There is, amidst the ongoing doom and gloom, a literal growth industry in the record business: history. Reissues are coming in bigger physical sizes and grander retrospective scope, to the boon of collector-maniacs and at the expense of most wallets. But size is not everything. This survey of the 10 best archaeological releases of 2016 runs the weight scale from the truly spectacular – the audio-visual excavation of Pink Floyd's psychedelic and experimental eras – to single-disc concentrations of previously-unknown work by crucial, then-emerging voices. The result: something for every budget and obsession.
This English singer's 1973 LP, River, was a dusky folk, funk and Brazilian-pop gem that inexplicably died on release. These outtakes are a marvelous window into the making of Reid's original, underrated classic – and a seductive triumph on their own.
Ex–Mott the Hoople singer Hunter is a working legend. This British Dylan has steadily cut solo albums of visceral, probing rock since 1975, and is still touring harder than much younger men. These 28 discs are that life in full so far, with plenty from Hunter's Seventies golden age alongside guitarist Mick Ronson.
In early 1969, rock's heaviest new band recorded five exclusive sessions for British radio, returning for an epic concert broadcast in 1971. The result is a thrilling report – almost daily in the 1969 tracks – on Led Zeppelin's ferocious progression toward the panoramic force and finesse with which they would rule throughout the Seventies.
This Rhodes scholar and Army vet was country songwriting's first modern outlaw, a Dylan who spoke in the Grand Ole Opry vernacular. The 11 studio albums and bonus live and demos discs, covering Kristofferson's first decade on record, are an expansive lesson in acute emotional narrative and gritty melodic charisma.
This three-CD set is the last word on one of the greatest – and most harrowing – rock albums ever made: demos, rough mixes, every final master. This is everything in nerve, sweat and tears that surviving Big Star members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens and their producer Jim Dickinson gave on the way to this willful fusion of avant-pop exploration, rattling funk and brutally direct, romantic candor.
At this '69 session, the R&B singer – then Mrs. Miles Davis – was co-produced by her husband. The marriage ended; the music was shelved. But the funk, featuring Bitches Brew sidemen and Jimi Hendrix's rhythm section, still crackles with eros and edge.
The best new American band of the Eighties took a striking turn into the next decade on 1991's Out of Time, a Number One masterpiece of folk-rock modernism and emotional complexity. This forensic examination of the record's genesis and glow, with demos and live-radio action, is a fitting 25th-birthday party.
The previously unreleased twist in this set is The Gouster, a 1974 white-soul project that evolved into 1975's Young Americans. But this box tells a bigger story of impulsive studio and live drive: Bowie's passage out of glam through apocalyptic obsession (1974's Diamond Dogs), crafty R&B and stark futurism (1976's Station to Station), on his way to Berlin.
The set lists were the same every night. But it was always a different shootout as Dylan took his transformations in singing, writing and electricity on the road – driving audiences to fury and ecstasy, reveling in the amplified power of the future Band. There are sterling acoustic sets too, like Sheffield, England, on May 16th, when Dylan's voice is pure, naked force. There has never been another tour like it. These 36 CDs tell the whole tale.
Here is the ultimate saucerful of secrets: the definitive alternate history of this band's odyssey from madcap psychedelia to megastardom in more than two dozen hours of rare audio and video, including film scores and unique collaborations. Early TV clips chart Syd Barrett's shocking psychic descent; the next five years with David Gilmour show the Floyd pressing through inner space, soon to land on The Dark Side of the Moon. A two-CD set collects 27 highlights.