BOXES OF TOMORROW
By: GARY PIG GOLD
Thanks to the continuing sales successes of such golden oldens as Jimi Hendrix and those Beatles, today's cost-conscious record companies -- who employ an average of seventy-four accountants to every one A&R scout -- are busy regurgitating the sounds and stars of yesteryear at a hitherto unimaginable pace. And why the heck not? These hefty coffee-table career retrospectives are cheap to assemble, have a built-in audience, and the majority of the artists involved seldom complain about royalties or cover art (... perhaps because the majority of them are dead).
In fact, the only real expense incurred in producing these multi-disc "best-of" bonanzas are the people who develop and program them: the guys'n'gals who actually sit down in some cubicle every day with headphones and a stack of old masters to decide which take of which hit goes onto which volume in time for which holiday buying season. And YOU, dear reader? Why, you get to buy your record collection over and over (and over) again, re-mixed, re-mastered, and re-assembled on little silver discs instead of big black ones. And at up to two hundred bucks a pop, too. After all, SOMEONE has to pay for all those accountants!
Nevertheless, while many fear we're now rewinding dangerously close to the bottom of the tape reel insofar as worthwhile unreleased recordings go, don't be at all surprised if someday, someway, a stroll down to the neighborhood CD bar uncovers the following:
SON OF SUN BOX (A Talking Album Only)
Lovingly compiled by the one and only Rev. Ken Burke, this five-CD, nine-cassette set chronicles the often colorful, always comical between-song chatter as pioneering producer Sam C. Phillips talks shop with his stable of mega-stars. Hear Sam swap fashion hints with Elvis, fishing tips with Carl Perkins, argue rhythms with Jerry Lee Lewis, argue theology with Jerry Lee Lewis, argue the merits of rifle-versus-revolver with Jerry Lee Lewis...
THE COMPLEAT BEATLES HAMBURG SESSIONS
Strategically released to compete with the Apple Anthology series, this set conveniently collects, in one sleek Teutonic metal box, everything captured on fellow Merseybeater "King-Size" Taylor's portable recorder during the Fabs' New Year's Eve 1961 engagement at the infamous Star Club. Diagnosed Beatlemaniacs will already own the on-stage selections contained herein, but NOBODY'S ever heard Parts 3 thru 7 of this collection (and you'll soon hear why): these surreptitiously-recorded, fraulein-soaked post-performance (ah-hemm) "party tapes" feature George Harrison's plaintive take on "There Was A Young Girl From Nantucket", a definitive McCartney reading of "Your Baby Has Gone Down The Plug Hole" (compare with Cream's version on Disraeli Gears), and John Lennon's chest-rending medley of "Knees Up Mother Brown" with the King's own "Dirty Dirty Feeling". I can't wait for the accompanying video!
BOB DYLAN: THE BOOTLEG SERIES, VOL.S XVI-XIX
After the alarming success of "The Cough Song" off the initial Bootleg collection (Bob's first overseas chart-topper since "Lay Lady Lay"), CBS/Sony unleashes this ear-threatening collection of eighty-two takes... and mistakes... covering every facet of this genius' career. Comes complete with a 106-page book crammed with essential doodles, napkins and phone numbers compiled by long-time Dylan hounder A.J. Weberman. Among the audio stand-outs: the numerically-aborted "Rainy Day Women No.s 15 & 47", a stunning nine-minute run-through of "Da Doo Ron Ron" from the Nashville Skyline sessions (proof positive of the Girl Group influence Johnny Cash brought to Bob during their work together), and the piece of resistance: an oddly moving reading of The Gettysburg Address recorded during the Rolling Thunder tour (Dylan's obviously had better nights, not to mention better wine, than this, though Roger McGuinn's tasteful 12-string accompaniment nicely drowns out Joan Baez's caterwauling). First 500,000 pressings come with a special mystery bonus "Soy Bomb Interactive" disc.
STEAM: LIVE AND UNRELEASED
This three-CD, four-cassette, one-song retrospective proves that even half-hit wonders deserve their very own boxes in the Necrophelic Nineties. Volume I follows the birth and development of "Na Na, Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)" from the laugh-strewn songwriters demo through all seventy-seven takes it took Steam to lay the damn thing down in the studio. Disc Deux alternates live versions of the song by both Steam (yes, they actually did wrangle a gig or two, it seems!) and hockey audiences the world over (which leads one to wonder when the NHL will get around to releasing their box set), and the final volume sums it all up with many of today's biggest stars paying tribute with their very own renditions of The Song That Wouldn't Die (most impressive: Neil Young's blistering "Na Na, Hey Hey (Rock'n'Roll Is Here To Stay)" recorded live at the Toronto Skydome during last year's Stanley Cup play-offs).
THE BIGGEST HITS OF THE GRASSY KNOLL
No, not more conspiratorial fodder for all you Oliver Stone buffs, but a gigantic boxed retrospective from Rhino Records that is as revealing as it is pointless and utterly redundant. Rhino, who've expertly re-released entire back catalogues for the likes of Peter Tork and Don Adams, pay the ultimate tribute to Sixties esoterica by unearthing and restoring 102 recordings by an obscure Rhode Island garage combo who never even made a record, let alone had one released, anywhere, at any time. Until Now, that is. Legend has it the Knolls' lead guitarist, someone who calls himself Teddy Kent Poe, traded in a carton of his band's taped noodlings (for a crossbow set) at a bake sale years ago, and said tapes apparently found their way onto the desk of some senior Rhino, as it seems all such tapes do sooner or later. As a result, AVAILABLE NOW FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, reem upon reem of no-fidelity adolescent stabs at surf rock ("Alaskan Guitar"), folk rock ("Poetic Injustice"), protest rock ("I'm White, You're Not"), protopunk rock ("Venus Envy"), and even rip-off rock ("You Got Me, Really"). Actually, the Grassy Knoll, particularily the so-loose-they're-tight rhythm section of bassist Toho Savales and drummist "Half-Dump" Daley, shine best when toying with their own special brand of psychodelic mutant raga'ing that puts even The Shaggs to shame (...but then how can you possibly go wrong with titles like "MacArthur's Parts", "Butterfish Meadows" and "Dayglow Nerf Sticks"?!!). Rumored to have resurfaced circa 1971 as Demon Cheese, Rhino threatens their box sometime in the too-near future too... but will they dare to sub-title it The Second Gunmen?
EVERY MEMORABLE HIT OF THE EIGHTIES
I can only begin to imagine the contractual (not to mention musical!) nightmares the folks at K-Tel went through to assemble this four-song, nine-minute extravaganza (especially annoying is the extended "snooze-mix" of the Bangles' "Eternal Flame"). Their 1990's compilation promises to be even shorter!