Pass The A1

Reissues. Hey, I don't care who you are, everyone has a guilty pleasure that's now been reissued on CD, possibly with bonus goodies. What's gonna happen to reissues in the big, new, all–digital, all–download, all–the–time world is an easy one: listeners will do the same thing they do with new records, download the tracks they want and leave the lesser tracks as scraps. Funny how it's now possible to think of cuts of meat and record albums in the same breath: bites of choice flesh you eat surrounded by bone, fat and gristle you leave. It must make musicians feel real good to see their collection eviscerated in this way. You can say it serves them right for filling out albums with lesser tracks but then there's that creeping alchemy that happens upon further listening when some of the tracks deep into the record become essential. How many album tracks have you grown fond of after repeated listens versus those that jumped out at you the first time you dropped the needle or pressed play?

Anyway, the reissues world, or more accurately the repackaging business, the final rock upon which the record has washed up upon, has had some highlights recently that I keep going back to over and over. Here's a pair of angular catalogs if there ever was: Warren Zevon and Sly Stone.

Zevon was quite a trip. I remember interviewing him in Toronto in 2002 while he was still sober and before the cancer. The sardonicism oozed from every pore but he was surprisingly nice and very forthcoming. Like most cancer deaths his end was not a pretty picture, apparently made worse by his behavior as detailed in his ex-wife's new book, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon.

Of the new reissues of his catalog, the classic is Excitable Boy with it's wax museum of dismembered, cartoon violence tunes, "Excitable Boy," "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" and the eternal, "Werewolves Of London" (best lines: "I saw at werewolf drinking a Pina Colada at Trader Vics/ His hair was perfect"). And then there's his best silly-assed upbeat tune, and perhaps his best tune of them all, "Lawyers, Guns and Money." I mean how much better is gonna get lyrically than, "Now I'm hiding in Honduras/I'm a desperate man/Send lawyers, guns and Money/The shit has hit the fan."

The weird title among the three Zevon reissues (the other being The Envoy) is Stand in the Fire his live album which was never issued on CD and only appeared briefly on LP. Yes, like all live albums there are problems with the sound of this record, so you have to go into listening to it with that already settled in your mind.

Beyond that though the album proves that unlike some of his other SoCal contemporaries, Zevon actually could do it live. The band on the record is well-drilled and brimming with talent. And unlike a lot of live records where the band basically plays everything from the studio records exactly the same way, Warren being Warren, he changes things up, particularly in the vocals. Singing very well, he changes the words repeatedly. In "Werewolves" he changes the line "I’d like to meet his tailor," to the much funnier "He’s looking for James Taylor." This record also includes "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" which it’s easy to forget, Zevon did actually write.

Chris Hermansen's picture

The ability to pick and choose the tracks to purchase from an albumn is, as you say, a downside to the music download business. However, there are two upsides to it, to whit: one, how many albumns did you never buy because there was only one song worth listening to on the albumn? and two, if a band has a thematic idea for, say, 20 minutes worth of music, it doesnt't have to shovel 30 or 40 or more minutes worth of other stuff into the albumn, it can sell it as a lower cost EP-style download. Lots of good examples of this on Six Degrees' Records download site, for example.And, while I feel sorry for the artist whose concept is eviscerated, I'm glad my son can get the three songs he wants from iTunes and leave what he doesn't behind.I have a wonderful Warren Zevon live, just him and the piano, at home, can't remember the name of the album. He was so good at that too.Last: the least rock the recording industry has washed up on is the Santana & Domingo duet.