The frustrated collector

[Some of this material is verifiably factual, some of it is informed speculation, and most of it is written strangely. Make of it what you will....Chaz]

The music industry, no less than other fragments of Entertainment, Inc., is driven by the Cult of the New. Much to the dismay of the record moguls, though, their back catalogs contribute a whole lot to the bottom line, sometimes more than the hotly-hyped new stuff. There have been times during the past quarter-century that it seemed the only thing keeping Capitol Records solvent was endless Beatles reissues — and before the three Anthologies, yet.

Billboard had taken a step to recognize this phenomenon with the creation of a chart just for catalog material, which promptly filled up with hardy perennials like Pink Floyd. Reissue labels like Rhino Records in California, Taragon on Long Island, and the German-based Bear Family are mining catalogs from many labels and coming up with gold. A glance through Phonolog, and you might discover that there are three albums — and a box set! — devoted to those Minnesota-based one-and-a-half-hit wonders, the Trashmen. And you might think that fans of non-current pop and rock were living today in some sort of digitally-remastered Shangri-La. But, to borrow a phrase from Ira Gershwin, it ain't necessarily so. Even as seemingly marginal material gets redone and reissued, an awful lot of good stuff is locked up until further notice. It is the function of this page to whine about it.

And even when tracks are dug out of the vaults, there's no guarantee you're going to get the version you remember. EMI did this to us twice. The single of "I'll Be There" by Gerry and the Pacemakers, released in the US on Laurie 3279 in late 1964, has a very different vocal from the version EMI has been sending over here ever since, and EMI's acquisition of Laurie hasn't made any difference. Ditto the Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of This Place", on MGM 13382 in 1965; in fact, Abkco (again!), which owns the US rights to the Animals' EMI catalog, was reported to believe that the version they sell (and that also appears on the British releases from EMI) is the version approved by the band, and that the track released over here on 45 was a mistake. Ironically, Abkco's original CD release used the same cover photo as MGM's original best-of LP, which of course contained the proper US version. (But see below.)

Nor is this phenomenon limited to EMI recordings. Consider the Zombies' "She's Not There", which involves no alternate takes but still manages to perplex: there's a decent four-track stereo mix out there, but it lacks a drum/hi-hat overdub that was added to the single (issued here as Parrot 9695) at the last moment. Ace Records in Britain, which was working up an all-stereo Zombies anthology from the band's Decca tapes, had pretty well decided that an occasional missing overdub would not have a negative impact on the set, but they worried that an incomplete "She's Not There", by far the best-known song from the Zombies' Decca days, might queer the deal for buyers. They agonized over the matter for a few moments, then came up with a solution which will infuriate purists and (I think) delight listeners: they asked original Zombies drummer Hugh Grundy to redo his drum part, which would then be mixed with the extant four-track recording. Even niftier, Grundy brought the original snare drum on which he'd played that part in 1964. The results, judged purely by ear, are quite effective. Now if we could just get Decca to comprehend that the proper "What's New Pussycat?", a hit for Tom Jones on Parrot 9765, contains a piano part and a breaking-glass sound effect that appeared in the movie it served as title; the first couple of Tom Jones reissue CDs cut off that intro entirely.

There have been, though, some actual success stories:

  • At long last, both Capitol Records and the mail-order house Collectors' Choice Music have managed to license tracks from Dean Martin's Reprise catalog, songs like "Everybody Loves Somebody" (Reprise 0281) which haven't been available from Dino's Claude Productions (which originally licensed those recordings to Warner Bros.) for decades.
  • The late Dickie Goodman's legendary break-in records, from the original "Flying Saucer" with Bill Buchanan in the Fifties through "Safe Sex Report" in the Eighties, have been available only sporadically; Goodman's estate has now put its imprimatur on a new collection called Greatest Fables, issued on the Luniverse (!) label under the auspices of Hot Productions.
  • The 45 versions of some Dunhill tracks are elusive at best: