How long has it been since the day this year’s Record Store Day exclusive releases were announced, up to the point a good number of them will finally reach stores Saturday, in the first of three substitute “drops” dates?
It’s been this long: When the John Prine boxed set that’s coming out now was originally announced, Prine was still very much alive and well.
Let’s have a moment of silence to commemorate that loss, and all the others that have justifiably put a crimp in collectors’ plans this year, before letting the list-making resume.
This weekend brings the first three of what the presiding org is calling “Record Store Day Drops,” to try to differentiate it in customers’ minds from a normal spring RSD filled with live bands, beer blasts or any of the other attendant hoopla shops offer to bring the party. Variety already spoke with RSD organizers and some of the participating 1,200 stores about the sometimes creative measures they’re taking to keep patrons parceled out, including lotteries for prime morning slots, in some cases. If that all seems too complicated and you’re not an early bird anyway, know that you can probably show up at your local outlet later in the afternoon (or in days to come) without having to worry about anything more complicated than which of your masks is going to look most gnarly to the grizzled store clerks.
The drops happening on the last Saturdays of August, September and October were supposed to be evenly divided, but for reasons detailed in our story (mainly, some labels couldn’t hold off on releasing that long-shelved product any longer), this first drop is a little more top-heavy, with about 175 of the 385 releases that will come out over the three months. (A few that were supposed to come out in April, like Neil Young’s “Homegrown,” couldn’t wait and already hit stores.)
Here’s a selective sampling of some of the most covetable items from this round:
Billie Eilish, “Live at Third Man Records”
(Quantity: 17,000.) At what point do you stop calling something a limited edition — somewhere maybe beneath 17,000, which is probably the highest announced pressing figure for anything in the 13-year history of RSD? And yet it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see this disappear quickly off shelves. There was already one semi-legendary issuance of this LP, previously only available at Jack White’s two physical Third Man locations in very limited quantities. Besides the massive uptick in available numbers, this quick reissue on her home label, Interscope, trades the original green vinyl for “Ocean Eyes” blue (so don’t worry, your previous copy is still a collectors’ item) and throws in a poster. The music itself? Recorded acoustically with Finneas at Third Man’s tiny Blue Room late last year, it’s as intimate and ideal as you’d hope, and a good way for her younger fangirls and parental fanboys to bond around the turntable during the pandemic.
(Quantity: 2,000.) When Robyn’s “Body Talk” was issued in a special two-LP edition for RSD in 2019, it was hard to find a copy of it anywhere on the morning of the event, and copies on eBay a year and a half later go for $175 pretty much at a minimum. So for this similar edition of Robyn’s brilliant 2005 self-titled career breakthrough, you’d think her label might have learned from that and pressed it in higher quantities. No — still just 2,000, so apparently they like it that low. It doesn’t include much in the way of rarities, but does feature the two bonus tracks from the time, Prince’s “Jack U Off” and “Dream On,” and throws in fresh cover artwork to change it up just enough that there will be tears on the record store floor as well as dance floor for those who don’t get their masked selves down to the shop in the a.m.
David Bowie, “I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74)” and “ChangesNowBowie”
(Both releases simultaneously available in LP and CD formats. Quantities not revealed.) Even in death, Bowie seems to reign as the King of Record Store Day, as very few of the events pass (even the Black Friday baby RSDs) without the Thin White Duke reappearing on vinyl. This time around, there are two, and the one that’s stirred the most interest is “I’m Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74),” highly sought after because it documents a very brief period in his live career — a 17-show mini-tour between tours, basically — when he was as laser-focused on soul as he was on the “Young Americans” album, which he’d recorded but not yet released at the time. Variety has not previewed the recording, which is said by those who have to be slightly rougher than some of the other superlative live sets that have come out for RSD. It’s such a fascinating and fleeting moment being captured, we almost wouldn’t care if it’d been cleaned up from a wax cylinder. “ChangesNowBowie,” meanwhile, is a much later iteration of Bowie, a nine-track set recorded live in the studio for the BBC for a 50th birthday special, mostly acoustically. The Bowie catalog’s overseers couldn’t wait to let fans have this one, and so a digital version was already released to the web over the summer. But, previously streamable or not, you can be certain the faithful will be going station to station to land this one as well. The big question for fans is, how many of these will be out in the field? It’s the first time Rhino has issued a Bowie album as an RSD Exclusive on both LP and CD, so we think they’d do enough as one-time pressings to meet demand. Just in case, thogh, some of us are getting up at zero o’clock.
Elton John, “Elton John”
(Quantity: 7,000.) Here’s a not very well kept secret: Elton loves Record Store Day. He loves it so much that, for instance, in 2017, he put out a two-LP expanded version of “11-17-70” with an extra album’s worth of tracks. And after it sold out, everyone said, “Don’t worry, he’ll reissue it or put it out on CD.” Guess what? He didn’t, so best not to sleep on this two-LP expansion of his self-titled studio album if you’re at all inclined. (He’s already announced a gold vinyl version of this album for general release in the fall, but it won’t include the bonus disc.) There aren’t quite as many strict rarities as on that last expansion: Of the LP’s worth of additional material, nearly all of them are solo piano demos that previously came out as bonus tracks on a 2008 deluxe CD. But it also throws in demos of “Border Song” and “Bad Side Of The Moon” that haven’t come out anywhere else. Oh, and it’s purple — no, there’s nobody else in pop that has a complete premium on that.
John Prine, “The Atlantic Albums”
(Quantity: 2,000.) Rhino and Warner have put out some nice boxed sets compiling the complete early albums of artists in their catalog, in their original packaging, like the one they did on Randy Newman or two on Emmylou Harris. Had the year gone as foreseen, this collection of Prine’s first four albums would have been another fine entry in that Newman/Harris box tradition but, given the cost, probably not one of the first items to sell out on a carefree April Record Store Day. But, tragic events being what they were, Prine has ended up being one of the artists who legacy has loomed largest over 2020, for all of the right and one of the wrong reasons. So it’s difficult not to think of this as an unofficial mascot album of Record Store Day 2020, and even if its contents have been and will continue to be available individually, you can count on this serving as an excuse for hundreds of shrines to be set up around turntable stands Saturday night or Sunday.
Midland, “Live From the Palomino”
(Quantity: 3,000.) A personal aside: Your scribe was at L.A.’s Palomino Club — or the recreated version of the long-gone North Hollywood C&W landmark, which shut down 25 years ago — when Midland took it over for a night last year to celebrate the release of the band’s second studio album. Don’t let their affiliation with Big Machine stop you, if you’re thinking the label only trades in the most modern brands of country: There could hardly have been a better group, at least in the under-60 category, to rechristen L.A.’s honky-tonk mecca for a night. A digital version of this live album was already released, but it was drastically condensed from what we saw that sweaty night: The RSD gatefold double-LP version (apparently the only physical edition it’s going to get) includes all 17 tracks from the night, versus the 10 that appeared on the streaming release.
Roxy Music, “Roxy Music: The Steven Wilson Stereo Mix”
(Quantity: 4,000.) In 2018, a long-awaited boxed set for Roxy Music’s classic early ’70s debut finally arrived, after much waiting, weeping and gnashing of teeth. And there was more long-awaiting to do, because it didn’t include a vinyl or CD version of a thorough remix done by Steven Wilson, who’s gotten kudos for working his modern sonic magic on a lot of prog-rock classics, among other packages. Was it that Bryan Ferry disapproved of it at the last minute? No, the word came down, it just.. well, there was no good explanation. But as proof that Ferry does not want to stand in the way of the thrill of it all, Wilson’s re-do is getting its own separate release — which was perhaps the rationale all along? — on 180g clear vinyl. (Dare we call it Virginia “plain” vinyl? Probably not.) Remember, Eno-ugh is never enough.
Tyler, the Creator, “Cherry Bomb” and “Cherry Bomb (The Instrumentals)”
(Quantities: 7,250 and 4,500.) Hip-hop tends to get short shrift at Record Store Days, traditionally, where the tastes of participating geeks can famously run more toward classic rock above all. So any time one of the titans of the genre drops a major title into the format — especially when it’s someone who does get as much love from the rock crowd as Tyler, the Creator — a lot of consumer focus can zero in on that item. Tyler’s third studio album, from 2015, has never gotten a vinyl release before, surprisingly. Guests like Kanye West, Lil Wayne, ScHoolboy Q, Charlie Wilson, Pharrell and Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger add up to maybe the most illustrious hip-hop “Hollywood Squares” lineup in history. RSD is landing not only that but the instrumental version of the album, which came out digitally in 2018. Both are being pressed in fairly high quantities, with the vocal version obviously getting the lion’s share.
The Who, “Odds and Sods (Deluxe)”
The Kinks, “The Kinks Kronikles”
(Quantities: 7,000 and 2,500.) On a few occasions, a loose-ends roundup collecting singles, one-offs and rarities from a classic rock band can come to be as accepted and beloved a part of the canon as one of the group’s proper studio albums. It doesn’t happen every time — it certainly wasn’t the case with the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” album, which no one seems to care about it staying in print — but it’s very much true for the Who’s “Odds and Sods” and “The KInks Kronikles,” both of which, coincidentally, are getting vinyl reissues this weekend. In the case of the Who’s 1974 compilation, it’s not just receiving a loving creation of the original, truly odd, die-cut cover, but it’s getting a bonus LP with 14 more rare tracks on top of the original album’s 10, including a previously unreleased longer edit of “The Seeker.” Red and yellow vinyl for the two discs helps classic-rock fans with failing eyesight tell them apart in the dark. “The Kinks Kronikles” sticks with pure red for both discs, and it doesn’t throw any additional material in to what was already a double-LP when it came out in ’72. But given its place in fans’ hearts, and the fact that it’s been out of print on vinyl for more than three decades, a pressing of only about a third the number of the Who quantities will make it a fast seller.
Bob James, “Once Upon a Time: The Lost 1965 New York Studio Sessions”
(Quantity: 2,500.) Resonance Records, the king of RSD jazz, is back in the game with another example of its seemingly inexhaustible supply of recently discovered “lost” live tapes from the genre’s giants. This one from James is more affordable than a lot of past Resonance vinyl releases by virtue of the fact that it’s on a single (180g) disc, although it still has the gatefold jacket and deliriously extensive, full-sized liner notes booklet you expect from the imprint. Resonance founder George Klabin recorded the set by the master pianist and his trio(s) himself at Wollman Auditorium in ’65, so why has he been holding out on us till 2020? Why ask why — the end of August is the ideal time to start digging into James’ “Indian Summer.” (For vinyl non-enthusiasts, a not-limited CD edition will follow a week later.)
Charli XCX, “Vroom Vroom”
(Quantity: 2,000) Ms. XCX’s 2016 four-song EP was only ever previously released digitally, so this clear vinyl iteration is its introduction into the corporeal world (or physical media, as some prefer to call it). At that low a pressing quantity, some actual vrooming Saturday may be called for.
Charlie Parker, “Jazz at Midnite”
(Quantity: 4,000.) Did RSD organizers deliberately set the first “drop” date this year to coincide with Charlie Parker’s centennial? Not likely, but Universal Music was sharp to take advantage of it by celebrating the jazz master’s 100th birthday (unfortunately, he only lived for 34 of them) with the first-ever individual issue of this live album, previously available only as part of a CD boxed set. The LP, recorded at shows in D.C. in 1952-53 with Max Roach and other fellow greats, is on blue vinyl, but everything else about the packaging is designed to appear as if it’d come out in the Blue Note label’s classic era.
The Weeknd, “My Dear Melancholy”
(Quantity: 3,000.) The Weeknd is rivaled as the most celebrated artist of 2020 only by Taylor Swift, and he’s certainly at the front of the crop of Grammy contenders as well as figuring in the year-end sales horse race. But it’s not his current release that’s getting the RSD treatment — it’s the quirkier and (as the title might suggest) more downtrodden 2018 EP “My Dear Melancholy,” which missed out on a vinyl iteration until this surprisingly limited one, which ought to go fast. Happily for those averse to side-flipping, all six songs have been mastered on one side with an etching on the other.
U2, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”
(Quantity: 7,000.) U2 rarely fails to come through with something collectible for RSD — albeit collectible in large enough pressing quantities for most any vinyl enthusiasts in the fan base to get in on it. This one’s an EP, but an elaborately packaged one: How many four-song releases get the gatefold treatment with a photo gallery? There’s an anniversary being honored here… one that came and went while Record Store Day was being delayed by the pandemic, but it’s not too late for the Propaganda crowd to throw “A Celebration” for the 40th anniversary of the quartet’s first single, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” having come out in May 1980. Rounding out the blue-vinyl EP are the original B-side, “Touch,” and live versions from ’80 of that song and “Twilight.”
Gene Russell, “New Direction”
(Quantities: 1,000.) A jazz label too important to be lost to history, the Black Jazz imprint, which holds a strong place in the hearts of collectors despite only existing from 1971-75, is getting a revival from Real Gone this week, with four of the original LPs being reissued for the first time. Three of them (by Doug Carn, the Awakening and Walter BIshop Jr.) came out separately from RSD on Friday, but a celebrated fourth, by pianist and label co-founder Russell, was reserved for the big day, with special “transparent with black swirl” color vinyl treatment. The piano trio reissue includes liner notes by Pat Thomas (author of “Listen Whitey! The Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975”), who also produced another album coming out on RSD, the soundtrack for the “The Last Movie.” (See Thomas write about that Dennis Hopper ST for Variety here).
For a lineup of the 1,200 participating stores, click here.
To read Variety‘s report on how shops are keeping the records in stocks but big crowds at bay this weekend, read here: How Record Store Day Plans to Haul in Big Vinyl Sales This Weekend — a Few Customers at a Time.