Anniversaries inevitably rule in 2018’s archival-release honors, from the new, extended turbulence of the Beatles’ 1968 White Album to the prophetic depth of Liz Phair’s report on love and losing in the grunge uprising. But vaults also opened wide in memorial — Tom Petty, the private Prince — and surprise: the garage-rock Bob Seger; Bob Dylan at twin peaks of emotional torment and songwriting prowess; the turning-point country siren Bobbie Gentry; and an entire, previously unheard John Coltrane session. The year in reissues, at its best, was history come alive, then written anew.
The primary revelation in the 50th-anniversary celebration of the Beatles’ 1968 double LP is the 27 solo, acoustic demos that preceded the five months of sessions at Abbey Road. Here is an unprecedented view of the group’s principal songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and the growing, urgent voice of George Harrison at the point of creation. Three CDs of studio rehearsals and outtakes further explore the innovative, if divisive, energy of the Beatles’ most eclectic album.
Opening with “Surrender,” a 1976 outtake most bands would kill to release, these four CDs are the late rocker’s career in deep cuts. Early radio-broadcast tracks affirm the robust modernism in Petty’s Sixties roots. Shelved knockouts like “Keep a Little Soul” and later, more personal reflections such as “Gainesville” and “Bus to Tampa Bay” show how he always valued depth and story over a surefire hit. Issued just a year after his death, this set is a life lived in full, more than you knew.
The artist always known as controlling probably would not have released this album — originally a home-recorded cassette — in his lifetime. But this first posthumous release from Prince’s vault reveals the star who could play everything in a striking private communion of voice, piano and a cascade of ideas, from an early glimpse of “Purple Rain” to the frantic, bluesy and discarded “Cold Coffee and Cocaine” and a stunning too-short cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” May there be more of this caliber soon.
Dylan’s elliptically confessional 1975 classic, Blood on the Tracks, goes under the Bootleg Series microscope: six CDs devoted to the New York sessions in September 1974 at which he initially completed that record — until he decided to recut five tracks in Minneapolis. (They are here too.) Famously impulsive in the studio, Dylan is restless yet determined in the New York takes, experimenting with instrumentation, sometimes just going solo. We know how the story ends. This is how he got there.
The Mississippi-born singer-songwriter’s 1967 major-label debut, “Ode to Billie Joe,” was a country-music landmark, Deep South noir cut with home-demo intimacy and Pet Sounds–like radiance. Her second album, 1968’s The Delta Sweete, was the first country-rock opera, a suite of rural-life memories wreathed in the eerie luxury of Love’s Forever Changes. Later work hewed closer to the country-pop center. But by her final Capitol LP, 1971’s Patchwork, Gentry was still aiming high, writing with Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman ideals. This box — everything she recorded in five years — honors the first alt-country woman.
In the late Sixties, before he ascended to heartland-Springsteen fame, Seger was Detroit’s Jagger-Richards, scoring regional smashes with raw, thrilling originals (“East Side Story,” “Heavy Music”) fusing Rolling Stones–style R&B with Motown-style songwriting and Midwest factory-life attitude. Half a century, these 10 A and B sides from Seger’s teen-beat era — including exuberant pastiches of James Brown and Bob Dylan — are still among his greatest hits.
The road to Exile in Guyville — Liz Phair’s 1993 double-album–length treatise on the hazards of pleasure and commitment in a male-angst underground — was paved by a torrent of home-recorded demos, issued in 1991 as a series of cassettes. This release is the full map, opening with Phair’s complete Girly-Sound tapes and documenting songs like “Fuck and Run” and “Johnny Sunshine” as they grow out of haunted, interior frustration to rattling, public disclosure. Twenty-five years later, Phair’s blues and fury still bristle with perfect timing.
Recorded in Memphis between 1972 and 1974 but left behind on the way to their 1975 self-titled overlooked debut for Columbia, these demos by this curiously named band originally from Louisiana combine power-pop charge and progressive-rock ambition, as if Yes had made the Beatles’ Abbey Road with David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust sidekick, Mick Ronson, on guitars. It’s the kind of rock-critic catnip that should have made Zuider Zee a cult sensation. It’s not too late.
The subtitle is not an exaggeration. Coltrane’s performances with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones, recorded on March 6th, 1963, survived only as mono-tape copies given to the saxophonist. An untitled blues and multiple takes of the modal showcase “Impressions” suggest a rehearsal. But even in a year in which Coltrane released four albums, this music is more than a footnote; it is sublime, searching and essential.
Released in late 1977, a few weeks after the Ramones’ third LP and the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, Wire’s debut album opened the post-punk era with a deceptively complex minimalism: bone-like writing with machine-gun tension and an ingenious, melodic grip. Wire’s next albums, 1978’s Chairs Missing and 1979’s 154, were as bold in their dynamic and textural progression. All three get the enriched, definitive treatment — demos, non-LP tracks, art-book packaging — they deserve in these editions.