The Sophtware Slump: 20th Anniversary Collection
Two decades on, the ‘American OK Computer’ (or one of them, anyway) got a deluxe vinyl box, featuring two LPs of rarities and B-sides and a full 2020 re-recording of the album on piano. The latter, rush-recorded during lockdown in Jason Lytle’s LA apartment, was a surprise highlight, actually shining new light on the 11 songs that made up the original record.
29 BRIAN ENO
Film Music 1976 – 2020
While Eno busied himself with a collaborative project alongside brother Roger (Mixing Colours, Luminous), the reissue of his back catalogue continued apace. The Jah Wobble (Spinner) and John Cale (Wrong Way Up) LPs arrived in August along with a Record Store Day release for his Rams OST. This survey of his film scores highlighted the range and depth of his cinematic endeavours: richly textured and immersive, these were more than just movie cues but recognisable compositions in their own right.
28 BESSIE JONES
Get In Union
ALAN LOMAX ARCHIVE
South Georgia-born Jones was a veritable expert in African-American song, learning slavery-era songs from her grandfather and picking up others throughout her life. This digital-only release from the Alan Lomax Archive, expanding on a previous 2CD set, compiled 60 songs she recorded solo and with the Georgia Sea Island Singers between 1959 and ’66. An incredible and important collection.
27 ROBERT WYATT
His Greatest Misses
Such is the compact nature of his catalogue, all Wyatt’s albums are pretty much essential purchases – if a ‘best of’ is required, though, one can barely improve on this, reissued on vinyl this year after a CD release in 2004. The hits were present – “I’m A Believer” and “Shipbuilding” – but some of his fine lesser-known work was showcased too, from “Arauco” to “Worship”.
26 KEVIN ROWLAND
Roundly criticised on its release 21 years ago, Rowland’s second solo album was seemingly just ahead of its time, as this remastered version proved. His glorious version of Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” was reinstated, while takes on The Four Seasons’ “Rag Doll” and George Benson’s “The Greatest Love Of All” were alternately grooving and uncompromising.
25 THE GO-BETWEENS
G Stands For Go-Betweens Vol 2: 1985–1989
Something of a motherlode, the second Go-Betweens box included their bona fide classics Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express and 16 Lovers Lane, alongside a host of bonus material, including demos for their abandoned seventh album. Some of those songs turned up on Robert Forster’s Danger In The Past, also reissued in fine form this year.
24 GLOBAL COMMUNICATION
This sumptuous 7LP boxset collected work done by Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton, from their Eno-like 1993 reimagining of Chapterhouse’s Blood Music album to their own 76:14 the following year, and a load of bonus tracks. Enigmatically and beautifully packaged, the attention to detail mirrored the transportative, finely wrought electronics within.
23 SOLOMON BURKE
The King Of Rock ’N’ Soul: The Atlantic Recordings (1962-1968)
Across three packed CDs, this set captured the peak of the ‘bishop of soul’’s career, from his early hit “Cry To Me” to his work with the likes of Chips Moman, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. “Maggie’s Farm” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” are just two highlights of this collection, which also featured alternate takes and new liner notes.
22 JOHN COLTRANE
Giant Steps 60th Anniversary
A year after making history on Miles’ Kind Of Blue, Coltrane did it again with his fifth album as band leader. The original seven pieces, from the rapid-fire title track to the lovestruck “Naima”, were here joined by copious outtakes and new sleevenotes, all shedding light on the birth of this masterpiece.
21 NINA SIMONE
Fodder On My Wings
After an unfulfilling experience making 1978’s Baltimore, Simone grasped the reins on the follow-up, recorded in Paris and released four years later. It remained largely obscure, though, which made this reissue, with a rejigged tracklisting and new artwork, a welcome addition to her legacy. Switching from English to French, Simone sang of grief and loss, and, most curiously, her dislike of the Swiss.
20 JON HASSELL
Hassell had served a long apprenticeship by the time he released his debut album, performing with Terry Riley, La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, which probably accounted for the record’s confidence and dexterity. Reissued 43 years on, its mix of jazz, ambient and world music remains completely unclassifiable, Hassell’s electronically treated trumpet conjuring up a singular soundworld.
19 ARETHA FRANKLIN
Tough as it is to sum up a career like Franklin’s in just one release, Aretha gave it a good go with a 2LP set and a 4CD boxset. The new artwork burnished the music within, most of it understandably taken from her Atlantic days, but there were choice alternate takes, work tapes and demos tucked away here too.
18 PJ HARVEY
To Bring You My Love
The vinyl reissue of all Harvey’s albums plus attendant demos inevitably set the bar high early on with Dry and Rid Of Her. But third album To Bring You My Love marked her first big stylistic shift and gave her a mainstream breakthrough with “Down By The Water”. The accompanying demos brought greater intimacy and intensity to the songs’ religious imagery and vamped-up delta bluesology.
17 ONENESS OF JUJU
African Rhythms 1970-1982
This invigorating anthology shone a light on one of the funkiest catalogues of the entire 1970s. It followed Plunky Branch’s collective through its various incarnations, from the righteous spiritual jazz of Juju via the earthy Afro-funk of Oneness Of Juju to the cosmic boogie of Juju & The Space Rangers, its powerful messages of black pride and spiritual unity always front and centre. Also worth seeking out are the albums Space Jungle Luv and Live At The East, reissued separately.
Everything the curious listener might need for their journey into the
work of this most underrated of post-punk groups was here: their two remastered albums, a rarities collection, rehearsal tape and a huge book. It uncovered a group who were at once pioneering, good-humoured and brilliant performers, and crucially, one that sound just as exciting today.
15 JONI MITCHELL
Archives Vol 1: The Early Years (1963-1967)
While Mitchell’s recovery continued apace, she also dug back into her past – with last year’s reprint of a 1971 private press book Morning Glory On The Vine and also her Archives project, the first in a series of deep dives into her storied career. This inaugural 5CD set brought together unreleased demos, radio sessions and live recordings to shine a light on Mitchell’s remarkable folknik years. Essential listening.
14 BLACK SABBATH
Sabbath’s 1970 saw them split one setlist over two albums of hard, swinging blues rock. While their debut revealed their capacity for horror, Paranoid showed that Sabbath could shock: quiet bits (“Planet Caravan”), political comment (“War Pigs”), and most notably a hit single (the title track). This deluxe vinyl retained all that over five LPs, adding a quad mix and live shows from Montreux and Brussels. The brilliant “Fairies Wear Boots” is in here four times, but fans will wonder if they couldn’t perhaps have fitted in a couple more.
13 THE REPLACEMENTS
Pleased To Meet Me (Deluxe Edition)
If the original album captured a snapshot of the band teetering on the fence between mainstream rock stardom and the snotty punk underground, this deluxe reissue attempted to tell the whole story of the ’Mats’ most divisive era: there was a remastered original album, a disc of rough demos and one of alternate mixes and session curios.
12 BOBBIE GENTRY
The Delta Sweete Expanded Edition
Though Gentry herself has been silent for decades, the music she made on the cusp of the ’70s has only improved with the passing years. This deluxe reissue of her 1968 tour de force added unheard versions, demos and suchlike, while the original tracks remained equally swampy and sophisticated, with Gentry examining her Southern heritage through originals such as “Okolona River Bottom Band” alongside well-chosen covers.
11 TOM PETTY
Wildflowers & All The Rest
Released to mark what would have been Petty’s 70th birthday, this expanded set of his 1994 solo album illustrated the care currently being shown to Petty’s catalogue. The entry-level version was the 25-track double album Petty originally intended, scaling up to a 5CD Super-Deluxe edition with studio outtakes, home demos, alternative cuts and live recordings, some previously unreleased. What the 25-track version chiefly revealed, however, was a master songwriter at the top of his game.
10 BEVERLY GLENN-COPELAND
Transmissions: The Music Of Beverly Glenn-Copeland
Interest in Beverly Glenn-Copeland has been building since the rediscovery of his stunning 1986 synth-folk cassette Keyboard Fantasies by the likes of Four Tet a few years ago. But this anthology, spanning 50 years of releases, revealed the unique artist’s full range: from his early, Joni-esque singer-songwriter material to the rousing gospel-house of more recent work, all unified by those instantly affecting vocals.
9 THE ROLLING STONES
Goats Head Soup
This 1973 album was the moment the Stones’ sound of the late 1970s and ’80s was born – an exotic fusion of rock, funk and top-dollar tunes. The appearance of “Scarlet” – cut with Jimmy Page on guitar – among the outtakes and rarities posed an existential question – what if the Stones decided to groove more like Zeppelin? Meanwhile, the addition of the Brussels Affair bootleg offered the most compelling account out there of the Stones at their Mick Taylor-era live peak.
8 GILLIAN WELCH
Boots 2: The Lost Songs
Consisting of 48 previously unreleased tracks recorded at home by Welch and David Rawlings in the early 2000s, Boots No 2 – released in three digital parts, and also now as a physical boxset – was truly a treasure trove. As if the likes of “Picasso” and “Valley Of Tears” weren’t enough, the box included a hefty book with lyrics and chords for each song.
7 NEW ORDER
Power Corruption & Lies (Definitive Edition)
Inspired by their adventures in New York clubland, New Order’s second album was their first classic, finally escaping the shadow of Joy Division to emerge, blinking, into a luminous electropop future. Beyond the remaster, this pink-boxed ‘definitive edition’ also gave you unheard embryonic versions of “Blue Monday” and “Thieves Like Us”, stacks of rare live footage, some quasi-erotic photos of ’80s synths and Tony Wilson in the bath.
6 LOU REED
New York Deluxe Edition
“Faulkner had the South, Joyce had Dublin, I’ve got New York,” said Lou Reed to this reissue’s sleevenote-writer David Fricke. On his classic 1989 album, Reed’s poetic excavations of NYC’s underbelly acquired a political bite that proved eerily relevant in 2020 (“They ordained the trumps/And then he got the mumps”). A disc of work-in-progress versions showed Reed locking in with new guitarist Mike Rathke, while a slew of live tracks found them stretching out.
5 IGGY POP
The Bowie Years
Focusing on Pop’s fecund ’70s run, the subtitle here underscores the importance on these recordings of Iggy’s erstwhile housemate. The Idiot and Lust For Life are given handsome polish – arguably, they’ve never sounded this good. While the inclusion of four discs (out of seven) of live material might feel like padding, they give a vivid snapshot of Iggy live in ’77. A rarities disc showcased alternative edits, although any home recordings Iggy and Bowie made probably remain safely under lock and key in the latter’s archive.
Cultivating the land that Fairport’s Liege & Lief hacked clear, these short-lived British folk-rockers left behind two 1970 albums that have proved quietly influential. This lovely 4LP 50th-anniversary boxset told their unlikely story, and demonstrated why the music they made, from the eerie “The Garden Of Jane Delawney” to the visionary “Murdoch”, remains spectacular.
3 RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON
Hard Luck Stories 1972-1982
The six albums the Thompsons created during their decade of marriage were included here, in all their mystical and miserable glory, but the main draws on this 8CD boxset were the buried treasures. From embryonic material, including unheard songs, to the previously unreleased spiritual and jazzy workouts from their 1977 tour, the duo’s magical work had never before been catalogued like this.
2 NEIL YOUNG
With the pandemic putting a proposed Crazy Horse tour on hold, Young spent the year moving between livestreamed Fireside Sessions, an EP of protest songs and a slew of projects including Archives Volume 2. Homegrown, which arrived in June, was peak Archives: an unreleased album hailing from his golden ’70s run. It didn’t disappoint: this was folkie Neil on the way to the ditch, sharing the introspective qualities of On The Beach with the vérité nakedness of Tonight’s The Night.
Sign O’ The Times: Super Deluxe Edition
According to the first of the newly unearthed ‘vault’ tracks, chronologically ordered on this abundant 8CD Super Deluxe Edition, Prince started work on Sign O’ The Times back in 1979. The early demo of “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” already sounds like a wiry new wave smash, although when it finally emerged eight years later at the end of Sign’s dazzling third side, it had been lavishly kitted out with an air-punching synth hook, a wailing guitar solo and a moody jazz-funk coda. On paper, it sounds fatally overcooked – but Sign O’ The Times is one of those rare occasions when more really is more.
Prince scholars have long tried to impose an overarching narrative on his 1987 career peak, but given that it consolidated songs originally intended for at least three other projects, perhaps there really was nothing holding it together besides Prince’s unshakeable belief that everything he touched at this point would turn to gold. Lascivious machine-funk rubbing up against smouldering gospel-raga, bombastic synthpop, exquisite soul balladry and psychedelic schoolyard nostalgia? Why not? Titling the album after the jaw-droppingly stark “Sign O’ The Times” gave purpose to this fantastical voyage, and its aura of social awareness and black pride, however post-factum, resonated strongly in 2020.
The Super Deluxe Edition’s ladling on of 45 previously unreleased tracks is entirely in keeping with this maximalist celebration. Obviously they’re not all classics, but this being Prince, all are intriguing pieces of the puzzle. And some are downright stunning: the breezy, faintly oriental groove of “It Be’s Like That Sometimes”; the florid candy-pop
of “Cosmic Day”; the lush free-jazz intro to “Power Fantastic (Live In Studio)”, complete with Prince instructing his band to “just trip”. You’re unlikely to be able to consume them all in one sitting without feeling a bit sick, but think of it as less of a banquet and more like an opulent buffet.
Where will those diligent Prince Estate archivists start digging next? The “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” demo suggests there’s plenty more gold to be mined from the Dirty Mind era; or maybe they’ll attempt to force a critical re-evaluation of an underrated later album, like 3121 or The Gold Experience? Whatever they come up with, this boxset is unlikely to be matched for extravagance – a fitting tribute to Prince’s genius at his most effusive.