The record shops might have been closed up for the last 10 weeks (and plenty are reopening as I write, for better or worse). But that hasn’t stopped the flow of archival releases from keeping quarantined music collectors occupied during lockdown. And for those rare moments when music fans who still collect physical media can afford to cough up the cash for one of these titles, it really is a strange source of comfort to anticipate this kind of stuff. Despite what’s going on outside your door and playing out across your smartphone or tablet or TV screen, few distractions match up to familiarizing yourself with a deep-crate classic you never knew existed or unboxing an anniversary edition of a longtime favorite.
For us collectors, it’s a fantastic diversion from the external chaos. And while it’s an epic bummer we spent three months physically unable do many things, including entering our already dwindling, local brick-and-mortar just yet to pick up these treasures, we can be grateful that just about every record shop who wants to stay in operation has been doing mail-order via Discogs or Amazon and/or curbside pickup so we can cop a fix. Here are ten reissues from the first half of this shitshow year that are well worth your vice money.
10. Iggy Pop, The Bowie Years (UMe)
Perhaps no other rock star detox is more storied than David Bowie and Iggy Pop’s tandem stint in West Berlin in 1977, where both men reinvented themselves in the steely cool of German Kosmische Muzik. At seven CDs, The Bowie Years is the definitive word on the Iggy end of this era, including beautiful remasters of both Bowie-produced classics, The Idiot and Lust for Life, as well as the 1978 live LP TV Eye, one disc of demos and outtakes, and three more of live recordings from March 1977 officially being released for the first time. Live at the Rainbow Theatre, London, Live at the Agora, Cleveland and Live at Mantra Studios, Chicago all showcase the might of Iggy’s post-Stooges touring band, featuring essentially an early incarnation of Tin Machine, with Bowie on keyboards and the Sales brothers on bass and drums. The Rainbow Theatre set includes a rendition of Lust for Life’s “Tonight,” which Bowie would later revise as the title track to his misunderstood 1984 studio LP, but longtime Bowie guitar hero Carlos Alomar reconstructing such Stooges classics as “No Fun” and “Dirt” (particularly the churning version from Mantra Studios) are the must-hears.
9. Early Day Miners, Placer Found (Secretly Canadian)
The 2000 debut LP from Bloomington, Indiana’s Early Day Miners has become recognized an essential catalyst for the new directions that Midwestern indie rock would take in the 21st century. “This is music that rewards patience, and reveals itself more with each listen,” Charlie Hall of The War on Drugs explains in the liners of this heavyweight vinyl edition of Placer Found. “There’s a deep clarity within the soft focus — equal parts lost and found. Everything in its right place. We need this music now more than ever.”
Placer Found was the sound of main Miner Dan Burton living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side while writing with the open sky prairies of his home state still prevalent in his being. On this 20th anniversary reissue, there’s a clarity in the remaster that brings you right there in that immediacy while also revealing other shades of the Early Day Miners sound with bonus tracks like the mathy instrumental “Prospect Refuge” and “Blue Casino,” an early version of the song that would become “Jefferson” from 2003’s Jefferson at Rest. Unlike most of the groups dubbed “slowcore” from this pivotal era, Placer Found has staying power in 2020 that has far outlived the subgenre from which its legend sprang.
8. Rush, Permanent Waves: 40th Anniversary Edition (Anthem/UMe)
Rush were not only out to prove they were the world’s best prog band, but by 1980 they also wanted to showcase their pop prowess. With Permanent Waves, released two weeks after the turn of the decade, the Canadian trio gave fans the best of both worlds, kicking it off with quite possibly the fiercest one-two punch in AOR history with “The Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill.” Then they did an about-face and closed with their proggiest suite since 2112 in “Natural Science.” This immersive box for Waves‘ 40th anniversary is highlighted by a newly compiled live album culled from dates on the 1980 tour that might rankle nebbishy completists wondering why they didn’t release the entire shows. In this judicious curation, it deserves space between Exit…Stage Left and A Show of Hands as one of the best official live Rush albums on the market.
7. Neil Young, Homegrown (Reprise)
For hardcore Neil fans, there’s a long wishlist of all the unreleased albums he’s got vaulted up in his archives we know will all come out someday, as long as there’s still a planet. And 1975’s long-lost LP Homegrown has always been high up on it. This official edition is quintessential, featuring such gems as the Levon Helm-assisted opener “Separate Ways,” never-before-heard acid blues “We Don’t Smoke It No More,” and the spoken word ramble “Florida,” whose lyrics were printed in the liner notes of Tonight’s the Night while the tune remained in limbo. Most of Homegrown would appear in other forms on future Neil Young albums like 1980’s Hawks and Doves (“Little Wing,” “Star of Bethlehem”) and 1990’s Crazy Horse classic Ragged Glory (“White Line,” here accompanied by Robbie Robertson on acoustic guitar). But its quite satisfying to hear this journey through the past as it was originally conceived.
6. En Vogue, Born to Sing: 30th Anniversary Edition (Rhino)
When truly separated En Vogue from the influx of three- and four-woman harmony groups of the New Jack Swing era were the hard funk beats by the vastly underrated early 90s production duo Foster & McElroy, which undergirded the quartet’s iconic vocal beds. “Hold On” introduced many young fans in 1990 to James Brown’s “The Big Payback,” while the Andrews Sisters sendup “Hip Hop Bugle Boy” tipped its cap to our grandparents’ era. And on “Luv Lines,” original members Terry Ellis, Dawn Robinson, Cindy Herron, and Maxine Jones collectively channel that Teena Marie vibe with a wink to Bronx Freestyle. This excellent 30th anniversary edition of Sing, of which has Rhino sadly declined to produce a physical incarnation thus far, includes nine bonus tracks, including an extended version of “Hold On,” the radio edit for “Don’t Go,” and a remix of “Lies” featuring a verse from sorely missed Queens rapper Kwamé.