Gentlemen, start your Crosleys. And ladies, fire up your higher-end Technics. Record Store Day 2019 has brought us 401 brand new slabs of vinyl (give or take one or two cassettes and, God forbid, even a few CDs). Some will be available for months, and some were released in such limited quantities that even joining the line at dawn is no guarantor of success — although if you’ve really got to have it, flippers can be your friend.
If that list of 401 boggled the mind, here are 25 highlights, boiled down:
Bob Dylan, “Blood on the Tracks — Original New York Test Pressing” (LP, 7500 copies) The raison d’etre, the catnip, the holy grail of this year’s Record Store Day — it’s a good reason there are 7500 of them, to avoid actual blood in the aisles. The amount of interest in this title is hard to explain to a non-buff: Wait, you’re saying there’s an organ part on one of the songs that’s a little different, and that’s the reason for the hysteria? Well… not entirely. Let’s go back to the beginning: In 1975, Dylan issued an unknown number of copies of a private acetate containing an advance copy of what he thought would be “Blood on the Tracks” — then decided to re-record half the album. The half that got shelved mostly showed up on various archival projects over the years, including last fall’s seemingly exhaustive “Blood” boxed set… yet that wasn’t so exhaustive that it actually included all the true acetate mixes. The “Idiot Wind” here, most infamously, has a “spooky organ” overdub not found on the box’s raw tracks. So have you gotten the appeal of this exact reproduction of a weird historical artifact? Think of it this way: If you heard there were an alternate Sistine Chapel with a few different brush strokes, wouldn’t you visit? Don’t answer that — just get out of the way of the Dylanologist stampede.
Jeff Tweedy, “Warmer” (LP, 5000 copies) It’s not unusual for artists to deliver Record Store Day an exclusive live album. Exclusive studio albums are rarer things indeed, though. Matthew Sweet did it last year, and this year it’s been taken up by Tweedy, who recorded two albums’ worth of material when he recorded his recent “Warm.” The idea suggests that this will be a batch of inferior outtakes, but this simultaneously recorded companion album is strong enough that some fans may even prefer it to the other album. The title may just be a play on words, but if taken literally, you could infer that he got even more emotional on this batch of tunes than he already did on the unusually coherent and confessional “Warm.” There’s an argument for that, starting with the opening “Orphan,” in which Tweedy grapples with the deaths of parents (“Mom she died like a desert in bloom… / I am an orphan / Bring them back to me / I will forgive them”). This may all seem a little heavy for something as ephemeral as Record Store Day, but hey, geeks ponder their own mortality, too.
Elton John, “Live from Moscow” (2xLP, 4000 copies) Speaking of record geeks, Elton is foremost among them — ask any clerk who ever used to check him out at Tower Records — and occasionally he uses RSD to throw a bone to the fans. Last year, he gave Record Store Day an exclusive two-LP expansion of his famous “11/17/70” live album. Folks who didn’t pick it up at the time felt sure that eventually he’d release that full set on CD or reissue the vinyl for a general audience. Nope. So if you’re a fan, don’t sleep on the chance to pick up this never-issued live set from a 1979 gig back in the USSR, when he performed solo, but for some intermittent accompaniment by his percussionist. Of course he does cover the Beatles’ famous number about Russia. He also gets candid about his own catalog, climaxing with “Crocodile Rock,” “which, uh, wasn’t one of my favorites,” he confesses to the crowd, “but I’ll do it for you now.” You probably won’t hear that admission on his farewell tour.
Aretha Franklin, “The Atlantic Singles 1967” (5×7” box, 4500 copies)
Al Green, “The Hi Records Singles Box Set” (26×7” box, 1500 copies)
Todd Rundgren, “The Complete U.S. Bearsville & Warner Bros. Singles” (4xLP box, 4500 copies) There are many different ways to handle a box-set singles compilation; here are three examples, each of which contain all of the artists’ B-sides as well as A-sides from a given period, before they diverge from there. Aretha’s set is limited to a single year, but what a pinnacle of a year, with “Respect” and “Chain of Fools” among the A-sides and something as classic as “Do Right Woman” then relegated to a flip. Green’s box will set you back further, because it encompasses his entire classic period and includes 26 singles to Franklin’s mere five. (The cost probably won’t keep the mere 1500 copies from going immediately.) In Rundgren’s case, all the singles have been shuffled onto four full LPs, rather than packaged in their original 45rpmform. The decision to reconfigure those onto albums will be well-taken by Todd fans who should take to the beautiful cover art being writ large. Rundgren’s set includes fresh liner notes by eternal Todd scribe Paul Myers, who gets him to confess (again) how much he hates “Bang On the Drum All Day” and to make this universally accepted claim about flip sides: “A good B-side is… a glimpse into what the rest of the album might be like, sort of, ‘Thank you for coming into the shop — now allow me to show you something over in this corner.’”
Various Artists, “Woodstock Mono PA Version” (3xLP, quantity unknown) Here’s a true oddball release meant to appeal to the sheer buff-ery of a Record Store nerd: a three-record-set that exactly replicates the running order of the original hit “Woodstock” album but that includes almost completely different mixes, mostly from unreleased soundboard tapes, supposedly meant to replicate what you would have heard coming out of the PA if you were on Yasgur’s farm. Sure enough, there’s questionable fidelity and lots of distortion at times — and also the satisfaction of getting an even truer live album that hasn’t been sweetened for mass consumption. The packaging, funnily, is exactly the same as on the original album, down to the “Cotillion” on the LP labels… but the sense of being down in the mud, and realizing you already ate the brown acid, is all-new.
Elvis Presley, “Live at the International Hotel, Las Vegas, NV August 23, 1969” (2xLP, 3000 copies) Elvis’ so-called comeback special is rightly revered. What came immediately after, a little less so. But there’s a forthcoming CD box set devoted to the very first run of shows he did in Las Vegas, when he was still riding high off that network special, that represented his first real live gigs in 11 years, that aims to make the case that Elvis in Vegas was initially a beautiful thing, however sour things went before his demise. In advance of that box, they’ve issued one complete live show as a two-LP set just for RSD, and the prototype for the TCB Band is as smoking as the still-in-fighting-trim Presley.
Elvis Costello & the Imposters, “Purse” (EP, 3000 copies) Everyone should have both Elvises in their lives. Costello has freshly recorded a concept EP — remember concept EPs? Of course you don’t — in which he has gone back into the obscure corners of his songwriting catalog and recorded or re-recorded four tracks he wrote with the great tunesmiths of the 20th century: Paul McCartney, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and (not a one-off, this collaboration) Burt Bacharach. The Dylan collab you may find a slight cheat — it’s one of the Dylan lyrics he set to music for that T Bone Burnett project of “Basement Tapes”-era lyrical reclamations a few years ago. Maybe the finest piece of writing here is “The Lovers That Never Were,” which we’ve heard McCartney’s version of, but it’s nice to hear EC find a more palpable sorrow in it as well as the power pop. With the Imposters in their more nuanced mode, and the same producer as last year’s “Look Now,” “Purse” is very much an accessory to that acclaimed album.
Fleetwood Mac, “The Alternative Fleetwood Mac” (LP, 12,500 copies)
John Lennon, “Imagine (Raw Studio Mixes)” (LP, 5500 copies)
Van Morrison, “Astral Weeks Alternative” (EP, 9000 copies) A delightful trend has emerged in recent Record Store Days: the “alternative” version of a classic rock album, pieced together and slimmed down from the copious outtakes that have filled a voluminous CD box set. Last year’s “Alternative Moondance” by Van Morrison remains my favorite of this type of release. For “Astral Works,” there weren’t enough other versions to create a full alternate-universe take on the album, but the four songs that make up the EP are in some cases long enough that it doesn’t feel like a short shrift. Fleetwood Mac are old hands at these releases — we’ve had an alternate “Tusk,” “Rumours” and “Tango in the Dark” on previous RSDs, and this time the conceit is extended to their self-titled 1975 breakthrough. Hearing the opening “Monday Morning,” for instance, is a slight revelation: It’s so nice to hear Lindsey Buckingham sound relaxed, even if they never would have become superstars if these rough versions hadn’t been beefed up. The Lennon tracks from “Imagine” are actually the same takes heard on the finished ’71 album, but without the added Spectorization.
Erykah Badu & James Poyser, “Tempted” (7”, 1500 copies) No one will accuse this of being one of Record Store Day’s major releases, but it’s the kind of under-the-radar 45 you shouldn’t overlook amid your classic-rock grabbiness. There’ve been a series of Squeeze covers produced by Roots collaborator Steve Mandel released as RSD exclusives, including one last year by Costello; apparently there was a whole tribute album in the works that never panned out, so the unused recordings are dribbling out one by one. They don’t and won’t get any better than Badu’s take on Squeeze’s most famous hit, which was already R&B before she turned it into serious R&B with this lovely, understated but effectively horn-fueled effort.
Bill Evans, “Evans in England” (2xLP, 2000 copies)
Wes Montgomery, “Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings” (2xLP, 1500 copies) At Variety, we’ve previously gushed about how Resonance Records is the unofficial mascot label of Record Store Day because of their reliability in coming up with a pair of phenomenal vault releases twice a year (there’s also a RSD adjunct on Black Friday that the label never skips). They haven’t let down this time. Even though Resonance has been to the well before with prior releases on guitar great Montgomery and master pianist Evans, they keep finding equally spectacular live (in Evans’ case) or even studio (with Montgomery) tapes that you can’t believe spent a half-century or more in someone’s attic instead of being released and rightfully acclaimed as among the pantheon of great jazz albums. The label has switched things up a little this year; instead of waiting months after RSD to put out the CD versions of these albums, they’re consolidating the publicity and issuing the digital editions fairly quickly. But they’ve also manufactured these LP sets in smaller quantities than the 3,000 they’ve sometimes gone for, so these should disappear just as quickly. Do you need the vinyl versions, if the digital ones are coming quickly? Yes, and not just for the analog warmth. Resonance does the best liner notes in the business — each of their releases has almost a book’s worth of annotation, with Q&As and essays with or by surviving players as well as scholarly fans (who, in Montgomery’s case, include George Benson). You don’t need to require reading glasses to want the large-print (and large-photo) versions of these terrifically exhaustive booklets.
The White Stripes, “Candy Cane Child” (3” single, 2000 copies) That’s not a typo: there is such a thing as a 3-inch record, for the important reason that it’s there. Because everyone usually still leaves with too much disposal income at the end of RSD, Crosley has come up with a player for one of Jack White’s pet formats, on sale at finer stores everywhere (and there is a branded Third Man edition only at the label’s Nashville and Detroit stores). It’s not of much use without some software, so Third Man has issues a four-pack of 3-inchers … and having them in hand (although we weren’t yet able to demo the turntable itself), we can say that the disc are even smaller than they sound. Third Man has a four-pack of singles to give you your start — and maybe, truthfully, finish — in the 3-inch collecting world, while Epitaph has a handful as well, and there’s a big 3-inch record of the Foo Fighters that comes with the Crosley unit. High fidelity report forthcoming…
Pink Floyd, “A Saucerful of Secrets (Mono)” (LP, 6500 copies) Last year, Sony reissued the mono version of Floyd’s “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” putting it in vinyl print for the first time in 50 years… and it was the first thing half the RSD audience went for as soon as doors opened. Giving the same treatment to the group’s sophomore album, in which Roger Waters set the controls for the heart of the sun and new recruit David Gilmour trailed along, even as Syd Barrett faded into cameo player, will produce the same demand. Hardcore Floydians say the sonic differences between the stereo and mono on this one aren’t as pronounced — we’re not talking “Sgt. Pepper” levels of A/B-ing here — and purists may be slightly disappointed that the rear jacket merely reproduces the look of the tip-on packaging without actually being tip-on. (Sorry, geek talk.) But surely there are few fans who didn’t get psyched for a slightly different version of this set than the familiar by Nick Mason’s recent tour borrowing this album’s title as his band’s name.
Lone Justice, “Live at the Palomino” (LP, 1700 copies) I’ll admit to a slight bias here: I was in attendance at this 1983 gig at L.A.’s long-gone premiere country music club, at which a young sprout named Dwight Yoakam opened for Maria McKee’s band, which at that point was just about a yard more established on the city’s fertile cowpunk scene that Dwight. And my bias extends to still thinking, 35-plus years later, that the Lone Justice of 1983 was just a phenomenal thing — a slightly affected pastiche of backward-looking styles that also managed to be impossibly warm and seriously rocking and included some of the finest songwriting I’ve heard in my lifetime… very little of which ever made it onto the group’s 1985 Geffen debut. McKee’s style has changed so much in the intervening years that it’s as clear now as it perhaps should have been obvious at the time that she was acting a role, but her combination of Western inflections and legit rockabilly should have won her the equivalent of a music Oscar. The rest of the band was on fire, too, as writers as well as performers — up there with the Doors, Beach Boys, X and Blasters as one of the half-dozen best bands L.A. ever produced. Listen and you’ll wish you were there, too. You kind of can be. (A widely available CD will follow this vinyl exclusive very shortly.)
U2, “The Europa EP” (12” EP, 5000 copies) U2 have been big supporters of RSD, and although you might wish they extended their support to offering the holiday some full-length releases, they do a pretty consistent job of coming out with minimalist vinyl — usually 12-inch remix singles — in maximalist packaging. That’s the case with this slightly odd but effective release, the A-side of which reproduces the opening of their recent tour, in which an on-screen clip of Charlie Chaplin’s moving final speech from “The Great Dictator” gives way to the opening chords of “New Year’s Day.” It was, and is, a hell of a segue. Studio remixes populate the 12-inch’s B-side.
LeAnn Rimes, “Live from Gruene Hall” (LP, 1000 copies) In recent years, Rimes has kind of reestablished herself as more of an unlikely disco queen — or at least someone who tops the dance charts and is a club favorite — and less as the country thrush you might remember. But there are no thumping dancefloor beats in this ferociously rootsy set, freshly recorded at Texas’s most beloved roadhouse. Listen to her tear through Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” for an opening number and you might be convinced you’re listening to a contemporary of Vaughan’s from the Austin scene. From there it’s a setlist full of roots cred (“Streets of Bakersfield”) and unusual picks (“Wonderwall”). This clear-vinyl release deserves a bigger entree into the world than 1000 copies.
Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch, “Twin Peaks Season Two: Music and More” (2xLP, 9000 copies) The season 1 “TP” soundtrack and the “Fire Walk With Me” album of Badalamenti’s prequel film music have both been issued repeatedly on vinyl, but season 2’s score was pretty much left as an orphan until now. Historians will note that a CD was briefly available through Lynch’s website, but that disappeared quickly into the Red Room, and it never made it to vinyl. That oversight is rectified with this colored-vinyl double album, which includes a large photo booklet and some very minimal liner notes. Badalamenti’s S2 music is arguably more varied and mainstream than either of the other “Peaks” releases — you get the expected twangy blues and spooky stuff but also the oddity of a barbershop quartet.
Bingo Hand Job (aka R.E.M.), “Live at the Borderline 1991” (2xLP, 3000 copies) The sticker emphasizes that this live album is “fully authorized” — in other words, just because R.E.M. played under a pseudonym for some reason for this ’91 club show, and thus the rights apparently fall outside of their usual contractual ties, it’s still a legal and personally approved rose by any other name. Acoustic live albums by R.E.M. haven’t been in long supply, so this is a nice addition to the posthumous canon — and despite the nom de plume, the band is doing mostly familiar material, although they detour for a casual travelogue medley of the Cash/Carter classic “Jackson” and Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s “Dallas.”
Charlie Parker, “Charlie Parker With Strings — Alternate Takes” (LP, 2500 copies) One of the real treats of the season for jazz hounds. The liner notes for this album of outtakes from his early ‘50s bestseller indicate that later in life, Parker acted ashamed that he’d done anything commercial as work with strings, but that his overall comments really make the case that he was proud of this work. And what’s not to be proud of, not withstanding the fact that he did more challenging work?
Devo, “This is the Devo Box” (6xLP box, 3000 copies) A no-frills box, unless you count the six different colors of vinyl for Devo’s first six albums, which fit neatly in their reproduction jackets inside a slipcase. With the theory of de-evolution long since proven sociopolitical fact, there could hardly be a much better soundtrack for the ship going down. Read the news and write your own liner notes.
Jeff Buckley, “In Transition” (LP, 3000 copies) If you thought the Buckley cupboard was bare, you thought wrong — these early sessions for his debut album have never seen the light of day until this vinyl release. There’s a reason they might not have run to put these out first, posthumously: Young Buckley is still finding his voice, in every way, and perhaps influenced by all things alt at the time, he gets a little aggro at times when we just want to hear him be beautiful. But there are some fascinating curiosities here — like a cover of Nina Simone’s “If You Knew” as well as an early stab at Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and an original track with the title of “Unforgiven aka Last Goodbye,” which lets you know that it’s kind of the signature song you came to know and love and kind of not.
Roxy Music, “Roxy Music — Remixed” (2×12”, 2500 copies) Bryan Ferry commissioned some added elements for the boxed set of their self-titled debut album that came out last year. Some of it ended up not making the cut, maybe because he wanted to stay somewhat purist about the original recordings and outtakes. One casualty that’s just now seeing the light of day with this two-disc set is a selection of contemporary remixes that take “Ladytron,” for instance, truly into “Tron” territory. It’s not an essential addition to the Roxy canon, but that first album was such a masterwork that we’d buy a collection of it being put through a meat grinder — and these EDM-leaning retakes are assuredly more fun than that.
Various Artists, “In the Garage: Live Music from WTF With Marc Maron” (LP, 2000 copies) On the rarely employed Record Store Day label, no less, America’s favorite podcaster has assembled a collection of his favorite acoustic performances from the show over the years — and with any luck this is just a Vol 1. Any Aimee Mann or Lucinda Williams contribution is hard to beat, but Maron himself joins Dave Alvin for one performance and the dialogue that ensues as Maron’s hero helps him through it is a reminder why the podcast endures.
Robyn, “Body Talk” (2xLP, 2500 copies) It’s Robyn. There’s not a huge amount more that probably needs to be said, except that “Body Talk” has never been on vinyl before, let alone clear vinyl, and there are supposedly some unique mixes tagged onto this double-LP (which we weren’t able to preview or get a full track list for in advance). Since it’s Robyn, you’ll cry if you’re able to get and listen to this pressed-in-low-quantities release, and of course you’ll cry if you don’t, so consider it all tears either way.
John Hiatt & Lilly Hiatt, “You Must Go!”/”All Kinds of People” (7”, 450 copies) Bring the family, redux. Intra-family genius, this idea: Dad does one of his famous daughter’s songs, and daughter does one of Dad’s. No need for competition here — if one take or the other is lesser, he or she can always throw some blame on the songwriter next Thanksgiving dinner.
Dennis Wilson, Taylor Hawkins, Brian May and Roger Taylor, “Holy Man” (7”) Few singles call for their own long Wikipedia entry as much as this from-beyond-the-grave collaboration does. This is the third iteration of the track, which began life as instrumental Wilson recorded for his only solo album, “Pacific Blue.” When a deluxe version of that effort came out posthumously, the Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins was enlisted to record a vocal for a newly penned lyric. That would have seemed like (welcome) tampering enough, but now the two remaining members of Queen, May and Taylor, have taken that hybrid and made it more hybrid-y stlll, by beefing up the track — including the roaring guitar part you and the late Wilson probably never realized it needed.
Various Artists, “Stax Does the Beatles” (2xLP) The Fab Four stole black music from America, and this roster was stealing it back. There’s no wrong time for that, in the 1960s or now, with this half-century-later vinyl reissue.