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More Great 2016 Reissues and Finds: David Fricke’s Picks

Expanded classics, unearthed obscurities and other historical gems

Fricke's bonus reissues list

Read David Fricke's bonus list of 2016's best reissues and archival finds.

What qualifies as "deeper" in a reissue year when it seems like all rock & roll history is out there, in box sets large enough to qualify as checked luggage? It is the listening and learning that kept bringing me back to these 15 releases, as much as the top 10 Reissues of 2016 – even to records, artists, epochs and scenes I thought I knew so well. Size matters more and more in the reissue game. But depth, even on a single disc, matters most.

NRBQ, ‘High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective’

This set comes damn close, in more than 100 tracks over five CDs, to achieving the impossible: capturing the eternal striving and indomitable spirit of what is still, after these 50 years, the Best Unknown Band in America. Advanced discographers may quibble about omissions, but High Noon is best enjoyed as a big door into NRBQ's continuing pursuit of the righteous good time in rock & roll classicism, outsider jazz and the Great American Songbook – from the original quintet's explosive antics for Columbia Records in 1969 and 1970 to live and studio work from practically yesterday, under the stubborn leadership of founding pianist Terry Adams. The programming is quixotic: new stuff first, then a checkerboard chronology within eras. The effect, in fact, is exactly like a night on the town with the 'Q: great songs, hot chops and hair-trigger wit, fired at will.

The Verve, ‘A Storm in Heaven’/’A Northern Soul’

These reissues of the Verve's 1993 and '95 albums are really one story: the rise and shine, in the thick of Britpop, of this English psychedelic tempest – singer Richard Ashcroft, guitarist Nick McCabe, bassist Simon Jones and drummer Peter Salisbury. A revolving-door sequence of tensions, disbanding and a brief reunion with McCabe produced the group's best-selling Waterloo, 1997's Urban Hymns. But here are the stronger visions: the winding, reverb-soaked ascension of Storm and evolving grandeur of the EPs leading to it; the grounding of that reach for the sky in the melodic certainty and earthier, instrumental poise of A Northern Soul. The boxes come with extra liftoff – B sides, BBC sessions and, in the Storm set, a live DVD of a late-'92 show that is all dry ice, ghostly twang and determined soaring.

Steve Hillage, ‘Searching for the Spark 1969-1991’

This English guitarist, best known for his mid-Seventies tenure in the galactic-rock troupe Gong, may seem an unlikely subject for a box of such weight and documentary scope. But Hillage has more than enough of his own lineage, canon and success in British progressive rock to fill and justify these 22 CDs, starting with the first two: a 1969 psychedelic one-off Arzachel, by Hillage's first serious band Uriel, and 1972's Space Shanty, a highly regarded prog curio by his next group Khan. After Gong, over eight solo albums for Virgin Records, the guitarist extended that band's spaced-case aesthetic into a surprisingly commercial blend of acid-rock jamming, jazz-funk fusion and early electronica, notably in effective throwback covers (the Beatles' "It's All Too Much," Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away"). Rarities inevitably abound in a set of this dimension, but Hillage dug deep, with a sharp ear, through his archives. And the two accompanying books make you feel as if you've fallen into a long-locked closet of old Melody Maker and NME cuttings.

Lou Reed – The Complete RCA and Arista Album Collection

For two months in the summer of 2013, Reed sat in a New York studio attending to the remastering of his Seventies and early Eighties solo catalog. It was his last creative work, completed before his death that October. That is one reason to revisit these 16 albums; you hear them the way Reed believed they should stand after he was gone. Here are some others: his 1972 debut, Lou Reed, immediately eclipsed by its rapid follow-up, Transformer, but loaded with unreleased songs from his last two years with the Velvet Underground; The Bells from 1979, a chart disaster that initially sounded like an R&B pastiche gone awry ("Stupid Man," "Disco Mystic") but turned dark, personal and uncompromising at the end; and the shotgun effect of the confessional force and stoic jangle on 1982's The Blue Mask and overlooked '83 sequel Legendary Hearts. "I do Lou Reed better than anybody," the legend crows on the 1978 live brawl Take No Prisoners. This is how he did it – one last time.

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