The frustrated collector

[Some of this material is verifiably factual, some of it is informed speculation, and most of it is written strangely. Make of it what you will....Chaz]

The music industry, no less than other fragments of Entertainment, Inc., is driven by the Cult of the New. Much to the dismay of the record moguls, though, their back catalogs contribute a whole lot to the bottom line, sometimes more than the hotly-hyped new stuff. There have been times during the past quarter-century that it seemed the only thing keeping Capitol Records solvent was endless Beatles reissues and before the three Anthologies, yet.

Billboard had taken a step to recognize this phenomenon with the creation of a chart just for catalog material, which promptly filled up with hardy perennials like Pink Floyd. Reissue labels like Rhino Records in California, Taragon on Long Island, and the German-based Bear Family are mining catalogs from many labels and coming up with gold. A glance through Phonolog, and you might discover that there are three albums and a box set! devoted to those Minnesota-based one-and-a-half-hit wonders, the Trashmen. And you might think that fans of non-current pop and rock were living today in some sort of digitally-remastered Shangri-La. But, to borrow a phrase from Ira Gershwin, it ain't necessarily so. Even as seemingly marginal material gets redone and reissued, an awful lot of good stuff is locked up until further notice. It is the function of this page to whine about it.

And even when tracks are dug out of the vaults, there's no guarantee you're going to get the version you remember. EMI did this to us twice. The single of "I'll Be There" by Gerry and the Pacemakers, released in the US on Laurie 3279 in late 1964, has a very different vocal from the version EMI has been sending over here ever since, and EMI's acquisition of Laurie hasn't made any difference. Ditto the Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of This Place", on MGM 13382 in 1965; in fact, Abkco (again!), which owns the US rights to the Animals' EMI catalog, was reported to believe that the version they sell (and that also appears on the British releases from EMI) is the version approved by the band, and that the track released over here on 45 was a mistake. Ironically, Abkco's original CD release used the same cover photo as MGM's original best-of LP, which of course contained the proper US version. (But see below.)

Nor is this phenomenon limited to EMI recordings. Consider the Zombies' "She's Not There", which involves no alternate takes but still manages to perplex: there's a decent four-track stereo mix out there, but it lacks a drum/hi-hat overdub that was added to the single (issued here as Parrot 9695) at the last moment. Ace Records in Britain, which was working up an all-stereo Zombies anthology from the band's Decca tapes, had pretty well decided that an occasional missing overdub would not have a negative impact on the set, but they worried that an incomplete "She's Not There", by far the best-known song from the Zombies' Decca days, might queer the deal for buyers. They agonized over the matter for a few moments, then came up with a solution which will infuriate purists and (I think) delight listeners: they asked original Zombies drummer Hugh Grundy to redo his drum part, which would then be mixed with the extant four-track recording. Even niftier, Grundy brought the original snare drum on which he'd played that part in 1964. The results, judged purely by ear, are quite effective. Now if we could just get Decca to comprehend that the proper "What's New Pussycat?", a hit for Tom Jones on Parrot 9765, contains a piano part and a breaking-glass sound effect that appeared in the movie it served as title; the first couple of Tom Jones reissue CDs cut off that intro entirely.

There have been, though, some actual success stories:

  • At long last, both Capitol Records and the mail-order house Collectors' Choice Music have managed to license tracks from Dean Martin's Reprise catalog, songs like "Everybody Loves Somebody" (Reprise 0281) which haven't been available from Dino's Claude Productions (which originally licensed those recordings to Warner Bros.) for decades.
  • The late Dickie Goodman's legendary break-in records, from the original "Flying Saucer" with Bill Buchanan in the Fifties through "Safe Sex Report" in the Eighties, have been available only sporadically; Goodman's estate has now put its imprimatur on a new collection called Greatest Fables, issued on the Luniverse (!) label under the auspices of Hot Productions.
  • The 45 versions of some Dunhill tracks are elusive at best: Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" (4161) has a different lead vocal on the first verse; the history-in-song of the Mamas and the Papas, "Creeque Alley" (4083), is chockablock full of instrumental overdubs that are conspicuously absent on the stereo version in general circulation; another M's and P's track, "I Saw Her Again" (4031), lacks the instrumental break that pads out the LP version. Dick Bartley's Collectors' Essentials: On the Radio series on Varèse Sarabande's Varèse Vintage imprint offers the proper 45 versions, apparently cleaned up from disc dubs in the absence of actual master tapes.
  • Latter-day Sam Cooke: RCA, Cooke's label for many years, finally got around to doing a decent Greatest Hits compilation (07863 67605-2). But decency doesn't equate to completeness: the set ran only through the middle of 1963, which means that respectably great hits like "Good Times" and "Cousin of Mine" and "Shake" (a #7 hit!) don't seem to count. The problem, said the fine print, was with "licensing restrictions", and who's doing, or in this case not doing, the licensing? Apparently Allen Klein, who handled Cooke's financial affairs during the last years of his life, who set up Tracey Limited as a holding company for Cooke's subsequent recordings, and (probably not at all coincidentally) who issued a compilation of material from Sar Records, a label also owned by Cooke, on Abkco a few years back. Klein, through Tracey, claimed to own "Another Saturday Night", and demanded that RCA pull the set. RCA responded by reissuing the disc without the offending track. As Sam himself might have said, "Man, ain't that news?" But the correct answer, at last, came from Abkco, which has issued a compilation (Keep On Movin') of Cooke's Tracey material (Tracey/Abkco 3563-2), in excellent sound and with great notes by Peter Guralnick.
  • The Tams, "Untie Me": This lovely proto-soul artifact, released on the teensy Arlen label in 1962, climbed far enough up the charts (#60) for the Tams to get some attention from the somewhat-bigger ABC-Paramount operation, where they scored a number of fair-size hits, including "What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)", which made #9 early in 1964. After leaving ABC, the group recut its hits for the 1-2-3 label, distributed by Capitol, and any reappearance of "Untie Me" for years later was the 1-2-3 remake. Where has this record been? Collectables had it out on a 45 once, but that was, well, back in the 45 era. Britain's reliable Ace Records, through its Kent subsidiary, has found a place for it in Volume 3 of its Birth of Soul series (CDKEND 189).
  • Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, "Come to Me Softly": Featured in this site's Single File series, its US version (Atco 6551) is utterly different from the British single which has appeared on all the reissues up to now. Varèse Vintage to the rescue, with 25 Beach Music Classics (302 066 467-2), incorporating the proper American release. And what's more, you can get "Untie Me" on the same disc. Life is good. Sometimes.
  • Regular reader Dana Jensen has turned up the Animals and Pacemakers tracks described above. "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" appears on The Complete French EP Collection, 1964-1967, a French release on Magic 3930 295 France, far more than the US or even Britain, embraced the EP while "I'll Be There" appears on At Abbey Road, 1963-1966 (EMI 8 21133-2). Meanwhile, Abkco has unleashed an Animals collection (Retrospective, 9325-2) with the proper US version.
  • Cameo-Parkway: Of all the catalogs controlled by Allen Klein's Abkco firm, C-P was the most resistant to reissue. Acquired by Klein in the Sixties at fire-sale prices, C-P was the home of Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, and the estimable ? and the Mysterians. A four-disc box set was released in May (Cameo Parkway 1957-1967, Abkco 9223-2), with notes by legendary music writer Jeff Tamarkin. Over ten years in the making, or at least in the waiting, this set offers 115 tracks from the label's heyday, almost all in mono, but generally a lot better than the bootlegs that circulated during the past decade. Best-ofs by individual C-P acts may also show up, but no release dates have been mentioned.

Last update: 2 June 2005

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Copyright © 1997-2005 by Charles G. Hill
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Thanks to Stefano Carraro.