The Best Reissues/Live Albums/Compilations of 2014, #5-1

zep1. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin / Led Zeppelin II / Led Zeppelin III / Led Zeppelin IV / Houses of the Holy (Atlantic):
Of all the reissues I knew were coming in 2014, Jimmy Page’s extensive remastering and repackaging of the entire Led Zeppelin discography is what had me drooling. Quite frankly the 1990 remasters, which were so revelatory back in the day, now sound out of date, each album needing its own unique makeover. And to Page’s great credit, the first five installments of the series have been perfect, the enhancements tasteful, offering in some cases more clarity (Led Zeppelin), in others more muscle (Led Zeppelin II and IV), and in others more nuance (Led Zeppelin III). The bonus tracks range from sensational (the full live set on the debut) to the intriguing (the alternate mixes and takes) to the trivial (several inconsequential, previously unreleased songs), but it’s about those perfect five albums, all of which hold up beautifully. It’s 1973’s Houses of the Holy, though, that benefits the most from Page’s careful remastering, sounding far more vivid and vibrant than it ever did. These re-releases have been a great pleasure to explore, and you can bet Physical Graffiti will make this list in a year’s time. iTunes Spotify

dylan2. Bob Dylan & The Band, The Bootleg Series 11: The Basement Tapes (Columbia):
While the summer of 1967 was dominated by Sgt. Pepper, Monterey Pop, Haight-Ashbury, Scott Mackenzie imploring kids to go to San Francisco wearing flowers in their hair, and London’s similarly flourishing scene, Bob Dylan, who not even a year before was fully part of that zeitgeist, had retreated to upstate New York. In a house in West Saugerties, New York, he and his backing band the Hawks – soon to be renamed The Band – were casually recording new and traditional material on their own. The massive body of work that resulted from the sessions were never fully released and became more and more mythical with each passing year, with only unauthorized bootlegs and a good yet imperfect and polished 1975 double album representing this pivotal moment in Dylan and The Band’s career. Nearly 50 years later The Basement Tapes have been released in their entirety, and Dylan fans worldwide had every reason to rejoice. Although the two-CD Basement Tapes Raw is a wonderful, far superior replacement for that 1975 release, the six-CD Basement Tapes Complete is the real treasure for fans, lovingly compiled by The Band’s Garth Hudson, and loaded with many tracks that have never seen the light of day. Presented chronologically, it makes for an extraordinary six and a half hour experience as you hear the musicians settling in, working their way through some old standards, gradually experimenting here and there, and ultimately creating some of the greatest American country, folk, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll ever recorded, a vivid, eclectic, modern exploration of the country’s rich musical heritage. The Americana genre begins right at this moment, and while countless artists have strived to carry on in this tradition, none have matched what Dylan and The Band accomplished that summer. iTunes Spotify

oasis3. Oasis, Definitely Maybe / (What’s the Story) Morning Glory (Big Brother):
In 1994 and 1995, Oasis could do no wrong. With a pair of absolutely ace albums, single after wicked single, and a bevy of B-sides that were just as good as the stuff on the albums, the Manchester band was tapped into the zeitgeist like no other rock band at the time. Grunge was officially over, the best mainstream rock ‘n’ roll was coming from Britain, and Oasis brought back the arrogance, boisterousness, and attitude back to a genre that had gotten so full of itself. Not since glam metal had rock experienced something so brash, and Oasis rode that wave masterfully for two years. And what an experience it is revisiting everything they did on these two splendid reissues. Starting with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”, the boldest opening salvo since AC/DC two decades earlier, all the way through the cocaine comedown of “Champagne Supernova”, with myriad peaks and valleys in between (“Whatever”, “Half the World Away”, “Acquiesce”, “Rockin’ Chair”), it’s a portrait of a young band living hard, playing hard, celebrating hard, and crashing hard. Oasis was never the same after that, but for those of us who witnessed that meteoric ascent firsthand, it’s something we won’t soon forget. iTunes Spotify

rush4. Rush, Rush ReDISCovered (Universal):
Rush’s 1974 debut album took me decades to fully appreciate. After all, this was recorded when the band was still finding its voice, which wouldn’t be fully realized until 2112 two years later. At that point they were little more than a Cream and Led Zeppelin knock off, albeit a very good one, and for me, I was drawn more to the intricacy and literacy of the subsequent work with drummer Neil Peart and couldn’t be bothered to spend much time with the blues rock clichés and rather workmanlike drumming by John Rutsey. It was always cute when the band would cart out “Working Man” and “In the Mood” on their later tours, but hardly a highlight. It’s hard to pinpoint when the album finally clicked with me, but it could have been in 2012 when I started to gravitate towards it upon hearing it cranked on someone else’s stereo. I finally got myself the Sector 1 box set in Toronto a few months later and played the heck out of that album, and for some reason I was smitten with the thing, flaws and all. Anyway, in celebration of its 40th anniversary this very snazzy vinyl release is a gorgeous piece of work, lovingly remastered for vinyl, on very heavy wax, and coming along with neat little bonus collectibles including press releases and a band family tree. This set is a joy for any Rush nerd, and for me personally, it came at the right time. Amazon

vu5. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground: 45th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Universal):
I’ve always considered the four-album arc of the Velvet Underground to be the most perfect epitome of the breadth and appeal of rock ‘n’ roll. Each album used rock ‘n’ roll a different way: as high art, as a means of catharsis, introspection, and lastly, celebration. Of the four, that third introspective album, 1969’s The Velvet Underground, that’s held an aptly quiet appeal to me, largely because I got to know the record via Lou Reed’s cozy “closet mix” of the album on the Peel Slowly and See box set. It’s a beautiful yet peculiar album, with plenty of understated ballads (the timeless “Pale Blue Eyes”), gentle yet insistent rockers (“What Goes On”), and an insane, Burroughs-derived cut-up experiment (“The Murder Mystery”). Following last year’s reissue of the boisterous White Light/White Heat, this one is just as worthwhile, perhaps more, featuring a nice remaster of the Val Valentin mix and a stunning live album recorded in San Francisco in 1969. There was always so much to discover on this rich, ambitious album, but now there’s even more. iTunes Spotify

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