Shelflife - High Notes
Founded in 1978, Rhino Records was the brainchild of eccentric New Yorker Richard Foos, who earned a sociology degree from Cal State Northridge and opened a hip Rhino retail outlet store in LA that specialized in rarities and collectibles. Soon, Rhino moved from novelty records into releasing archival reissues, comprehensive, definitive anthologies and various artists’ series all stamped by Foos’ oddball sense of pop culture and collecting expertise. By the late ‘80s, the label had made a name for itself, and it remains busy today attempting to bring the public some great, overlooked music, hard-to-find titles, and some former classics worth the royal treatment. Take, for instance, the bevy of activity lately:
The Buffalo Springfield anthology, consisting of four CDs, was compiled by the man himself, Neil Young, and contains just about everything the ‘60s supergroup ever recorded. Although it had only one top-10 single—the instantly recognizable “For What It’s Worth"—the three albums released between ‘67 and ‘68 all contain nuggets of songwriting beauty and together stand as a testament to a great live band of talented ex-folkies on the LA scene. What you get are all the demos and acoustic cuts (36 previously unreleased tracks), the band’s first two albums, Buffalo Springfield (mono) and Buffalo Springfield Again (stereo), everything remastered in its entirety.
To sweeten the deal, there’s deluxe packaging that includes an extensive scrapbook of sorts containing news clippings from the period, rare photos and an extensive listing of every concert the band ever played. This is a great deal—especially if you don’t have any of the band’s previous stuff and always wanted some—but my favorites are the outtakes and raw acoustic numbers (usually from Young) that clearly show the unique voice and potential of these young superstars-in-the-making.
The Ramones have gotten a lot of press since the passing of lead singer Joey Ramone from cancer this year (U2’s Bono just made another of his grandstanding scenes by recognizing the pioneering punk group during one of the most un-punk events of all-time, the MTV music award/promotion show). But it is worth remembering the explosive effect the Ramones had since rocketing out of Queens, New York, in 1974 with a sound that mixed bubblegum pop, heavy metal, and streetwise, Fonzie attitude to become legitimate godfathers to the burgeoning punk movement.
Rhino has seen fit to release the landmark albums (Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia, Road to Ruin) remastered in all their three-chord glory—and since the songs were usually under-three-minute blasts of power chords and lyrical wit, there’s lots of extras thrown in (including live tracks, demos and assorted bonuses). It’s also great to read the liner notes and the hilarious tongue-in-cheek lyrics that kept this group rolling in loyal fans throughout 2, 263 joyous live shows. These repackaged discs are sold individually.
Formed in the wake of the punk explosion in the late-'70s, England’s Joy Division was one of the first postpunk bands to emphasize mood and expression over sheer anger. Although lead singer Ian Curtis eventually killed himself (the remaining members went on to form New Order), the band left a tantalizing oeuvre of moody material influencing future bands from Nirvana to Primal Scream.
Compiled with the surviving members, this box set combines all the studio albums with early recording, demos, outtakes, radio sessions and one fully live disc. The track “She’s Lost Control” (about Curtis’ bouts with epilepsy) is featured no fewer than three times (studio, 12-inch, live format). Some of these recordings are raw, but taken together the tracks form an enduring affirmation of the consistent emotional power and bone-chilling atmospherics of this highly influential group.
Let’s hope Rhino continues to recognize and release the work of valuable groups like the three previously mentioned; on deck, they have extended reissues of classics from Elvis Costello and X as well as a Dinosaur Jr. greatest hits.