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20 Best Reissues of 2014

The Beatles in mono, Led Zep’s alternate takes, history’s greatest bootleg and more of the year’s best boxes rereleases and excavations

20 Best Reissues of 2014

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.

The Posies, 'Failure'
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The Posies, ‘Failure’

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.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, 'CSNY 1974'
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Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, ‘CSNY 1974’

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.

Sly Stone, 'I'm Just Like You: Sly's Stone Flower 1969-70'
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Sly Stone, ‘I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-70’

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.

Chuck Berry, 'Rock and Roll Music — Any Old Way You Choose it: The Complete Studio Recordings…Plus!'
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Chuck Berry, ‘Rock and Roll Music — Any Old Way You Choose it: The Complete Studio Recordings…Plus!’

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.

The Allman Brothers Band, 'The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings'
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The Allman Brothers Band, ‘The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings’

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.

Mike Bloomfield, 'From His Head to His Heart to His Hands'
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Mike Bloomfield, ‘From His Head to His Heart to His Hands’

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.

The Beatles
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The Beatles, ‘The Beatles’

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.

Bob Dylan and the Band, the Basement Tapes Complete
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Bob Dylan and the Band, ‘The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11’

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.

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