Rocking reissues from A(qua) to Z(evon)

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday January 16, 2024
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Rocking reissues from A(qua) to Z(evon)

From sugary pop to gravelly blues, reissues of classic albums revive fan favorites in new formats.

When MCA Records morphed into Universal Records in the mid-1990s, the old white men in suits at the label seemed to take the name seriously, subjecting an unsuspecting domestic record-buying public to an onslaught of Euro-dance pap (remember "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" by Italian group Eiffel 65?).

Cartoony Danish quartet Aqua is another example. Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the quartet's debut album, "Aquarium" (Universal) makes its vinyl debut. Best known for the album's inescapable hit single "Barbie Girl," which saw a tremendous resurgence in popularity with the release of the "Barbie" movie, Aqua mines a similar Euro-dance vein on "Doctor Jones," "My Oh My," "Happy Boys & Happy Girls," "Didn't I," "Lollipop (Candyman)," "Calling You," and "Roses are Red."

Clear across the artistic spectrum is singer/songwriter/actor Tom Waits. An artist who has been on our radar since the release of his brilliant debut album "Closing Time" (featuring the songs "Grapefruit Moon," "Ol' 55," and "Martha"), his 1977 "I Never Talk To Strangers" duet with Bette Midler, and the extraordinary 1982 soundtrack to Coppola's "One From The Heart" featuring Crystal Gayle.

During those first ten years of his performance career, Waits' distinctive growl morphed into a Captain Beefheart-esque rasp, which became fully realized on "Swordfishtrombones" (1983), "Rain Dogs" (1985), "Frank's Wild Years" (1987), "Bone Machine" (1992), and "The Black Rider" (1993), the five albums he recorded for Island Records

All five have been reissued in newly remastered and repackaged editions, some making their vinyl debuts. For many fans, the first three of these albums are considered artistic turning points. Interestingly, "Soldier's Things" (from "Swordfishtrombones") was a minor hit for Paul Young, while "Downtown Train" (from "Rain Dogs") served Rod Stewart and Mary Chapin Carpenter well.

In 1982, when his eponymous debut album was released, it might have seemed to some in the pre-Wikipedia age that Marshall Crenshaw appeared out of nowhere. Truth be told, he'd been in a touring company of the musical "Beatlemania," in which he played John Lennon, during the late 1970s, leaving the show in February 1980 (10 months before Lennon died).

More than musical impersonator, Crenshaw was a skilled songwriter as he proved on "Marshall Crenshaw" (Yep Roc), newly reissued in an expanded edition with seven bonus tracks ("Marshall Crenshaw" was previously reissued in 2000 by Warner Archives/Rhino with nine bonus tracks).

Co-produced by Crenshaw and Richard Gottehrer (co-founder of Sire Records with Seymour Stein, and producer of albums by Blondie, the Go-Go's, The Bongos, and others), the album boasted 11 tracks that perfectly fit the musical profile of the period, yet managed to be eternal. "Cynical Girl," "Someday, Someway," "Girls...," "Mary Anne," and "Rockin' Around in N.Y.C.,", still sound fresh and appealing more than 20 years later.

Among the bonus material, and possibly of special interest to queer listeners, the B-side "(You're My Favorite) Waste of Time," covered by Bette Midler on 1983's "No Frills," and released as the second single from the album.

(Marshall Crenshaw performs on February 12 at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley and February 14 at Village Theatre & Art Gallery in Danville.)

Before Jason Isbell launched his solo career in 2007, he was a member of Drive-by Truckers. During that time, he recorded three albums with the band, including the 2004 album "The Dirty South," newly reissued as "The Complete Dirty South" (New West), a double-disc "definitive version," including three bonus tracks, as well as four newly remixed tracks. Every bit as epic as 2001's "Southern Rock Opera," especially in terms of storytelling, Drive-by Truckers proved itself to be the thread connecting classic Southern rock with alt-country; highly recommended!

By 1978, when the late Warren Zevon released "Excitable Boy" (newly reissued by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in an Original Master Recording/Super Audio CD edition), his second major-label album on Asylum, he was already a household name, at least in the L.A. music scene. Linda Ronstadt, for example, covered Zevon's "Hasten Down The Wind" on her 1976 album of the same name, and then recorded his "Carmelita" and "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," on 1977's "Simple Dreams."

But his success under his own name came with the 1978 hit single "Werewolves of London," perhaps the greatest, original, novelty rock song of all time. The album, co-produced by L.A. music legends Jackson Browne and Waddy Wachtel, featured a dazzling array of studio (Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel, Danny Kortchmar, and Wachtel) and star (Ronstadt, Jennifer Warnes, Karla Bonoff, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie) musicians, all of whom lent their prodigious talents to classic tunes including "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," "Tenderness on the Block," "Accidentally Like A Martyr," and the title number. Gone too soon at 56 in 2003, this reissue is an opportunity for new and returning fans to marvel at Zevon's genius.

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