Reissues are now, more and more, like airplane flights: an à la carte experience. Historical releases this year by Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young came in multiple iterations, with the level of bells, whistles and deep tracks varying according to price. The best scholarship of 2014 ran the same gamut, from monster boxes of encyclopedic detail (Chuck Berry, King Crimson) to single-disc primers on the Seeds' classic garage-rock 45s, Sly Stone's missing-link productions and David Bowie's taste in covers. In short, something for every taste and paycheck.
This fantastic mixtape party is David Bowie's 1973 covers album, Pin Ups, in the raw and extended: the original versions of songs he cut on that record (the Pretty Things' "Roslyn," "Sorrow" by the Merseys) and over his career, back to his mod band the Mannish Boys (Bobby Bland's 1961 R&B reproof "I Pity the Fool") and up to 2003's Reality (the Modern Lovers' "Pablo Picasso"). The bedfellows get strange but make sense as a zigzag map of Bowie's eclecticism. Johnny Mathis' "Wild is the Wind," taken to galactic melodrama on Station to Station, is next to Lotta Lenya's 1930 recording of "Alabama Song," an exotic feature of Bowie's 1978 set list. Ace Records has a fine line in these inspiration anthologies, with all-killer volumes devoted to Dusty Springfield, the New York Dolls and the Ramones.
After spending the late Sixties examining the upheaval in Britain's class structure and the vanishing social securities of Victoria's empire, singer-songwriter Ray Davies turned his attention even closer to home: the daily struggle and small pleasures of working-class life in Muswell Hill, the north-London neighborhood where he and guitarist-brother Dave grew up. A commercial disappointment in 1971, Muswell Hillbillies was a pivotal success in other ways: Ray's pub-griot spin on American country-funk; the Kinks' evolution as a Seventies album band; the durability of songs like "20th Century Man," "Skin and Bone" and "Alcohol," all future live staples. A bonus DVD of 1972 British TV performances previews the reflective candor, wrapped in loopy R&B, that became the Kinks' specialty on stage for the next two decades.
A simultaneous release, What's Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014 tells the band's story according to the official canon. This four-CD set charts Wilco's improbable rise from alternative country-rock to an audacious, compelling futurism via the byways: the demos, covers, live curios and unreleased songs by singer-leader Jeff Tweedy that came, glowed and fell to the side between and outside studio albums. The chronological sequencing gives the bounty a documentary flow, with extended treatment of the years and exploration up to, then after, the transforming 2002 landmark, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Deep-fan hits like "Kicking Television," "A Magazine Called Sunset" and "Dark Neon" are excavated here as alternative history. Any other band would kill to call them legacy.
Here are the three years in which howler-composer-autocrat Don Van Vliet came closest to commercial breakthrough, with the greatest of his Magic Bands, after the epic dada of 1969's Trout Mask Replica —embedding his vocal ire, eccentric sexual metaphors and lyric obsession with the ravaging of the environment in deceptively conventional electric R&B. Lick My Decals Off, Baby, from 1970, was a furious concision of Trout Mask's sprawl; 1972's The Spotlight Kid and '73's Clear Spot shaved the jutting angles and whiplash rhythms into cutting riffs and hardy grooves. The disc of unissued outtakes is most welcome, although it is a disappointment that this set is not also credited — as nearly all of Beefheart's original albums were — to the Magic Band, without whom his music was genius awaiting earthly translation.
Of the companion albums included with this year's Zeppelin reissues, curator-guitarist Jimmy Page's in-progress mirror image of III — an underrated breakthrough in songwriting and tonal color on release in 1970 — was the most instructive and exhilarating, with the closest thing to truly alternate takes in "Jennings Farm Blues" — the electric run at what became the Welsh-campfire frolic "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" — and a first, slow, already magnificently brutal take of "Since I've Been Loving You." One of the few genuine outtakes in the series is here too: Page and singer Robert Plant with their rock-god guards down in the blues-chestnut medley "Keys to the Highway/Trouble in Mind," acknowledging the true source of their powers.
This singer-guitarist has been hiding in plain sight, as a solo artist and bandleader in his own right, for nearly 30 years as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. Face the Music pulls Lofgren's own twist on rock & roll fundamentals and songwriting-outlaw romanticism forward, at length, on nine CDs (plus a DVD), starting with his crackling precocity in the trio Grin and the gripping Stones-y noir of 1975's Nils Lofgren and the next year's Cry Tough. The many, previously unreleased tracks includes this surprise: a Grin demo of that '75 album's brawling plea for a Stone's good health, "Keith, Don't Go," with Lofgren's friend and other frequent employer Neil Young on helping vocals.
The Irish blues-rock guitar icon made strong, often great albums in the Seventies. But he was at his best, always, on stage. Gallagher's present to the home country, at the turn of '74, was seven shows in three cities, including Belfast, where sectarian violence had scared off most touring bands. A fantastic 1974 double LP was taken from riotous gigs in Cork, where Gallagher grew up. This boxed set is the tour complete, with similar set lists but vigorously different performances each night by one of rock's most reliantly electrifying guitarists. A DVD of Tony Palmer's eyewitness film, Irish Tour '74, captures the soft-spoken Gallagher defying the bloodshed in Belfast, determined to play for fans on both sides of the Troubles with no guns drawn except for the one in Blind Boy Fuller's "Pistol Slapped Blues."
The first rock & roll record is a matter of debate. This is not: The first rock & roll group was the "5" Royales, a street-corner-harmony institution from North Carolina powered by guitarist-songwriter Lowman Pauling, Jr., whose meaty swing and solid-body-Gretsch attack marked an early dawn for instrumental soul in the age of doo-wop. This five-CD set brings together the "5" Royales' long run of 45s across the Fifties and Sixties, as they jumped out of gospel (as the Royal Sons) into dynamic, secular harmonizing and Pauling compositions that became turning-point covers for James Brown, Ray Charles and the Shirelles. Also hear Pauling's slashing-treble solos predict Sixties electric-blues and garage-rock guitar in the two takes of 1958's "The Slummer the Slum." More than a half-century later, he and the Royales will finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next April.
Link Wray, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Redbone, Robbie Robertson, Jesse Ed Davis: Rock, folk and blues are rich in Native American history and personality. This two-CD anthology uncovers a protest music and acute cultural reflection that mostly came later, with a quietly magnetic fervor, in the wake of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Wounded Knee. Most of the performers are solo and Canadian (a Vol. 2 will focus on the continental U.S.); Young and countryman Bruce Cockburn are certain vocal and lyric influences on artists such as Willie Dunn ("I Pity the Country") and Brian Davey ("Dreams of Ways"). There is prophecy too: David Campbell's "Sky-Man and the Moon," from 1978, is a folk-with-synthesizer jewel, while the ragged garage-pop of the Inuit combo Sugluk, from 1975, suggests Nineties indie-rock born way ahead of the white man's schedule.
Sometimes size matters. The sixteen concerts from 1973-74 in this box of more than two dozen discs (including DVD and Blu-ray content) document the passage to and inspirational aftermath of the British band's 1974 studio experiment, Starless and Bible Black — built and shaped from fearsome live performances and luminous improvisation. Some of those raw materials, like the November '73 shows in Zurich and Amsterdam, were previously issued in other archive releases. But this longer telling, mostly in sharp, soundboard form, captures Crimson's most stable and intuitive lineup — leader-guitarist Robert Fripp, violinist David Cross, singer-bassist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford — in the sustained pursuit of bonded ascension, through drone, noir-ish composition and full-corps lightning. Fripp resumed that search this year with another exciting, touring Crimson: This is a big piece of the rock on which they stand.
The debut album by this Canadian singer-songwriter — made in 1974 for Warner Bros. with a supporting cast that included Emmylou Harris, her producer Brian Ahearn and members of Little Feat — was too well named: shelved just before its release after Carpenter allegedly balked at his contract. Silent Passage, eventually issued north of the border in the mid-Eighties, is now fully rescued treasure in this belated U.S. arrival: a Canadian country-folk union of Nick Drake and Gram Parsons that has survived with earthy gentility intact.
This Los Angeles band stretched the pummeling minimalism of its signature mantra "Pushin' Too Hard" — cut in September of '65, issued twice on 45, finally a Top 40 single in February, 1967 — over nearly a dozen hot, terse singles. The group made uneven albums but excelled in the concise, magnetic repetition of "Out of the Question" (1965) and "Satisfy You" (1968). This set follows singer-leader Sky Saxon as he loses more and more of the plot, along with the Seeds' original lineup, while cutting odd, harder rock like 1969's "Wild Blood," which sounds like the kind of crusty mischief Iggy Pop would later get up to on Kill City.
First issued as a homegrown cassette, then as an LP on the not-much-bigger Popllama label, the 1988 debut of this Pacific Northwest duo was classicist jangle, chorales and romanticism with an alt-rock edge: a compelling power-pop challenge to emerging Seattle grunge in the same way that Big Star struggled to be heard over Led Zeppelin's tailwind in the Seventies. This reissue comes with bonus tracks, but the original 11 songs stand pretty and strong enough on their own — so good that, in 1993, Auer and Stringfellow were asked to be half of the revived Big Star.
This sprawling account of CSNY's 1974 tour caught America's only true supergroup at a blazing, prolific high, showing off mostly new material and songs from the members' recent solo albums. That high was also perilously literal. You can hear the bravado and rivalry, generously laced with drugging, in David Crosby's reach for the high notes in "Almost Cut My Hair." The result, across this multi-disc recreation of a typical, marathon night that summer, is a magic made on the edge of chaos, in still-dazzling vocal harmonies and lead-guitar crescendos.
After Stand!, before his 1970s free fall, Sly Stone previewed the future of R&B — an eerie electro-hip-hop — in a brief run of funky, dynamic productions that barely saw the light of day. "You're the One," a near-hit single for Little Sister — a group that included Stone's younger sibling Vanetta Stewart — and Joe Hicks' "Home Sweet Home (Part 2)" sound more like exuberant afterburn from Stand! But Stone was already on the way to the bunker paranoia and hermetic electronics of 1971's There's a Riot Goin' On in a Little Sister remake of Stand!'s "Somebody's Watching You" and Stone's sinister proto-Kraftwerk demos of "Africa" and "Just Like a Baby." His heart of darkness is just around the corner.
This 16-CD set is rock's Book of Genesis in full: everything Berry recorded across more than three decades from his sideman appearance on a 1954 single by Joe Alexander to his last studio album, 1979's surprisingly credible Rockit. And Paul McCartney wrote the introduction to the liner notes. There are inevitable valleys, such as Berry's late-Sixties stay at Mercury Records. But Berry made consistently entertaining, often magnificent records at Chess, between the hits, and the best live recordings in this set — full sets from 1963 (Detroit), '69 (Toronto) and Britain ('72) — catch Berry in those years of renaissance. There are few rock & roll lives worthy of recounting in this kind of detail. Berry's was the first.
In the year that rock's hardiest improvising group finally retired from the road, the March '71 nights that produced the Allmans' immortal concert document, At Fillmore East, were unleashed in full: the early and late shows of the 12th and 13th, in the original order of performance. The strong roll of the mostly previously unreleased sets on the 12th was complicated by the unexpected appearance of a guest saxophonist, showing that producer Tom Dowd chose well for the tracks on the original double LP. But the long haul — and the addition of a June 27th show, the last ever played at the Fillmore East — also means a lot more of the Allmans' incendiary interplay at an unexpected crest of their powers: seven months before the death of founding guitarist Duane Allman.
The late guitar hero's friend Al Kooper curated this retrospective, drawing on a body of treble, grit and majesty much longer than many, even ardent fans know. The work that made Bloomfield's reputation in the mid-Sixties — with Bob Dylan and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band; with the Electric Flag and then Kooper on the 1968 Super Session LP — is covered, with rarities. But the later recordings, often in ad hoc collaborations and small-label sessions after Bloomfield withdrew from celebrity, highlight an overlooked stage of his gifts, right up to a last, searing 1980 live appearance with Dylan.
Dense, eclectic and fractious, wrapped in an enigmatic snow-white sleeve, the Beatles' longest studio album was the last to be mixed by them in mono and issued that way, although only in Britain. Finally available in that form, on vinyl, in the U.S., "The White Album" retains its capacity for surprise, discovery and intimacy, especially in this vintage warmth. The concentrated vertigo of the guitars and John Lennon's singing in "Dear Prudence"; the balled-up bar-band punch of "Birthday"; the heightened tenderness of the acoustic ballads: The 1968 mono mix was the way the Beatles wanted to hear themselves. In that sense, this remastered vinyl reissue is the definitive edition.
In 1967, Dylan was as far off the grid as a Voice of a Generation could get: writing and recording with the Hawks, his '66 road warriors, in upstate New York seclusion. The rough clatter of bar-gig covers, acutely reflective ballads and apocalyptic surrealism that emerged became the first commercially successful bootleg, then the greatest accidental album ever made. This box set is that season of discovery complete: Dylan in extended, pivotal rebirth as a singer, songwriter and, with the future members of the Band, collaborator. Rock's greatest songwriter was, after a rocket ride through protest and electricity, becoming a voice for all America.