A pair of classic comedy albums from a revolutionary standup, a previously unreleased live recording from one of Germany’s most influential bands, a new collection honoring a post-disco R&B queen and the “Ultimate” edition of a John Lennon masterpiece are just a few of the archival gold hitting retail this Spring.
But first, we dive headlong into a box set that classic rock fans have been anticipating since the news broke of its existence.
The Who, The Who Sell Out: Super Deluxe Edition (UMe)
When you listen to The Who with a 21st-century mind, especially the 1967 concept album The Who Sell Out, it’s easiest to think of them in the context of a group like Van Halen or Aerosmith when it comes to their lusty feelings about young women.
By the mid-60s, teenage girls across America and the UK were sneaking out their bedroom windows to see their favorite bands in concert. Some attempted to get backstage. Girls were boy crazy and boys were girl-crazy, There was a legit reason why parents at the time thought rock ‘n’ roll was the devil’s music.
Anyone going into The Who Sell Out for the very first time via this gem-packed deluxe edition must approach this material with that historical context in mind. Because Pete Townshend does not hold back in his carnal cravings in the lyrics to songs like “Glittering Girl,” “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands” and “Odorono,” which contains entendres that can be a bit jarring to new ears.
Yet The Who Sell Out, for all its unforgiving sexism and objectification, remains the most potent of all The Who’s albums from their first 10 years. It rightfully influenced the kids who would soon grow up into some of the UK’s most essential voices in punk. It’s also the album that successfully served as the proverbial canary in a coal mine for Townshend’s lofty ambitions to bring theater and rock ‘n’ roll closer together. But The Who Sell Out is essentially the scrappy antithesis of the grandiosity that would imbue such future Who classics as Tommy and Quadrophenia. Yet it’s no less important in its place in the evolution of the concept album, given how much TWSO masters the art of sociopolitical lampooning via their madcap tribute to British pirate radio in a way that no doubt informed the likes of Monty Python, The Young Ones and Derek & Clive in the ’70s.
This Super Deluxe Edition of TWSO is an impossible wealth of riches for Who fans. For sets like this, it’s a wealth of not only audio but visual stimuli for those who’ve spent hours playing these two sides and relishing the fact that The Who ate baked beans from a can just like the rest of us. This is for old AOR heads who still firmly believe in the magic of the Rock Album as an immersive experience.
For an LP that served as an homage to pop art, the Super Deluxe Edition of TWSO is packed with eye candy, including posters, inserts, a Saville Theatre show eight-page program, a business card for the Bag o’ Nails club, a Who fan club photo of group, a crack-back bumper sticker for Wonderful Radio London, Keith Moon’s Speakeasy Club membership card, a Who Fan Club newsletter and more. The music is equally bountiful: 112 tracks, 46 of which are unreleased, including the original album in both mono and stereo, a third disc of studio outtakes and session banter and a collection of studio tracks recorded in 1968 called The Road to Tommy.
But it’s the fifth and final disc that contains the holy grail for Who fans—14 of Townshend’s original studio demos for TWSO that have never been officially released until this set. A band could never get away with an album like The Who Sell Out in 2021. Then again, if you strip away the rudeness and masochism imbued in the music of a slightly older but no less savage Who in 1967, it still remains one of the most creative critiques on pop commercialism out there.
Despite some of the antiquated aspects of The Who Sell Out that might keep evolved youngbloods away, for lifelong fans, this super deluxe edition is well worth compromising one’s modes to revel in this most dangerous band’s potent radio piracy.
CAN, Live in Stuttgart 75 (Mute)
Studio masterpieces Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi remain innovative and imaginary a half-century or so after their respective inceptions, but it was on stage where German avant-rock greats CAN truly took flight. Live in Stuttgart 1975 is the first of five titles in the forthcoming CAN Live Album Series. It captures the band’s classic lineup of drummer Jaki Liebezeit, guitarist Michael Karoli, Irmin Schmidt (who is overseeing this project) on keyboards and bassist extraordinaire Holger Czukay in full-tilt instrumental improvisation mode. Though it was sourced from a quality audience bootleg, Schmidt and longtime producer Rene Tinner do a splendid cleanup job.
Teena Marie, John Morales Presents: Teena Marie – Love Songs & Funky Beats – Remixed With Loving Devotion (BBE)
No other artist set the table for the successful pop reign of Prince Rogers Nelson quite like Teena Marie, whose effortless ability to sing, write hit songs, produce and play guitar like no other–seemingly all at once–undoubtedly pushed the Purple One to aim higher in his own aspirations. This magical two-disc set, lovingly compiled by one of Lady Tee’s biggest champions in remix kingpin John Morales, predominantly leans on her first four albums for Motown. But the way in which the legendary Bronx DJ beautifully reinvigorates such classic Teena tracks as “I Need Your Lovin’,” “Aladdin’s Lamp” and “Square Biz” with finesse makes you hope a second volume focusing on her seven-year run at Epic Records isn’t too far behind.
Kohsuke Mine, First (BBE)
BBE Music’s J Jazz series has been a deeply educational and enriching journey into the vastly unsung jazz scene that grew out of Postwar Japan in the last 75 years. And hot off the heels of the third volume of the acclaimed compilation series J Jazz comes the latest title in the J Jazz Masterclass Series. Originally released on Philips in 1970, First is the debut from alto saxophonist Kohsuke Mine, who channels In A Silent Way-era Miles with the assistance of an amplified outfit featuring Japanese keyboard legend Masabumi Kikuchi on electric piano and an American rhythm section of bassist Larry Ridley and drummer Lenny McBrowne. Let’s hope we see more activity in terms of these Masterclass editions from BBE’s J Jazz series in the near future, as it opens a whole new dimension of listening and collecting for hungry jazz fans the world over.
John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band The Ultimate Collection (Capitol-UMe)
Could John Lennon’s solo debut be the first emo album? You bet your Apple it is! Fueled by the primal screen therapy John and Yoko had been participating in to cope with the stress of the Beatles’ breakup and a late-term miscarriage, Plastic Ono Band was Lennon in the raw. Largely backed by the minimalist rhythm section of Klaus Voormann on bass and fellow Beatle Ringo Starr on drums (with a guest turn from Billy Preston playing grand piano on “God”), this eight-disc Ultimate edition provides a forensic dive into how masterfully Lennon channels his psychological scars into searing ballads (“Mother,” “Isolation”), proto-punk blues dirges (“Well Well Well”, “I Found Out”) and pensive hosannas (“Hold On,” “Working Class Hero”). Plastic Ono Band served as a quintessential template for Kurt Cobain, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, Stephen Brodsky, and countless others who’ve seared their vocal cords in the name of music. And this magnificent box set, highlighted by a “Jams” disc that really showcases the dynamic interplay between Lennon, Voormann, and Ringo, gives you the opportunity to experience the album as if it was your first time all over again.
L7, Wargasm (Cherry Red)
Few heavy rock bands who also happened to be women were as dominant in the ’90s as L7. And no other act outside Olympia, Washington, were as fearless in its feminism as the classic combination of Suzi Gardner (guitar, vocals), Donita Sparks (guitar, vocals), Jennifer Finch (bass, vocals) and Dee Plakas (drums), a band who’d much rather fling a used tampon into the crowd to get their point across than lament about female oppression from the stage. This essential new box set chronicles the three-album arc comprising the group’s years on Slash Records, where they honed their wild median between Sunset Strip sleaze and Pacific Northwest sludge Included in Wargasm are expanded versions of 1992’s Butch Vig-produced Bricks Are Heavy, 1994’s visceral and underrated Hungry For Stink and 1997’s Triple Platinum: The Beauty Process (which saw Belly’s Gail Greenwood temporarily replace Finch on bass) spiced with live tracks and B-sides along with extensive liner notes featuring insightful new interviews with everyone in the band.
Fleetwood Mac, Fleetwood Mac Live: Deluxe Edition (Rhino/Warner Records)
Thanks to this stellar ongoing reissue series by Rhino Records, there’s been no shortage of live material by the classic lineup of Fleetwood Mac in recent years. Yet 1980’s Fleetwood Mac Live remains the gold standard in terms of experiencing the power of this group as a live entity. Especially in the context of Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham and John and Christine McVie as a working unit when their chemistry reaches full tilt during performances of such Mac classics as “Rhiannon,” “Go Your Own Way” and a searing take on the Peter Green-era blues nugget “Oh Well.” This deluxe edition adds a third disc containing a garden variety of live cuts ranging from 1977 to 1982, including a rare rendition of “The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)” taken from the Rumours tour at State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City.
Alpha Cat, Pearl Harbor 2020 (Aquamarine Records)
“The morning breaks so cruelly, taste of you still in my mouth,” sings Elizabeth McCullough in the first lines of her sole LP as Alpha Cat. Originally released in October 2001, the album was produced by McCullough and Television bassist Fred Smith, creating a fusion of punk, folk, and bluesy indie rock reminiscent of a more college radio-ready Lucinda Williams that serves as a powerful vehicle for confessional lyrics that leave little to the imagination. This updated version of Pearl Harbor on McCullough’s own Aquamarine imprint features two additional tracks that had been recorded and produced by McCullough at her home in the mid-’90s.
Richard Pryor, Richard Pryor/ ‘Craps’ (After Hours) Expanded Editions (Omnivore Recordings)
The first two albums by Richard Pryor—1968’s eponymous debut and 1971’s ‘Craps’ (After Hours)–rank amongst the rawest comedy albums to emerge from the Vietnam era. After spending much of his early years trying to be the second coming of Bill Cosby, the comic took a sharp left turn into “blue” territory while also opening America’s eyes to what was happening beyond the bubble of White America in the Nixon era. Both albums are packaged with exclusive new liner notes from Becoming Richard Pryor author Scott Saul and 25 bonus tracks between the two titles containing outtakes and previously unreleased sketches.
Louis Armstrong Columbia and RCA Victor Studio Recordings of Louis Armstrong 1946-1966 (Mosaic Records)
No matter how far removed we might be from his era, Louis Armstrong will always matter. Without him, the worlds of jazz and pop may have never come together in the fashion on which we were all raised. This new box set from the coveted Mosaic Records collection brings together all the studio recordings from Satchmo’s most creatively fertile period — the years between the end of World War II and the beginning of Vietnam. In addition to all 29 of Armstrong’s 78-RPM songs from RCA Victor transferred from the original metal plates, this seven-CD set also includes his three classic LPs for Columbia—1955’s Plays WC Handy, 1959’s Satch Sings Fats and the 1961 Dave Brubeck collaboration The Real Ambassadors. Each LP is in its originally intended sequence, with over three hours of bonus material between them, including alternate takes, rehearsal jams and priceless studio banter showcasing Armstrong’s jovial nature.
Beat Farmers Tales of the New West Deluxe Edition (Blixa Sounds)
Along with the likes of The Blasters, X and even a young, savage Dwight Yoakam in his early days, San Diego’s Beat Farmers were an integral yet underrated part of the California Cowpunk movement of the early-to-mid 80s. Long unavailable since its heyday on college radio, the band’s debut LP Tales From The New West enjoys a second lease on life with this remastered deluxe edition from Blixa Sounds. Co-produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, these original 12 tracks were the perfect calling card for the rowdy rumble of the original Farmers lineup of guitarists Jerry Raney and Buddy Blue, bassist Rollie Dexter and drummer-singer Country Dick Montana. The Farmers tear through choice covers (VU’s “There She Goes Again,” Springsteen’s “Reason To Believe”) and ornery originals (“Lost Weekend,” “Showbiz,” “California Kid”) along with guest appearances from such pals as Peter Case of the Plimsouls, Sid Griffin of The Long Ryders and Bangles guitarist Vicki Peterson. This deluxe edition of New West features a second disc containing the super out-of-print live LP Live at the Spring Valley Inn, 1983, which captures the Farmers in all their ragged glory.
Alan Vega, Mutator (Sacred Bones)
If Alan Vega were alive today, he would be 83 years old. But age never got in the way of the co-founder of NYC electro-punk pioneers Suicide when it came to compromising his own sonic vision, be it with his longtime partner Martin Rev or as a solo act. And by the mid-90s, Vega was in the throes of a creative Renaissance, collaborating alongside his wife Liz Lamere on some of the best music of his career, including 1991’s Power on to Zero Hour and 1993’s New Raceion. Discovered in 2019 by Vega cohort Jared Artaud, Mutator is a lost album from this period, recorded with Lamere in Alan’s New York City studio in that 95/96 era but shelved when Vega moved onto his next project. Remastered by Artaud and Lamere and released on Sacred Bones as the first installment of their promising Alan Vega Vault series, Mutator is a revelation for fans who dug Vega’s fascination with the then-gestating sounds of the underground hip-hop movement at the time, serving as an extension of sorts to his impossibly hard-to-find 1995 LP Dujang Prang.
Voïvod, The Outer Limits (Real Gone)
Quebec’s Voïvod is the metal band your favorite metal band listens to, and whose time for reintroduction to a new generation of music fans is long overdue. Originally released as a vinyl-only European import in 1993, The Outer Limits seemingly codified the group’s transition into progressive rock that began with their 1989 classic Nothingface, punching up the sci-fi visions and a total disregard for standard time signatures with highlights like a feral cover of Pink Floyd’s “The Nile Song” and the album’s 17-minute centerpiece “Jack Luminous.” This first-ever domestic vinyl reissue of The Outer Limits, pressed on black swirl wax, has already sold out of its initial run of 1,500 copies. But we trust that the folks at Real Gone will do their best to keep this Canadian prog-metal classic in circulation with future pressings for years to come.
Steve Miller Band, Live! Breaking Ground August 3, 1977 (UMe)
There’s nothing more synonymous with the American Summer like the Steve Miller Band playing live in some outdoor amphitheater In front of a cloud of pot smoke and human steam. Recorded at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland on multi-track tape, this excellent live recording from Miller’s personal archive captures that key moment as the group was evolving into an arena act, as its classic lineup delivers transcendent concert takes on such all-time faves as “Take The Money and Run,” “The Joker” and “Fly Like An Eagle.” As we slowly get back to a post-COVID normalcy with tour dates popping up once again, let Breaking Ground be a reminder of the joy of the classic American Summer.