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Record Store Day: 20 Turntable Must-Haves, Including Vinyl by Spotify

Variety logo Variety 4/21/2017 Chris Willman
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As the Byrds once sang, predicting the seasonal vagaries of the future of music retail: Turntable, turntable, turntable. The vinyl resurgence gets celebrated again in a big way with Saturday’s 10th annual April edition of Record Store Day, chock full of hundreds of limited-edition vinyl editions, many of them pressed in unnatural colors not seen since people ate the brown acid.

Here are 20 of the best reasons to pause that playlist and show up at the shop, sooner rather than later:

© Provided by Variety Elton John: “17-11-70” (4,000 copies)

As probably the world’s foremost celebrity record store hound, Elton John knows collectible. So it’s a surprise only that he took this long to use Record Store Day as an excuse to give fans what they’ve long clamored for — a complete version of the 1970 radio show that was cut in half for the single-LP release of “17-11-70,” still one of the best-regarded live albums in rock history. This double-disc set preserves the running order of the original 1971 release on the first LP, and then adds seven bonus tracks (six never before released) on a second record.

David Bowie: “Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74)” (5,000 copies)

Bowie’s post-Ziggy mid-1970s period has never gone un-mined for live albums, between the much-maligned “David Live” and later “Stage.” But fans have generally preferred a soundboard bootleg of his seven-night-stand at Los Angeles’ Universal Amphitheatre in September 1974, when he was coming off his last “glam” album, “Diamond Dogs,” and had just started recording the soul-saluting “Young Americans.” That transition-era gig gets its first official release in any form with a brand new Tony Visconti mix that’s only available on vinyl. As with the Elton show above, you have to believe they didn’t go to the trouble of freshening up these vintage tapes with no intention of an eventual digital release, but none has been announced.

Pink Floyd: “Interstellar Overdrive” (4,000 copies)

Set the controls for the heart of the store counter. Two years ago, Pink Floyd’s label executors drove Floyd buffs mad by using RSD to very quietly slip out a mere thousand copies of an EP of previously unreleased material, “1965 – Their First Recordings,” clearly intended to keep expiring European copyrights in play more than satisfy fan demand. This time, some unheard vault material is getting a 4,000-copy run, which ought to take at least a half-hour longer to sell out. It’s a never-before-released 1966 studio outtake of “Interstellar Overdrive,” which, at 15 minutes, runs about five longer than the familiar one from “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.”

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: “Welcome to 1979” (4,000 copies)

Drive-by Truckers: “Electric Lady Sessions” (3,530 copies)

Isbell, the reigning king of singer/songwriter Americana, pulled a kind of Jack White move with a hot-off-the-lathe six-song EP he’s putting out for RSD. He and his band cut the session at Nashville’s Welcome to 1979 Studios (hence the title) directly to acetate — meaning not just no overdubs but no time-outs between tracks, other the one separating Side A and Side B. It’s a covers album, with a happily skewed one for anyone who is a fan of the Rolling Stones as well as Isbell, since a winsome John Prine interpretation is sandwiched between “Sway” and a smoking version of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” that does justice to the proto-jam-band original. Isbell stretches the covers concept by “covering” the Drive-by Truckers’ “Never Gonna Change” — a tune he wrote and sang back when he was still a member of that band. Meanwhile, if you want a full dose of the post-Isbell Truckers, Patterson Hood and company did their own scorching in-studio session for RSD, putting a rawer spin on raging recent protest songs like “Surrender Under Protest.”

Paul McCartney: “Cassette Demos” (2,500 copies)

The Beatles: “Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane” (7,000 copies)

Both of these releases are essentially small-scale advertisements for super-deluxe boxed sets, which doesn’t mean that they won’t be utter catnip to Beatlemaniacs anyway. The Beatles’ single teases a forthcoming “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” box by reissuing the double-A-sided single that directly preceded “Sgt. Pepper’s” to the marketplace in 1967. (The versions of these two songs are said to be the Giles Martin stereo remixes created for the “Beatles 1+” collection that came out a couple of years ago.) The curio factor goes up considerably with McCartney’s own RSD entry — a cassette-only release. McCartney just put out a stunning deluxe edition of his 1989 “Flowers in the Dirt” album, with the vast majority of bonus material centered on his demo collaborations with Elvis Costello. Controversially, he relegated the three roughest of those Costello duet demos to download-only status, but now those three tunes are belatedly available in physical form, albeit “in the same form as when Paul and Elvis first cut them directly to tape.” Fans may still be mad they can’t get a CD of those tracks, but obviously this’ll be the hottest novelty cassette since Metallica put one out for RSD 2015.

Sia: “Spotify Sessions” (2,000 copies)

The words “Spotify” and “vinyl” rarely show up in the same breath, yet Sia has become the first significant artist to put out a release you can only get in those two particular formats. Last year she cut Spotify-exclusive live/acoustic versions of six tracks from her “This is Acting” and “1000 Forms of Fear” albums, and now is giving them their physical media premiere, allowing fans to stream the lacquer, as it were.

The Lumineers: “Song Seeds” (1,500 copies)

You would expect a band from Colorado to be into stems, right? Just kidding, sort of: The trio had a clear-headed, if not fairly genius, idea for a one-off EP: take two tracks from their recent “Cleopatra” album (“Angela” and “Long Way Home”) and give fans three versions of each tune, a series of so-called stems charting the progression from original demo to finished album track to road-perfected concert take. The 1,500-pressing run is on the low side for a group this popular, so best to arrive early if you don’t want to be saying, “Hey… ho… [heavy sigh].”

Randy Newman: “Lonely At The Top Studio Albums 1968-1977” (1,000 copies)

For RSD, Warner Bros. is issuing very limited boxed sets of the initial run of albums cut for the label by both Newman and Emmylou Harris, and you could hardly go wrong with either legend’s early output. We’re particularly partial to Newman’s set, not just because the five LPs contained therein capture as great a songwriter as the 20th century produced in his initial blaze of caustic glory, but because it includes a bonus 7-inch single with two rare alternate versions. A horn-enhanced take on “You Can Leave Your Hat On” brings Newman’s subdued LP version a little closer to the less ironic Joe Cocker hit rendition, but the real corker is a bizarrely fuzztone version of “Last Night I Had a Dream” that would go over like gangbusters if you heard it in a club in 2017. The exactly reproduced packaging of the individual LPs bears a mention, down to getting the period-specific WBR or Reprise labels right, and even the varying paper stock and assembly styles for the album jackets.

Brandy Clark: “Live from Los Angeles” (2,500 copies)

If John Prine and Loretta Lynn had a baby — and why didn’t they? — she’d have roughly about the same chops as Clark, who’s as wonderful a thing as has happened to country music in the last 10 years. On the eve of her sophomore album being released last year, this modern master of the form stopped by Hollywood’s intimate Hotel Café for an acoustic set that’s been compressed into an hour-long slab of vinyl. “Daughter” might be the most hilarious country gender-war song since “The Pill,” but the best reason to pick this up might be a live favorite not previously put down on disc in any form, “When I Get to Drinkin’.”

Various Artists:  “Just Say 50: Sire Records 50th Anniversary Box Set” (2,500 copies)

This isn’t just a variation on the three-CD “Just Say Sire” boxed set that came out in 2005; as good as that was, this for-LP LP iteration is an utter improvement, with a top-to-bottom track list makeover that takes a broader view of Sire’s storied history. You still get Madonna, Talking Heads, et al., but now there’s a chronological focus that include cultier artists and early breakouts. Who, besides the cognoscenti, knew Focus’ 1971 “Hocus Pocus” basically broke the label way back when the new wave and material girls were just a gleam in the industry’s eye? Some of the liner notes are carried over from the old CD set, though the updated booklet has founder Seymour Stein apologizing for failing to mention Lou Reed and Little Jimmy Scott in the previous version. With the Ramones, Replacements, Pretenders, Smiths, Cure, Wilco, k.d. lang, and Brian Wilson all represented, it’s not hard to form a case for Sire as the most consistently well-curated major label ever. (If you’re inclined to thank Stein for his service, the label chief emeritus is doing a signing and talk Saturday at 2 p.m. at Amoeba in Hollywood.)

Jaco Pastorius: “Truth, Liberty & Soul — Live in NYC: The Complete 1982 NPR Jazz Alive! Recording” (2,000 copies)

Bill Evans: “Another Time: The Hilverstrum Concert” (2,000 copies)

Wes Montgomery & the Wynton Kelly Trio: “Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse”(1,500 copies)

Jazz fans owe a ridiculously incalculable debt to Resonance Records, a non-profit label that’s done a heroic job of finding unreleased material to introduce decades after the fact into the public sphere. Last year, they won the hearts of bop-inclined RSD enthusiasts by digging up a completely unissued Bill Evans studio album recorded in the 1960s and putting it out on vinyl well in advance of a CD edition. This year they’re doing the same with three live albums that are all stunning in their own right, including long-lost radio broadcasts from Evans and Montgomery, captured in the late ‘60s at the tail end of the golden age of jazz. But you’d think the early ‘80s were a golden era, too, just from listening to Pastorius’ three-LP set, which captures a set the arguable greatest bassist of all time did with a 22-piece ensemble at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall for a (greatly truncated) NPR airing, proving that a big band can be just as mind-blowingly expansive as an improvisational trio. All these sets arrive with booklets of copious liner-note interviews with just about every surviving person who played with or even booked the player in question.

Luna: “Penthouse Deluxe” (3,500 copies)

More Penthouse… sweet. Luna’s third album came in at No. 99 on Rolling Stone’s list of the best albums of the 1990s, and there are plenty of fans who’d move it up a few dozen notches who have been overjoyed to see the group performing the album in its entirety for some 20th anniversary shows. The faithful might have been happy just to get the album on vinyl, but the icing-and-then-some on the cake is a second LP’s worth of rare bonus tracks, five of which have never been released in any form. Rumor has it that a non-limited single-disc version will follow, but if you want the RSD-exclusive bonus LP, immediate action is advised.

Ben Folds with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra: “Live in Perth” (2,000 copies)

“Rock This Bitch” performed with a symphony… what’s not to like? Folds recently recorded and toured with yMusic, a classical chamber ensemble, but he worked with strings attached in a bigger way when he collaborated with an orchestra down under in 2005. Much of the music was previously available on a DVD released that same year, but besides including the show in an audio-only format for the first time, Folds’ RSD double-LP includes two tracks never included on home video versions.

Dolly Parton: “Puppy Love” (1,500 copies)

Sharon Jones with the E.L. Fields Gospel Wonders: “Heaven Bound” (2,500 copies)

We can say it’s all about what’s on record, but sometimes a winsome picture sleeve is worth a thousand grooves. A 7-inch reissue of “Puppy Love,” released when Parton was still a child, gives us a pre-teen Dolly in a cowgirl shirt on the cover. Meanwhile, as we’re still lamenting Jones’ passing, the release of a pair of gospel songs she cut way, way pre-fame in the late ‘70s features her high school portrait in an easel-type photo frame suitable for standing.

Head and the Heart: “Stinson Beach Sessions” (2,750 copies)

The band’s third album, “Signs of Light,” debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 last fall. Now comes this limited-edition companion album of eight early demos — five for songs that ended up on the album, and, intriguingly, three that missed the cut.

Also on deck for RSD 2017: Bruce Springsteen is putting out a numbered edition of his “Hammersmith Odeon London ’75,” which might be one of the best live albums of all time… Soundtrack buffs can look for picture discs related to “Star Wars: A New Hope,” “Moana,” “Dr. Who,” “Fawlty Towers,” “Pineapple Express,” “Space Jam,” “Lost in Space,” and “Blade Runner,” plus a compilation of composer Lalo Schifrin’s most popular themes… One of Motorhead’s very last shows with dearly departed frontman Lemmy Kilmister finds its way to disc with “Clean Your Clock…” “Greatest Hits Acoustic” by the Cure looks to be the most coveted picture disc of the year, though some purists would have preferred regular black vinyl… Hello, Cleveland! “Live at the Agora 1978” from the Cars has fans tantalized at a chance to hear Ric Ocasek’s crew in early days outside the studio… Neil Young’s initial triple-LP best-of, “Decade,” is back on vinyl for the first time in, well, decades… Andre 3000’s Beatles cover, “All Together Now,” heard some years back in a Nike commercial, gets its first physical release…  The complete recordings of Robert Johnson are finally all together in one vinyl package, and not a century too soon…  Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s aborted sessions for a planned second solo album, previously only available as part of a boxed set, get issued as a separate album for the first time… And on Record Store Day’s own in-house label: an acoustic David Crosby EP featuring updates of “Woodstock” and “Guinevere,” and a freshly recorded Leonard Cohen tribute album bookended by appearances by Glen Hansard and Donovan… And, while it may not be first on the list for the core RSD demo, a vinyl edition of Miley Cyrus’ “Bangerz” is sure to go (and be flipped) fast, with only 1,300 copies available.

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