All The colours of the fricin Rainbow?: Black Sabbath – Paranoid

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Even in 1970, Paranoid was a monster of a record. Released worldwide in every format of the time (yes that does mean 8 track), Black Sabbath put out what remains their quintessential album. The original vinyl can be found just about anywhere at decent prices by crate hoppers… with one HUGE exception. For whatever reason, Paranoid did not carry the same cover or even title in several countries including Israel. Instead it was called Attention with a ridiculous black and white cover of the band members faces.

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The only thing that remained of the art work was the swirl design on the record itself. While finding copies of Attention is not too difficult, your wallet will feel the punch if looking for the 1970 Israeli edition. Discogs has it priced over $300 CAD, and while ebay has inexpensive listings for copies from Yugoslavia and Germany there are none currently for that rare Israel disc. Of course, if you want a genuine first pressing from the US, that could also set you back several hundred as ebay will quickly direct you to one for over $400.

So, lets look at new editions that will not break the bank… yet.

In the last few years, Paranoid has had multiple vinyl releases in a bunch of colours that seem to match a small box of crayons. In 2010 NEMS gave us several different versions on 180 gram vinyl including a clear wax edition. The following year they added a red translucent vinyl edition to the collection and a picture disc.

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Jump ahead to 2015 and more colour fills the sky. Warner Brothers put out two editions for the general public. The first was a blue marble 180 gram disc with the other being a two disc black vinyl edition in a gatefold cover.

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At the same time, a limited 140 gram version of the record was being sold through Vinyl Me Please on a very cool purple vinyl disc that also included a poster and cocktail card.

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Simultaneously, NEMS jumped back into the rainbow by releasing a grey marbled 180 gram disc in Europe while UK label Sanctuary adding a light blue heavy weight wax version.

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Due to demand, 2016 saw more reprints from Warner of the Deluxe 2 disc set and blue vinyl. As far as I can tell from the music forums, people do not seem to like the NEMS sound quality. Per usual those same sources will tell you to search out the original pressings. However, I’m quite enjoying my Vinyl Me Please disc, and have gifted it as well. Anyway you decide to go…PLAY IT LOUD!!!

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2016: The Year That Sucked!!!

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I can’t do a top ten of 2016 music list. Actually, there just isn’t a Top Ten of anything list in me that represents this year. I can pop out a Christmas list because most of the music isn’t new, and somehow there is this imaginary space between the year and the season… but honestly, a real countdown just gets me too fucking depressed. 2016 feels like a giant obituary. There is a tragic element of the macabre when you giving posthumous kudos to work that is so full of life… even as it talks about death. Both David Bowie and Leonard Cohen were staring the reaper down in their final works. Gord Downie and the Hip releasing new material and touring even as the singer goes toe to toe with a terminal diagnosis. Glen Frey, Prince, Gordie Howe, Muhammad Ali all fell before we had even saw the first half of the year finish.

Then add in the state of the world. Syria, Brexit, the American election, lone wolf terrorists, populist politicians stirring racist rhetoric, polarization of the ‘other’ on all sides of the political spectrum and, well, damn… the whole planet appeared to be giving into hate.

And…

the lights just kept dimming…

Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire), Keith Emerson, Garry Shandling, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, Edward Albee, Harper Lee, Doris Roberts, Sharon Jones and then, even as I had begun to write this George Michael and Princess Leia herself Carrie Fisher. In fact, there are (many) more names, (many) more news events. So many more reasons why 2016 is indeed the year that sucked.

Worse

2017 isn’t looking at all hopeful. Unless you are a gay bashing, woman hating, racist asshole who wants to run every (insert any group that isn’t white here) out of town, there isn’t much to hope for. You see, people often look to music, sports and movies as a method to feel good in a world that doesn’t make much sense. However, the very people we have looked to for smiles are dropping all around us. Yes, new artists, athletes and entertainers are making us laugh, cry and even scream, but… we’ve lost so much.

So, I can’t write about “The Best Of 2016” because the bad has outweighed the good by so much it is hard to see anything good about it. I’d like to thank Michael Kiwanuka, Dressy Bessy, PUP and TUNS for some great distractions. Again, there are other artists who deserve congrats, but I just haven’t got it in me. The good is intertwined with the bad so tightly in 2016 that it is hard to zero in on highlights.

In other words, the best thing about 2016 is that it will end. And if 2017 is worse, we will still look at 2016 as the year the ‘shit-storm’ began. John Oliver said it best when he blew up the whole thing as a giant FU to the year. Best exclamation mark ever… and that was the only good thing I got to say about the year.

 

10 Christmas Records (On Vinyl) to put Under the Tree in 2016

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Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song

Let’s face it, most Christmas music is really the same 30 songs repeated by various artists over the years for a little variation. Few artists can claim to have recorded the ‘quintessential’ version of any one tune. However, Nat King Cole is one of those few to have done so with “The Christmas Song” (quite a feat when you consider that there are literally hundreds of covers, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Christina Aguilera and even Twisted Sister.)  His take on the Mel Torme penned “The Christmas Song” is the one that everyone hears in their head and over the air when the holiday season rolls around. Also included are great renditions of “Deck The Halls”, “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing”, and other classics. You can find the standard black vinyl version in all of the usual record stores or, if you are looking to put that special something under the tree, a red and white split coloured wax version is available from Newbury Comics.

Christmas with the Chipmunks

Ok – sure, the lifespan of these particular rodents has far exceeded their “best before” date. However, there is no denying the syrupy pleasure derived from the high pitched glory of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)”. As much as one can try to hide their embarrassment, these annoyingly cute over-sized rodents put a smile on the faces of those of us who like a bit of laughter included with holiday cheer. Throw this onto Red/Green split coloured vinyl (also at Newbury Comics) and you have a legitimate present to place under the tree.

The Beach Boys – Christmas Album

Funny how changing a few words on a hit song can turn it into an even bigger holiday classic. “Little Deuce Coupe” made it to #4 on the Billboard Charts while the re-written “Little Saint Nick” actually made it to #3 six months later. Side one of the record carries original material that actually stretched the Beach Boys (and more importantly, Brian Wilson) beyond the safety of their surf, cars and girls motif and into some interesting territory. Their harmonies on “Blue Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” are stellar. A limited run of 1000 copies on green translucent vinyl have been printed for this holiday season.

Bob & Doug McKenzie – Twelve Days Of Christmas

Rereleased only a few days ago as part of Black Friday/Record Store Day, the classic hoser Christmas tune can be found at your local record stores on a red 7” vinyl 45. Interjected into a holiday mix, it never fails to crack a wry smile on the faces of your festive guests. My kids (8 & 12) thought this was the greatest Christmas song ever as they experienced it for the first time the other day.

She & Him – Christmas Party

I’m guessing that the overwhelming success of 2011’s A Very She & Him Christmas has gotten Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward to reconvene for a second Christmas album entitled, Christmas Party. True to form, they playfully go through a diverse mix of holiday tunes as if they’re sitting in your own home to play them. Included are covers of Mariah Carey’s “All I want For Christmas Is You”, Vashti Bunyon’s “Coldest Night Of The Year” and Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph”. This new album can be found at record stores on red vinyl… complete with a Christmas card from the pair.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – It’s A Holiday Soul Party

Due to extraordinary demand, Daptone Records has completed a new printing of 2015’s It’s A Holiday Soul Party. Last year’s original release was limited to 10 thousand copies on red translucent vinyl while this new one is on green translucent vinyl and limited to 5000 copies. The late-great Jones and her Dap-Kings cover a few of the standards and mix it up with some astonishing originals. Particularly poignant is “Ain’t No Chimneys In The Projects” which is rather reminiscent of some similar James Brown social commentary on the season.

Frank Sinatra – White Christmas / The Christmas Waltz 7”

This is the year Sinatra would have turned 100. As part of Capitol Records’ celebration, we get this 7” of “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Waltz.” While the Bing Crosby version is the highest selling single song of all time (estimated sales of 100 Million according to the Guinness Book of World Records), the Sinatra cover peeked at #3 on the Billboard charts in 1948. Sure, the Crosby version is better known, but Sinatra’s voice on the Irving Berlin classic soars into places no one else could go… after all, he’s the Chairman of the board. This year’s 45 is on white vinyl.

Run DMC – Christmas In Hollis

A tribute to their home in Queens, “Christmas In Hollis” was originally released in 1987 as part of the first A Very Special Christmas, with the proceeds going to Special Olympics. “Christmas In Hollis” is definitely one of the coolest damn holiday songs to come down the chimney. Sampling Clarence Carter’s outstanding “Back Door Santa”, Run DMC powers through a rap in the city adventure that is full of Mom, money, Santa and a single dog pulling the sled. Another Black Friday/ Record Store Day release, “Christmas in Hollis” is on a 12” picture disc and limited to 3000 copies.

 

 

David Bazan – Dark Sacred Nights

Formerly going by the moniker of Pedro The Lion, David Bazan has been releasing Christmas singles for a number of years now. Wrapped in a cloak of melancholia and simple arrangements, Bazan plays the kind of Christmas music the goes with quiet conversations and sharing a bottle of wine. However, if you want this, you had better act quickly. Only 2000 copies of this record were printed on blue vinyl (with white snowflakes). His own website is sold out. His record companies’ website is sold out. It seems like the last available copies are from various Amazon sites.

Elvis Presley – Elvis Christmas Album

Sure, Presley was known as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but his background growing up in the church made him especially well suited to put emotion into the holiday songbook. So much so, this particular Christmas record is the biggest selling holiday “album” of all time, with over 15 million being sold since its 1957 release. Rather than emphasizing the heavier aspects he was well known for, he stretches back to his gospel roots and makes a truly incredible record. You don’t need to be an Elvis fan to enjoy his renditions of “White Christmas”, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Blue Christmas.” Over the last few years this record has been reissued numerous times, with each new edition always selling quickly. The 2016 version is on 180-gram red transparent vinyl and would look great under the tree or spinning on the old turntable.

I Really Needed This Right Now: Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

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It’s been a crappy week in this ‘Year That Sucks.’ With darkened mood, I look to my turntable for a lifeline, something…anything to shine a bit of light into a world that no longer makes any sense. Nothing seems to work until a conversation I have with a friend leads me down a path to the record store.

You see, as per usual, I arrive late to the party. Somehow the floatation device I had been searching desperately for had been put on the shelves months ago and I failed to see it. In a black cover with a melting grey heart, I place my hopes on the vinyl circles within.

The needle strikes the groove and I’m gone. The O’Jays meet Pink Floyd in a drawn out sonic line in the sand. Slow and melodic “Cold Little Heart” creeps under the skin and my head sways to the rhythm. A lead guitar soars out over with the voice of angels in the background. It smacks me in the head as if I’m listening to Ennio Morricone in a Philadelphia setting. It’s new old soul. Visual images dance in front of my closed eyes. It’s neon shimmering lightly in the rain, sad and powerful simultaneously.

“Standing now Calling all the people here to see the show Calling for my demons now to let me go I need something, give me something wonderful”

Projecting. I’m projecting. Kiwanuka’s “Love & Hate” has said something that makes sense to me. Tears begin to flow. This art understands me… or do I it?

Fuck it!

Why overanalyze this?

I’m moved. I need this. It’s the soundtrack to this moment; music for broken people in broken times.

“One More Night” with its mix of horns and bass plays out with quiet desperation. Like a tired person who can’t stop walking. And, quite honestly, this is how the whole record is. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful.

Love & Hate isn’t your over-produced modern R&B. It’s organic, it rings with emotion, and it never feels like you are being sold some auto-tune cliché meant to promote sales over a genuine musical experience. It’s the one record this year that I am not only happy I purchased, but grateful to have found in the first place.

(Now if only I could get some tickets to his sold out show here in Toronto I might even crack a smile.)

Big Star + Rock Hall = An Inductee That Would Really Matter… or… Big Star – Complete Columbia: Live at University of Missouri

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A friend asked me “Why, of all the albums being released on Record Store Day 2016, are you waiting in line for a 90’s live album from a 70’s band?” The tone and nature of the question was meant to be mocking, as he loves to have lively music debates, particularly ones that push my buttons. However, instead of just reacting, I took a deep breath and thought about it. Then, just to be annoying I told him I would ‘write the answer.’ (hehehe…)

The reasons are three-fold.

Like many people, the album I first attach to a band tends to have the greatest impact. While I heard songs by Big Star from time to time, it wasn’t until the release of Columbia that I had a complete work in front of me which represented the band as a whole. A world opened up. Here was a collection of songs that didn’t need to be ‘epic’ stories of human struggle (ie. Bruce Springsteen) or carry images of Mordor (ie. Led Zeppelin) to have powerful depth. They also didn’t include anthem-like clichés to get people fist pumping in the air (pick your own example, as there are so many). “In The Street”, “Back Of A Car” and “September Gurls” leapt out of my speakers and made my own angst seem to matter. These songs were simple coming-of-age tales detailing everyday experiences without the ‘syrup’ provided by many of the ‘so-called’ classic rock bands of the day. Instead, Big Star gave us the kind of tunes that made you want to pick up a guitar and learn to play. Furthermore, you found yourself singing, not in some vain attempt to impress or attract anyone, but as an outlet to express yourself. Which is perhaps why I had been hearing covers of their songs by other artists as time went on; The Lemonheads, Matthew Sweet, The Bangles, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub and later Beck were all doing renditions of the songs of Alex Chilton or Chris Bell. The Replacements even wrote a song entitled “Alex Chilton”, dropping the line “never go far, without a little Big Star.” All of it was packed into this one album.

Next, this wasn’t an example of a band cashing in on fame. Big Star never had the kind of fame you could cash in on. Columbia was quite literally a concert put together by fans for fans and later released in a similar fashion. Two campus radio staffers at the University of Missouri quite literally asked Big Star alumni Jody Stephens if he would be willing to do a reunion show, and got a yes if Alex Chilton was up for it. Surprisingly, Chilton agreed and, with the addition of the Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow to cover for Chris Bell (deceased) and Andy Hummel (left the music business), the band played an amazing set to (merely) an estimated 200 people. Yet even with a small venue, they managed to attract much of the music world. That show got glowing write-ups in all the major music magazines of the day. It was pretty unanimous amongst the press that those not lucky enough to be in attendance had missed something special. Fortunately, this record gives us a glimpse of a show that has attained somewhat legendary status.

Finally, Columbia solidifies my absolute belief that Big Star should be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. All three of their initial studio releases (#1 Record, Radio City, Sister Lovers/Third) land consistently on various magazines’ Top Albums of all-time lists; all three are referenced by multiple generations of artists as being influential in their music; and all three are revered by fans lucky enough to have heard them as being close to their hearts. More importantly, their music has endured through the most insanely bad luck of any band in rock history. Their 1971 debut #1 Record was hailed as triumphant by music critics, but due to poor distribution and marketing by Stax, no one could find a copy to purchase, even when songs were played on the radio. Follow up Radio City suffered a similar fate, with Columbia records refusing to distribute the record because of a disagreement with their newly acquired Stax label. By the time Big Star released the gorgeous yet challenging Sister Lovers/Third, the band had completely disintegrated with only Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens remaining. They went their separate ways and that should have ended the story… but it didn’t.

Fans exchanged cassettes with Big Star tunes. Those in the know kept talking and searching until a market was created for re-releases. More than two decades removed from their first record and people were seeking them out based on little more than conversations and scratchy recordings emanating from a tape deck. By the early 90’s, Ryko had reissued Sister Lovers/Third and a put out a compilation of Chris Bell’s solo material, I Am The Cosmos. Then Columbia was released in 1993.  A tribute album was recorded by a virtual who’s who of 90’s alt-rock artists (ironically, it also suffered from bad luck and wasn’t released until years afterward). When Columbia was released, it may still have been hard to find the first two Big Star records in stores, but here were the songs; live, rough and glorious in their presentations. All members were taking on vocal duties, with Jon Auer doing an incredible job on the solo Chris Bell single “I Am The Cosmos.” As the 90’s continued, That 70’s Show used “In The Street” as their theme song and a new generation started to discover the band. Finally, their albums could be found in record stores.

Somehow, without radio backing or touring, people were seeking out this music.

Which brings me to the Rock Hall…

If, as I believe, rock ‘n’ roll is about more than money or popularity, then Big Star should be inducted and Columbia is a perfect example of why. Here is a band whose art transcended obscurity by nothing more than word of mouth and shared recordings. Without the help of corporate money and radio exposure, their music found a way to not only be heard, but in fact influence generations of future musicians. Hell, the entire sub-genre of “power-pop” can’t even be considered without Big Star being mentioned as its greatest practitioners. It is hard to picture the sounds of the 90’s alternative music scene without the influence of songs that Alex Chilton and Chris Bell provided. Then, you add the Big Star reunion to the mix.

Complete Columbia: Live at the University of Missouri 4/25/93 exemplifies the very idea that great music will find fans and that record sales are not as important as the art itself. On-stage that day in ’93 were two musicians who had created some music playing with two other musicians that had been directly inspired by it. Twenty years separating their careers, yet you could hear just how much Big Star had meant to the future of rock music. They weren’t just another band that you hummed along to distractedly on a transistor radio; they were the band you sought out and told anyone and everyone willing to listen that Big Star were “FUCKING AWESOME!!!”

So my friend… you ask me why I’m arriving early on RSD 2016 to line up for a copy of Columbia… or even, why they should be in the Rock Hall… well, it’s because Big Star created music that really matters… what other reason is there?

Now This Is What I’m Talkin’About!!! Or… Sufjan Stevens – Illinois 10th Anniversary edition

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Announced a few months ago, I had assumed early on that this “anniversary edition” of (the already classic) Illinois, would be like a few other artists – limited, advance order only and expensive. Music accolades aside, of which Illinois has received ‘many’, this is a first class vinyl reissue at a price that is downright inexpensive for what is included.

First, the cover features a new licensed picture of Marvel’s “Blue Marvel” replacing Superman on the original. While Superman is a household name, Blue Marvel is a relatively new comic hero that is just far ‘cooler’ than the DC man of steel. (Besides, licensing was an issue,)

Next you get a double two coloured 12” records in white and ‘Blue Marvel’ (blue with white splatter) and a star shaped red coloured vinyl single of “Chicago” in a tri-fold album sleeve.

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Finally, it is all at a price under $25.00 Canadian, and can be purchased at your local retailer.

When was first announced I missed the boat and thought I was out of luck. However, this edition is actually limited to ‘ten thousand copies.’ That is a good thing folks! The original pressing with the ‘Superman cover’ was limited to 5000. Interestingly, the Superman image had to be covered up by balloons because of copyright issues. When you see it now, it is because people peeled off the stickers to get at the actual cover. The thing sells – used – for over $150 on the reseller market.

Back in 2013, Newbury Comics released a double vinyl set in red and green wax. On that edition, the balloons were a legitimate image on the cover with Superman removed. Limited to 1000 copies, this reissue of Illinois is selling for over $130 and sold out quickly; which leads me to why I am so very happy with Asthmatic Kitty for this release.

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By printing 10000 copies, legitimate fans that missed out the first time can get an awesome package without breaking the bank. Call it a dream, but I wish more artists would go this route. Changing up the cover a bit and the colour of vinyl on the reissue, it gives old fans the collectability they desire and new fans a chance to get in and still have something unique. In a world where artists are losing money to streaming music, enticing consumers with an awesome tactile experience seems to be a great way to revive the physical market.