I bought my first CD in 1989. It was “Days of Future Passed” by The Moody Blues. I figured that if I was going to buy an album with an orchestra I should get in on the high audio quality of a CD. Little did I consider that the CD edition of this album contained only the analogue to digital transfer of the music and not digitally recorded music. I was unaware that there was a difference.
Soon after, I began seeing many old classic albums of the sixties being released on CD, or rather reissued on CD. Then came the re-mastered reissues that were much more expensive than the regular editions. I never gave it any real thought at the time. When I wanted to buy an older album on CD I just went to the store and bought whatever was on the shelf. Sometimes these reissued discs included bonus material like studio outtakes, singles that weren’t available on the original LP, and demos of songs whose final take may or may not have made it to vinyl.
In 2006, my love for Deep Purple was revitalized and I discovered their back catalogue from the seventies had been reissued with bonus tracks. I bought them all and thus began my “three-timer” purchases – albums I have bought three times: first on cassette in the 80’s, then on CD in the 90’s, and a third time on re-mastered reissue in the new millennium.
By now I have probably over 100 re-mastered albums from between the 60’s and the 80’s (no, not all of them are three-timers; some are first-timers). I have found that sometimes the reissues are worth getting for the enhanced sound quality, the extra tracks, and the booklets explaining the history of the band or the album. Other times I can’t understand the logic behind putting very low grade material on a very good album just to fill up space and give the fan boy something extra his dad didn’t have. Here are some of my thoughts on what makes a reissue interesting and what does not.
Singles and B-Sides
It was likely Roger Glover of Deep Purple who said that an album was like a snapshot of what the band was doing at the time. I have plenty of albums that I love very much and wish that there was just a little more music out there like what was on the album. In the 60’s and 70’s, it was common practice to release a single with a b-side and not include those songs on the forthcoming album. The Jimi Hendrix Experience released three singles that were not included on the original release of “Are You Experienced” but later reissues of the CD include the singles, their b-sides, and the rest of the original album. How nice to get the complete picture of the early days of the band!
Deep Purple’s “In Rock” anniversary reissue includes the single “Black Night” as well as a lot of other very good material, and Yes’s “Yes” includes contemporary singles and b-sides. Some other bands’ reissues, however, include singles which are just edited versions of songs from the album. You get the well-known song with parts snipped out of it. Not a welcome addition.
Studio Outtakes and Previously Unreleased Material
Here again we can find more music from the time of the recording of our beloved albums. There are various reasons why songs might have been shelved at the time: the album was already full, the songs didn’t match the theme or sound of the album, the songs would be kept for the next album, the songs needed more work, or someone in the band disagreed with putting it on the album. Three great albums that come packed with studio outtakes and singles are Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung – 40th Anniversary”, The Who’s “The Who Sell Out – Deluxe Edition”, and Deep Purple’s “In Rock”. The first two are double discs and the second is filled up with a variety of additional material. Uriah Heep’s reissues also include a selection of bonus material that includes previously unreleased songs.
Alternative Versions, Studio Run-Throughs, Rehearsals and Demos
I often find that here is where the bottom of the barrel is getting closer. Alternative versions of songs can on occasion offer something interesting and worthwhile listening to, but more often I find after one listen I conclude that I prefer the album version. Demos can have their value too, especially if a very good song was never properly recorded for release for whatever reason. But too often I find that the demos lack a decent sound quality and if the final mix is on the album anyway I don’t need to hear an inferior version of it. Yes’s “Going for the One”, “Tormato”, and “Drama” have a lot of bonus tracks, most of which are demos and studio run-throughs of songs either never released or later perfected for the album. The inferior sound quality is unpalatable with some songs having only a simple vocal track repeating the same lyric or at times just “la, la, la”. And do we need to hear studio run-throughs of the 20-minute plus songs from “Topographic Oceans”? On the other hand, the reissue of “Yes” has an early version of “Dear Father” and the single version which are better in my opinion than the album version from “Time and a Word” which includes the orchestra and has less warmth to the sound quality.
Live Songs, BBC Sessions and Others
When a live track or two is added to a classic album it can be a pleasant way to fill up the CD if the live track sounds good. Camel’s “Moonmadness” offers decent enough live songs as does Gentle Giant’s “Three Friends”. Van der Graaf Generator’s “Godbluff” and “Still Life” however have such shoddy recordings that it is a pain to listen to after the first twenty seconds. Atomic Rooster and Uriah Heep include some BBC sessions on some of their reissues and the sound quality is very good, though I can’t say I bother to listen to them more than a couple of times. Other TV or radio studio sessions can at times come out as pretty awful. Episode Six (Ian Gillan and Roger Glover’s former band) have a double disc of previously unreleased material that at times is only interesting for the unique music while the sound quality is atrocious. Collectors might be glad for such additions to classic albums but I usually end up removing them from my computer’s music library.
Remixes and Updated Versions
The anniversary reissue of “Machine Head” by Deep Purple has a second disc of Roger Glover remixes. Most of these songs feature alternate guitar solos which I find a bit agitating to hear. Just when you expect the classic Ritchie Blackmore solo to begin a different (and not as good in my opinion) solo comes in. In other cases, certain sounds or parts mixed out of the original version are added back in and I find it can at times be jarring to hear when you are used to the classic version. Budgie re-recorded some of their classic songs in 2003 and they have been added to reissues of their 70’s albums. This new versions sound pretty good but again, I prefer the originals.
Different Sound Versions of the Album
Nektar’s second album “A Tab in the Ocean” was recently reissued on Purple Pyramid Records and includes the entire 1972 original mix re-mastered, the 1976 U.S. mix of the album, and the official live bootleg of the whole album. So, I can listen to three slightly different versions of each of the songs. Do I care to? How about the Atomhenge 2013 reissue of Hawkwind’s “Warrior on the Edge of Time” that comes with three discs: the re-mastered stereo album with bonus tracks, the new stereo mixes of the whole album by Steven Wilson plus more bonus tracks, and a DVD of the album in 5.1 Surround Sound, the Steven Wilson new stereo mixes, and a 96 kHz / 24-bit transfer of the original stereo master tapes. All I really wanted was the album re-mastered and now I can listen to it five different times. Slightly more meaningful is the deluxe edition of “The Who Sell Out” which has the entire album in the original mono on one disc and in stereo on the other.
No Bonus Material
My Rush collection includes all the 1997 re-masters of their studio catalogue except for “Test for Echo” which I bought in 1996 anyway, and none of the albums comes with any bonus tracks, only the original songs and album artwork. Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Saga, and Pink Floyd all have re-mastered discs with no bonus material at all. Just the classic songs on their classic albums with a polished sound quality. I did buy the “Experience Edition” of “Wish You Were Here” for all the bonus tracks but they are mostly early works in progress of songs for the “Animals” album. One listen and I am more or less done.
How I love reissues with booklets. I enjoy reading the story behind the album or a short-lived band and interviews and comments made by band members, as well as looking at photos of the band at work. I recently bought three compilation CDs of some bands from the 70’s – Dust, Sir Lord Baltimore, and Cactus. Dust’s CD included all the tracks from both their albums and a booklet with the story of the band told by each of the three members and had photos too. Sir Lord Baltimore’s two albums were also on one disc but the running order of the songs had been changed and there was no booklet. Furthermore, the inlay card showed the cover for the first album but not the original cover for the second. Cactus’s double disc included most of their studio catalogue but had no booklet with band history either. Disappointing.
My take on reissues? Give me a booklet of at least 8 pages; give me any singles and b-sides released at the time; give me decent-sounding demos and studio outtakes; and some studio chit chat and goofing off can be good for a chuckle. What I don’t need is crappy-sounding live recordings, demos recorded with a home cassette player, and three different information transfers of the same recording.
Don’t understand the differences between reissued, remixed, and re-mastered? Check out this link here.