Not all Record Store Days are created equal. If last year’s Black Friday event was the Atlanta Hawks, this year’s main event was the Golden State Warriors. The list was, in a word, nutrageous. I’d never made more purchases and I’d never left more titles that I wanted behind. The event itself seems to be losing a little steam; at least as far as early morning attendance is concerned. My local retailer opened at 9am. I got to the line at a little before 5:30am, and I was tenth. There weren’t many folks behind me at 7am. Later, some jokers showed up and cut to the front of the line – with the retailer’s blessing. Then, I was 13th. I’m not the type to say much in those situations, but others were very vocal. I’d seen this before, and it’s the only unpleasantness that I’ve ever witnessed at any of these events, no matter how crowded or crazy they get. By now, most of us are regulars, and we enjoy catching up with each other, comparing lists, and comparing levels of purchasing success. It’s a grand day for record dorks.
This month, we’re looking at releases that were exclusive to Record Store Day 2018. Meaning, the releases were limited and there will be no more made. These are the titles that one would do best to seek out now, as they’ll only be harder to find with time. Next month, we’ll look at some titles that will be seeing a wider release in the coming weeks if they haven’t already. Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night Live at the Roxy (amazing) is in the bullpen along with records by Son Volt (fun) and Tom Waits (haven’t listened yet). For the first time ever, I forgot a record on my list. Left it right on the shelf. It was by Jason Isbell, and he publicly disparaged the live release from the era of his band’s infancy. I’m going to try to get my hands on a copy anyway, and we’ll give it a listen here if I’m successful.
In the meantime, happy record hunting. As always, thanks for reading. Drop us a line in the comments if you have experiences or opinions you’d like to share. We’d love to hear from you…
I imagine it’s difficult to come up with material for exclusive Record Store Day releases. I mean, unless you want to reissue standard releases and press them in really limited quantities. But folks seem to want the rarities, and that means the labels have to work a little harder to please the fans. Which is absolutely as it should be. Recently, a workaround has been observed. Some folks on the forums are complaining about it, but folks complain about everything. It is this: labels are releasing the bonus materials found on “deluxe” CD reissues as exclusive Record Store Day vinyl titles. For instance, Wilco’s live set from the Troubadour in 1996 was included as part of a 5-CD collection last year, but was left off of the vinyl release before surfacing as a standalone vinyl title for RSD 2018. I’m totally fine with the practice. I can’t see what’s so disagreeable about it. Maybe splitting the releases up is a bit of a cash grab, but the labels would have to charge more for the additional two records’ worth of material if they tagged it onto the end of an official release anyway. And maybe the diehard fans should have to work a little harder than the average Joe to obtain the special material. That’s the fun of it. Lighten up, people.
Wilco’s Troubadour show in L.A. 1996 was broadcast live on the radio and recorded for posterity. We’re lucky to have it. The show was originally released as a promotional cassette for radio stations. This release was remastered for vinyl by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman. The same folks complaining about the nature of the content are likely the same ones complaining about the “bootleggy” nature of the recordings. I disagree. I’ve listened to plenty of bootlegs, and this record is ready for the big leagues. Yeah, the recording sounds a little “close,” you don’t get much of a feel for the room. But you get a feel for what this version of Wilco sounded like. And you only hear the audience when you’d expect to between songs and when something really cool happens. Or when Jeff Tweedy says something funny. Which he often does. The band was obviously sober enough to hold a show together on this night. They often weren’t. The setlist is comprised of songs from the band’s first two albums along with a few Uncle Tupelo numbers (“New Madrid,” “Gun,” and Doug Sahm’s “Give Back the Key To My Heart,” which Tupelo also covered). I saw the band multiple times during this era, and would have been thrilled to have caught this show. The recording allows for plenty of separation between instruments, whereas live Wilco shows of the day weren’t always as sonically pleasing. Things are handled much more professionally in Wilco-world today than they were a couple of decades prior. They’re all good nights in 2018, and this is a fine document of what the band sounded like on a good night in 1996.
The online forums show that many people got warped records in this set, but mine are flat. I think the records were pressed at RTI, which is as good as it gets. Packaging is cheap, and no download codes are included, but the music rocks plenty. I call that a Record Store Day success. I had many this years…
Another Record Store Day trick for generating compelling product is to reissue the mono versions of classic recordings. I believe this has been done previously with the ubiquitous Grateful Dead titles and maybe some Doors stuff. I jumped all over this year’s mono take on Pink Floyd’s first studio release, The Piper At the Gates of Dawn. And I’m not entirely sure why. I’m not the biggest Floyd fan, certainly not of their earliest stuff. I’d had a CD of Piper as a kid, but was too preoccupied with the more accessible material on Wish You Were Here and The Wall to really get into it. But I knew I was coming home with this one the second I saw it on this year’s list. I’m glad I got it.
This is probably the release that I heard the most folks talking about in line. It was not as limited as some previous titles, which seems to have been a theme this year. 6,000 mono Pipers were pressed for this year’s event. That’s a comparative ton. Still, folks are plunking down as much as four times the $25 retail price online. I briefly considered leaving mine in the wrapper and selling it to recoup some of the ludicrous amounts of money that I’d just spent. Then, I came to my senses.
But why does keeping a record that I’ve never paid much attention to by a band that I don’t love count as coming to my senses? For one, I’m intrigued by the differences between mono and stereo mixes as they relate to popular music from the ‘60s. I know that the Stones, the Beatles, and Dylan didn’t especially care about the stereo mixes at the time. Their fans were listening in mono anyway. And a lot of the early stereo mixes were just bad. Too experimental and busy to serve the music. Too much time spent figuring out what could be done instead of what should be heard. This Piper was “remastered from the original 1967 mono mix,” not necessarily from the original tapes. And it sounds a little thin, but I don’t think that’s why. The recording, in general, is sort of tinny and brittle sounding. The low end is clear enough, but doesn’t pack much of a punch. Notes float from the soundstage with good separation and definition, and “The Scarecrow,” especially, reveals the three-dimensionality that can be so engaging with the best mono mixes. It’s ten tons of fun. Way more rewarding than the crappy ‘80s-era CD that I had.
This is a reissue of the British version, which means that “See Emily Play” is not represented here, but “Astronomy Domine” is. I’ll take it. “Lucifer Sam” is my personal fave on Piper, as it reminds me of some sort of twisted spy/surf guitar freakout. Syd Barrett, perhaps ironically, wrote the most coherent material on the album, while the band collaborated on the spacier, more extended songs. If you’re a fan of psychedelia, you should already have this. If you’re waiting for an invitation, this is it. This package includes a newly designed outer wallet to contain the original album cover. There’s a poster too, but the goods are in the mix. I’ll come back to this one over and over. Set the controls for the heart of the sun, and enjoy your trip.
I’d looked at the RSD list 20 times, and I had my plan together. On the 21st viewing, a compilation that had heretofore not announced itself jumped off the page and, against considerable odds, made itself a priority for me. It was called Hillbillies in Hell: Volume 666 (Country Music’s Tormented Testament: 1952 – 1974). The folks at the Omni Recording Corporation are not into the whole brevity thing. It looks like this is a single installment in a longer series and that the titles sell out. There were, as one might have guessed, 666 copies manufactured. 222 were on “hellfire red” vinyl, 222 were on “endless torment black” wax, and mine is of the “Lucifer ablaze orange splatter” variety. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I would not willfully own a record collection without this compilation in it.
This is easily one of the finest RSD titles that I’m aware of. It involves songs with titles like “The Devil,” and “Devil Get Away From Me,” and “Wild She Devil,” and “The Devil Made Me Do It.” There’s also a version of “Get Behind Me Satan,” which is not to be confused with the included version of “Get Thee Behind Me Satan.” The entire set is bookended by Lloyd Green’s “Panic (‘A Trip’)” and his “(‘Pirt A’) Cinap.” (I’ll let the reader piece this mystery together, but it might help to consult a mirror during the unraveling.) Here’s what I found so surprising: a lot of these songs and performances are actually good, despite the campy packaging and the silly Satan theme. (The astute observer will notice that the man on the cover has fangs.) Vassar Clements plays on a tune from 1959. The Gospel quartets’ harmonies are as righteous as one would hope, and Sorrells Pickard’s tune is especially great for a lowly peanut butter magnate’s recording. The liners are a blast, and there’s even a Japanese-style OBI with reproductions of some of the original singles’ center stickers. This is touted as a “full dynamic range 2018 remaster direct from first generation analogue master tapes,” and it sounds alive. Almost like these songs have been reborn, in keeping with the motif. I mean, where in the hell did they even find the masters for songs this obscure? The marketing says that the collection was “years in the making,” and I believe that. Especially when one considers that, there are about five other installments in this series. Surely, they can’t all be this fun. But maybe. This one certainly has the best packaging and cover art.
And apparently, I’m not the only one freaking out about it. People are asking $850 for this disc on Ebay, and folks are bidding $70… so far. I’m not sure that it makes a ton of sense (or cents) to pay that kind of money for a compilation of obscure, regional Devil songs, but it would be well worth it to keep an eye on the series in case of future releases. I’m thrilled to have mine. It casts quite a spell…
Every year, I try to add an “off” title to my Record Store Day stack. Something that I might not ordinarily be too excited about, but that catches my eye, either on the list or in the store. 10-inch records are a good place to start, but I didn’t add any of those to the collection this year. I went with Dave Grusin’s score for The Friends of Eddie Coyle. The timing was right, as I’d just seen the movie for the first time a couple of months back. This little divergence turned into a full-on score once I dropped the needle in the groove. Pun 100 percent intended…
The artwork is what really drew me in on this release. The artist’s name is Oliver Barrett, and he runs around designing “alternate” images for movie posters. Just as the Star Wars franchise took flight again in the hands of fan boy directors, the major studios might consider laying off their graphic design staffs and hiring Barrett to design their artwork. His cover for the Coyle record is far more engaging than the (admittedly dated) promo material for the original film. Unfortunately, I got in too much of a hurry in the middle of the RSD melee, and I didn’t notice until I got home that my Coyle cover has a gash in it. It’s only noticeable at an angle, looks like something that may have happened when a store worker was unpacking a shipment. I’m obsessive enough about this kind of thing to consider replacing my copy. I didn’t realize until this morning that this was a “Record Store Day First Release,” so the record should be more readily available soon. I’m not sure if there’s anything special about the RSD release in comparison to the wider one. Mine is not numbered or on colored vinyl or anything like that.
The music: ‘70s groove jams, mostly. And sometimes the jams erupt out of moodier, more introspective sections. Kind of like the characters in the movie, the songs are all over the place. Not overly complicated or too highbrow. Kinda high lonesome with some danger in the mix. Lots of percussion, some wah-wah electric guitar when things get hot, and the ever-present strings. “Thinking strings,” I sometimes call them. Sounds to me like someone is doing some contemplating. And, in this film, they’re probably not thinking about saving dolphins or curing illnesses. The thoughts are below ground, erupting from the surface before floating back down like spent fireworks, only to gather strength and make another break for it. Relentlessly greasy. 1970s-philes rejoice!
And the sonics are surprisingly good. The release was mastered from the original tapes, although this is almost certainly not an AAA production. Still, this is a 3D affair with sounds that dance across the soundstage left to right and front to back. Lots of air in the strings, and punch in the bass. My pressing is a little ticky in parts, but mostly fine. Download code included along with a gatefold essay by music writer, David Toop. It’s a nifty package, and a cool RSD oddity. Highly recommended.
Alrighty. We’ll wrap up this month’s recap of our first round of Record Store Day titles with a look at Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression – Demos. As the title suggests, this album contains the sketches of the songs that would result in the band’s first album. Lots of folks consider Uncle Tupelo to be the primary drivers of the return to roots music that would eventually be categorized as “Americana.” Or “Alt-Country,” God help us. If you buy into that label, of Uncle Tupelo as the grandfathers of a movement, then No Depression would be, by definition, the first entry into the nascent genre. The “source material,” if you will, that spawned a new universe. I’m not so sure. But I loved the band. And I loved their first album.
The demos, however… Lots of this stuff sounds good. Sounds like a more tentative version of the final product. Especially vocally. Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar are both finding their voices. More accurately, they seem to be feeling their way around a recording studio, afraid to let loose and scream when the song calls for it. Farrar is noticeably subdued. The guitars, in general, are more shimmery than what wound up on the official release. They remind me of early Drivin’ and Cryin’ fare. All songs on the official release except for “Factory Belt” and “So Called Friend” are represented, and “I Got Drunk” is included on the Demos set, but never made it onto No Depression. All of these versions of all of these tunes were previously released on expanded digital versions of the final album. And it’s cool to hear how a producer was able to take some thin, dirty demos and turn them into a less dirty, but still plenty gritty, finished album. That said, all but the most devoted Tupelo fans could probably get by without this album. I would recommend it as a matter of course for dyed in the wool Tupelo heads, except that…
…there’s some Looney sibilance attached to the high hat on side one that makes the songs unlistenable. This could conceivably be in the mix, but I doubt it since it’s confined to one side and not the other. Prior to dropping the needle on Demos, I was ready to commend the quality of 2018’s RSD releases across the board. Prior years’ quality control issues have been well documented, but I’ve seen marked improvement over the course of the last couple of RSD events. This Demos set is a drag. Half of it is, anyway. And I don’t keep records on my shelf that I only halfway like. This’ll go back. Comes with a download code. Save yourself the trip and some money by purchasing these songs online as a supplement to your copy of No Depression. This is a phenomenal record. Thanks for the reminder, Demos disc. You were almost great too.