Posts Tagged ‘Epic’

Charlie Rich: 25 All-Time Greatest Hits

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

CharlieRich_25AllTimeGreatestHitsCharlie Rich’s biggest country hits

Varese’s 25-track set collects Charlie Rich’s biggest hits from his decade on the Epic label, including all nine of his 1970s chart-toppers, and nearly all of his Top 40s. It also threads into the track list the mid-60s recordings for RCA that the label issued as singles in the 1970s in a successful effort to ride the coattails of Epic’s success. These sides represent Rich’s biggest hits, including the landmark “Behind Closed Doors” and the across-the-board smash “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” Missing is 1975’s “It’s All Over Now” (#23 Country), some lesser charting sides and singles released in the 1970s by Mercury, Elektra and United Artists.

Rich’s soulful delivery and musical range, exemplified by the jazz piano slipped into the pop “Nice ‘n’ Easy,” was unusual among his fellow Nashville hit makers. There’s some contrast between the earlier RCA sides and the Billy Sherrill-produced orchestrations on Epic, but they fit together surprisingly well. This is an excellent collection of Rich’s most commercially fertile years, but only scratches the surface of his artistic versatility. To get a broader view of the Charlie Rich story, supplement this set with collections of his work on Sun and Smash. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Sly & The Family Stone: Higher!

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

SlyAndTheFamilyStone_HigherCareer-spanning box with mono singles, rarities and unreleased tracks

Sly and the Family Stone’s catalog has never been difficult to find. In addition to dozens of compilations (one of which, 1970’s Greatest Hits, was their first album to top the charts), the band’s original albums have been remastered and reissued with expanded track listings. The remastered albums have themselves also been anthologized as The Collection. But there’s more to Sylvester Stewart than the Family Stone and there’s more to the Family Stone’s catalog than the albums. Pulling together pre-Family obscurities, hit singles (many in their punchy mono single mixes), album cuts, live performances and previously unissued material creates an arc of musical discovery that paints a wholly (or holy) different picture than hearing the material in separate installments.

This box set opens with five sides Stewart (not yet Stone) recorded for San Francisco’s Autumn label in 1964 and 1965. Stewart served as a staff producer for Autumn, helming sessions for the Beau Brummels, Mojo Men, Great Society and others (see Precious Stone, Listen to the Voices, The Autumn Records Story and Dance With Me for more of his production work), and his first sides riff on the hit single, “C’mon and Swim,” he’d written and produced for Bobby Freeman. The B-side, “Scat Swim,” cut a deeper groove than the plug side, and his next single, “Buttermilk (Part 1),” was a catchy blue-soul instrumental, with Stewart playing all the instruments, including organ and harmonica leads. The unreleased “Dance All Night” and his last single for Autumn, “Temptation Walk,” show how early (and easily) Stewart began mixing pop, soul, blues, R&B and jazz into his original stew.

After leaving Autumn, Stewart quickly assembled what was to become Sly and the Family Stone, and waxed the 1967 demos that would land them a contract with Epic. In the wake of the group’s later success, two of the tracks, the original “I Ain’t Got Nobody (For Real)” and a cover of Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Lose,” were released on the Loadstone label. The former is powered by Larry Graham’s insistent bass line and topped by the Family Stone’s trademark trumpet-sax combination of Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini. The group began recording for Epic (at the same Golden State Recorders at which Stewart had produced for Autumn Records) in mid-1967, and the fruits of these initial sessions fill out disc one, starting with their first A-side, “Underdog,” and its two B-sides, “Higher” (from early promo singles) and “Bad Risk.”

Despite a fresh sound that crackled with the energy of its multiple roots, neither the single nor the album A Whole New Thing made a commercial impression at the time; it wasn’t until “Dance to the Music” was recorded in September that the Family Stone had their first hit in the can. Launched in January 1968, “Dance to the Music” quickly established the group’s revolutionary combination of pop, rock, soul, funk and gospel, and shifted the course of pop music. Other acts quickly latched onto elements of the sound, but none could match Stewart’s output as a songwriter or the band’s approach as a unit. The group was sufficiently prolific as to leave fully-finished masters in the vault, including the four that end disc one. Here you’ll find the band trying out previously unheard original songs, experimental vocal arrangements, and repurposed lyrics and melodies.

The July-August 1967 session tracks continue on disc two, showing the wealth of great material produced before the band finally hit with “Dance to the Music.” Two of session tracks (“What Would I Do” and “Only One Way Out of This Mess”) were previously issued on the expanded edition of A Whole New Thing, but three more are included here for the first time: an inventive cover of the pop-folk song “What’s it Got to Do With Me,” an early take on the autobiographical “Future and Fame” and the Freddie Stone-sung deep soul ballad “I Know What You Came to Say.” All five session tracks are as good as the material that made the original album, but the lack of early commercial success doomed this extra material to a long stay in the vault.

The band’s commercial breakthrough is finally heard six tracks into disc two, with the ecstatic three-minute mono single mix of “Dance to the Music.” The song is, quite literally, a brilliantly catchy tutorial on the sound being created before the listener’s very ears. As memorable as are the mono singles, stereo album sides like “Ride the Rhythm” more expansively show off the band’s inventive arrangements and tight musicianship as they explode across the soundstage. Disc two finishes out with album tracks from Dance to the Music, the previously unreleased “We Love All,” the obscure mostly-instrumental French-language single “Danse a la Musique” (and it’s even stranger Chipmunk-voiced B-side, “Small Fries”), the unreleased B-side “Chicken,” and exuberant sides from Life, including mono single masters for “Life” (with a different lead vocal track than the album cut) and “M’Lady.”

Disc three opens with the band’s second smash single, the #1 “Everyday People” and its charting flipside, “Sing a Simple Song.” These tracks, along with “Stand!” (offered here in a live recording) and “I Want to Take You Higher,” powered the commercial success of the band’s third album. As with their debut, the band recorded a lot more material during the album sessions than they could issue, and disc three includes another helping of previously unreleased bonuses, including unused instrumental backings. The group became a hot live act, essayed here with performances from the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, and scored in 1969 as singles artists with “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Everybody is a Star” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” all heard here as mono singles.

The final disc open with the band’s next album, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, including album tracks and all three of its singles. Ironically, though the album yielded the hit “Family Affair,” it was recorded in large part by Stone alone, with overdubs by Family members and other hired-hands (including keyboard player Billy Preston). The album hasn’t the organic sound or joyous mood of the band’s earlier material, and the sonics of 1971 overdubbing and the use of a drum machine on several tracks subdues the group’s underlying funk. By 1973 the group’s membership was beginning to change, including new drummers, a replacement for the departed Larry Graham, and the addition of a third horn player. The group’s singles (including “If You Want Me to Stay” and “Time for Livin'”) continued to chart in the Top 40, as did their final two albums Fresh and Small Talk.

By 1975 Sly had disbanded the Family Stone and begun to record as a solo artist backed by hired musicians. His album High on You, expands beyond the musical boundaries of the Family Stone, adding steel guitar and other touches that hadn’t been heard on the band’s releases. Disc four closes out with selections from Stone’s solo work, from the then-newly formulated Family Stone’s Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I’m Back, and a pair of previously unreleased tracks, “Hoboken” and “High.” The box set lingers a bit more over the first-half of the group’s career, rushing through the latter half in a single disc, but that’s in balance with the band’s rise to fame, the peaking of their invention, and the view most listeners will have of their career.

This is a well thought out anthology, touching on Stewart’s pre-Family solo work, the Family’s rise to fame, their chart domination and fire as a live act, their eventual end and Sly Stone’s return to solo work. Along the way there are iconic hit singles, B-sides and album tracks, seventeen previously unreleased tracks and a large helping of original mono single mixes. The only real omission from this set are the studio versions of “Stand” and “I Want to Take You Higher!,” each of which are included among the live tracks. The mono mixes will be greatly appreciated by fans who have already completed their collection of the expanded stereo album reissues. For those without any of the group’s catalog on-hand, your surround sound-trained ears may find the stereo hits more immediately satisfying; check out the album reissues, or the anthologies Greatest Hits or Essential.

In addition to the mono mixes and unreleased tracks, the set’s 104-page book is its own star. The book includes finely written liner notes, an informative timeline, rare photographs, reproductions of labels, sleeves and posters, and revelatory track-by-track comments from the Greg Errico, Larry Graham,  Jerry Martini, Cynthia Robinson, Sly Stone and many others. In addition to the standard 4-CD set, there are several variations: an Amazon exclusive that adds a fifth disc (and parallel MP3 downloads), a vinyl LP edition (with its own Amazon exclusive variation) and a single disc highlights. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Sly Stone’s Home Page

Heart: Strange Euphoria

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Career-spanning 3-CD/1-DVD box set with many previously unreleased treats

There has been no shortage of hits packages for Heart, starting with 1980’s Heart’s Greatest Hits: Live, which at the time seemed to sum up a fading band’s run of commercial success. But with the release of 1985’s Heart, the Wilson sisters sparked a major comeback with their band, and by 1995, set off nearly annual production of anthologies and album reissues. In addition to single- and double-disc sets (including 1998’s Greatest Hits and 2002’s Essential), the band released a live run-through of their debut album on both CD and DVD. But as the band’s career stretched into the twenty-first century with Jupiters Darling and Red Velvet Car, and the Wilson sisters recorded solo and with their side-project, The Lovemongers, existing anthologies have fallen out of date.

Epic/Legacy cures this problem with a 3-CD, 1-DVD set that expands across Heart’s entire recorded legacy, including hits, album sides, live performances, demos and rarities. And rounding out the Wilsons’ legacy are solo selections and a pair by the Lovemongers. All together, twenty of the CDs’ fifty-one tracks are previously unreleased, and the DVD serves up a fifty-five minute live performance recorded in 1976 at Washington State University’s television station, KWSU. The opening instrumental of this vintage performance, as well as a scorching version of “Sing Child Sing,” shows the group’s progressive colors, but as they kick into “Heartless,” it’s clear that Heart was ready to rock. Hard. With the band’s debut album just released, they had the goods, but not yet the fame the album’s hits would bring. The video’s lighting, camera work and mono sound are good, and the picture (including some primitive special effects) holds up well for something no one probably thought would become historically important.

The CD set begins the Wilsons’ very first single, “Through Eyes and Glass” recorded as Ann Wilson & The Daybreaks in 1968, and released locally on the Topaz label. Key elements of Heart can be heard in the elder Wilson’s voice and flute, though the brooding mood is more connected to 1960s ballrooms than 1970s arenas. Skipping ahead to mid-70s demos, it feels as if the gauze of ‘60s acid culture has been lifted. Even in this early form, “Magic Man,” crackles with passion in both the rhythm and vocals. There’s a healthy dose of neo-psych in the guitar solo, but the song is undeniably powerful and anthemic. Other demos, such as “How Deep it Goes” and “Crazy on You,” are closer to final form, with Heart’s signature blend of electric and hard-strummed acoustic in place on the latter. Ann Wilson had yet to unleash her full vocal power in these demos, but you can hear how the songs will push her to great heights.

Though the box set covers songs from all thirteen Heart studio albums, they’re presented in a mix of studio, live and demo versions. The disputed Magazine album is represented by demos of “Here Song” and “Heartless,” the first of which actually sounds more polished than its album release, and a live version of “Devil Delight” that appears on the DVD. 1990’s Brigade offers up a demo of “Under the Sky” that is truly compelling in its lack of big studio gloss. Other demos, like the acoustic-guitar accompanied “Dog & Butterfly” show off the Wilsons’ songwriting, rather than Heart’s instrumental and production talents. Although the band’s commercial fortunes began to decline after 1980’s Bebe le Strange, they returned to commercial dominance in 1985 with five singles from Heart. Chief among the successes, and indicative of the band’s changes, was “These Dreams.” Written by Bernie Taupin and Martin Page, and sung by Nancy Wilson, the sound traded in the band’s guitar rock for synth-dominated modern pop, and navigated the commercial winds for the band’s first chart topper.

Heart remained commercially vital throughout the ‘80s, with Bad Animals and Brigade selling multi-platinum and spinning off multiple charting singles, but artistically, their demos, such as the terrific “Unconditional Love” and “Under the Sky” often showed more earthiness and soul than their heavily-produced albums. The first-half of the set’s third-disc is devoted to non-Heart material from the Lovemongers, solo performances, and live and demo tracks that were never remade in the studio. With the big hair ‘90s receding in the rear view mirror, the Wilsons returned to the more organic rock and blues roots with which they started the ‘70s, and the demos show that they still had ideas other people couldn’t fathom as Heart material. The disc closes out with songs from the band’s last three albums, plus “Little Problems, Little Lies,” from Ann Wilson’s solo release.

Curated by Ann and Nancy Wilson, with notes that detail how songs and performances came into being, this is an artist’s view of their career, and one that may not completely agree with a fan’s perspective. The demos and live tracks provide new angles on well-known songs, and the video gives latter-day fans a peek at what they missed seeing and hearing live in the mid-70s. Someone looking for a recitation of the biggest hits in their original form is better off with a single-disc collection or a couple of original albums; with nearly two-dozen charting singles (including a handful of Top 10s) missing from the track lineup, this box is more of a supplement to a Heart fan’s existing collection than a place to start one anew. At over an hour each, the CDs are well stocked, and the live video is an unparalleled treat. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Heart’s Home Page

Kansas: Setlist – The Very Best Of

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Prog-rock and boogie from the arena heartland of America

The Legacy division of Sony continues to explore new ways to keep the CD relevant. Their Playlist series was the first out of the gate with eco-friendly packaging that used 100% recycled cardboard, no plastic, and on-disc PDFs in place of paper booklets. Their new Setlist series follows the same path of a single disc that provides an aficionado’s snapshot of an artist’s catalog. In this case the anthologies turn from the studio to the stage, pulling together tracks from an artist’s live repertoire, generally all previously released, but in a few cases adding previously unreleased items. As with the Playlist collections, the Setlist discs aren’t greatest hits packages; instead, they forgo some obvious catalog highlights to give listeners a chance to hear great, lesser-known songs from the artist’s stage act.

Kansas was among the most commercially successful prog-rock bands of their time. Their intricate arrangements, complex time signatures and instrumental chops echoed the works of EL&P, King Crimson, Golden Earring (check out the bass line and drums on their cover of J.J. Cale’s “Bringing it Back”) and the whole of the UK Canterbury scene, but the muscle of their Midwest rock looked equally to the jams of the Allman Brothers. The combination of brains, boogie and relentless touring propelled them to stardom on album rock radio stations and made them a tremendous arena draw. The ten tracks collected here are drawn primarily from the band’s peak years of 1975-1978, and all but two (a 1980 performance of “Dust in the Wind” and a 1982 performance of “Play the Game Tonight”) are previously released.

The core of this set is drawn from the live album Two for the Show, and its 2008 expanded reissue. Additional tracks were picked up from expanded reissues of Kansas, Leftoverature, and Song for America. Though fans are likely to have all the expanded reissues, the previously unreleased version of “Dust in the Wind” is worth picking up. Recorded a year before vocalist Steve Walsh left the band, it’s a moody and emotional performance with a moving extended violin solo by Robby Steinhardt. As one might expect from a prog-rock band playing arenas in the mid-70s, the tracks expand to upwards of nine minutes, and though there are fleeting moment of Spinal Tap bombast, the boogie grooves keep the jams jamming. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

REO Speedwagon: Setlist – The Very Best Of

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The rocking live side of REO Speedwagon

The Legacy division of Sony continues to explore new ways to keep the CD relevant. Their Playlist series was the first out of the gate with eco-friendly packaging that used 100% recycled cardboard, no plastic, and on-disc PDFs in place of paper booklets. Their new Setlist series follows the same path of a single disc that provides an aficionado’s snapshot of an artist’s catalog. In this case the anthologies turn from the studio to the stage, pulling together tracks from an artist’s live repertoire, generally all previously released, but in a few cases adding previously unreleased items. As with the Playlist collections, the Setlist discs aren’t greatest hits packages; instead, they forgo some obvious catalog highlights to give listeners a chance to hear great, lesser-known songs from the artist’s stage act.

REO Speedwagon’s entry in this series is really geared to fans, rather than as an overview of the band’s live recordings. Half the tracks (2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14) are previously unreleased performances stretching from 1980 through 1987, and though the band’s two chart toppers (“Keep on Loving You” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling”) are included, the song list relies more on fan and concert favorites, such as “Like You Do,” “Keep Pushin’” and “Golden Country,” that weren’t released as singles. The band’s signature, “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” is offered here in an excellent previously unissued 1981 performance recorded at Denver’s McNichols Arena. The seven previously issued tracks are drawn from the band’s 1976 U.S. tour (3, 4, 7, 13) as documented on Live: You Get What You Play For, and mid-80s to early-90s performances (1, 9, 11) drawn from The Second Decade Of Rock And Roll 1981 To 1991.

As much as the power ballad “Keep on Lovin’ You” has defined REO Speedwagon for casual listeners, their earlier albums were built on a foundation of blue collar Midwest rock rather than the studio pop of their breakthrough hits. You can hear the difference in direction between the 1976 and post-1980 sides, but what’s really noticeable is the decline in spark of the 1990s performances. The producers have done a nice job of cross-fading the audience response, segueing tracks from disparate times and places into a surprisingly seamless (and perhaps overly relentless) concert experience. It’s remains puzzling why the band didn’t better document their live performances at the time of their early-80s prime, and though this set helps fill in the picture, the great ‘80s REO Speedwagon live album still remains to be released commercially. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Ted Nugent: Setlist – The Very Best Of

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

The Motor City Madman’s hammer of the gods

The Legacy division of Sony continues to explore new ways to keep the CD relevant. Their Playlist series was the first out of the gate with eco-friendly packaging that used 100% recycled cardboard, no plastic, and on-disc PDFs in place of paper booklets. Their new Setlist series follows the same path of a single disc that provides an aficionado’s snapshot of an artist’s catalog. In this case the anthologies turn from the studio to the stage, pulling together tracks from an artist’s live repertoire, generally all previously released, but in a few cases adding previously unreleased items. As with the Playlist collections, the Setlist discs aren’t greatest hits packages; instead, they forgo some obvious catalog highlights to give listeners a chance to hear great, lesser-known songs from the artist’s stage act.

While Ted Nugent’s conservative politics, pro-hunting agenda (including the canned hunts he leads on his fenced-in hunting ranch) and associations with the Tea Party and Glenn Beck have alienated him from parts of the rock ‘n’ roll crowd, the power and volume of his mid-70s live shows still command respect. His dates with the classic line-up of Derek St. Holmes (guitar), Rob Grange (bass) and Clifford Davies (drums) were documented on 1978’s Double Live Gonzo!, and the next edition of his band produced Live at Hammersmith ’79. Additional live albums followed (including Intensities in 10 Cities), as did live bonus cuts on reissues of Free for All and Cat Scratch Fever. All ten tracks here are taken from these existing releases, no previously unreleased material is included.

The heart of this set is seven tracks recorded in 1977-78 with the seminal band line-up. These are the hard rock, ear-bleeding guitar hero sounds that form the core of Nugent’s legend as a live performer. Of course, anyone who actually saw Nugent live during this era – a time before most realized that wearing ear protection at concerts was a good idea – may need to turn it up a little for full effect. At least you won’t have to suffer through Nugent leaving his guitar feeding back at top volume while he waits to be called back for an encore. The song list includes the concert opener “Just What the Doctor Ordered” and soon-to-be fan favorites “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” recorded on the Cat Scratch Fever album tour. Nugent even reaches back to the Amboy Dukes’ debut single for the collection’s closing cover of “Baby, Please Don’t Go.”

The anthology format leaves gaps between the tracks rather than blending the audience response, and the pauses slightly lessen the impact of Nugent’s aural onslaught. Noticeably missing is the concert favorite, “Stranglehold,” which could have fit, given the disc’s 60-minute running time; and if not, the bland blues workout “Lip Lock” could have been dropped. You do get the 15-minute instrumental “Hibernation,” but its guitar noodling, pyrotechnics and feedback don’t build the tension or offer the catharsis of “Stranglehold.” Those wanting a taste of Nugent’s live act may prefer this less expensive introduction, but the classic Double Live Gonzo offers a better opportunity to really submit yourself in the Motorcity Madman’s hammer of the gods. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Cheap Trick: Setlist – The Very Best Of

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Rockin’ sampler of Cheap Trick live tracks

The Legacy division of Sony continues to explore new ways to keep the CD relevant. Their Playlist series was the first out of the gate with eco-friendly packaging that used 100% recycled cardboard, no plastic, and on-disc PDFs in place of paper booklets. Their new Setlist series follows the same path of a single disc that provides an aficionado’s snapshot of an artist’s catalog. In this case the anthologies turn from the studio to the stage, pulling together tracks from an artist’s live repertoire, generally all previously released, but in a few cases adding previously unreleased items. As with the Playlist collections, the Setlist discs aren’t greatest hits packages; instead, they forgo some obvious catalog highlights to give listeners a chance to hear great, lesser-known songs from the band’s stage act.

Cheap Trick’s volume of Setlist features eleven tracks drawn primarily from the late ‘70s, including a generous helping borrowed from Sex America Cheap Trick and At Budokan. Filling out the set are tracks from Found all the Parts, the extended reissue of Dream Police, and 2000’s Authorized Greatest Hits. Everything here has been issued before, but pulling together tracks from 1977 through 1979, plus a pair from 1988, gives a fuller sense of Cheap Trick as a live act than their breakthrough Budokan album. In particular, the lengthy opening cover (from a 1977 show at Los Angeles’ Whiskey a Go Go) of Dylan’s “Mrs. Henry” provides a terrific view of the band’s Who-like power and abandon, with excellent drumming from Bun E. Carlos and blazing guitar and bass from Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson. Cheap Trick may have earned a reputation as one of power pop’s greatest exponents, but they could be downright heavy when they wanted to.

The same 1977 Whiskey date also provides “Ballad of TV Violence,” which shows the edgy emotion and raw power of Robin Zander’s voice better than the more famous Budokan cuts, “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender.” And after a seven-year hiatus from the band, bassist Tom Petersson stepped to the microphone to sing “I Know What I Want” at a 1988 date in Daytona Beach; from the same show, the band performs their overwrought, yet chart-topping and crowd-pleasing hit, “The Flame.” Throughout this collection Cheap Trick proves and over what a great live band they are, and how well their songs translate from studio to stage. Fans may already have all of these tracks, but anyone who knows only a hit or two will find this a worthy introduction to the power and the glory that is Cheap Trick on stage. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Bobby Vinton: The Best Of

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Excellent collection of ‘60s crooner’s top hits

A wave of attractive, talented male singers sprouted in the lull between Elvis’ induction into the army and the Beatles arrival on U.S. shores. Among them, Bobby Vinton had one of the prettiest voices, an instrument with which he carved out a niche of pop songs that didn’t even feint towards rock ‘n’ roll. While Bobby Vee, Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon and others were non-threatening hit-makers who barely hinted at the darker side of ‘50s rockers, Vinton looked further back to earlier, pre-rock pop. His lushly orchestrated recordings were more apiece with the pre-rock ‘n’ roll hit parade than with the amalgam of blues, R&B, country and gospel that in 1963 might have seemed like a commercial fad that was then in repose or decline.

Vinton made no pretension to following in the footsteps of rock ‘n’ roll, as his ballads were winsome and filled with treacle and tears. What made the songs work, and surprisingly still keeps them emotionally effective, is the sweetness with which Vinton indulges the songs’ idealized heartaches. Romantic totems of roses, childhood sweethearts, high school romances, unrequited love and broken hearts are all magnified by vocals that sound as if they might break down at any moment – Roy Orbison minus the operatic distress. Vinton hit a weeping artistic peak with the teary-eyed soldier of “Mr. Lonely,” but even his occasional declarations of love, like “There! I’ve Said it Again” and “My Heart Belongs to Only You” are just as much wishful thinking as they are returned fulfillment.

These fourteen tracks cover most of Vinton’s Top 20 hits, including his four chart toppers, but given Vinton’s sustained success through the ‘60s and early ‘70s, this isn’t complete. In addition to a couple dozen lower charting singles, the top-20 “Clinging Vine” (#17) and seasonal “Dearest Santa” (#8) are missing. A more important omission is his Top-5 comeback “My Melody of Love,” waxed for ABC in 1975 after having departed from Epic. This marked a brief return to the Top 5 and garnered enough publicity to land Vinton a television show. You can find it on the much shorter Collections, but you’re best bet is this set (or Varese’s more complete All-Time Greatest Hits), plus a digital download of “My Melody of Love.” [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Bobby Vinton’s Home Page

Sly & The Family Stone: The Essential 3.0

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Eco-friendly expansion of effective career overview

Several of Legacy’s two-disc Essential releases have been upgraded with a third-disc and plastic-free eco-friendly packaging. Such is the case for the original 35-track 2003 issue of this set, augmented here with eight additional tunes on a third disc. Although the third disc clocks in at only 32 minutes, it adds an additional track from each of Dance to the Music, Life, Stand!, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Fresh, and Small Talk. Nearly fourteen minutes of the bonus disc is taken up by the funk instrumental “Sex Machine,” but more impressive is the group’s tour de force cover of “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” The set’s booklet is a straight reproduction from the original release; the third-disc’s extra songs are credited on an inside panel of the quad-fold digipack.

The bulk of the collection as originally issued surveys tracks from the group’s 1967 debut LP A Whole New Thing through Sly Stone’s 1975 solo album High On You. Left out is the 1976 reunion album Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I’m Back and later albums recorded for Warner Brothers. The selections weigh more heavily to the group’s peak mid-period albums, with the group’s last first-run album Small Talk represented by only two cuts, and Stone’s solo album only one. For most fans this will be a welcome balance, leaving room for a trio of group-defining hit singles (“Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Everybody is a Star” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”) that turned up on the 1969 Greatest Hits album. What’s missing, and what might have made the bonus disc more attractive to collectors, is material not readily available elsewhere on CD.

The forty-three selections provide a representative sampling of tracks from the group’s seven Epic albums (eight if you include Greatest Hits), creating both a one-stop shop for those who want to get to the core of the band’s legendary blend of soul, funk, jazz, rock and psychedelia, and a roadmap for those who want to explore the original releases. The 12-panel foldout booklet provides cursory discographical and chart details, a personnel listing, a few photos and disappointingly generic liner notes. [©2008 hyperbolium dot com]

Donovan, Tammy Wynette, The Bangles: Playlist

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Legacy’s latest version of the single-disc artist overview has a few novel twists. Rather than a strict chronological recitation of an artist’s chart hits, the song selections are meant to gather those tracks a fan might compile for themselves. The 14-track playlists are still hit focused, but don’t always provide a full accounting of an artist’s chart success. Mono singles, longer album versions, out-of-print and non-hit tracks are sequenced to optimize song-to-song segues and draw out an impression of the artist’s overall catalog. The results are intended to deliver a listening experience rather than a hits archive. As a physical disc, Legacy’s marketing these as CD-quality alternatives to MP3s, improving on the package’s ecological aspects with a plastic-free digipack made of 100% recycled paperboard, and including additional materials (pictures, liner notes, credits, wallpapers) on the disc itself, rather than in a printed booklet.


Donovan’s Playlist opens with his 1966 flower-power anthems, “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow,” the former in the longer stereo album version, the latter in the mono single mix. The Scottish Woody Guthrie’s acoustic folk is heard in the mono singles “Catch the Wind” and “Colours,” the latter featuring a harmonica bridge left off the album version. The body of the compilation runs through most of Donovan’s US hits (including specific single versions of “There is a Mountain” and “Epistle to Dippy”), omitting “Jennifer Juniper,” “Lalena” and “To Susan on the West Coast Waiting.” In place of the three missing hits are the album tracks “Season of the Witch” from 1966’s Sunshine Superman, “Young Girl Blues” from 1966’s Mellow Yellow, “Isle of Islay” from 1967’s A Gift From a Flower to a Garden, and “Happiness Runs” from 1969’s Barabajagal.

Those looking for a straightforward accounting of Donovan’s US chart hits should seek out the Greatest jifiHits or Essential CDs. Those looking for flavor beyond the hits will find the stark, piercing portrait of loneliness, “Young Girl Blues,” particularly affecting, and the positivity of “Happiness Runs” a sweet folk round. What the album tracks show is that Donovan can’t easily be captured in only fourteen tracks. Key protest titles (“The War Drags On,” “Universal Soldier”), winning B-sides (“Sunny South Kensington”), and writerly album works (“Writer in the Sun,” “Sand and Foam”) await you on original album reissues, longer single-disc offerings like Best Of-Sunshine Superman, or longer-form collections like Troubadour: The Definitive Collection or Try for the Sun: The Journey of Donovan. As a short overview, though, this is a good place to start your journey into the world of Donovan.

Tammy Wynette

How well each Playlist volumes live up to the marketing promise differs artist by artist. With over forty hit singles to her name, Wynette’s Playlist couldn’t possibly capture them all; instead, the selections cherry-pick hits that stretch from 1966’s “Apartment #9” through 1976’s chart topping “’Til I Can Make it on My Own.” All fourteen tracks are notated as identical recordings on 45 and LP, so there’s no collector’s aspect, and given that the same titles were released in 2004 as The Essential Tammy Wynette, this volume is more of a repackage rather than a fresh appraisal. That said, this is a solid single-disc introduction to one of country music’s greatest vocalists. It’s not a deep survey or career retrospective, for that you’ll need to seek the out-of-print Tears of Fire: The 25th Anniversary Collection.

The Bangles

The Bangles edition of Playlist partly reneges on the premise by reeling off their eight U.S. chart hits in order, starting with the 1986 Prince-authored breakthrough “Manic Monday” and concluding with 1989’s “Be With You.” Unlike other artists in this series with more extensive hit catalogs, The Bangles chart run fits snugly into half a disc. Also included is the group’s AOR hit “Hero Takes a Fall” from 1984’s All Over the Place, and five album tracks from All Over the Place, Different Light, and Everything. The non-hits favor covers, including Katrina and the Waves’ “Going Down to Liverpool,” The Merry-Go-Round’s “Live,” and Big Star’s “September Gurls.” This is the same track sequence offered on 2006’s We Are the ‘80s.

While these fourteen selections provide a fair representation of the Bangles’ commercially successful years, they could have better captured the fan’s view. Missing are tracks from the group’s pre-Columbia EP on Faulty/IRS, their paisley-underground compilation appearances, 12” remixes that accompanied their hits, and material from their various reunions. Perhaps those are too arcane for a 14-track once-over, but without them this set offers only one compilation producer’s selection of album tracks over another’s. Many will find the album tracks included here (particularly the covers and the original “Dover Beach”) an improvement over the selections on Greatest Hits, but your mileage may vary. [©2008 hyperbolium dot com]