Autumn has become the season for reissues, with new iterations of the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls, the Who’s Quadrophenia and the entire Pink Floyd catalog arriving in “deluxe” editions that contain a a greater volume of so-called bonus tracks than what was on the album to begin with.
Much of this music ranges in quality and value but you’re always hard pressed to find any bonus track that was better than what was released. In most cases bonus tracks are bogus tracks, with a reason that they were left off the album in the first place.
These deluxe editions have been around for years, cropping up after the whole box set thing wound down a bit. We loved box sets for a while (remember Clapton’s Crossroads and Dylan’s Biograph) because at that time not everything was available on CD, but pretty soon it became clear that box sets, like the greatest hits albums they supplanted, only satisfied the person who compiled them.
Now that you can get nearly any complete album ever made on CD or for download it becomes clear that many of these records, specifically those from the sweet spot era that many of us can’t seem to leave behind, are more rewarding as a complete experience.
Box sets, greatest hits and their ilk are missing the context of the music that made the albums special in the first place. What really muddies the waters are the “super deluxe” editions, richly packaged coffee-table treatments that cost upward of $150. These could be great gifts and even double as historical documents, if the album is good enough, but you can’t see the trees for the forest.
You would never by a super deluxe iteration of a record you didn’t absolutely love and I’m not likely to buy the most expensive versions of any of the albums listed here. My preference us to get the one or two disc version that has enough extras to amuse but not to immerse.
Even with these rules there are minefields. Quadrophenia is available in a two disc version and a posh one with all kinds of cardboard. The in between path is digital, where you can get the forty tracks from the posh version in digital form for the price of the two discs.
(I was so excited to find that version on iTunes for $24 that I forgot to check eMusic, where it was $8 cheaper.)
These repackages large and small are great if you are an obsessive, a completist or a historian whose greatest joy is to drink old wine out of new cardboard. But if you are in it for the music it can be a lot more fun just listening to the old stuff as it came out the first time, with no extras or remixes. Which is why some of the mono mixes and vinyl versions of old albums provide a more satisfying replay.
The exception is the new version of the Beach Boys’ SMiLE, which technically isn’t a reissue. Most of the album sounds familiar because the songs came out in various piecemeal versions, but this recreation succeeds where box sets and deluxe editions fail; the ability to present old music in a new context.
If the Beach Boys had released SMiLE in 1967 it would have been a different world, music wise. The group would have been lauded for its imaginative musical powers and would have been set alongside the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Hendrix and Whoever else you might pick to represent that particular musical renaissance.
Instead, they provided a series of semi-brilliant albums followed by an extended period of painful nostalgia. Restoring The contemporary SMiLE adds perspective but doesn’t change history.
In “Men In Black,” the alien hunters are shown a new technology that stores hours of music on a tiny machine, when Tommy Lee Jones notes that he “is going to have to buy the White Album again.”
That particular movie had a lot of weird shit that probably isn’t gonna happen, like gruesome aliens selling newspapers and galaxies hidden inside jewelry. But the film accurately predicted how this generation can’t help itself from buying the same music, over and over again.
Photo of Roger Daltrey by Charlie Bermant, Oct. 2009.