Best Music Album Reissues of 2020 - Rolling Stone
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Year in Review: The 10 Best Reissues of 2020

From Prince’s peak opus to a revelatory jazz show at a California high school

year end 2020 reissues

Photographs used in illustration by Rick Diamond/Getty Images; Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images; Central Press/Getty Images

Prince, Sign O’ the Times: Deluxe Edition (Warner)

On this 1987 masterpiece, Prince’s second double LP in less than five years, the R&B futurist responded to the serial crises in his personal life — the end of an affair; the firing of his band, the Revolution; escalating wartime with his label — in a kinetic tour de force of tightly wired pop, exploding bedroom funk, and soaring, redemptive climax. The big-box version of this reissue reveals the depth of Prince’s urgency in three CDs of unreleased studio treasures: diamonds and pearls by anyone else’s measure, all left behind on the way to his last perfect album.

The Stooges, Live at Goose Lake: August 8th, 1970 (Third Man)

This lost grenade of proto-punk history, discovered in the basement of a Michigan farmhouse, is the only known soundboard recording of the original Stooges: singer Iggy Pop, guitarist Ron Asheton, drummer Scott Asheton, and bassist Dave Alexander, at the tail end of their madness, performing their then-brand-new Fun House album in festival chaos and drug-battlefield conditions. (Alexander was fired after the show.) The tape is suitably raw; the performance is feral majesty.

Tom Petty, Wildflowers and All the Rest (Warner)

Tom Petty struggled mightily over a long period of time to make this Rick Rubin-produced 1994 masterpiece, written and recorded during a difficult personal and financial period in his life. The album is a songwriting tour de force: raw, varied, and hard-hitting, full of cathartic reckoning like “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “Only a Broken Heart.” The bonus songs add dimension to its raw power, from the intimate acoustic “Harry Green” to the power-ballad grandeur of “Something Under Heaven.” J.D.

Joni Mitchell, Joni Mitchell Archives — Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) (Rhino)

The first disc in this expansive account of Joni Mitchell’s coffeehouse years is a portrait of the young singer as a Joan Baez of the North, covering Woody Guthrie and the public-domain song bag. By late 1966 and early 1967, on stage in Philadelphia, Mitchell is performing standards from her own book (“Eastern Rain,” “The Circle Game,” “Both Sides Now”), predicting the solitary grace and confessional fortitude of the singer-songwriter era. This archaeology includes a 1965 demo tape for Elektra and a surprise cover of Neil Young’s “Sugar Mountain, recorded in 1967 while the composer was still in Buffalo Springfield. 

Rolling Stones, Goats Head Soup: Super Deluxe Edition (Rolling Stones)

This 1973 LP — a Number One album bruised in many reviews for not being another Exile on Main Street — deserves fresh appraisal: The original band on the run jumping between Jamaica and Los Angeles in a seesaw of snarling riffs and ragged-elegance ballads. “Scarlet,” a 1974 track with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, is an odd out-of-time bonus. More relevant: a stark piano-led demo of “100 Years Ago” with Mick Jagger sounding like he has the saloon to himself; and live ruckus from Brussels in 1973 with guitarists Keith Richards and Mick Taylor defining the ancient art of weaving.

Roberta Flack, First Take: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Atlantic/Run Out Groove)

This 1969 debut was soul’s original quiet storm, introducing a classically trained voice steeped in the church with the interpretive nerve of Nina Simone. In the studio, Roberta Flack and producer Joel Dorn restaged the chamber-jazz drama of her club gigs across a wide river of songs, from Leonard Cohen and Donny Hathaway to the sexual detonation of Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. The second CD is a breathtaking 1968 demo session with a different fire of show tunes, folk songs, and an epic transformation of the schoolgirl crush in 1967’s “To Sir With Love.” 

Eric Burdon and the Animals, When I Was Young: The MGM Recordings 1967-1968 (Esoteric)

No other star of the British Invasion fell for the high times of 1967 San Francisco like Eric Burdon. On these four albums and related singles, the English blues belter sold acid and revolution with a zeal that veered from “Monterey,” his 45-rpm report from the 1967 pop festival, and the hypnotic anti-war suite on 1968’s The Twain Shall Meet to spoken-word trips rendered in a thick Geordie accent. It’s an eccentric, compelling spell in nirvana, and Burdon got the future right in one way: The 1968 double LP Love Is features future Police guitarist Andy Summers.

Thelonious Monk, Palo Alto (Impulse)

In 1968, Danny Scher, a teenage jazz fan in Palo Alto, California, booked the jazz pianist Thelonious Monk to perform at his high school. Scher’s older brother drove Monk’s quartet to the gig; the school’s janitor recorded this remarkable show — the bebop lion in winter, facing illness and financial setbacks, yet leading his band (including loyal saxophonist Charlie Rouse) with a sprightly engagement and improvising ardor that belie the setting and repertoire of Monk chestnuts. Three years later, Monk retired from the studio and touring; on this night, he sounds nowhere near the end. 

Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie (Archive Collection) (MPL/Capitol)

Named after a John Lennon gag about how the Beatles got their name, Flaming Pie was Paul McCartney’s first full embrace of his old band since he walked away in 1970. The reminiscence is fondly up front in “The Song We Were Singing”; the sublime Rubber Soul-via-Wings familiarity of “Young Boy”; and the extended presence of Ringo Starr as drummer, and even co-writer (the straight-up rocker “Really Love You”). The extent to which McCartney reveled in that past is even more evident in the generous helping of demos and outtakes.

Various Artists, The Tears of Technology (Ace)

In this single-disc ode to early British synth-pop, compilers Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley of the group Saint Etienne focus on fascinating near-misses and stars ahead of their bloom: the icy melancholy of “Grey Skies,” the sole 1984 single by Turquoise Days; deep tracks by Soft Cell and early-Ultravox singer John Foxx; the pre-stadium ennui of Simple Minds’ 1979 relic “Real to Real.” Rarities include squelchy 1982 anguish by Oppenheimer Analyses, taken from a homemade cassette they sold at a David Bowie fan convention. 

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