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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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?

The Volume is a Little Lower: Goodbye Glenn Frey

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Identity and youth is such a strange thing. What one is willing to grasp on to in order to fill a void can seem like a whim but have implications that last a lifetime. For whatever reason, the music of the Eagles was what attached itself to me, and I in return, clung to them for more years than they themselves remained together in their initial run.

I remember hearing them from the crackling transistor AM radios that my older siblings owned and through the fuzz of the car stereo on the trips up north as a child. There was something that made them stick. I wasn’t even 10 when Hotel California was released, but it was the first album that I didn’t just want to buy, but somehow be a part of. More than the Beatles or the Stones, the Eagles were who I identified with. Of course, as a kid it was an oversimplified Scooby Doo type community I craved, but at that age you’re allowed to project those desires into your favourite tunes.

As I became a teen, my notebooks and textbooks would have the lyrics of their songs hand written into the covers. I knew that J.D. Souther was a frequent collaborator and that Jackson Browne had co-written “Take It Easy.” I was familiar with previous bands too; that Randy Meisner had once been in a band called Poco, that Bernie Leadon had been a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, that Joe Walsh had opened for the Who as a part of The James Gang and mostly, that Glenn Frey and Don Henley were members of Linda Ronstadt and ultimately the masterminds behind my favourite band.

This wasn’t in the days of Google and Wikipedia. Every bit of information you got about the artists you loved was from careful study of an LP’s liner notes; gathered from magazine articles you were lucky enough to have picked up; or even books you searched for in the library… which was strange, because I only seemed to be there for this very reason. I learned about these artists from the radio itself. For years, I was tuning into Q107’s Six O’Clock Rock Report to get any little scrap of information about all my favourite bands. Before I even hit high school, I was a huge music fan with a doctorate in The Eagles. I could wax poetic about tons upon tons of rock bands; bore you with details about groups from the Beatles to Barnstorm, but the kings of the Southern California sound were my first love.

To that end, the passing of Glenn Frey hits home and hits hard. No, I never met him, and to be honest, his image as seen through History of The Eagles is that of someone who is wrapped in arrogance… but that doesn’t mean much to me. What mattered was that he helped provide a soundtrack to my life. His music gave me a reason to socialize and interact in a world that I felt desperately alone in during those early formative years. When I later lost interest in their music, it was still that initial connection that drove me to take a further interest in the sounds of other bands. Even as a music journalist, I would hear artists through a lens, that for better or worse was established with the same enthusiasm I had for The Eagles when I was child. As an adult now, I can both sing their praises and slam them in a single breath… but the truth is; every record from their debut to Eagles Live is sitting just a few inches from my turntable. In the basement, where an old stereo with a cassette deck is ready to resume work with a single button push, my old Eagles/Don Henley/Glenn Frey/Joe Walsh and James Gang cassettes wait to roll.

Earlier in the week, as I was discussing the death of David Bowie with an acquaintance, I said to him that “I’m hitting a crappy age.” It’s a time when the heroes, friends and mentors of our childhood start to disappear; a time when we seemingly attend more funerals than celebrations. Glenn Frey will live on through his family and his music… but platitudes seem rather empty at the moment. Today another part of my youth died, and no matter how much I wish for it, life will never sound the same. Still great sounding, but the volume is forever a little lower.

RIP Glenn Frey

Aimee Mann: She isn’t the Ramones… but she is pretty damn cool! (A first concert story)

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Back in university there was only one major thing I was envious about regarding my roommate/friend – his first concert. The first band he ever saw live was the Ramones; only the ‘coolest’ band to have ever graced the planet earth. Oh, you can mention ‘better’ or ‘more popular’ bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Smiths, the Cure, etc and so forth… but unless you can tell me you saw James Brown live at the Apollo, or the B 52’s in an Athens dive as your first show, he had you beat.

Of course, his first concert outshone mine easily. I’m embarrassed to say, but that first for me was in the freezing cold at Nathan Phillips Square featuring Platinum Blonde. Sure, there are many bands that could rank worse as a first show, and it wasn’t a bad night either, but “It Doesn’t Really Matter” isn’t exactly “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” A few years later, with one four year old at my feet, and another child on the way, I vowed to make sure that my kids would get a cool first concert; something ‘worthy’ of telling college roommates about in a childish game of ‘mine is better than yours.’

So it was that in 2008, a couple things had lined themselves up. Local record store Sonic Boom (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World filmed a couple scenes in there) had acoustic concerts every so often in the basement of their Bloor Street location. I attended a Nada Surf show with the ‘former roomy’ and when it finished I saw the bands singer/songwriter Matthew Caws hanging out with some kids. Not ‘kids’ as in a middle-aged definition of people of the teenaged variety… but honest to goodness children. Not being the most perceptive of individuals, it only dawned on me right then, that… well, um, a record store is a safe and… dare I add, perhaps even ‘cool’ place to see a concert.

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Five months after watching Nada Surf, and barely 8 weeks after my second child was born a quick e-mail announced that Aimee Mann was going to be playing a set at Sonic Boom. Since the early 90’s I had become a pretty big fan of Mann’s music. She had put together a consistent string of outstanding records that caught a great balance between power-pop (Big Star), new-wave (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe), and the alt-rock scene of the times. Bachelor #2 was a staple in my house as the new millennium began and 2005’s concept album The Forgotten Arm seemed to be just more proof that she should be a household name. In other words, Mann had become an essential part of my life’s soundtrack. Alas, critical praise doesn’t always result in record sales. Of course, and from a purely selfish perspective, it also meant that seeing a ‘bucket list’ artist in a strange different style venue was about to happen.

So it was that during the early evening May 9th, 08 my wife and I took the boys out to see Aimee Mann. Needless to say, the youngest was in a car seat hanging out with my wife just in case he expressed any discomfort with the noise level. However, my 4 year old and I were sitting cross-legged in front of the small riser where he began to ask me a thousand questions about the small soundboard and the instruments on stage. He had a poster clutched in his hands and was smiling from ear to ear. Since his birth he had seen me playing guitar and singing songs and was now completely enthralled by the prospect of seeing a real music artist. Mann didn’t disappoint. Playing a few selections from @#%&*! Smilers, which was due for release a couple weeks later, she had everyone in a great mood. By the end of the set my son was convinced that Mann was the world’s greatest songwriter, and that she was smiling at him between songs. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him she was looking at where she was placing the capo on her guitar… and that the neck of the instrument was pointed in his direction.)

After the set, we waited around for about 30 minutes to see if we could get the poster signed. I’m not usually one for signatures, but I figured a momentous occasion like a first concert would be a great opportunity for my kids to have a keepsake. So we looked at the vinyl and cassettes which shared the basement with the stage, and kept an eye on the door for her exit. Unfortunately, whoever was interviewing her after the show was getting a really good chat, because she just never came out of the backroom in time for my son to get it signed. The baby needed to get home, and so we jumped into the rusty old minivan with a poster, our memories and a great first concert story.

Eighteen months later, my first born would get his second concert poster signed by a confused looking J. Mascis and a very gracious Lou Barlow after a Dinosaur Jr. acoustic set at Sonic Boom. (I mean come on, how many times do alt-rock legends get five year-olds walking up for an autograph.) Since then we’ve been to a bunch of small sets or shows. Both my boys (now just about to turn 12 and 8) enjoy going to shows at Sugar Beach where they can play in the sand before a band breaks into song.

Over the years, I’ve seen Mann perform a couple times, each time more impressive than the last and yet she still remains on my bucket list for a couple reasons. One, I’d eventually like to get to one of her annual Christmas shows. But, even more importantly, I’d like to have the kids go to a full concert that they’ll actually remember without daddy reminding them of when playing music on the stereo. When she last came to Toronto with The Both we were away on holidays and missed the chance. All joking about bragging rights aside, taking my kids to a concert isn’t about bravado, it is about bonding. Doing those things that allow memories to grow and be sustained.

So my old roommate has the Ramones… and that is pretty cool. But, on some future day when they’re at college and a friend asks “what was your first show?” both my children will be able to give a sly grin and reply – “Aimee Mann… and I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet.” The older one can even add “and, it’s on youtube. You can see my dad and I on the floor waiting for the music to start.”

Thanks for the memory Aimee

A personal reflection on David Bowie!

Recently, I lost a childhood friend. Going through his online memorials I was struck by a thought. The relationships we have when we’re young always seem to be the most powerful; having influence far beyond nights spent looking at stars. The memories linger as a reminder of who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.

Like the news of my friend, the news of David Bowie’s passing hit me with a great deal of force. Through a challenging adolescence, his music had been a soundtrack, a lifeline, a confidant and a means of reassurance to me that things could get better. Like many, Ziggy Stardust had been my entry point; it was a record steeped in mythology, despair, futility and ultimately, hope. Although, I fully admit that I projected my own life’s trials onto his music, like the best albums, you connect to it on some kind of transcendent level. It didn’t matter that I really didn’t understand Bowie’s depth at this point, it only mattered that somehow I didn’t feel alone for those minutes the cassette was running through my Sony Walkman or the crappy 80’s tape deck on a no-name 60’s stereo.

The magic of Bowie was that his genius wasn’t temporary or fleeting. Not only did he reinvent himself every few years, but his artistic vision remained intact. Even when he went in directions that were less accessible for many fans to follow, no one ever believed it was due to a loss of talent. He was the king of ‘other’, a person who revelled in the fringe and gave voice to the weird and disenfranchised with heroic nobility; his personas all broken and in vivid technicolour. He took influences from all directions and warped them into something very much his own. Sure, he was a sponge, taking the sounds of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and mixing them with soul, funk and tunes that were genre defining in the moment; but he also added colours and textures that outshone his contemporaries.

For my part, the best example of this was found not in those classic albums hailed as the greatest LP’s of all time, but in his covers record Pin Ups. Bowie took the artists who had inspired him and turned their songs into something new. While most covers done today retain much of the tone of the original, Bowie sought only to capture their energy while honouring the artists with a piece of his own vision. The original Kinks version of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” is full of angst and confusion. Bowie turns it on its head, adding a sense of vitriol and sarcasm. If the original was despair, Bowie brought to it a sense of sanctimonious anger. It was the last line used against the person who made you feel like shit in the first place.

In the last few hours, I’ve found myself reading the memorials to David Bowie; articles bestowing accolades on the importance of his artistic achievements. They mention his music, his style, his accomplishments; all playing into the personification of a genius. It is well deserved and you’ll get no argument from me. However, as I sit back, those things are not what draw my hand toward the volume on the stereo. They are not what I think of as I watch the record spin. When I listen to Bowie, I hear the possibility of individual growth. I see the idea that even the most fucked up amongst us can accomplish something meaningful… beautiful even. Listening to Bowie, I’m not content to look at the stars. I want to reach for them. And should I fall, then let it be spectacular. Let it be epic. Let it be with that sly smile, a wink, and the gracious goodbye that one has after a life well lived. I mean come on… did you see “Lazarus”. How can you not be inspired?

Thank You David, for just sharing a bit of your life with us.

Memories both old & new or The B-52’s – Live! 8.24.1979

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It seems to me that the B-52’s have never really gotten the respect that they are entitled. More than just a kitsch band of singles, they were, and remain a beacon in a fog of mediocrity. This world where tired old themes are constantly rehashed for rock ‘n’ roll consumption; the B-52’s could tell insane stories while making even the most ‘two left feet’ amongst us dance and have a great time. There music was simultaneously accessible and other-worldly, mixing a 60’s surf vibe with what would later be called new wave. It was the perfect soundtrack for not only dancing, but strapping on some roller skates and praying the next wipe-out wouldn’t be slowed by your face being dragged along the cement.

So imagine my surprise to see a perfect little live document arrive in my hands this Black Friday / Record Store Day… a way over due example of the band in their prime. It’s a small piece of gold coloured vinyl now spinning on my turntable of an era that is timeless, and so very long ago. Before the flash and colour of “Love Shack” this is the B-52’s out supporting their debut album with the incredible Ricky Wilson still rocking the guitar in a frenetic fashion as Fred Schneider, Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson pull off their insane version of the call and answer.

Listening to it I find myself wondering why this record is only seeing the light of day in 2015. Full of energy, Live! 8.24.1979 literally had my seven year old dancing and rolling on the floor trying to sing all the vocal parts at once. It’s an impossibility, but he sure tried. What you have is great songs followed by hilarious, if not awkward introductions. Fred Schneider deadpans: “this next song is a dance tune” as if this is a revelation.

Between my sons twirling and my memories of roller rinks, Live! 8.24.1979 is the kind of blast from the past that puts a giant smile on your face that lingers long after the needle turns away from the wax.

Barrettbites Preview to Black Friday / Record Store Day 2015

Christmas comes twice a year for vinyl junkies, audiophiles and music geeks around the world, who can’t get enough of the tactile delight one gets from placing a record onto a turntable and watching it spin. The first “Christmas” is the official Record Store Day that falls on the third Saturday in April of each year. The second “X-mas” falls on Black Friday (this year on November 27th), when all of your favourite independent record retailers open a bit earlier to sell, amongst other things, exclusive vinyl and rarities. This year has some pretty cool picks.

First up is the Beck single “Dreams.” Originally released only as a digital download, “Dreams” now gets an extra special treatment. It is being newly released on 12 inch blue 180 gram (audiophile) vinyl with a “puffy sleeve” and download card. The b-sides will include an a cappella version and instrumental of the popular Beck hit.

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Houndmouth are releasing a 7” picture disc of “Sedona”, with the cover containing copies of their iconic Little Neon Limelight album cover and their neon mountains band logo. The b-side will be a live cover of the classic Dion song “Runaround Sue.”

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Right on the heels of their newly released debut Yours Dreamily, Dan Auerbach’s The Arcs are teaming up with Dr. John and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo to release the first in a new series of tunes. Entitled The Arcs vs. The Inventors vol. 1, this ten inch record will include 6 new songs and will be followed by digital releases in the months to come.

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Finally, Spoon is releasing a cover of The Cramps legendary “TV Set.” Originally found on the soundtrack of the Poltergeist remake, “TV Set” will be presented on 10” deluxe colour wax with a spot gloss jacket. The B-side is a reworking of the “fan favorite” song “Let Me Be Mine” from their last release They Want My Soul.

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For you “Spirit Of Radio” fans, some pretty exceptional limited stuff will also be hitting the streets. Perhaps the overall coolest thing RSD has put out recently is the self titled debut of The Clash. Limited to 5000 copies, it is a split “White Riot/Protex Blue” coloured edition. Any fan would love to have this under their Christmas tree.

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If you’re a Nine Inch Nails fan, it will also be a great day for you. The Halo I-IV box set is being released on vinyl.  It contains 12” single versions of “Down In It”, “Head Like A Hole” and “Sin” on 120 gram vinyl as well as the 1989 version of Pretty Hate Machine on 180 gram wax.

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Jumping to the 90’s, the 20th anniversary edition of Garbage’ eponymous record is being reissued on 2 pieces of pink vinyl in a brilliant gatefold cover. The album has been newly re-mastered this year for vinyl using the original analog tapes.

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The Jesus and Mary Chain is releasing Barbed Wire Kisses (B –Sides and more) on 2 “blood red” wax discs. Initially released in 1988, Barbed Wire Kisses contained many of the bands limited B-Sides, including an awesome cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.”

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In other words folks, there is a whole lot to get excited about and this is just a tiny sample. For a complete list, hit the RSD website. Remember that all items are limited, so call your favorite record retailer to find out if they are expecting your pick… and line up early.