20. The Who – The Who Sell Out (Deluxe Edition) [Polydor]
It’s hard to imagine the need for yet another Who reissue. Although it’d been 14 years since the last release of The Who Sell Out, that issue had held up well. It’s a revelation, then, to put on the 2009 Deluxe Edition and discover the wondrous remastering job. Even longtime fans will find new sounds. The first disc, the original stereo mix, separates each track perfectly, refreshing a 40-year-old record. Much of the bonus material (like some of the liner notes) has appeared before, but the various versions should satisfy the hardcore fan while still entertaining newcomers. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that The Who Sell Out remains one of the great records of its period, with outtakes good enough to stand up on their own. The Who had just reached their potential with an album every bit as funny and expansive as it is intense and impressive. This new edition gives it exactly the sound it should have. – Justin Cober-Lake
19. Dolly Parton – Dolly [Legacy]
Dolly Parton is an icon with a rich legacy in music and popular culture. Her discography is massive enough to transcend ‘like’ or ‘dislike’. If someone says they dislike her music, you wonder which music they mean. Her duets with Porter Wagoner? Her glitzy ’80s hits? “I Will Always Love You”? “Jolene”? It can’t be all of those at once. Her impact as a songwriter, singer, and personality has been massive across genre and time. The four-CD Dolly captures that better than any single release yet. But more than just a history lesson, it’s a treasure trove of songs abundant with stories, people, ideas and feelings, many of them carry the central themes of her music, which are the central themes of life: love and pain, death and birth, rejection and acceptance. In Parton’s view, “everything is beautiful in its own way”, and it’s all here. Due to the vibrant nature of her songs themselves, this box set itself feels alive, one sprawling human drama. — Dave Heaton
18. Radiohead – Pablo Honey / The Bends / OK Computer / Kid A / Amnesiac / Hail to the Thief [EMI]
Let’s begin by saying what’s not included in Capitol’s Collector’s Editions of Radiohead’s catalog under their label. The albums are not remastered, the band had little to no input in the releasing of these versions, and there is an inexcusable lack of liner notes. We may not have expected any insight into the creation of these albums, but at least Capitol could have hired a few notable critics to write about the enormous impact of The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A.
So what would justify the purchase of these Collector’s Editions? Aesthetic-wise, the packaging of each album is absolutely spot-on. The supplemental second disc for each recording is a mix of smartly-chosen live performances as well as some great b-sides (for OK Computer, many of these tracks are already available in Airbag, How Am I Driving?). Kid A‘s all-live (including a BBC Radio One Evening Session) content could have benefited from at least studio-produced b-side, but the live additions show just how easily many of the songs on the album could translate into a live setting, which was a major concern of many fans upon its release.
So with no band input, no liner notes and no attempts to remaster the original material (to the relief of many), will these Collector’s Editions be the final statement from Capitol? Unlikely. Capitol knows what a fevered fanbase Radiohead has and many will likely pick up the next batch of “remastered” works. But don’t let that deter you from passing over these collector’s editions. If anything, your copy of OK Computer is probably so scratched to hell, it won’t even play on your laptop anymore. — Sean McCarthy
17. Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary / LP2 [Sub Pop]
If you listen to Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary — the most famous emo album in history — hard enough, you can almost hear how it inspired a legion of ultra-mainstream pretty boys who turned emo into a dirty word. It’s too bad, because Sunny Day Real Estate were after something else entirely: a knotty, artful, searching take on grunge, rooted in the underdog spirit of indie rock. (They were on Sub Pop, after all, not Atlantic.) Seen in this light, Sunny Day Real Estate may always be tied to the 1990s, as a group that that sits beside Nirvana, Hum, the Breeders and Green Day in a very particular manner.
One thing’s for darn sure: We haven’t seen a vocalist like Jeremy Enigk since 1994. He possessed an asphyxiated yell that made him sound as though he were singing and crying at once, which would grow even more heartfelt as it was allowed to stretch out on LP2, SDRE’s idiosyncratic, unvarnished peak. The rawness felt truthful and the truth felt raw, and this continues to be the fatal oversight of current emo bands, with their humongous budgets and pitch-perfect studio modulations. Sunny Day Real Estate reunited in 2009 after their second breakup, bringing some hope to those who think that emo lost its way, but we’ll always come back to their glorious first records to hear the genre idealized. — M.R. Newmark
16. Neil Young – Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972 [Reprise]
After an excruciating 20-plus year wait for the first volume of Neil Young’s much-vaunted Archives project, the unthinkable finally happened this past summer: we finally got it. And it turned out to be just the kind of treasure trove that die-hard fans have been craving, a completely immersive multimedia experience, its expandable blu-ray format groundbreaking. Much has been made of all the video extras, press clippings, photos, record sleeves, lyrics, production notes, and seemingly endless ephemera, but at the heart of it all is the original music, the remastering of which sounding superb on CD, even better on DVD, and utterly spectacular on blu-ray. While we do get the odd curious inclusions and exclusions, Young’s meticulously-arranged guided tour through his formative years is nonetheless enthralling, from his days with Winnipeg’s Squires, to Buffalo Springfield, to his budding solo career, to Crazy Horse, to the Harvest-era Stray Gators. And to think this is only the tip of the iceberg; we’ll gladly wait however long it takes for Volume Two. — Adrien Begrand
15. Red Red Meat – Bunny Gets Paid (Deluxe Version) [Sub Pop]
On the heels of the scuzzy rock of Jimmywine Majestic, Red Red Meat meshed earthen sawdust with cool pixels and created Bunny Gets Paid. Like its predecessor, this album isn’t afraid to clutter, but it also stretches out in space and breaths deep. But for all the quiet around the buzz and yaw of Tim Rutili’s guitar on “Carpet of Horses”, there’s the beyond-grimy fuzz of “Oxtail” or the confusion of voices on “Sad Cadillac”.
Bunny Gets Paid is so top-to-bottom stunning because it resists cohesion, rather than giving into it. Despite its nods to Americana and blues, to call this sound anything but Red Red Meat won’t do. This isn’t music to be all-the-way understood, necessarily. It is music to be deeply felt. And if you sift through the machine noise and dust motes, Bunny Gets Paid reveals something brilliant. It’d be easy now to see this reissue as some sort of genesis story for Rutili’s new band, Califone. But this album is not merely preamble. It is, in and of itself, a daring and heartbreaking statement, and one of the finest rock records in a decade that had no shortage of them. – Matt Fiander
14. Tim Buckley – Live at the Folklore Center (March 6th, 1967) [Tompkins Square]
Largely known to the post-internet generation as the father of Jeff Buckley, Tim actually enjoyed a much longer and more productive career than his son, although his was also cut short due to tragic and mysterious circumstances. This Tompkins Square recording captured Tim between the release of his eponymous 1966 debut and his classic sophomore record Goodbye And Hello. And when I say this find captured Tim, I mean it captured him.
Though this performance was essentially a bootleg recorded by bookstore owner on a field recorder [you can actually hear Tim’s incredulity about the set-up in the opening track], it was remarkably mastered. Sure, a few tracks contain unwanted coughing from some of the 35 people in attendance that night, but the guitar rings clear and vibrant under Tim’s soaring vocals. This record is a slice out of time, when Tim was a folk-rock prodigy some years before his regrettable sex funk phase, which thankfully was not left forgotten by history one spring night in the Greenwich Village. – Alan Ranta
13. Jesus Lizard – Head / Goat / Liar / Down [Touch & Go]
The only one who likes your sorry ass less than the Jesus Lizard does is Steve Albini, and he produced their records, so welcome to the jungle, you mouth breather you. Recorded before the band jumped ship to Capitol and Albini told them to go piss up a rope, Head, Goat, Liar and Down catch the Chicago hooligans when they were defining post-punk in the wake of Big Black and making some of the leanest, meanest rackets in recorded history. With Albini back in the engineer’s chair and Bob “Rusty” Weston joining him to remaster these great-to-seminal releases, the music sounds, at last, exactly how it should. There’s more meat in the bass, more pop in the drums, and Duane Denison’s wily guitar parts just sock the listener in the face. Vocalist David Yow still sounds like a raving lunatic in the thrall of a psychotic break, but what else is new.
Goat, the arguable flagship of the catalogue, offers the most bang for your buck; its levels have been punched up to those of Liar, and it includes a live version of “Seasick” that bests the original, not to mention a revitalized “Mouth Breather”, maybe the finest song ever to fall under the dubious “pigfuck” genre. Fans, newcomers, fasten your seatbelts and don’t say we didn’t warn you. – M.R. Newmark
12. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique / Check Your Head / Ill Communication / Hello Nasty [Capitol]
The Beastie Boys eventually grew up; so did we. It happens. These reissues are not only inexorable reminders of how quickly time has passed, but how incredible this music was — and remains. That these brats would mutate into respectable musicians (and citizens) was anything but a safe assumption circa 1987. When these clown princes of rap-rock were fighting for their right to party, it was simply inconceivable that they might eventually create mature, worthwhile music. But, defying all expectations, they hastily put away childish things and got busy making a trio of albums that are, at worst, excellent and at best, masterpieces of a kind.
Paul’s Boutique remains the critical favorite and cult classic, but Check Your Head and Ill Communication are unpretentious back-to-basics workouts, managing to be greater than the sum of their mashed-up parts. The Beastie Boys’ legacy could be the way they successfully celebrated (and name-checked!) their myriad, mostly obscure musical heroes while making it cool (even imperative) to ground contemporary music in a more authentic sound. Grunge tends to get the credit, but the Beastie Boys were quite possibly the most influential group, pound for pound, in terms of the sound and DIY ethos that ultimately defined the ’90s. Hello Nasty is an uneven, but amiable cherry on the creative cake the Boys baked, sampled and smoked during their (and our) formative years. – Sean Murphy
11. Company Flow – Funcrusher Plus [Definitive Jux]
Funcrusher Plus plays like a manual on how to break away from a sound. The first five or so tracks are all mid-’90s, east coast grime, with stark beats and harsh stories. But then there’s the paranoid pulsing of bass on “Silence”. And then El-P unleashes a raspy attack on “Legends”, and you’ve officially left New York for Planet Def Jux. Big Juss and El-P never look back, either, tangling their head-spinning word play over defiantly weird beats that are stripped-down but populated by off-beat pianos, chillingly spare blips, and staggered snares. The result is a huge, inventive, and irrepressible album that set the stage, intentionally or not, for nearly all the underground hip-hop that followed it. Funcrusher Plus is an interesting document because it shows El-P’s influence. But that wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t so brilliant in its own right. – Matt Fiander
10. Pete Seeger – American Favorite Ballads, Vols. 1-5 [Smithsonian Folkways]
Between 1950 and 1964, folk legend Pete Seeger recorded no less than 38 albums for Folkways Records. Among these, the American Favorite Ballads series of five LPs was perhaps the most significant. The collection, which plays like Seeger’s own Anthology of American Folk Music, pulled together a set of songs as diverse as the nation in which they were born. The blues of the South, ballads of Appalachia, patriotic hymns of the Yankee north, and classic children’s lullabies are all covered, among many others. For any other singer, these songs might come off as corny or dated, part of a nearly forgotten legacy of the “old, weird America”, as music writer Greil Marcus playfully described it. But when Seeger earnestly belts out “Skip to My Lou”, “Black Girl”, and “Clementine”, with only his banjo to accompany him, you realize why this music is so timeless.
Each LP in the American Favorite Ballads series was individually reissued on CD earlier in the decade. However, it’s only when you hear all of these songs together, which Smithsonian Folkways Records has thankfully allowed us to do with the release of this superb box set, that you begin to understand the immense gift that Seeger, now 90 years of age, has given us. Essential listening for all. – Michael Kabran
9. The Housemartins – London 0 Hull 4 (Deluxe Edition) [Mercury]
The enormous shadow cast by the Smiths over ’80s British pop, a shadow that seems to grow bigger each year, all but swallowed whole the Housemartins. Once one of the most popular bands in England, with a number one hit, multiple top ten records, and a slew of awards under their belt, the Housemartins became largely forgotten, especially outside of the UK. With the reissuing of London 0 Hull 4, the band’s 1986 jangle pop masterpiece, that will hopefully change. The album features reverbed guitars, moody vocals, and pop hooks that won’t sound foreign to fans of the Smiths. Nearly every song on London 0 Hull 4 is a keeper. Lead singer Paul Heaton’s politically charged lyrics are filled with biting irony and dry humor and sound brilliantly at odds with the band’s syrupy-sweet melodies and punk-inspired pop arrangements. “Happy Hour”, “Sitting on a Fence”, and “Over There” are highlights and are as good as anything that other British band from the ’80s ever did. – Michael Kabran
8. Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul / Black Moses / Shaft (Expanded Editions) [Stax/Concord]
He might have been known as the voice of “Chef” on South Park by a whole generation of people who can’t hear beyond the radio. But for those with a deep appreciation of music, the late, great Isaac Hayes was a titan of American R&B and soul whose unique arrangements and well-deep voice revolutionized black music in the late ’60s and early ’70s. One year after tragically dying at home after suffering from a stroke, Hayes’ three greatest albums — 1969’s Hot Buttered Soul, 1971’s epic Black Moses and his Academy Award-winning soundtrack to Gordon Parks’ ’71 blaxploitation masterpiece Shaft — finally get the remastered deluxe treatment they so richly deserve and sound better than ever. And best of all, the reissue of the double-length Black Moses even replicates the crucifix-style fold-out cover art of the original, a feature that made vinyl copies of Moses highly sought after by record collectors for many, many years. -] Ron Hart
7. Kraftwerk – Autobahn / Radio-Activity / Trans-Europe Express / The Man-Machine / Computer World / Techno Pop / The Mix / Tour De France [Astralwerks]
Ralf Hütter’s insistence on a remaster for the electronic Kraftwerk catalogue (excluding only the first three albums, the Expo 2000 single, and 2005’s live Minimum-Maximum) may not have been executed perfectly (it’s been dissected various places pretty thoroughly), but any opportunity to celebrate, rediscover, or discuss Kraftwerk should be welcomed with open arms. Kraftwerk are ground zero for electronic music, which, in 2009, is just about anybody important, above or below ground.
As rock ‘n’ roll began to move closer to a singular vision in the early 1970s, that being a twisted caricature of adolescence-worshipping bacchanalia substituting capitalism for leisure and mistaking freedom for solipsism (“a cheap holiday in other people’s misery”, to quote John Lydon), Kraftwerk opened a whole new door and laid down a new canvas of possibility. Kraftwerk’s freedom was a liberation from the emotions of the rock romantics, a posthumanism de-tyrannized by hard-wiring oneself into the machinery. It wasn’t about eliminating man, but rather augmenting him by making him part of a larger system, a product interchangeable with his own creations. And from the moment after the car door slams shut at the commencement of “Autobahn”, Kraftwerk were that vision. They sought to create a new Germany, untarnished by the rapacious thrall of Nazism, but wound up changing the world and human consciousness instead. And if this all sounds a bit messianic for you, just have a listen. Timothy Gabriele
6. Serge Gainsbourg – Histoire de Melody Nelson [Light in the Attic]
Histoire de Melody Nelson, perhaps the finest album by France’s Serge Gainsbourg, finally finds a U.S. release 38 years after its birth in 1971. Saying this album is overdue would therefore be a gross understatement. The patron saint of drunken sexual transgression never sounded better as he does here amidst sparse orchestral arrangements and funked-up rhythms courtesy some of the top session players in the business.
Clocking in at just under a half hour, Gainsbourg’s economical song cycle of sexual obsession overwhelms with depth and originality rather than an overstuffed running time. The singer sets a romantic, if typically lecherous, mood with the seven-minute opener “Melody” and concludes with a despondent, equally long “Culte Cargo”. In between, he spins a tale of a brief but unforgettable encounter with some help from real-life inspiration Jane Birkin. Her childlike vocals drive home the Lolita-esque narrative and act as the perfect foil to Gainsbourg’s deep tones and tormented libido.
Re-mastered from the original tapes, this re-issue includes an exhaustive booklet complete with lyric translations and an interview with the man himself. It’s a loving package worthy of the daring music underneath. Histoire de Melody Nelson is simply a masterpiece and one of the most necessary re-issues of this year or any other. – Craig Carson
5. Big Star – Keep an Eye on the Sky [Rhino]
Long considered one of the greatest/most influential American cult rock bands, Big Star was long overdue for a definitive box set. Keep an Eye on the Sky masterfully chronicles the band’s brief, storied career with an embarrassment of riches: demos, alternate mixes/versions, unreleased tracks and an entire concert. It’s a bittersweet treat to hear Big Star perform songs that would later appear on Chris Bell’s solo debut, I Am the Cosmos. Even with all the demo and rehearsal tracks to fill in the gaps, it’s still a shock to hear the band evolve from the jubilant power-pop of “In the Street” to the noir-lullaby of “Big Black Car” in four short years. Although, we all know that was actually the sound of one man, Alex Chilton, slowly unraveling from a unfortunate series of setbacks and general commercial failure. Keep an Eye on the Sky is a testament to these four Southern Anglophiles’ brilliant run of shoulda-been hits. – Ben Schumer
4. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (20th Anniversary Legacy Edition) [Legacy]
My mother has always been able to pull a handful of seemingly unrelated ingredients out of the fridge and turn them into a hell of a meal. The Stone Roses served up a similarly impressive platter with their self-titled 1989 debut, blending shimmering psychedelia and throbbing beats with singer Ian Brown’s unwavering self-confidence. Brown and original producer John Leckie collaborated on this double-disc Twentieth-Anniversary remaster, making even the most familiar songs — and I’m looking at you, “She Bangs the Drums” — seem relevant again. The album’s five singles are still the standouts, from the ethereal 17-word opener “I Wanna Be Adored” to “Waterfall” and its acid-fueled auto theft. I don’t agree with NME‘s hyperbolic assertion that it’s the best British album of all time but it’s essential listening for anyone who endured the endless succession of bands who tried, and failed, to reproduce the Roses’ sound… a list that includes the Stone Roses themselves. – Jelisa Castrodale
3. R.E.M. – Reckoning (Deluxe Edition) [Capitol]
Do we take R.E.M. for granted? I’m serious, people: every other band with as fantastic and storied a history as R.E.M. has been plucked over and vivisected 12 times over. But somehow, despite their latter-day ubiquity, they’ve still managed to maintain an air of mystery surrounding their earliest IRS releases. They haven’t been pored over and pawed to death: they’re cult objects, built for cultish devotion. The fact that they’re also some of the very best rock albums ever recorded certainly doesn’t hurt.
Even if you’ve heard Reckoning a thousand or ten thousand times before (raise your hands if you remember rockin’ the cassette back in ’84!) it still somehow whispers like a secret devised just for your private enjoyment. No wonder this is the album Stephen Malkmus cites as Ground Zero for Pavement — if you listen closely you can still hear the thunderclap echoes from all the synapses popping over this platter back in the Reagan Years. It almost seems like a shame, dusting the record off with such a snazzy makeover. It’s not made for any space-age digital archive: it belongs in the back room of a moldering used bookshop in the swampy regions of the Old Dominion, covered in decay yet perpetually primed for rediscovery by new and old acolytes alike. – Tim O’Neil
2. The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms / The Good Earth [Bar/None]
Awkward rock nerds of all ages rejoice: Your gods have returned. With their two best albums having inexplicably fallen out of print, 1980’s Crazy Rhythms and 1986’s The Good Earth, the Feelies were due for a reassessment of their legacy. Now that these albums are back in circulation, the New Jersey band’s post-punk powers blossom for all imitators and neophytes to behold. The manic energy of Crazy Rhythms offers stark counterpoint to the strum-y acoustics of The Good Earth but both stand as important documents of a vastly underrated and influential band. Playing the spot-the-influence game with songs off both records could keep one busy for quite some time. The live cuts and demo versions included with the digital downloads of both releases only add to the enjoyment of these repackaged classics. Let your nerd rock flag fly high. – Craig Carson
1. The Beatles – Stereo Box Set [EMI]
The Beatles first incarnation on compact disc occurred in 1987, back when CDs were very much a novelty and the sound quality signified a dramatic improvement over discarded and scratched LPs. It was eventually apparent that a proper remastering of the catalog needed to occur and now, with CDs almost as archaic as cassettes, we have our chance. It’s been worth the wait. Taken as a complete box set, or as individual titles, these new discs are a veritable treasure trove, a reminder that discussion of what the Beatles accomplished in less than a decade remains inexhaustible. The sound is clean, sharp, and full of soul. You can trace the trajectory this band made from mop-top celebrities to avant-garde studio wizards, while always able to perceive — and appreciate — the human minds (and hearts) that created this unparalleled body of work. It is impossible to overstate how significant and how ceaselessly rewarding this music is; it is wonderful to experience these albums again for the first time. – Sean Murphy