Things were going badly for the Doors, packed into a tiny Hollywood rehearsal room.
It was late 1970, and Jim Morrison was drunkenly talking of becoming a full-time poet. Their long-term producer Paul Rothschild had walked out in disgust after the first ragged sessions, saying the band was veering toward cocktail jazz.
The story of how this chaos turned into the excellent “L.A. Woman” is clear for the first time on the 40th-anniversary edition. We hear shaky starts until Morrison gets the idea of updating 12-bar blues. Things fall into place.
“Cars hiss by my window,” he sings, “like the waves down on the beach.” He repeats it, like John Lee Hooker, adding a payoff “I got this girl beside me but she’s out of reach.”
Not all the outtakes are revelatory, with Morrison sounding bored with the mantra “Riders on the Storm.” Still, this is a landmark release lovingly restored. Morrison headed off for Paris after, and was dead within months at age 27. Rating: ****.
Janis Joplin, who also died at 27 the year before, went out on a note of boozy excess. “The Pearl Sessions” adds outtakes and jams for what was planned as her solo breakthrough. The promise unfulfilled is heartbreaking. Rating: ***.
“Live at the Carousel Ballroom,” a record she made with Big Brother and the Holding Company, is at last on CD. It’s an improvement on the better-known “Cheap Thrills,” with Joplin’s unhinged vocals meshing with guitar freakouts. Rating: ****.
Paul Simon’s Grammy-winning “Graceland” is back in a 25th-anniversary issue. It includes demos, live tracks and the film “Under African Skies,” where Simon says he wasn’t aware of a United Nations cultural boycott when recording in apartheid-era South Africa. He brought the country to wider attention by mixing township beats and his urbane lyrics.
Those words remain clever: “‘Senorita that’s astute,’ I said. ‘Why don’t we get together and call ourselves an institute?’”
This month, another of rock’s greatest recordings gets a 40th-anniversary edition: David Bowie’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.”
This album was one of the first I bought. It still is in my top 10 best. Back then, I imagined all records would be this good. I was wrong.
The story is set five years before the world ends, with Stardust as the ultimate rock star offering a live-today, forget-tomorrow message in “Moonage Daydream.” He hurtles through fame (“Hang on to Yourself”) until he breaks up the band and his world falls apart in “Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide.”
The second side of the original LP was almost perfect, an 18-minute brain-bruise, now in an even crisper mix that makes the outtakes and remixes almost irrelevant. Rating: *****.
Pink Floyd’s reissue program peaked last year with the big boxes of “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here.”
After that, I was rather dreading “The Wall,” which was always bloated. Now, it’s even more overdone, with a seven-disc set. Beautifully presented, it’s only for obsessives with time to fritter and money to splurge. Rating: ***.
The Beatles have a slew of reissues and outtakes, which will appeal to fans though they won’t to enhance the group’s legacy. Amid the genius, “Yellow Submarine” was a low note. A new version tries to put the case for its rehabilitation.
The film has been restored, with hand-painted psychedelic colors. The plot’s still pathetic and the dialogue’s terrible. George Martin’s orchestrations remain silly, such as “Sea of Holes,” a title which says it all. At least the soundtrack now has more genuine Beatles songs on it. Rating: ***.
George Harrison's “Early Takes Volume 1” is, as advertised, a collection of outtakes that should have been left on the cutting room floor. The “Volume 1” note is ominous. Rating: **.
Paul and Linda McCartney's “Ram” is the latest of Macca's LPs to be remastered. Paul has just turned 70. Even in this buffed-up form, “Ram” is far from his best. Rating: **.
This year has also seen some exceptional reissues by acts as varied as My Bloody Valentine (“Loveless,”) Can (“The Lost Tapes” follows “Tago Mago”), the Lucy Show (“Remembrances”) and Johnny Cash (“Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth”).
The Doors are on Elektra, Joplin and Simon on Sony Legacy, Bowie on EMI and the Beatles on Parlophone, McCartney on Hear Music and Harrison on UMe. Prices start at about $10 with the Simon expanded box set for $85, Bowie at $33, Pink Floyd at $20 or $110 for the bigger “Immersion” set.
Information: http://www.thedoors.com, http://officialjanis.com/, http://www.paulsimon.com, http://www.davidbowie.com, http://www.pinkfloyd.com, http://www.thebeatles.com, http://www.georgeharrison.com/ and http://www.paulmccartney.com.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Mediocre (No stars) Poor
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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