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Jack Rabid's 2005 Top 40 Best Albums: Old Recordings/Retrospectives [20-1]

3 February 2006

I’m still counting down my top picks for the year 2005 in this space, with brief comments on each. Having done all the new recordings (60-41, 40-21, and 20-1) and last week 40-21 for Old Recordings/Retrospectives, here’s 20-1 for Old Recordings/Retrospectives!!! After all, why should old recordings have to compete with the new work of artists? Note, now that this list is finished, that’s 100 Top CDs for 2005. For all the same old perennial moaning, 2005 was another brilliant year for music, same as every year, and don’t let some stupid aging critic or hipster gone jaded tell you different! (Again, there will be four categories: New Recordings, which I did already and you can still read, and this is the end of Old Recordings/Retrospectives—so next will be Singles, and Music DVDS. Enjoy!)

20. ROKY ERICKSON – I Have Always Been Here Before: The Anthology Double CD (Shout Factory)

Unlike the reclusive, no-show SYD BARRETT, original 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS leader Erickson has periodically emerged from hospitalizations for mental illness and problems with the law to record new, credible records. And I Have Always is the place to go if you want his entire sporadic history, including his old band, neatly summarized in a 42-song, handsome gatefold digipack double CD, with loads of photos and generous liner notes that annotate each period of lucidity and productivity.

19. IGGY POP – A Million in Prizes: the Iggy Pop Anthology (double CD) (Virgin/EMI)

There must be a 14-20 year old out there who has only heard of the legendary Mr. Pop and needs an intro. If their birthday or a holiday is approaching, you could do worse than to wrap this up with a bow and a card that says “FYI.” More comprehensive than Virgin’s previous 17-song one-disc best-of, 1996’s Nude & Rude, A Million lingers longer on the essential STOOGES cannon, 11 songs including three interesting stops at the archive Stooges stuff that was just as vital and devotes another strong third to his productive first five years as a post-Stooge, 1976-1980, still firing away in a plethora of edgy neo-modern rock styles.

18. JOHNNY THUNDERS & THE HEARTBREAKERS – Down to Kill Double CD and DVD box set (Jungle U.K.)

Though the post-NEW YORK DOLLS Thunders albums that rock ‘n’ roll fans need remain the first three—the flawed but sturdy, lone Heartbreakers studio LP L.A.M.F., the thrilling Live at Max’s Kansas City, and Thunders’ patchy but often brilliant solo So Alone—this box is great for converted aficionados. And for those who never saw The Heartbreakers, the DVD proves just how dangerous Thunders was with a guitar (with WALTER LURE supporting on heavy rhythm), when it was time to rip out leads and how much this group had it.

17. THE NEUROTICS – Repercussions/Is Your Bathroom Breeding Bolsheviks (Jungle UK)

Reissued on CD for the first time, together on one disc no less, these two fantastic mid-‘80s albums showcase one of the great singer/lyricists of that whole inspired era of humanistic sociopolitical protest singing, STEVE DREWETT. Drewett was an acquaintance of the more acknowledged BILLY BRAGG, and their music had much in common, though Drewett’s band had morphed from a RAMONES-influenced punk rock band circa 1981 to a group that carried on the more full-flavored assortment of THE JAM and THE MEMBERS. See if Drewett doesn’t stir up your sense of empathy and outrage on song after song on these great recordings, the last two albums both he and the band would release. He ought to make a solo LP someday; he’s still around, and the Neurotics did their first-ever reunion gigs late in 2005 coinciding with this!

16. THE MOVE – Message From the Country (EMI U.K.)

Another welcome reissue of The Move’s fourth and final album restores its original 1971 title (it was revived in 1993 as the misleading Great Move! The Best of). Down to a trio with only two of four original members, these London by way of Birmingham rockers still retained their key weapon, singer/writer ROY WOOD, aided by latecomer and burgeoning star JEFF LYNNE. Having begun five years prior as great guitar rock rivals for THE WHO, who they matched artistically and commercially in England but not here (don’t miss 1994’s hot BBC Sessions collection!!!!), by 1971 they’d long added heavier classic rock and prosaic psychedelic elements to Wood’s love of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, then blended in Lynne’s BEATLES obsessions.

15. X-RAY SPEX – Germ Free Adolescents (Art-I-Ficial/Castle/Sanctuary)

Twenty-seven years after its original release on EMI U.K.—ach! Can it really have been that long?—and 14 years after its domestic debut reissue on CD on Caroline Blue Plate, the venerated, lone LP by X-Ray Spex is here again to remind us of what a distinctive and delicious band this was. They were a classic upper-tier 1976 1979 London punk band, with POLY STRENE’s wonderfully infectious, catchy songs, yet they were unlike any other band then, or since, with skronking bursts of sax and the wide-eyed wild child Styrene’s pioneering post-punk vocal wailing and precocious, pointed, humorous, and clever lyrical indictments of a dog-eat-dog society based on consumerism and vanity.

14. BELLE & SEBASTIAN – Push Barman to Open Old Wounds (Matador)

Matador does us a favor by fixing the botched job that was their 2000 “box set” Lazy Line Painter Jane (which compiled the dozen songs from the Scottish band’s 1997 first three EPs on three separate discs, when all 12 clearly would have fit on one). Truly, Push Barman is a companion album as impressive as the group’s SMITHS-like classic second LP, If You’re Feeling Sinister.

13. JOHN LENNON – Acoustic (Capitol/EMI)

With nothing but a guitar and without bad production gumming up the works, this collection restores the quality of Lennon’s zeitgeist missing from too much of his solo work (outside his “Best of”). Though at times it seems like Lennon is putting himself through therapy, the resulting, stark discomfort of “Look at Me” and especially “My Mummy’s Dead” are striking in their wincing, uncomfortable honesty. And there’s nothing to get in the way. It’s just you and him.

12. BOO RADLEYS – Find the Way Out (Sanctuary)

The never predictable, always fresh Boos were one of the best shoegazing bands of that entire English scene 15-18 years ago (Don’t believe it? Buy Learning to Walk, the collection of their first three EPs for Rough Trade U.K.), and soon evolved from there into one of the most entertaining and creative of the mid-‘80s Britpop-era pop groups around, as this welcome retrospective shows.

11. PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS – Kicks! The Anthology 1963-1972 (Raven)

A better one-disc overview of the remarkable catalog of this incredible band would be hard to fathom, as there is every conceivable high on this sprawling, 30-song, cream of the crop compendium of their best 11 years. Having long argued and lamented that the Raiders have rarely (outside of the Nuggets box) been given their rightful place as one of the 30 or 40 greatest ‘60s bands, the equals in both popularity (14 U.S. mega hits, 11 of them on here) as well as artistry of any of that decade’s heavyweights, “let me” (and Raven) offer this 77-minute anthology as incontrovertible evidence. The defense rests (and sings, stomps, and shouts).

10. ORANGE JUICE – The Glasgow School (Domino)

Finally! After presenting the complete, 22-record Orange Juice discography—three LPs, a mini-LP, two best-ofs, two collections of early recordings, and 14 singles—eight years ago in BT 42 as part of our interview with former OJ leader EDWYN COLLINS, how odd it is that this is the Scottish post-punk jangle-pop band’s first-ever U.S. release, exactly 20 years after they broke up. This collection includes all of OJ’s very best songs and most essential period recordings, all from the early, ‘80-’81 Postcard Records era. [True OJ fans already have everything on The Glasgow School (and more!) from buying copies of now out-of-print early singles comp This Heather’s on Fire and Ostrich Churchyard, an issue of what was-to-have been OJ’s first LP before they started the indie tradition of jumping to a major when they signed with Polydor (both CDs were put out during the short-lived revival of Postcard Records in the early 1990s.) -ed.]

9. SLOWDIVE – Catch the Breeze (double CD) (Sanctuary U.K.)

It took a good decade to rid the words ‘dreampop’ and ‘shoegaze’ of ridiculously unfair negative connotations. At long last, however, the greatest (mostly English) musical movement of the last 15 years is finally getting its due recognition. Exhibit A is the rehabilitated reputation of the most beautiful and breathtaking of all of those bands, Reading quintet Slowdive. True, the four rather genteel, respected albums released by MOJAVE 3 in the decade since Slowdive disintegrated have reawakened interest in their older, much different group. But Slowdive made the ultimate dreampop, in that their music was the most subconscious. The group was slagged from end to end for a while, but you don’t hear that now! As usual, time has proven what the real music was.

8. FOR AGAINST – December (Independent Project/Words on Music)

Having previously reissued this incredible Lincoln, NE, group’s 1987 debut, Echelons, Words on Music now digs out its equally hard to find, even better 1988 follow-up, December (both originally issued on the fiercely admired Independent Project label, with IPR’s usual fine-art sleeves). The best album of that year (and our #1 pick in BT 25), December built on the trio’s now-established British-inspired atmospheric textures, post-punk insistent rhythms, and powerful melodic flourishes by tightening the screws on the overall attack. The dense forest evoked in HARRY DINGMAN’s guitar is impossible to depict in words, but his barrage of chords (“Clandestine High Holy”) often reflects the powerful feelings expressed in bassist/singer JEFF RUNNINGS‘s lyrics.

7. MERRY GO ROUND – Listen, Listen: the Definitive Collection (Rev-ola U.K.)

It took the British soft-psyche reissue label Rev-ola, but finally this great 1966-1969 L.A. group is on CD. Known for their defining, classic 1967 #63 (#1 in L.A.) hit, “Live”—covered by THE BANGLES on 1984’s All Over the Place—and the more baroque 1967 #90 “You’re a Very Lovely Woman,” the young quartet was a prominent favorite of the storied Paisley Underground ‘80s L.A. scene, and helped secure a cult following for the later solo LPs of leader, then-teenaged EMITT RHODES. Rhodes was (is) the poor man’s PAUL MCCARTNEY in voice, songwriting, and style.

6. DEAD KENNEDYS – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (CD + DVD) (Manifesto)

An incredible album, a transition between that old West Coast punk outbreak (the San Francisco band had been going since early 1978) and the more hardcore sound coming in, and hands down it’s their best LP, not even close. It’s also JELLO BIAFRA’s greatest lyric sheet, filled with astonishingly funny yet piercing black humor (“Kill the Poor,” “Stealing People’s Mail,” “When Ya Get Drafted,” “Let’s Lynch the Landlord”), and this 25th Anniversary reissue’s remastering has actually improved the overall sonic impact—more like the first two, touchstone singles. And the DVD is a long, fantastic documentary on the early days. Of course, Biafra conspicuously takes part only via old footage, and that’s a drawback. He hates these reissues, having lost control of the band’s masters from his Alternative Tentacles label to his ex-mates in a bitter court fight. I wish it had his blessing and input, because watching all the old films of the original, superior quintet (six complete songs) is just amazing. (

5. DONOVAN – Try for the Sun: The Journey of Donovan (Epic/Legacy/Sony)

Glasgow-born Donovan has never been more appreciated as an iconic troubadour hit machine since his ‘60s London heyday. Not that he fell out of favor with all manner of music lovers and artists; but there have been times when pop culture saw him as a ho-hum hokum oldies staple, or anachronism from some faded, idealistic peace-and-love generation. That’s thankfully starting to change, as a biography, Hurdy Gurdy, hits stores, his (newly rerecorded) “Happiness Runs” backs Delta commercials, his songs appear in movies (who can forget “Season of the Witch” in To Die For), and now, celebrating the 40th anniversary of his first single, “Catch the Wind,” this crisp and beautiful box set, introduced with a foreword by the living legend himself and released with his full input, is on sale. Hurrah!

4. LUCY SHOW – Mania (Words on Music)

I interviewed London’s The Lucy Show 20 years ago for an Interview feature on them, THE SOUND, and THE CHAMELEONS (alas, the magazine never got around to publishing it) and was thanked the Mania sleeve, so I’ve never forgotten them or their unique, too-brief career. Unfortunately, neither of The Lucy Show’s albums had been reissued until now. Well, 1985’s Undone will remain unattainable for a while longer, but at last we have a CD of 1986’s much different Mania. Undone had seen the foursome make significant inroads on major label A&M, with a moody, subliminal, contemplative yet beautiful LP. Mania took those elements and added big slices of boisterous ‘60s pop, minor psychedelia, and power pop to form a brighter, snappier, more exuberant record. Now we can all finally rediscover this ace old LP with its undertones of enchanting magic.

3. SWERVEDRIVER – Juggernaut Rides ‘89-’98 (Castle/Sanctuary U.K.)

What a smash! The supremely, aptly titled Juggernaut Rides is this old Oxford, U.K., quartet’s best record; it’s such a flawlessly executed band-picked double-CD compendium that it floors even those who knew its 29 (out of 33) previously released songs. Clearly, this band was crying for a best-of anthology that would artfully mix material from their four LPs, seven EPs, and six singles in a way that would blow away old fans (no kidding) and shock, pin, and stun anyone who’d merely heard of them. And Juggernaut will forever shred any lingering misconceptions that Swervedriver had anything to do with shoegaze (despite being friends with some of those bands and sharing the movement’s prime label, Creation U.K.); even a cursory listen pegs them as the incredible bastard child of THE STOOGES, DINOSAUR JR., and the ‘64-’66 WHO and Swervedriver were even more lashing than those three formidable influences! The only thing really wrong with this release is that it has not as yet spurred the reunion of the terribly missed group itself. Where do we go to beg for one?!

2. Various Artists – Warfrat Tales (Unabridged) (Warfrat/Avebury)

If Vancouver’s Complication was the best city scene compilation ever, Warfrat Tales might have been the best sub-scene one. In 1983, the short-lived Warfrat label and its Tales, focused on the new, burgeoning garage-pop/psych scene. Sadly, it’s been out of print since. But now, here’s an incredibly cool reissue, doubled in length with 13 new songs unearthed from the old tapes, including four period bands like GUN CLUB and URINALSadded to the original nine. (Don’t miss THE LAST, THE QUESTION, 100 FLOWERS, and original lineup LEAVING TRAINS.) It’s an artifact from when L.A. really had more going for it in musical underground than any city in the world (after Vancouver faded). Great songs, great singing, real camaraderie, and shared convictions, sweat, enthusiasm, joy, and powerful rock ‘n’ roll still make this a blast, 23 years later.

1. Various Artists – Vancouver Complication (Sudden Death CAN)

I’ve long called this “the best scene compilation ever” and in 25 years out-of-print, nothing has passed it. Thankfully, after so long missing, it’s reissued. Of course, the first requirement would be an amazing scene! And the Vancouver, B.C. recorded here between Fall 1978 and Spring 1979 was the ultimate expression of 1970s “punk” as an open-ended, open-minded, loose collective where no band had the same approach let alone sounded alike—like ‘78-’79 San Francisco, L.A., Toronto, and New York, before such creative largess fractured into insular sub-scenes in 1980. Listening to it for the 200th time, Complication still tingles with its array of bustling energies, ignited by the necessary spark of the new, small punk movement. It includes three of the best West Coast pure punk bands then: the explosive, legendary original D.O.A. trio, the more ratty, rippin’ SUBHUMANS (not the later, inferior U.K. thrashers), and the frantic all-girl trio THE DISHRAGS. Of the other 12 bands, nothing can as easily lump them together except the surging joy in each recording, with the hot punky power-pop of POINTED STICKS, the harsh, clashing, raucous avant anti-pop, of U-J3RKS, and the high-spirited rock ‘n’ roll of THE K-TELS, the original moniker of YOUNG CANADIANS, and ACTIVE DOG. After hearing this, you’ll likely undertake the explorer’s hunt for the rest of this amazing scene’s rare abundance!


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