's David Live and Live Nassau Coliseum 76 and a disc of single edits and live versions. Of special interest is The Gouster , a previously unreleased album of songs ("Young Americans," "Somebody Up There Likes Me") that went on to become the Young Americans album.
Released prior to Paul McCartney's latest return to Capitol Records, the double-disc collection Pure McCartney (MPL/Concord) features 39 tracks. McCartney has had only four career compilations: 1978's Wings Greatest, 1987's All the Best , 2001's Wingspan and now Pure McCartney . The tracks have been curated by Sir Paul, and more than half of the tunes are from his hit-laden 1970s period: "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," "With a Little Luck." Superstar duets "Ebony and Ivory" (with Stevie Wonder) and "Say Say Say" (with the late Michael Jackson) represent the 80s. There are also a few songs from the 90s and numbers as recent as "My Valentine" and "Save Us" from 2012's Kisses on the Bottom and 2013's New. But albums Press To Play, Driving Rain and Flowers in the Dirt are overlooked. If you're looking for a more thorough experience, spring for the 67-track, four-disc Pure McCartney set.
You just never know who's going to get the deluxe reissue treatment. Take The Verve, a band whose heyday coincided with the 1990s British invasion led by Oasis and Blur. Twenty-one years after its initial release, The Verve's second album A Northern Soul (Virgin/Universal) has been reissued in a deluxe triple-disc box set including the remastered album, a disc of EP B-sides, a previously unreleased disc of studio and BBC sessions, a poster, postcards and a book. The Verve didn't hit it big in the States until its third album Urban Hymns, and its massive hit single "Bittersweet Symphony," but listening to A Northern Soul can give listeners background. Standout tracks are "History," "On Your Own" and "Drive You Home."
Elvis Presley has been dead almost 40 years and somehow there's enough material to be mined for a new release, the double-disc Way Down in the Jungle Room (RCA/Legacy). A compilation of The King's final studio recordings, recorded in 1976 in Graceland's den, aka the Jungle Room, with members of his longtime touring band, the set includes songs that appeared on From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee and Moody Blue. Highlights include Elvis' renditions of "She Thinks I Still Care," "Hurt," "Danny Boy," "Solitaire" and "It's Easy for You."