As time goes on (and what I mean to say is, as I get older), reissues preoccupy more of my time, money and shelf space. Whether that means I am lost in nostalgia for a presumed better day in music, or whether it reflects the fact that at a discrete chronological point, you no longer are the desired target market for contemporary music, I can't say. But I do know that as most of the record business turns away from the marginal profitability of archival recordings, some clever labels appear to be feasting on the abandoned bones of modern music history. So thank you, Light In The Attic, Numero Group, Real Gone Music, Ace, Edsel, Omnivore and your like. You have shown that the second look and listen (or in some cases, a first listen) may be well worth the trouble.
But can I end 2012 with a modest request? Some of us enjoy the effort you put into reissuing music on vinyl. Please, keep it up. But can we all agree that for the purchase price of an LP, you can include a download card to high quality digital downloads? Even those of us who tend to focus our listening and collecting in the analog world still like to be able to take music with us when we move. On behalf of music collectors everywhere, thanks.
These are not really in any particular order, but I've included links in the label name to the most likely online purchasing resource. Best of luck for 2013, and happy listening.
Blur - 21 (Parlophone) -- A monumental undertaking. Every album augmented with a second disc of outtakes, b-sides, demos. Plus separate disc of embryonic recordings and bedroom floor songnoodling cassettes. Plus DVDs packed with more audio-visual content. Even if you are not Blur devotee, you have to admit this is the kind of vault-sweeper that every fanatic hopes their favorite band will one day produce. As the band bid farewell to its fans with a massive concert in Hyde Park, this was a hell of a send-off gift.
Rodriguez - Searching for Sugar Man (Light In The Attic) -- Aided by a shrewdly-executed mythopoeic documentary and a disarming series of public performances, only a true curmudgeon would begrudge Sixto Rodriguez his belated recognition in the musical comeback story of the decade. Track down the LP version, printed on white vinyl.
Donnie & Joe Emerson - Dreamin' Wild (Light In The Attic) -- Some reissues take a well-known artist and find new depth in their work. And some reissues, like this one, drag out into daylight something that might have otherwise languished on private pressings for eternity. What must have, at first, seemed like a misfired 80s attempt at making a pop record by these semi-pro teen brothers now betrays an even weirder, gloomy kind of daydream pop.
Dan Penn - The Fame Recordings (Ace) -- Okay, we are still waiting for someone to finally collect and issue Penn's fabled demos for songs like "Dark End of the Street" and "Do Right Woman." Until then, this is a bracing collection of Penn's many attempts to score a hit in his own name. It also serves to remind the world that, aside from being a peerless composer of soul songs for others, Penn possessed a voice that not-for-nothing earned him the nickname The White Ray Charles.
Buck Owens - Coloring Book EP (Omnivore Recordings) -- As a Record Store Day doorbreaker, Omnivore issued a reproduction of a 1970 Buck Owens coloring book with a four-song flexi of Buck and his Buckeroos performing in 1968 at the White House. I'm glad someone has the vision, taste (and record collection) to reissue this stuff.
The Small Faces - Ogden's Nut Gone Flake tobacco tin edition (Charly) -- Featuring mono and stereo mixes of the Small Faces greatest album, as well as a full disc of outtakes, all of it housed in a lovely reproduction of the original album's round tobacco tin design.
The Kinks - At The BBC (Sanctuary) -- A five-CD + DVD behemoth that covers every corner of the Kinks kareer (forgive me). The highlight is a 1973 TV broadcast with the band augmented by horns and performing a benchmark version of "Village Green Preservation Society."
Sugar - Copper Blue (Edsel) -- Bob Mould's post-Huskers peak, expanded with b-sides, radio sessions a live set and a DVD. How was this not a major hit record in its day?
Velvet Underground - Velvet Underground & Nico (Polydor) -- Labels have gone to the VU well many, many times but this reissue includes the rather remarkable early version of the storied debut album (preserved on acetate), opening whole new worlds to explore within this very familiar setting.
Paul & Linda McCartney - Ram (Parlophone) -- Not the best reissue of the year, certainly not even Macca's best solo record. But this reissue of Ram, housed in a very carefully created hardcover book and rounded out with four discs of remastered audio (in stereo and mono), outtakes and a DVD of contemporaneous visual material, betrays the level of attention, care and quality to which all reissues should aspire.
VA - Buttons: From Champaign To Chicago (Numero Group) -- Part of a series of planned compilations of regional power pop scenes, which demonstrates if nothing else that Cheap Trick were a much more influential band than I had considered.
Sam Phillips - Martinis & Bikinis (Omnivore Recordings) -- Phillips' best album gets a beautiful double-LP reissue (on white vinyl!), with a lustrous gatefold and bonus tracks, in a manner that makes me think this was always how it was meant to be experienced.
Can - The Lost Tapes (Mute) -- After 2011's reissue of the krautrock masters' Tago Mago, 2012 turned out to be a good year for long-suffering Can fans as well with this vault-scraping collection of abortive recordings.
Alex Chilton - Free Again: The 1970 Sessions (Omnivore Recordings) -- Not a debut for this material, but certainly the version that does justice to Chilton's work from this era, when he was between his early Box Tops achievement and his later epochal work with Big Star. For added fun, track it down on clear vinyl.
Lee Hazlewood - The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides (1968-71) and You Turned My Head Around: Lee Hazlewood Industries (1967-1970) (Light In The Attic) -- LITA is going to town on Hazlewood's catalogue, producing these two sets of singles by Hazlewood and his stable of stars, and I hope this becomes a longstanding series of releases. The former came in a lovely gatefold vinyl set-up, the latter in a carrying case filled with vinyl reproductions of the original singles.
Aztec Camera reissues (Edsel) -- In the mid-80s, teen phenom Roddy Frame proved himself to be a songwriter of a calibre that went well beyond his tender years. While the quality of his songwriting (and singing and guitar playing) was occasionally obscured by a seeming desire to compete for chart glory, these reissues, presented as mini hardcover books, are bursting at the seams with bonus material, including Dreamland's full CD of a live acoustic show where the full measure of Frame's artistry may be taken. Alas, no sign of the band's early singles and aborted album for the Scottish indie Postcard, but I'd love to think that's coming some day.
The Beat reissues (Edsel) -- Speaking of the 80s, The Beat's albums were this year generously appointed with b-sides, radio sessions, remixes, live material and DVDs.
Van Dyke Parks - Song Cycle/Discover America/Clang of the Yankee Reaper (Bella Union) -- Nothing fancy, just three albums of brave, visionary music presented in great vinyl editions. I would still love to see someone dig into the archive to find session material from the making of Song Cycle, though.
Songbook series (Ace) -- The concept is simple: Take great songwriters and collect some well known and off-the-beaten-track covers of their material. Ace has added collections devoted to Allen Toussaint, Sedaka/Greenfield, Penn/Oldham, Greenwich/Barry, Boyce/Hart and Laura Nyro and perhaps made by design a convincing thesis that the songwriter ought to be the core consideration of music history.
Dion - Complete Laurie Singles (Real Gone) -- Another mark of a good reissue: Does it take a subject you think you know and throw your preconceptions into doubt? It would probably be enough that this nicely annotated set presented all Dion's As and Bs in pristine sound. But what about his cover of "Purple Haze"? And what about that cover of "Both Sides Now," which is actually way better than you might imagine?