20. Iggy Pop and the Stooges – You Think You’re Bad Man: The Road Tapes ’73 – ’74 [Cherry Red]
In 1969, the Stooges were a truth serum, forcing hippiedom to belch up the reality that flowers and hope had become just another guise for hucksters and snake-oil salesmen to take advantage of the naïve. By 1973, however, the Stooges were no longer the mirror to an era’s hypocrisy. They were the representatives par excellence of desiccated overindulgence and self-destruction. Too many bad shows, too many blatantly underage groupies, too much booze, too high — way too high. While the Stooges’ noise-rotted nihilism, originality, and underrated musicianship have ensured their longevity, the final six months of the band, as captured on Cherry Red’s new box-set — You Think You’re Bad Man: The Road Tapes ’73 – ’74 — were a squalid and chemically-warped stagger toward total collapse.
The five live shows captured are all previously released, licensed by Tony DeFries’ MainMan management company to labels like Revenge, Bomp!, and Jungle during the 1980s and 1990s. However, this box-set is a very welcome tidying up exercise with good packaging and liner notes, all at a fair price. For decades, delving into the vast quantity of Stooges deep-cuts meant investing in a chaotic mishmash of compilations, so the 21st century has been wonderful in terms of labels (Easy Action in particular) bringing professional curation to the Stooges. This Cherry Red compilation is a part of that positive trend, and one can only hope they get a similar grip on the many studio demos still out there. — Nick Soulsby
19. Scott Walker Meets Jacques Brel (Ace Records)
The idea by Ace Records was so simple, yet so brilliant. What if we put out a collection of the nine Jacques Brel songs Scott Walker recorded on his first three solo albums and then follow it with the original recordings of Brel singing those same songs? That’s exactly what the perpetually fun reissue label did, and the end result is a fascinating vocal duel by two of the greatest singer-songwriters of the 20th century. Singing English translations by Mort Shuman, Walker’s approach is mannered yet at the same time slyly capable of the coarse humor on such songs as “Next” and “Jackie”, enriched by lavish orchestral arrangements.
It’s a blast hearing the young wunderkind attempt to conquer such difficult, sordid songs, and he succeeds mightily. However, when Brel comes along with his own renditions, listeners are dragged into the gutter by Brel’s impassioned, sweat-drenched performances. The two singers admired each other, to the point of Brel covering young Walker’s “Seul”, which included here as a sort of encore, a conclusion to a brilliant collection. If you’re familiar with either gentleman, this is an absolutely perfect introduction. — Adrien Begrand
18. The Durutti Column – Vini Reilly [Factory Benelux]
It made sense that the Durutti’s Column‘s 1989 album was named after its only primary member. The year before, Vini Reilly had enjoyed previously unimaginable attention and fame after serving as the guitarist on Morrissey’s solo debut, Viva Hate. Working with Viva Hate producer Stephen Street, Reilly delivered his most accessible, fully-realized work to date. Vini Reilly still centered on its namesake’s jagged, arpeggiated picking style and a knack for eccentric yet heartbreakingly beautiful soundscapes. But it replaced Reilly’s wispy vocals with Otis Redding samples and, to great effect, an opera singer, and also toyed with major-key melodies and funk arrangements. There remains nothing quite like it, in Reilly’s catalog or elsewhere. Reilly himself returned to cult hero status and never worked with Morrissey again. More than a flash in the pan, though, Vini Reilly captured a singular artist at a moment of strength, an impression that was only enhanced by this reissue’s extensive bonus material. — John Bergstrom
17. The Charlatans – Between 10th and 11th [Rough Trade]
When it was released in 1992, the Charlatans’ second album was almost universally dismissed, not least by the band themselves. Thank goodness for reissues, then. Between 10th and 11th was what happened when Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails producer Flood was paired with a band whose keyboard player used a Hammond organ. It was the least “baggy”-sounding album to come out of the UK “baggy” scene of the period. Ironically, it was also an almost perfect realization of the “baggy” aesthetic of marrying classic rock songwriting and instruments with cutting edge technology and production.
Often reflective, occasionally buoyant, and always fascinating, the album was the sound of a band struggling with and mourning the critical and commercial dismissal they knew were inevitable after their much-hyped debut. As it happened, the Charlatans outlasted “baggy” to enjoy a long and successful career. One of the most essential albums of its era, Between 10th and 11th, showed they had already transcended trendy labels and fleeting fads. — John Bergstrom
16. Tears for Fears – The Seeds of Love (Super Deluxe) [UMC/Virgin]
Tears for Fears’ 1989 album, The Seeds of Love, could so easily have ended up on the pile marked ‘rock folly’. Under huge pressure to follow up 1985’s multi-platinum selling Songs from the Big Chair, Roland Orzabel and Curt Smith embarked on three years of troublesome recording sessions, went through several producers, and notched up a reported £1 million in recording costs. But they eventually turned in an album that saw them successfully ditch synth-based pop/rock in favor of something much more soulful and jazzy. They enlisted American gospel singer Oleta Adams, and top-notch musicians like Phil Collins (drums), Pino Palladino (bass), and Robbie McIntosh (guitar). They also excelled on the songwriting front, with Orzabel, in collaboration with both Smith and pianist Nicky Holland, coming up with such gems as the stirring “Woman in Chains”, the Beatles-referencing “Sowing the Seeds of Love” and the finely crafted “Advice for the Young at Heart”.
Remastered for this super deluxe set, the album sounds richer and more intricate than ever, with three discs’ worth of fascinating extras that tell the full inside story of how the group developed between ’85 and ’89. Particularly rewarding is an early version of the 1992 single “Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down)”, as well as previously unreleased demos of “Advice”, “Swords and Knives” and “Famous Last Words”. These, together with six Townhouse Live Jam Sessions from 1988, show Roland, Curt, Oleta, and Nicky in an intimate light, performing in a way that sounds both warm and effortless. What exactly was the problem? — Adam Mason
15. Charles Mingus @ Bremen 1964 & 1975 [Sunnyside]
It remains historically true that Charles Mingus’ early 1960s “Workshop” band featuring firebrand reed player Eric Dolphy caught plenty of people by surprise. Mingus clearly prized Dolphy’s highly vocalized playing on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, and Dolphy joined the band’s 1964 tour of Europe, after which he planned to stay on the continent for good. (Famously, Dolphy died from complications or mistreatment of diabetes shortly after this tour.) Mingus wasn’t bothered in the least by the fact that Dolphy’s playing was considered too avant-garde for some of his fans or critics. It was an expressive blend of bebop grounding, vocalized squeaks, and leaps, and thoughtful playing outside the standard jazz harmony—Mingus understood it from every angle.
The first performance from the band’s April 1964 concert in Bremen, Germany, is a basic blues line, “So Long, Eric”, that sums things up pretty clearly. Dolphy was wild, daring, traditional, grounded in blues and bop, yes. And he made the bands he appeared in bracingly better.
Charles Mingus @ Bremen, 1964 & 1975 newly releases the tapes of that concert and pairs them with a Mingus concert in the same town from 1975. The second concert features a substantially different band that was playing beautifully in the same tradition. Both sets, presented across four compact discs, present a rendition of “Fables of Faubus”—and deeply expressive playing and improvised music-making of the highest order. — Will Layman
14. Motörhead – Ace of Spades 40th Anniversary Edition [BMG]
Now that AC/DC have caused an international sensation with their new comeback album, late 2020 might be a good time to retire our perennial questions about rock’s supposed decline in relevance. We may as well re-assess the legacy of Motörhead while we’re at it. Hailed for decades as proto-speed metal progenitors who crossed what was once a heavily fortified barricade between punk and metal audiences, Motörhead are long overdue for a re-induction into the public imagination as a classic rock band.
Much like their spiritual cousins the Ramones, Motörhead in their prime released a good dozen songs that are easy to picture as radio staples alongside the iconic hits we’ve heard year-in, year-out. Of course, Motörhead came fairly close with the title track from Ace of Spades, which surprised the band when it took the British singles chart by storm in late 1980/early ’81. That said, the most fitting way to commemorate the album’s 40th anniversary is to dive into its abundance of deep cuts.
Aside from its most visible song, every track here showcases the definitive Motörhead lineup of Lemmy Kilmister, Fast Eddie Clarke, and Philthy Animal Taylor gelling on all cylinders and oozing with the intangibles that made their musical connection so unique—not to mention how directly their roots trace back to the likes of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and even Tamla Motown. Now that the band’s trademark thrum doesn’t sound as extreme as it did back then, it’s easier to recognize this pirate-looking bunch for the tunesmiths they actually were. And, for once, the extras are actually worth it. Both the two-CD and deluxe-box packages include an especially incendiary complete live show from Belfast, Northern Ireland that rises well above the bootleg quality we often see with sets like this.—Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
13. Wilco – Summerteeth (Deluxe Edition) [Rhino/Warner Bros]
Nostalgia has a way of obscuring how things originally played out, especially in music. Today, Summerteeth is regarded (rightly) as a classic and is routinely mentioned with Wilco’s best work. It’s oftentimes mentioned as the album some fans want the band “to get back to.” But in 1999, Summerteeth was a jittery, messy follow-up to an album that gave Wilco some much-needed momentum after the underwhelming start of A.M.
It was an album that didn’t exactly sound like it was embracing the 21st century like The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin. But it was also nervy and experimental enough to finally bury the “alt-country” label Jeff Tweedy was eager to shed. In addition, Tweedy was battling drug addiction and a failing marriage. His creative partner, the late Jay Bennett, created some of the most gorgeous orchestrations in the band’s catalog during this time.
The four-disc reissue features a double-live set that shows why they continue to be one of the most reliably consistent live bands of our time (regardless of what iteration the band is in). But the real find in the deluxe edition is outtakes and demos, showing not only just how much Bennett’s accomplishments supplied a glorious, psychedelic palette to the album, but how soul-baring the songs were in their “bare bones” form. The outtakes and the original both serve as a beautiful, but decisive end to the band’s most storied lineup. — Sean McCarthy
12. Pylon – Box [New West]
Pylon may have been the best band to have ever come out of Athens, Georgia. A bold statement, perhaps, but one which members of both the B-52’s and R.E.M., the most famous bands to emerge from Athens, Georgia, would probably endorse.
Pylon’s 2020 box set, simply titled Box, contains the two albums (1980’s Gyrate and 1983’s Chomp) that the band released during its original incarnation, along with The Razz Tape, which documents the band’s very first recording session; and Extras, a clean-up disc that covers non-album singles, B-sides, rarities and a handful of live recordings. Taken together, the four records/discs in Box represent a band that found a unique and influential sound early on and subtly experimented with the sound, while staying true to it.
And what a sound it was! The propulsive rhythm section of bassist Michael Lachowski and drummer Curtis Crowe created a danceable bed of sound over which guitarist Randy Bewley combined slashing chords and interlocking parts that played off of vocalist Vanessa Briscoe-Hay’s otherworldly vocals and offbeat lyrics that twisted the banal into the surreal.
In addition to the music, Box includes a 200-page book that tells the Pylon story, both in words and in photos and art created by the band members. This is an essential history for anyone who cares about American popular music in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The great thing is though, that 40 years later, Pylon’s music still sounds as cool as hell. — Rich Wilhelm
11. The Revillos – Stratoplay [Cherry Red]
You might have been a huge new wave music fan, pogoing your way through your senior prom in 1983, not that this reviewer would know anything about that. OK, fine, this reviewer did pogo his way through his senior prom and still might have managed to miss out on the short but illustrious early 1980s career of the Revillos. But now, thanks to Stratoplay, a massive new wave dance party in a box, you can experience the Revillos in all their glory.
Stratoplay, a six-CD anthology compiled by Cherry Red Records, is one of the most complete histories of a band you’re likely to find. That history is a bit confusing, but Tim Barr helpfully explains it in his extensive liner notes. It goes like this. The Revillos began life as an entirely different band, with a similar name: The Rezillos. Probably the first punk band to come out of Scotland, the Rezillos released their debut album, Can’t Stand the Rezillos, in 1978, and scored a hit single in the UK that year with “Top of the Pops”. Despite this success, the Rezillos soon broke up, releasing Mission Accomplished…But the Beat Goes On, a live album of their final show, in 1979.
The end of the Rezillos led to the birth of the Revillos, featuring Rezillos members Fay Fife and Eugene Reynolds. Without diluting much of the punk edge or the wacky pop culture/sci-fi sense of humor, Revillos added a dayglo new wave sensibility to the mix. — Rich Wilhelm
10. Rush – Permanent Waves (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) [Mercury]
Although they didn’t know it, in 1980, Rush were standing at the edge of something spectacular. Their 1978 album, Hemispheres and the grueling, ten-month tour that accompanied it, had left them drained as their music increasingly relied on intense concentration and a near-virtuosic level of ability to perform well. When they entered the studio to record their seventh album, they agreed that this record should have a lighter touch. Sidelong suites were out. Brevity was back.
Permanent Waves is the sound of a band in a relaxed and playful mood. To highlight this, lyricist Neil Peart turned away from sword and sorcery and deals with more earthbound themes on this record. Of the six songs on the album, only two – the grandiose “Jacob’s Ladder” and the mini-symphony “Natural Science” – are a little longer than a typical pop song. There’s even a hit single on it – the hymn to FM, “The Spirit of Radio”. Of course, they still manage to shoehorn a bewildering amount of time changes, clashing musical sections, and a one-note piano solo into the piece. And let’s not forget the ten-bar reggae interlude.
The 2020 reissue teams the original album with live recordings from their subsequent tour which prove that they were a formidable live act. Buoyed by the critical and artistic success of their new approach, they continued in a similar vein for album eight: Moving Pictures. Following that, the band that the critics once delighted in belittling, became one of the biggest bands in the world. — Ian Rushbury
9. Underground London: The Art Music and Free Jazz that Inspired a Cultural Revolution [Cherry Red]
The mid-1960s counter-culture arose from a loose amalgamation of avant-garde seers and kindred spirits fired by the fervor of America’s Beat poets, the squall of free jazz, Indian music’s healing force, and the abstractions of the modern classical scene. This gaggle of refuseniks, bohemians, and innovators responded to a thirst for change and experiment which amounted to an artistic revolution in re-drawing the possibilities of sound itself.
Taking its cue from a socio-political-aesthetic revolution instigated by such epochal moments as the London ‘happenings’ and The UFO Club and culminating in the Summer of Love, Cherry Tree Records has compiled Underground London: The Art Music and Free Jazz that Inspired a Cultural Revolution, a luxury-length evocation of this strange, inspiring and restlessly creative time and milieu.
Underground London roams far and wide for its mission statement, taking in such luminaries as Sonny Rollins, Luciano Berio, Sun Ra, the Dudley Moore Trio, and Beat Generation figurehead Allen Ginsberg amongst many others. Spiky, eloquent, and impassioned, it’s a remarkable document that serves as a panorama of the diverse influences within the capital that propelled the winds of change that altered society forever. — Michael Sumsion
8. Phelimuncasi – 2013-2019 [Nyege Nyege Tapes]
The members of Durban-based trio Phelimuncasi make music in the Gqom style, a minimalist style of electronic dance music from South Africa with, in Phelimuncasi’s case, even older local roots. As Nyege Nyege Tapes’ 2013-2019 exemplifies as a collection of the group’s releases from within the titular timeframe, the music of Phelimuncasi belongs to a longer line of sharply percussive storytelling performances that include the political – toyi-toyi is easily identifiable – and the cosmological. The spellbinding cuts here show the group and guest co-producers at their most spellbinding.
Vocalists Malathon, Makan Nana, and Khera call out over crisp beats that make room for non-stop movement. Sparse and spacious as the backing synths are, there is still a glorious heat to Phelimuncasi’s music throughout the album. For as much as such an anthology serves as a retrospective, it also speaks to a past recent enough to offer the promise of more. In the meantime, the beats on 2013-2019 are durable ones, to say the least, resonant and metallic. There’s plenty of party mileage to be had across the whole release, from the quick verses of “Ngavele Ngagaxela” to the hedonistic ecstasy of “Private Party” and the heavy atmosphere of “GQOM Venus Cemetrary”.
This is music that commands international attention, and Nyege Nyege Tapes’ compilation puts it all conveniently in one place. — Adriane Pontecorvo
7. The Replacements – Pleased to Meet Me [Rhino]
By the time the Replacements made Pleased to Meet Me, they’d finally worked out how drunk they needed to be, to make a great record. Their record label, in an effort to break the band to a larger audience, booked them into Ardent studios in late 1986 and put Jim Dickinson in charge. Unfortunately, the band were almost falling to pieces. Guitarist Bob Stinson, showed up to just one session, before being fired or quitting, depending on who you talk to. It was not an auspicious start.
Fortunately, the remaining three musicians dusted themselves off and made a great record. Every track on Pleased to Meet Me belongs on a “Best of the Replacements” compilation. Hit singles are conspicuous by their absence, however, although “Can’t Hardly Wait” should still be in the top ten, if we lived in a just and fair world.
The 2020 Rhino reissue swells the single album into three CDs, bulging with tunes, ranging from the essential to the inconsequential. You probably don’t need their chemically impaired version of Billy Swan’s “I Can Help”, but you definitely do need “Birthday Gal”, “Even If It’s Cheap” and a bunch of other stuff, too. You also get the album demos, which were the last recordings Bob Stinson made with the band.
You can’t balance on a knife-edge for long and the two records that followed Pleased to Meet Me, slipped from tipsy brilliance into a nasty hangover that lasted until they bowed out in 1991. They may have made more successful records, but they never made a better one. — Ian Rushbury
6. Bobbie Gentry – The Delta Sweete (Deluxe Edition) [Capitol/UMe]
The back story goes something like this. Bobbie Gentry was a hot new artist, fresh off her first album and the mega-platinum crossover country-rock hit “Ode to Billie Joe”. Instead of playing it safe and penning material in a similar vein, Gentry decided to create an experimental album with songs in a variety of idiosyncratic styles like “Reunion” and “Mornin’ Glory”. The resulting album flopped commercially. The Delta Sweete only reached #132 on the Billboard magazine’s pop charts and none of its singles made the Top 40. Gentry’s career suffered as a result, and she later gave up her musical vocation as a result of being a misunderstood artist.
Over time though, the record’s reputation continued to grow. In 2019, the band Mercury Rev organized a re-recording of the album for which they provided instrumentation to a host of female guest singers including Lucinda Williams, Phoebe Bridgers, and Margo Price. This album became an international success and reached number one on the UK Independent Albums chart and number two on the US Heatseekers charts. As a result, Gentry’s original record was reissued along with 10 bonus cuts. The quality of the music shows that the original The Delta Sweete more than lives up to its billing as a lost classic and the extra cuts serve as icing on an already tasty product. — Steve Horowitz
5. The Style Council – Long Hot Summers: The Story of the Style Council [Polydor/UMe]
The Style Council dipped into a variety of genres that were miles away from Paul Weller‘s punk days, including jazz, soul, and synthpop. They also retained the Jam‘s penchant for left-leaning social commentary. Whatever resentment Jam fans may have felt toward Weller’s new direction, it didn’t seem to affect the Style Council’s overall commercial or critical appeal, at least not in their native England. From 1983 until their breakup in 1989, the Style Council racked up a slew of hits on the singles charts, and four of their six studio albums cracked the UK Top 20. Even more notable is that their 1984 single “My Ever Changing Moods” was Weller’s greatest US success, climbing to #29 on the American Top 40 singles chart (he never achieved that level of US recognition with the Jam or as a solo artist). They performed at Live Aid. Weller participated in Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” single.
Since they’ve often been a misunderstood band and their sound can seem, with the 1980s far off in the rearview mirror, as a dated curiosity from a bygone era, it’s the perfect time to reassess the Style Council. The new collection, Long Hot Summers, fits the bill perfectly. Available digitally or in a three-LP set (in either black vinyl or the very era-appropriate blue, pink and orange vinyl), this collection gathers together 37 fresh tracks that cover the entire spectrum of the band’s eclectic sound. While the Style Council have been the subject of countless compilations – some well-assembled, others hopelessly sloppy – Long Hot Summers is the best of the lot, with impeccable song selection and sumptuous packaging. This is the one to get. — Chris Ingalls
4. Prince – Sign o’ the Times (Deluxe Edition) (Warner)
Everyone was hoping for a reissue of Prince’s 1987 masterpiece Sign o’ the Times that offered a deep dive into the creative process that yielded the man’s greatest album, but when the details of the “super deluxe” reissue were released, the reaction was seismic. Boasting a whopping 63 unreleased tracks, Prince’s estate opened the vault in a fashion we rarely see. The original album itself remains a raucous, sprawling excursion into the man’s fertile imagination, channeling funk, hip-hop, pop, torch song balladry, and hard-driving rock, sounding as wildly original as it did more than 30 years ago.
The new reissue, on the other hand, shows just how dizzying Prince’s genius was, and anyone who takes the time to explore the unreleased tracks, outtakes, and remixes will be richer for the experience. If that wasn’t enough, the eight-hour set concludes with a raucous live performance from Utrecht, Netherlands that explodes with energy as he and his band tear through then-new tracks and earlier fan faves. Whether you binge on these tracks or choose to dabble here and there to savour it all, this collection is so rewarding that every listener will be the better for it. — Adrien Begrand
3. Tom Petty – Wildflowers & All the Rest Expanded Edition [Warner Records]
At 15 tracks, the version of Tom Petty’s Wildflowers that the public has known for the last 25-plus years was already a work that took some time to digest—even if Petty’s songwriting had grown so effortless by 1994 that he could make an hour’s worth of music go by without turning it into a chore for the audience. This new expanded edition more or less restores Petty’s original vision of Wildflowers as a sprawling double album. Crucially, though, the original song sequence remains intact on the main disc, which is augmented by ten additional finished songs (the “all the rest” of the title). The deluxe version of the set also includes additional discs of outtakes, demo sketches, and live material—all carefully sequenced so that each disc functions more or less as a standalone album in its own right.
After umpteen deluxe reissues that look great on paper but end up being difficult to sit down and listen to, the careful, loving attention to detail by longtime Petty bandmates Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench pays huge dividends here. It’s nearly impossible to overstate the extent to which Petty had mastered songcraft by the time he made this album, and with Rick Rubin at the helm and most of his band The Heartbreakers in the room, Wildflowers etched Petty’s place on the Mt. Rushmore of songwriting once and for all. The newly unearthed extras showcase the late icon’s penchant for shifting with the utmost grace between stripped-down folk, dreamy Americana, contemplative pop and bracing, meat-and-potatoes rock.—Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
2. Burial – Tunes 2011-2019 [Hyperdub]
Burial‘s Tunes 2011-2019 is just about a perfect collection, music that was already astonishing given even more heft and consequence by virtue of the spectacular arrangement of the tracks in exquisite juxtaposition. If you were only permitted to take one album of electronic music to an imaginary desert island, or if you were asked to nominate a single album for a time capsule to explain and justify human civilization of the late-capitalist era to extra-terrestrials, this would be all you would need to convince them both that we are almost certainly screwed and that there is, even so, someone down here who understands that and can explain it to anyone willing to listen. This is music that describes our alienation and provides little comfort in the face of that gloomy reality. This is flawless music, music of bewilderment and compassion in equal measure. — Rod Waterman
1. New Order – Power, Corruption & Lies (Definitive) [Rhino]
The definitive edition of New Order‘s 1983 album Power, Corruption & Lies is a historic thing indeed. It tells the complete story, through demos, Peel sessions, writing sessions, a book, live shows, and documentaries, of how Sumner, Hook, Morris, and Gilbert paved the way to become the most important British indie band of the ’80s. Specifically, it tells of a group making a remarkable leap forward from their first album, Movement, and breaking all ties with the iconic post-punk outfit from which they evolved: Joy Division. This meant no more Martin Hannett on production duties. It meant danceable songs inspired by their immersion in the New York club scene. And it meant much more in the way of synthesizers.
Born of the same sessions as the band’s era-defining masterpiece “Blue Monday”, tracks like “The Village”, “586” and “Your Silent Face” are possessed of the same electronic magic. They sound full-bodied and glorious in their remastered form, too. But the real privilege of the box set is to experience the band, at the height of their experimentalism, getting to grips with drum machines, samplers, and vocoders on the 13 newly unearthed offcuts. There’s clearly a lot of button-pushing and knob-twiddling going on here, though Hooky’s trademark bass lines and Sumner’s reliably sullen vocals are never far away. The instrumental Session Recordings of “586” and “Ecstacy” still sound cutting edge, while the three early versions of “Blue Monday” are an endless source of fascination. — Adam Mason