The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

2 June 2005

From Allen's Alley (part 1)

Allen Klein's Abkco Records was for many years the label collectors loved to hate. Sides from Cameo/Parkway Records, which Klein acquired for next to nothing in the late 1960s, have been conspiciously absent from the CD marketplace, and the stuff Abkco did release — compilations by the Animals and Herman's Hermits, the Rolling Stones' Decca recordings, and a box of Phil Spector material — was half-heartedly mastered and (especially the Spector box) woefully overpriced. Worse yet, Abkco, which controlled Sam Cooke's Tracey Records catalog, actually sued to get an RCA Cooke compilation off the market, because it included one track ("Another Saturday Night") which they said belonged to them. RCA responded by reissuing the collection with the track excised, but the damage was done.

For reasons unknown, though, Abkco has been mending its ways. The first ray of light was "Keep On Movin'," a Sam Cooke compilation that included the major Tracey tracks; they have since issued box sets on Cooke and on his SAR label, plus a biopic on DVD. The Stones, Animals and Hermits material has been remastered from better source material and reissued.

The Herman's Hermits issue (Retrospective, Abkco 9228-2) features twenty-six tracks, from "I'm Into Something Good" to "Here Comes the Star," the group's last British hit from late 1969. (The American well had dried up a year or so before.) Compared to MGM or Abkco's own vinyl, this is remarkably clean, and while it would have been nice to have the stereo mix of "A Must to Avoid," at least they got the correct version of "Leaning on a Lamp Post," something MGM always seemed to be confused about. And there is one actual stereo track: "Museum." If you've been nursing a crush on Peter Noone all these years, you need this disc.

Retrospective is also the title of the Animals disc (Abkco 9325-2), with twenty-two tracks, more than half of which Klein didn't own and actually paid to license. The Mickie Most/EMI material is generally fairly clean, though it's clear Most overdid it on the levels in a couple of places, and "Boom Boom" has a few extra bars in its instrumental break, which I wasn't expecting. The most grievous fault of the previous release — the UK, rather than US, version of "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," which has a different lead vocal — has been fixed. I could carp that "Don't Bring Me Down" is in mono, but at least they went to the trouble to get it and subsequent Animals tracks from Decca/Universal, and everything else that was released in stereo on vinyl is in stereo here. The last track is the usual 4:01 radio edit of "Spill the Wine" by Eric Burdon and War, about 50 seconds shorter than the LP track or my copy of the single, and a lot less noisy than either.

Both these discs are SACD hybrids: played on SACD machines, they're supposed to sound even better. I don't have one and couldn't check this claim.

And Cameo/Parkway? We'll talk about that next time.

Posted at 5:56 PM to Tongue and Groove