“Piper at the Gates of Dawn” isn’t just the name of a Pink Floyd album that’s being reissued on vinyl. It’s a prescription for how early you may need to be in line at the gates of your local brick-and-mortar music shop on Saturday for Record Store Day, if you want to be sure to get hold of the most coveted limited editions going on sale exclusively among independent retailers.
That Floyd LP, a mono mix being reissued on vinyl for the first time in a half-century, could be this year’s most widely coveted piece. But there are 421 other titles also going on sale Saturday, as listed here. If lining up isn’t your thing, don’t despair; some of these will still be available in the days or even weeks to follow… or forever, on Discogs and eBay. But honestly, doesn’t all music sound better if you’ve waited hours in the cold to procure it? (Don’t answer that, kids.)
To help winnow down the 422 choices, here are 15 of our picks for RSD 2018’s most wanted, or should-be wanted:
Pink Floyd, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Mono)” (6000 copies)Six thousand copies may be on the upper end of the quantities that are put out for RSD, but if enthusiasm in online forums is any indication, this won’t stick around long. Fans of the Syd Barrett era debate the mono vs. stereo attributes of their 1967 debut as heatedly as Beatles buffs haggle over alternate “Sgt. Pepper” mix superiority. Most hardcore Floyd-ians come down on the side of the mono, which has less reverb, no gimmicky panning effects, and curious bits like a song-length Rick Wright organ part that just isn’t there in the stereo version. Although this mix came out on CD some years back, the 51-year-old vinyl version, in good condition, goes for upwards of $1,000 among collectors. Longtime Floyd artist Aubrey Powell has wrapped a repro of the original LP cover up in a newly designed outer sleeve that has a shiny golden silhouette of the band photo on the poster inside. Do you really want to wake up to your friends texting “Wish you were here” from the checkout line?
David Bowie, “Welcome to the Blackout (Live in London ‘78)” (quantity unknown)
Another Record Store Day, another fabulous gatefold-cover three-LP set of previously unreleased Bowie 1970s live music. A year ago at this time, another Bowie concert release, “Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74),” was just about the first thing to be gone from the shelves of most shops, even with the fairly hefty price that comes with a triple-album, so gird your loins for the fight to get this one. (If you don’t, take some consolation that last year’s release did get issued on CD a few months later.) As the time frame would indicate, you get a mixture of Bowie’s then-new Berlin period stuff with some slightly goth-ier but still lively takes on his glam-era chestnuts. Buffs will really raise the ire of their significant others if they break the band and return home with all four of the Bowie items being released for RSD — the other three being a 12-inch single featuring the full, never-released “Let’s Dance” demo and (just a little less enticingly) straight reissues of his debut album and a “Bowie Now” promo LP.
Eric Church, “61 Days in Church — Covers” (2500 copies)
Church may be modern country’s most visible vinyl lover, and he comes up with an RSD release more often than not. A little backstory on this one: Country star Church is in the midst of releasing a mail-order-only 15-LP boxed set of material from his 2017 tour. We say “in the midst” because the albums that comprise the box are being shipped out one month at a time. That one costs $445, obviously out of reach for most fans. That brings us to this rather more affordable single-disc release that has eight of the tracks you’d most want from that boxed set anyway: covers of songs by Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Little Feat, Bob Seger, Gregg Allman, Billy Joel, Dave Dudley and the Guess Who. You don’t always have to look at the credits to see which town the songs were recorded in; a crowd roar comes up when Church mentions Omaha in “Turn the Page” or Pittsburgh in “Six Days on the Road.”
Nas, “Illmatic: Live from the Kennedy Center” (5000 copies)
A commemoration of a time when D.C. was ill for all the right reasons. Four years ago, the rapper joined up with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington for an orchestrally enhanced live take on his two-decade-old “Illmatic.” The video of that performance finally premiered on “Great Performances” in March, and we didn’t catch it, but we’ll take their word that PBS actually aired “Life’s a Bitch” in prime time. The audio was released as a stream this week, too, but the only copies for sale are on double-LP 180-gram vinyl for RSD. Although we haven’t seen the finished product, it’s promised to have gold foil embossing on an enclosed poster, event photos, and even the vinyl disc itself… but apparently no gold foil embossing on the included download card.
Bobbie Gentry, “Live at the BBC” (1200 copies)
If we could steer you to just one possibly more obscure item this RSD, it’d be this vintage “live” album from Gentry, which has never before been heard in any form — outside of the original BBC airing, that is — and may not see a further release outside of these scant 1200 LPs. We put “live” in quotes because, as with many BBC sessions, this one was recorded in a studio, with a full orchestra recreating one of pop history’s greatest string arrangements on “Ode to Billie Joe” and other tunes. You also hear some of the lighter side of Gentry, and a nice dose of her Mississippi accent as she introduces a couple of the tunes. But it’s the darker material that really makes you feel like you’re entering an alternate universe, one only populated before or sense by country’s most haunting female artist.
Led Zeppelin, “Rock and Roll” b/w “Friends” (quantity not revealed)
Plenty of alternate takes and mixes appeared in the Jimmy Page-supervised deluxe reissues of Zeppelin albums on CD a few years ago, but he was holding some back on us. For RSD the guitarist is letting a couple more out of the bag for the first time. The doppelganger of “Rock and Roll,” given an alternate mix in a different studio they were using at the time, feels looser but isn’t entirely different from the “IV” version you know and do the stroll to. “Friends” is more interesting, nixing the orchestration heard on “III” to let us hear the bare bones of the song. The 7-inch 45 comes in a ZoSo-styled picture sleeve fit for a golden god.
Johnny Cash, “At Folsom Prison: 50th Anniversary Legacy Edition” (2500 copies)
History’s most celebrated live album gets expanded even more for Cash completists. It’s been a decade since the full performances from Cash’s day at Folsom Prison got collected in a CD boxed set for their 40th anniversary. Ten years on, a first-time vinyl boxed set includes that wealth of previously released material along with an enticing first-time extra. Beyond the live sets that are spread across four LPs, you get a fifth slab of vinyl that includes nine songs performed at a loose rehearsal in a Sacramento motel the day before they all went to jail. Among those tracks are two the Cash/Carter collective didn’t end up singing at Folsom (“I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail” and “I Threw Away the Rose”). The rehearsal LP is obviously more low-fi than the prison recordings, but that makes its premiere even more suited for the analog charms of vinyl. All five discs in this numbered set come in handsome jackets of their own with a black-and-white exterior photo on the front and color concert shot on the back.
Neil Young, “Tonight’s the Night Live at the Roxy” (9000 copies)
At last, something you lazy bums don’t have to get up early and line up for. Not only is the RSD version of Young’s three-sided live album being pressed in bountiful copies, but the non-RSD vinyl (identical, except for the lack of an exclusive art print) and accompanying CD and digital download versions come out just three days later. Even so, this long-awaited archival release is good enough you may want to get that three-day jump on everyone else. In 1973, Young premiered nine songs from his yet-to-be-released “Tonight’s the Night” at a West Hollywood club, along with one pick from “On the Beach”… and, as you can hear (or not hear), audiences in those days went along with that sort of thing, enjoying the roaring conceptual downer in its entirety without resorting to shouting “Old Man.” Take a lesson, 2018.
Elvis Presley, “The King in the Ring” (3000 copies)
Sometimes, less is more. And even though there has previously been a CD boxed set devoted to every bit of material recorded on or off stage for Elvis’ famed 1968 comeback special, this exclusive-to-vinyl package narrows it down to the two “sit-down” sets he did on a soundstage with a one-time-only reunion of his original mid-‘50s band. Packaging for the two-LP set is also unique to this edition, even beyond the red vinyl, presumably picked to match the red suits that fellow rock-and-roll inventors Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana are wearing in the cover photo. If you’ve never heard this reunion set, it’s a treat to experience the Elvis who didn’t let the Sun go down on him after all.
Steve Earle & the Dukes, “Live from the Continental Club” (2000 copies)
Not everything about RSD is strictly archival. This double-live album from Earle wasn’t available for preview, but it’s clearly no vault set, as it includes material from the country-rock icon’s 2017 recent “So You Wanna Be an Outlaw” as well as the expected “Guitar Town”-era classics. “Fixin’ to Die,” “Hey Joe” and “Wild Thing” figure among the Side 4 covers. According to Earle’s management, there are no plans yet for a CD or download release, so it may be now or never for this one.
Frank Zappa, “Lumpy Gravy Primordial” (4000 copies)
Johnny Mathis, “I Love My Lady” (2000 copies)
Our Zappa/Mathis pairing isn’t as altogether random as it might seem. What these releases have in common is that they were both intended for release as albums in a bygone era, became the stuff of legend even as they got shelved, eventually came out in the 21st century as part of a larger CD boxed set, and are now finally getting an individual release in vinyl form only, packaged as they would have been if they’d come out as first intended. Got all that? In Zappa’s case, a different version of the “Lumpy Gravy” album did come out in the ‘60s, but only after this mostly orchestral suite was nixed in its all-instrumental form and issued with vocals attached. Returned to a strictly symphonic mode (on maroon vinyl), it manages to sound both more traditional and even nuttier. The Mathis album has him produced, written and backed by Chic in their prime, and was considered too radical for easy listening fans in the ‘80s. It was too expensive for the Nile Rodgers fans who’d been waiting decades when it came out as part of a $400-plus boxed set last year, but now it’s severed, affordable, and on clear vinyl.
Ella Fitzgerald, “Ella at Zardi’s” (1500 copies)
Fitzgerald’s 1956 Hollywood club set was at least recorded with the intention of it possibly being her first release after she switched to the Verve label in the mid-‘50s, although it never got as far along in the process as the Zappa and Mathis studio albums mentioned above. But, you know, 1956’s loss is our gain. This unvaulting caused a lot of jubilation in jazz-land when it was released on CD a few months ago. But did the CD come on separate pink and blue discs that look tasty enough to eat?
Tank & the Bangas, “Live Vibes” (quantity not revealed)
Getting back out of archival mode: This critically beloved New Orleans soul-rock collective just made a bang at Coachella 2018, and everyone who was in the fest’s Gobi Tent on either weekend (or who streamed their recent NPR “Tiny Desk” performance) will perk up at word of this six-song live release, recorded at Gasa Gasa in their hometown of New Orleans. The number of tracks shouldn’t fool you into thinking it’s an EP: Most of their expansively gonzo live cuts clock in at more than seven minutes. You know the yellow-vinyl LP was recorded last Thanksgiving weekend when singer Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball— after pointing out that they’re making a live album — asks the crowd to snap their fingers “like you snapped those turkey necks.”
Sufjan Stevens, “Mystery of Love EP” (10,000 copies)
Some RSD releases are pressed in quantities as low as 400 copies, but Stevens’ EP sets some sort of record on the opposite end of the scale. It may be on the shelves for a few days at that level of manufacturing, but it does merit something closer to a five-figure than three-figure number, isolating Stevens’ three songs from “Call Me By Your Name” (two originals and one remix) without the extraneous material. Watching Timothee Chalamet spin around on your turntable, you might even ask yourself: Is it a video? No, just a picture disc with film stills on either side, but hey, good question.