Hurple Hoopla

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Top Ten Catalog Reissue Campaigns

10. Paul McCartney (Polydor) (England and Europe only)

For whatever insane reason, this reissue campaign never made it to America. Through good fortune and long tireless hunting, I've managed to collect the entire series. The albums reissued start with his first post-Beatles album McCartney and run through his most recent at the time, Flowers In The Dirt. All are superbly remastered and contain bonus tracks. However, none have historical essays. These are better than the standard American pressings, and well worth hunting down. Although his best years were definitely behind him, McCartney still did some wonderful work in the seventies and eighties. And while every album in his Wings and solo years is a must have, the ones that are should be had in this form.

9. Creedence Clearwater Revival (Fantasy)

These reissues boast incredibly improved 20-bit remastered sound, and long, detailed, insightful historical essays. They come packaged in standard jewel cases inside cardboard sleeves. None of them have bonus tracks or song lyrics, which is a shame because that is the only thing keeping these from being the perfect reissues. These CDs are hard to find at the moment, since rather than recalling the old CDs and replacing them with the newer copies, the record label is just sending the new remastered copies to stores when they reorder the titles. If your local store does not have copies of these, ask them to order copies for you. Creedence Clearwater Revival was not a typical late-sixties band. While other acts were jamming endlessly or freaking out, they played solid, steady, blues based rock 'n' roll. Probably because of this, their albums stand the test of time better than most other sixties artists. Their music would not be so out of place on current rock-oriented radio station play lists.

8. The Beach Boys (Capitol)

With this entry, I specifically mean the two-fers of the early years of the Beach Boy's career. While they produced some great music during the "Brother Records" years, it's hard to find it amongst the other junk they recorded. During their early years, however, it's hard to find the junk amongst the great music. These reissues are wonderful, featuring two full albums AND bonus tracks on one CD, as well as detailed historical essays, track notes, and greatly improved 20-bit remastered sound.

7. The Kinks (Castle & Velvel)

I'm slightly breaking the rules I set for myself on this one, as this is actually two reissue campaigns by two different record labels. Castle reissued the band's sixties albums concurrently with Velvel reissuing the seventies and eighties albums. While a case can be made that only the sixties Kinks material is essential, all their albums have something to recommend them to rock 'n' roll fans. As for the reissues themselves, the Velvel series is superior, boasting vastly improved 20-bit remastered sound, extensive historical essays and bonus tracks. The Castle series, on the other hand, while also featuring improved sound, bonus tracks and historical essays, suffer from "convention." Let me explain, the Castle reissues were readied in England, by an English audio engineer. In England convention is to use the No-Noise system, which eliminates tape hiss. However, this system is also known to cause other audio problems, most notably a 'watery' effect in the high end of the audio spectrum. It can also cause other distortions, when used incorrectly. These audio problems are abundant in the Castle Kinks reissues. In America, where the Velvel series was readied, it is convention for No-Noise not to be used. So, while there is more tape hiss on the Velvel releases, there are none of the other sonic artifacts that plague the Castle releases, resulting in better overall sound quality. Another problem with the Castle series is that some of the early Kinks album's master tapes are in very poor quality. Because they can only work with what they have available, this also limited the final sonic quality of those releases. All this is very sad, because the Kinks deserve better than they got. But, not much could have been done to improve matters.

6. The Band (Capitol)

The Band started out in the early sixties as the backing band for Screaming Jay Hawkins. Later they were the backing band of choice for Bob Dylan, most notoriously on his first "electric" tour. In the late sixties, they started recording their own albums as a fully contained group. Made up of four Canadians, and one American, they strangely became the most notable "American roots rock" group ever. The reissues of their material are probably the absolute best-sounding remastered material so far. The sound quality of their original recordings have been so vastly improved that they sound like they were recorded on modern digital equipment. There are nuances and instrumentations in the music now that have been impossible to hear in any previous release. Each CD also boasts very long and very detailed (sometimes even TOO detailed) historical essays. Each CD also boasts ample bonus material. These discs set a new benchmark for judging all remastered reissues. The sole reason they are not higher on this list is that the group's material suffered a serious drop in quality after their fourth album, and soon they were just going through the motions.

5. Elvis Costello (Rhino)

This is the second time Elvis Costello's catalog has been remastered and reissued. The first time was by Rykodisc, and their reissue campaign was perfect, with each release having upgraded sound, lavish new packaging and extensive liner notes penned by Elvis Costello himself. To be honest Rhino in no way improved the sound quality of Costello's work any more than Rykodisc. However, Rhino did manage to improve on the Rykodisc reissues significantly. The Rhino releases contain even longer, more detailed liner notes, again written by Elvis Costello himself, plus they've all been expanded to TWO discs! In fact, since most early Costello albums were close to thirty minutes long, most of the Rhino reissues contain more new, bonus material than original. In addition, while the Rykodisc reissues ended with the last Attractions album Blood & Chocolate, the Rhino releases continue through All This Useless Beauty. And, lastly, the Rhino reissues managed to do something I've long thought impossible... They made Kojak Variety listenable, even enjoyable (just ignore the album itself and listen to only the bonus tracks).

4. The Byrds (Columbia)

This is the full catalog of the seminal folk-rock band. Although they were plagued by an ever-rotating line-up, they still managed to record some of the most notable music of the late sixties. They deserve a first-rate reissue campaign, and that's exactly what they get. The albums have all been 20-bit remastered and sound perfect. Each CD features historic essays and many bonus tracks. In addition, as a bonus for dedicated fans, their rarities collection Untitled has been expanded to two discs and a previously unreleased live album has been added to their catalog. Wonderful stuff indeed!

3. Talking Heads (Rhino)

Boasting the most significantly improved sound quality of any reissue campaign anywhere, ever, earns this set the number 3 spot on my list. Not only has the sound been upgraded, but each album now includes DVD-Audio 5.1 mixes too! In addition, each release features bonus songs, and videos. In fact, to me, the only drawback is the crappy cardboard sleeves in which the sets are packaged.

2. The Who (MCA)

Finally, one of the "big three" British-invasion bands (along with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones) becomes the subject of a major catalog reissue. For fans, the Who catalog has long been in disarray, with various countries getting various vastly different versions of each album with various levels of audio quality. For example, while Germany released the true stereo version of A Quick One, America released only the mono version with two tracks replaced with recent single b-sides. With this reissue series that changed. All countries would now receive the same albums with the same sonic qualities. In some cases, this was good, in others, not. While, in most cases, this was a good thing, now the entire world must suffer through the inferior American version of A Quick One. Also, all the various best-of and greatest-hits collections the band released through the years were consolidated into just two packages, a box set for die-hard fans, and a 2-disc greatest hits collection for the casual fans. The last problem with the reissues is that the later in the band's career the albums were released, the less care was taken to insure the reissue was of top quality. While the early albums featured many, many bonus cuts, the last album featured just three, and they were nothing new or special, just a few tracks from the last show of the band's 1982 tour… which was broadcast on radio as part of the King Biscuit series all the time anyway. It may seem that I placed this reissue series too high on this list after reading about all the complaints, but here's what the releases have to recommend them… As stated earlier, the early albums have many, many truly rare and surprising bonus tracks. All the releases, except the last album, It's Hard, have extensive and informative historical notes. And, lastly, the majority of the releases have such vastly improved sound quality that they sound almost like different albums, except for Odds & Sods, but this is due to MCA having to hire a different engineer to redo this album because it was originally not due to be reissued. This is mainly because most of the releases have not only been remastered, but also remixed, most notably Tommy, to great effect. So, even though there are flaws, this is quite nearly the best reissue campaign so far… Except for…

1. The Monkees (Rhino)

How did these guys' reissues rate inclusion in the number one spot? Well, let's go over the releases and see. Every reissue has greatly improved remastered sound. They all have very extensive historical essays and very detailed track-by-track breakdowns. They each feature a great many bonus tracks that are interesting, new and fit the time period of the album's recording. In addition to the band's entire original catalog, Rhino has also released three full CDs of other unreleased material, none of which is repeated on the reissues. Also, the label has consolidated all the band's various greatest hits collections into two new collections, a single disc for casual fans and a two-disc set for die-hard fans. Even more, they have released a box set, and even two MORE sets (one three-disc and one four-disc) of previously unreleased material as limited edition collections for very serious die-hard Monkee fans. Whew! This band got the royal treatment, and from the revelations about them that this campaign has brought forth, they deserve it.


There you have it, my list for the top ten catalog reissues in rock 'n' roll. It's quite a varied list overall. There are several artist's catalogs that could have made the list but for various reasons:

Cheap Trick

The label has done an excellent job on the titles released so far, but that has only been the first six albums. The first 4 in 1999, and the last two just a few months ago. Come on guys, sometime this century, please.

David Bowie

Sound could be MUCH better.

Rolling Stones

No bonus material, no liner notes.

Jethro Tull

Great, but slow release schedule. I debated putting them in the top 10, but the fact that the campaign started in 2000 and is still not completed in 2006 lost them the ranking.

As time goes on, more and more bands will be receiving this special treatment. As time goes by, the level of quality expected by fans rises as each newer reissue campaign is a little more fancy than those before. As customers, we should be grateful. As fans, we should be ecstatic!


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