This one’s been stewing for a while, but I’ve been nudged into action by a Gavin Martin post on F’Book.
Some (rare) albums are so unbelievably complete that they almost have their own micro-climates and ecosystems. One such is Bobby Charles’ Bearsville album, it’s sweaty, bayou atmosphere – all hanging moss and 90-in-the-shade – belying its upstate New York birthplace. And that was going to be one of a bunch of albums I love that prove the point, that adding bonus tracks to a CD can wreck a great record. But before posting I thought I’d check the most recent issue of The Band’s astounding second album. And this is what I found:
2. Rag Mama Rag (2000 Digital Remaster) 3:04$0.89 Buy Track
3. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (2000 Digital Remaster)3:33$0.99Buy Track
4. When You Awake (2000 Digital Remaster)3:13
5. Up On Cripple Creek (2000 Digital Remaster)4:34$0.99Buy Track
6. Whispering Pines (2000 Digital Remaster)3:58
7. Jemima Surrender (2000 Digital Remaster)3:31
8. Rockin’ Chair (2000 Digital Remaster)3:43
9. Look Out Cleveland (2000 Digital Remaster)3:09
10. Jawbone (2000 Digital Remaster)4:20
11. The Unfaithful Servant (2000 Digital Remaster)4:16
12. King Harvest (Has Surely Come) (2000 Digital Remaster)3:39
13. Get Up Jake (Outtake – Stereo Remix) (2000 Digital Remaster)2:17
14. Rag Mama Rag (Alternate Vocal Take – Rough Mix) (2000 Digital Remaster)3:04
15. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Alternate Mix) (2000 Digital Remaster)4:16
16. Up On Cripple Creek (Alternate Take) (2000 Digital Remaster)4:54
17. Whispering Pines (Alternate Take) (2000 Digital Remaster)5:06
18. Jemima Surrender (Alternate Take)3:48
19. King Harvest (Has Surely Come)(Alternate Performance)4:28
This is near criminal. The Band is a perfect example of a wholly self-contained piece of work. It isn’t so much timeless as deeply rooted in specific passages of time. It provides a home for the most electric of guitars and the wheeziest of woodwinds. Tubas parp along to a southern backbeat. It is to America what the Shipping Forecast is to Britain.
No, I really did not want to listen to Rag Mama Rag (Alternate Vocal Take – Rough Mix) (2000 Digital Remaster). There’s a reason why this wasn’t on the original record: It wasn’t good enough. And I want the fly-blown rural complaint that is King Harvest (Has Surely Come) to end the album for me. They done bust the mood, and the mood is all.
And Bobby Charles should ride into the sunset on the back of Amos Garrett’s gleaming, tremulous guitar and Garth Hudson’s swirling accordion.
OK, so those two examples are a bit similar, so how about The Who Live At Leeds? The original is one of the great live albums. The reissue, clogged up with all the ghastly bits from A Quick One that we’ve conveniently forgotten, slows to a crawl.
Now, one doesn’t want to be too absolutist about this – the most recent Free reissues have added lashings of gorgeous live stuff, plus in the case of Fire and Water, remixes of the original 8-track masters that Blackwell deemed too underdeveloped, but when given a good, modern mix sound unbelieveable. Depending on the original album, it can work, especially if the original is to some degree flawed, as were Free’s.
But some records are sacrosanct. It’s enough to have to not get up and turn the album over (quiet, you vinyl obsessives at the back), but if the final architecture of a great album is then wrecked by a jerry-built extension you can find yourself barely able to listen to it again.
Turn it off after the “last” track, I hear you say. So instead of allowing that last smidgen of sound to hang in the air, I have to vault across the room to hit the stop button before the Mid-West Radio Alternate 7″ Single Edit kicks in…
At least have the decency to put the original on one CD and the detritus on another.