Music Week's round-up of the latest album reissues and catalogue releases, including John Lennon, Tangerine Dream and Westbound Super Breaks
Imagine: The Ultimate Collection (Apple Corps/UMC 6767126)
John Lennon’s second solo album, Imagine was originally released in 1971, and contains his most popular and commercial post-Beatles work. 47 years after the fact, the album has been through a number of upgrades but this “ultimate collection” surpasses them all. Released ahead of what would have been his 78th birthday, it is a sprawling 140 track collection, featuring a brand new remastered stereo mix, raw studio recordings, outtakes, demos, isolated track elements, 5.1 surround sound mixes and much more, to provide the most definitive and comprehensive version of the album ever assembled. Spread over 4 CDs and 2 blu-ray discs, it is accompanied by a beautiful, lavishly illustrated and extremely informative 120 page book, whilst there are also pared-down concurrent releases of a single CD remaster of the original album, a 2 CD deluxe edition, a 2 LP 180gm heavyweight black vinyl edition, a 2 LP 180gm heavyweight clear vinyl edition and a digital edition for purchase and streaming. The music? I’m glad you asked. Recorded in London and New York, with Phil Spector co-producing alongside John and Yoko, the original album consists of just 10 songs and a playing time of just under 40 minutes but unlike the rawer, less commercial material that populated his first solo set, John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band, Imagine was full of melodic songs and polished performances. Opening with the haunting piano refrain of the idealistic and iconic title track – of which there are upwards of 1,000 cover versions – it rapidly changes gear, with second song, Crippled Inside, arguably the worst on offer, being a fairly trite, country-styled offering. The bar is lifted again for Jealous Guy, with Lennon exploring his vulnerability, while It’s So Hard explores similar territory but with a much jauntier, almost gospel feel. At 6m 5s, I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier, Mama is the longest song on the album, an incendiary rant, with full kitchen-sink Spector production, while Gimme Some Truth is a similarly furious but musically engaging protest song with snarling lyrics about ‘uptight, short-sighted narrow-minded hypocrites’ and ‘neurotic, psychotic, pigheaded politicians’. Oh, My Love is a sweet ballad; How Do You Sleep?, a musically enthralling and lyrically scathing attack on former Beatles colleague Paul McCartney; How?, a pleasing contemplative song; and Oh Yoko a joyous celebration of his wife. Demos, Raw Studio mixes and Early Takes show how the tracks originally sounded; Elements mixes separate out strings and other important components – and every track has an ‘evolution’ mix, which tells the story of their development from demo to master, in rehearsal, with studio chat and mixed multi-track elements. There are, therefore, multiple mixes of all of the original Imagine tracks but also a plethora of unique bonus cuts including Well (Baby Please Don’t Go), which failed to make the cut for the album; alternate versions of the perennial Christmas hit Happy Xmas (War Is Over); the rare Apple single God Save Us, written by Lennon but with vocals from Bill Elliott; and the anthemic Plastic Ono Band hit, Power To The People. Overall, it’s an object lesson in how an Ultimate Collection should be, and a credit to Yoko Ono, who oversaw the entire project, as well as the simultaneously released restored and remixed Imagine and Gimme Some Truth films, and the standalone book, Imagine John Yoko.
The Pink Years 1970-1973 (Reactive/Esoteric EREACD 41037)
Newly remastered, the German electronic music pioneers’ first four albums – Electronic Meditation (1970), Alpha Centauri (1971), Zeit (1972) and Atem (1973) – are housed in replica album sleeve wallets and accompanied by a poster in this clamshell box set edition. For no reason other than the fact that the Ohr label on which they were originally released had a logo of a pink ear, the era in which these albums were released is known as The Pink Years. Typified by the fact that they comprise of lengthy experimental genre- defying material – with psychedelic rock, Krautrock, prog. rock, art rock, space rock, synth rock, ambient rock, free form jazz and classical music all ingredients of their increasingly dense, mostly instrumental soundscapes - they are works which reward repeated listening. Issued as originally intended, with no bonus tracks, they have a hypnotic beauty, and first album, Electronic Meditation unfolds in a tranquil style, logically moving from the humdrum almost random chaos of first track Genesis to the church organ stylings of closer Resurrection, which also comes with some backwards vocals. Second album, Alpha Cantauri represents a changing up of the band’s style, with more structured cosmic creations. Zeit is more indulgent, a double album which nevertheless consists of just four extremely lengthy (between 17 and 20 minutes) tracks, whose beauty unfolds very slowly. Given the seal of approval by John Peel, Atem is the last of the four, and the one that established the band in this country. It has an intense, brooding 20 minute title track that evokes visions of drifting in space, and three similarly-styled but shorter tracks that complete an edifying box set that fans will love but that others may find too challenging.
Westbound Super Breaks – Essential Funk, Soul And Jazz Samples And Breakbeats (Westbound CDSEWD 163)
The crate-diggers who helped to shape modern hip-hop found the distinctive but varied output of Armen Boladian’s Westbound label to be an irresistible source of samples – and after releasing a trio of successful Super Breaks albums which had multiple source labels, Ace Records has made the logical step of releasing this set, which contains only Westbound originals and coincides with the label’s 50th anniversary. It is no surprise to find that George Clinton’s Funkadelic - samples of whose work has driven hundreds of hip-hop tracks – are represented here by three of the album’s 19 tracks, namely I’ll Bet You, I Wanna Know If It’s Good To You and You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks. Labelmates The Detroit Spinners’ soulful melodic style is heard on Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms) and You’re Getting’ A Little Too Smart, both of which were provided integral samples for De La Soul’s seminal 3 Feet High And Rising album, and have been revisited numerous times since by multiple artists. Ohio Players’ recently deceased Junie’s solo output was also a fertile hunting ground, and his Suzie Thundertussy (sic), which opens this set, was picked up by Kanye West for No More Parties In L.A. Spotting the samples is fun but the best part of this album is the fact that as a standalone Westbound compilation, it’s pretty good, although kudos must go to those who have seen the potential of sampling them and thus rendering them eligible for this set. There’s a plethora of background information about the originals and the tracks which sampled them in a chunky booklet, that also includes a multitude of illustrations. Finally, in addition to the CD release, this album is also available as a double vinyl LP (SEW 2163).