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.

Test Pressing Heaven! or Big Star – Third / Sister Lovers

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If you have the idea of starting your listening day by discovering Big Star for the first time, don’t start with Sister Lovers / Third. Both #1 Record and Radio City are power-pop masterpieces that also serve as great introductions to the “Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard.”

On the other hand, Third is the opposite side of the coin. While definitely a masterpiece in its own right, it is bi-polar in its dramatic swings between happiness and absolute despair. It drops all pretensions and attempts of being a great rock ‘n’ roll album and instead mines the depths of failed relationships in their darkest moments, and then snaps back to honest sentiment and joy. In its own way Third is like Big Star’s version of the White Album requiring a bit of context to appreciate the artistry. It isn’t just the album themes either, Alex Chilton was literally in a mood for self-sabotage.

Ardent Studio creator John Fry who had been very influential in Big Star saw his relationship with Alex Chilton breaking down and things between them had become increasingly antagonistic. It has been reported as so bad that when Fry complimented “Downs” as having “pop potential,” Chilton all but ruined it; using a basketball as a snare drum, some ill timed steel drums and turning it into a “Revolution #9” moment. Whatever Fry heard is completely submerged beneath a sonic ramble and talking as replacement for singing.

Don’t let that idea confuse you, Third may not be a collection of songs filled with anger turned into sonic hooks, like say Fleetwood Mac; instead it becomes either unwavering in its depictions of loneliness and despair or a drunken arm around your shoulder full of sloppy proclamations. It has brutal honesty as its companion which means that things can get a little dicey. One moment can be heartbreakingly beautiful and poppy (“Thank You Friends”) and another can be devastatingly cruel (“Holocaust”). Even the Christmas track “Jesus Christ” has an echoing feel that keeps Chilton separated from his sentiment.

Third isn’t an easy listen. Watching things fall apart never is. Yet, it makes for amazing artistic expression; songs that relate to you on a more personal level, and take you to places of personal tragedy. Hope and comfort are found in the idea that others have also hurt as badly as you have.

Now, as for vinyl, you have some great choices. The first is obviously hitting the resale market where you can find original pressings in great shape. For whatever reason, Big Star fans seem to have taken great pains to care for their records. However, I wish you luck finding them at a decent cost. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find any of the original 1975 test pressings on the market. There were only around 200 printed and given out as promotional material to record executives and radio stations. The 1978 official release by PVC Records sells well over a hundred dollars, with some resellers fetching over $200.

In 1985 PVC reissued Third with a new cover and title dubbing the album Big Star’s Third: Sister Lovers.

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This edition is much more reasonably priced in the $40 range at Discogs.

1988 saw yet another cover change and a new record company releasing Third on white vinyl. This German edition from Line Records shows up being priced around $30 dollars but add at least that same price in additional shipping, as it is primarily European resellers offering it.

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Ryko got into the Big Star game in 1992, releasing Third on CD with another cover and a few added bonus tracks. It can still be found used or new at regular prices.

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In 2007 Four Men With Beards released a 180 gram vinyl edition that restored the original cover. It can still be found at around $30 at the usual places.

Then there is the last Omnivore edition released first on Record Store Day in 2011 and then later direct order. This “Test Pressing Edition” was a perfect example of how a treasured record should be treated by a record company for fans. Rather than simply putting out a new printing, they used 180 gram audiophile vinyl, had it remastered by the same people who did the original, in the same studio (Ardent) and packaged it with all kinds of memorabilia. All classic records should be treated this way when possible. Quite simply, the vinyl kills my CD copy. The people at Ardent Studios treated Third like an ancient holy scripture and restored it to something worthy of the heavens. The RSD release was limited to 2000 copies but five lucky people out there got an unexpected gift – an actual 1975 test pressing enclosed in their package signed by Big Star’s Jody Stephens and Ardent Studios head John Fry. I didn’t see any of these for sale. However the RSD edition does sell for over a $100 on the resale market.

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That edition never made it to all fans, so Omnivore offered another 500 copies in 180 gram clear vinyl to those fortunate enough to see the news and order it direct. Prices for this edition are over a hundred dollars with some resellers asking well over $200.

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OK, all cliché and hyperbole aside, it sounds fantastic and is a prize possession within my record collection. The only thing that I would hold in higher esteem is an actual 1975 test pressing, and I’m not expecting to run into any of those.

Oh Come On Now! Or David Bowie – Five Years 1969 – 1973

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Just a couple days since I wrote a piece on David Bowie’s Pin Ups and bang! The Big Announcement!

Bowie is releasing a giant box set entitled Five Years 1969 – 1973. The first in a series of new sets, this one will be a 10 albums featuring his first 6 studio records, 2 live albums, plus The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars 2003 Ken Scott Mix. In addition there will be a companion book featuring memorabilia, rare photos, hand written lyrics, press reviews and essays from the original album producers. It will all be available on CD and 180 gram audiophile vinyl.

Just to spell it out, you get:

David Bowie (aka Space Oddity), The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, Live Santa Monica ’72, and Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture Soundtrack.

It will be released on September 28.

Not that I know anything about these things, but if he follows Springsteen’s example, but you can expect the newly remastered Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory and Pin Ups to get individual releases on Black Friday/Record Store Day. Either way, start saving now folks!

When do we get there Dad? Or Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown

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Rotating between having her head out the window or on my lap in intervals of less than ten seconds, Mugs would bounce around the inside of the Jeep like a canine pinball. The A.M. radio would play those adult contemporary hits which blurred the line between folk – rock – country and polite crooning intended to placate the masses who found The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour funny. Between being stepped on, loved and driven to distraction by the sounds of Hot Butter’s “Pop Corn” that my friends was seven year old me in my dad’s AMC Jeep in the summer of ’74.

It wasn’t all bad, slipped in between the greatest hits of Neil Sedaka and Anne Murray came Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundow,” a subversive little number promising murder “if I find you been creeping ‘round my backstairs.” I had no idea what that meant, but it sure sounded bad. That song and the follow up single “Carefree Highway” helped propel Sundown into #1 in both Canada and the U.S. in June of 1974.

Of course, vinyl was still king back then and plenty of records were issued in the year of its original release, but… what since?

Surprisingly, for a hit record, Sundown hasn’t seen much in reissues and remasters with two notable exceptions. In 1979, Mobile Fidelity gave Sundown the all-star half-speed recording treatment. You can find used copies for around $20. (Saw a still packaged one selling for over $200.00 on E-Bay, but let’s not get insane just yet). Then just last year a remastered 180 gram edition showed up for Record Store Day and you can still find them easily for about $40. Sound on it is outstanding.

If you’re crate digging you can still find decent copies of the original kickin’ about for under $5.

So, the vinyl spins I think of my Dad, my dog, and drives to the cottage along a carefree highway. Wish I knew where the hell that is! “When do we get there?”

The Hard Rock Blue Print or Aerosmith – Toys In The Attic

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Say what you want about Aerosmith, and I know that opinions vary wildly, but they were at one time the most important rock ‘n’ roll band in the U.S. of A. Too heavy to be power-pop, too light to be metal they were the popular bridge between the so-cal sounds of Fleetwood Mac and the raw power of Black Sabbath. The path that Aerosmith helped to create in the ‘70’s is what every glam-hair-metal band rode in on the 80’s. Furthermore, Toys In The Attic was the blueprint used by many of these bands trying to find mainstream success. A couple all out naughty rock tunes (“Walk This Way” & “Sweet Emotion”), a ballad (“You See Me Crying”) some quirky humour (“Big Ten Inch Record”), deep cuts to give a bit of depth (“Uncle Salty” & “No More No More”) and you have the recipe used by everyone from Faster Pussycat to Bon Jovi.

Of course Toys In The Attic sold close to 8 million records, so finding a copy isn’t a problem. The real issue is finding what is worth owning from a fidelity point of view. While original copies are plentiful, finding a great copy while crate digging can be hit and miss. Looking at discogs, you can see a virtual ton for under $5.00, but warning, buyer beware. This was about the time record companies began to release material on crappy vinyl. Standard was 120 gram, and some companies began to cut back to as low as the wobbly 80 gram. Inspect it first, or only buy from a reputable vendor. As for the reissue and re-mastered market, you got a couple really good options.

I don’t usually recommend CD’s, but in 1993, Columbia released a limited and re-mastered edition of Toys In The Attic on a super bit mapping 24k gold disc as part of their legacy collection. After buying it back in the 90’s, I sold my original CD copy and retired my old worn out vinyl edition. The sound from the gold CD blew them away. Still it can get a bit pricey finding one in great shape. Resellers have them listed anywhere from $30 to upwards of a $100.

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Still, being a bit of a vinyl enthusiast I picked up a new 180 gram limited edition (5000) copy on Record Store Day 2013. This is also a newly re-mastered edition. With the two playing back to back I noted a couple of small differences. The vinyl seemed to have a much warmer sound on the bass and drums while the CD put a bit more emphasis on the vocals and guitars.

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Honestly, I’m on the fence this time. I’ll take the vinyl on a great system with headphones, but the CD sounds awesome on everything that has a decent set of speakers.

Anyway, the RSD vinyl is still widely available for under $30 for anyone who is thinking of taking that route. I have no regrets with mine.

SAY WHAT NOW! VINYL TUESDAY! Oh damn, how the hell do I pay for that?

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I don’t know if any of you caught the music news this week but the big announcement wasn’t a release by “fill in your favourite band” but rather that indie record stores are about to start “Vinyl Tuesday.”

In conjunction with and modeled on the example of Record Store Day, Vinyl Tuesday is set to bring you new and limited vinyl each week. As stated by the American Association of Independent Music in their press release, “there will be several types of vinyl releases.”

1) Catalog releases which can mean releases made specifically for Vinyl Tuesday or a regular release

2) Commercial and promotional vinyl releases

3) Rare cases where vinyl hits the streets before any other medium

4) Vinyl made specifically for the Record Store Day / indie shoppers

5) Vinyl that is being released after other formats

Basically, all the same stores that have been participating on RSD are going to be joining the Vinyl Tuesday craze. The only thing not mentioned in the press release (or anywhere else) is when vinyl Tuesday is set to start.

Now… where the hell do I get the cash to pay for this?

With My Friend Beside Me… or The Black Keys – Brothers

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Brothers travelled the roads between Peterborough and Toronto with me as if this album was a best friend. Entertaining me, making me smile occasionally, and telling me outrageous stories as the hours passed. Back and forth I went and so did The Black Keys. After one particularly nasty life experience, the first thing that had me laugh in over two months was the video for “Howlin’ For You.” I mean, how cool is (Sir) Todd Bridges when he does that Samuel L. Jackson badass thing.

Released in May of 2010, Brothers quickly became The Black Keys best selling record, and by that November I knew I wanted to see it spin on my turntable.

Fortunately, the band provided several vinyl options for their fans. The first two are separate but almost identical releases. For North America, a regular 2 disc vinyl copy was put out with a CD and poster in a black gatefold cover. In Europe, it was a 180 gram audiophile 2 disc vinyl set with the CD, poster and same cover. However the big limited release came on Black Friday/Record Store Day when a limited edition became available.

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3000 copies all machine stamped and numbered in an alternate white gatefold cover hit the independent record stores. Brothers contained two 180 gram vinyl discs that played at 45 rpm, an additional 10 inch record with unreleased live material, the CD and a variant of the same poster contained in the other vinyl releases.

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The significance of the 45 RPM should not be understated in this case; vinyl 12” records play at higher speed, have wider grooves and allow the vinyl to carry a bit more sound. Audiophiles claim it gives a greater frequency response, while the rest of us hear an enlarged bass and more dynamic guitar.

When I play my vinyl against the CD, the wax sounds so much warmer and… well, whole. If you ever get the chance you should play a CD or download up against the vinyl and give it a test, I believe you will hear a difference.

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Copies of original vinyl editions of Brothers can still be purchased at all your favourite record retailers. As for the limited edition, you would have to go to the re-seller market on that computer thing and likely pay about $100 plus shipping. But… really, can you put a price on friendship?