Bob Dylan has drawn a lot of criticism for his decision to sit out the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm next week. Just today it was reported he also sat out a meeting with President Obama and other American laureates.

One can never predict what Bob Dylan is going to do, which has endeared him to some fans and alienated him from others. Whether its a a Christmas album (which we will enthusiastically defend) or an album of Frank Sinatra songs (which even we can’t get behind), Dylan has long had the luxury of following his muse and allowing his records to largely speak for themselves.

Consider his original Greatest Hits package, released by Columbia in 1967 to fill the gap when it appeared his next album was a ways off on the horizon and presumably compiled without his involvement. While it is not one of those “Greatest Hits” collections which misuses the word hits — his sixties singles sold successfully — it was still frustrating to fans. While it compiled his singles, in cases where those contained a separate mix from the album version, the album version was used. And it retailed for a dollar more than most LPs at the time.

Greatest Hits Volume II, which came just four years later, offered a little more to fans in the form of a side’s worth of new material. Dylan originally suggested one side be drawn from the then-unissued “Basement Tapes,” but this was rejected by Columbia executive Clive Davis — and instead a hodge podge new songs were added to the double LP. These included the tracks produced by the late Leon Russell (“Watching the River Flow” and “When I Paint My Masterpiece”) as well as a live cut from the 1963 Town Hall concert and three newly recorded songs.

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This is the first “Greatest Hits” album we can think of which finds the artist enticing fans with a few new songs. Dylan’s business savvy is always surprising to us — and in this case he created an idea that became common by the time Columbia finally churned out Greatest Hits Volume III in 1994, including a successful new song, “Dignity.”

gil-scott-heron-best-of-lpWe’ve thought a lot about some of those songs added to “Greatest Hits” and “Best Of” records, because sometimes we are such big fans of the artists that we’ll buy an album even though 90% of it is already in our collection. For instance, Gil Scott-Heron’s topical “Re Ron,” which first appeared on a 1984 compilation. His picture is hardly flattering on The Best of Gil Scott-Heron, and its hard for fans to face the reality of how poorly he was doing at the time.

 

“Re Ron,” Scott-Heron’s response to Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign, would be one of the last songs he’d release for nearly a decade, as drug use derailed his life. A sequel to his first Reagan song, “B Movie,” it didn’t leave the same impression with fans and he was subsequently dropped from the label.

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From an entirely different era and an entirely different section of the record store are the two Best Of albums released by Jethro Tull in the 70s. Each adds a new song, which sound distinctly like outtakes from earlier albums. Neither is particularly essential, although Tull fans are not unlike Dylan fans in their complete-ist tendencies. The first also offers an alternate mix or edit of a couple songs, notably “Aqualung” where Martin Barre’s familiar opening riff is extended.

The second of these is one of the most un-necessary “Best Of” collections of all time, and is indulgent even by Jethro Tull standards. The new track offered for the faithful is an outtake from the band’s successful War Child album which was clearly left aside for a reason.

Faring little better is The Best of the Band, an early album in the trend of titling these collections carefully to avoid the word “Hits.” After all, The Band’s singles hardly charted, and several of these songs were not even released as singles in the United States. The album is still a fair representation of highlights from their first half dozen albums, with the exception of a single-only track, “Twilight.”

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Another collection clearly forced by the label was RCA’s Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed. Never a hit-maker, Reed had already been dropped by the label by the time this record sulked into stores in 1976. Essentially a vehicle for the title track, Walk on the Wild Side did offer the first LP release of “Nowhere At All,” a rockin’ outtake from Coney Island Baby which had previously been issued as a B-side. Also worth noting is the appearance of Rachel, Reed’s long-term transexual lover, on the cover. Rachel was the inspiration for much of Reed’s music in the second half of the seventies even though she had been all but erased from the rock and roll lexicon by the time she died in obscurity in the nineties.

So far we have established that the extra song on a “Greatest Hits” or “Best Of” album is a sort of ashcan for outtakes and leftover live cuts. A recent culling of our own collection turned up all the albums in today’s post, each of which purchased solely for those added ‘bonus’ tracks, but hardly ever taken off the shelves. We’ll end today’s post with a more successful example. It’s a Greatest Hits which recently saw its first US release on LP and has already sold out.

See, nobody drew such success out of the extra song on their Greatest Hits album than Tom Petty, who recorded “Last Dance with Mary Jane” while recording his second solo album with career-reviving producer Rick Rubin. The song was the last to be recorded by the original Heartbreakers lineup, and an unexpected hit. It almost certainly spurred the success of that fantastic solo album, Wildflowers, the following year.

Always one to create the creepiest possible videos, Petty outdid himself with “Last Dance with Mary Jane,” a macabre vignette purportedly based on a French film which was, in turn, based on a Charles Bukowski story. If you have never seen this video before, you’re likely to not feel the same about Tom Petty, or about actress Kim Basinger, ever again.

 

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Billy Hancock and his Tennessee Rockets were the most successful act on this rockabilly label, which released records from 1976 until about 1990. We think Ripsaw is one of the coolest 45 labels we’ve seen in a long time.

On October 15, 1971 Rick Nelson and his band were booed off the stage of a rock n’ roll revival concert at Madison Square Garden. Nelson, with long hair and bell bottom jeans, played some of his band’s newer material along with his 50s hits like “Hello Mary Lou.” It was a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman” which turned the crowd against him.

He wrote the song “Garden Party” about his experience, which was his first hit in nearly a decade.

Ironically, by the end of the decade his live sets again included most of his early hits (he had 52 songs on Billboard’s singles chart before “Garden Party”). Regardless, the simple message of his last hit single is the same: You can’t please everybody, so you got to please yourself.

garden partyOf course, Nelson did a lot of pleasing himself in those days and after — his personal problems and drug use were probably a big part of why record buyers weren’t interested in his countrified persona with the Stone Canyon Band. Listeners quickly tire of the troubled artist who isn’t able to keep it together, just as we all get weary of the narcissist in our lives, whether its a friend or a family member: they’re the people who can’t seem to survive without help, yet are quick to tell you what to do. They relish in your failure and strike at you when you succeed — the only way they can express themselves is through snarky remarks, just as Nelson does in deriding George Harrison as “Mr. Hughes in Dylan’s shoes.”

We love Ricky Nelson’s hit songs — they were a regular part of our rockabilly sets when we DJed at the Turf Club for years — but from a different perspective his behavior on that October evening was a case of such narcissism. Nobody came to a rock n’ roll revival show to hear a set of country music. The other artists on the bill — Bobby Rydell, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley — all offered solid sets of rock n’ roll hits, as promised, even though each had recorded new material (even some country songs) in the years since their collective peak. Sulking backstage and refusing to step out and bow with the others solidifies his selfish behavior.

The message of “Garden Party” goes both ways, and the audience was under no obligation to please Nelson by indulging his new interests. From this different perspective, the song reminds us that there’s no reason to have a narcissistic person in your life. They will never change. When Nelson died in a plane crash in 1985, investigators found traces of marijuana, cocaine and painkillers in his blood. As much as we love those classic singles on Imperial which made Nelson a star in the 50s, we could do without the person he became.

“Hear with your ears, listen with your heart.” — Pauline Oliveros

 

The New York Times obituary for avant garde composer Pauline Oliveros, who passed away this past week at the age of eighty-four, is pretty inspiring. Writer Steve Smith succinctly describes one of the most universal aspects of Oliveros’ work:

“Deep Listening” signified Ms. Oliveros’s emerging aural discipline: a practice that compelled listening not just to the conventional details of a given musical performance — melody, harmony, rhythm, intonation — but also to sounds surrounding that performance, including acoustic space and extra-musical noise.

Although our introduction to her music was through the Minneapolis-based Roaratorio Records release of her orchestral work,To Valierie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation, we thought about her concept of “deep listening” while working on the release for the first album on our own label. Folk singer Ben Weaver chose to record that album in a barn, retaining the background sounds of breezes, birds and creaking floorboards, giving the album its unique atmosphere.

Ben Weaver’s I Would Rather Be a Buffalo is a world apart from Oliveros’ electronic compositions, but a quote from her writing in Smith’s obituary points to how they are similar: “All societies admit the power of music or sound. Attempts to control what is heard in the community are universal,” Ms. Oliveros wrote in a preface to the meditations. “Sonic Meditations are an attempt to return the control of sound to the individual alone, and within groups especially for humanitarian purposes; specifically healing.”

Another aspect of Oliveros’ music and writing was an examination of gender roles, and that was the subject of the piece released by Roaratorio Records. We posted about it a few years ago in a celebration of that label’s diverse catalog. Here’s what we wrote about it at the time:

The album collects two performances of the piece, its 1970 debut and a 1977 reproduction.

Shortly after it was published in 1968 the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas fell into my hands. Intrigued by the egalitarian feminist principles set forth in the Manifesto, I wanted to incorporate them into the structure of a new piece that I was composing. The women’s movement was surfacing and I felt the need to express my resonance with this energy. Marilyn Monroe had taken her own life. Valerie Solanas had attempted to take the life of Andy Warhol. Both women seemed to be desparate and caught in the traps of inequity …

In the score all players have a non-hierarchical role. The parts for the piece are the same for each player and within the given guidelines each individual interprets their part differently. If any player starts to dominate the musical texture, the community that is created by the piece absorbs the outstanding sounds back in to the collective.

You can read Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto here. It was received as a satire along the lines of Swift’s “Modest Proposal” until she shot Andy Warhol at his New York studio, the Factory, on June 3rd, 1968. You can, of course, find most of Marilyn Monroe’s films online and we’ll leave it up to you whether she deserves more recognition, as Olivaros has written, as an actress. We think she does, but we’re not big fans of her singing.

If you’re interested in Pauline Oliveros, you can find out more about her forty year (and going) career in music on her official website. She is a highly regarded accordionist, the author of five books about music, and a pioneer of electronic art music. Important Records recently compiled a twelve-disc collection of her experimental electronic music from the 60s (and it’s already sold out!).

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So there’s a short tour of Roaratorio Records. Most of these titles are still in print and we have them in stock at the shop — you can also buy them direct from the label if you’re reading this from outside the Twin Cities (check out their site here). They have just released a new Rodd Keith collection (their third) and will soon put out a Sun Ra album (Other Strange Worlds, which we are very excited about — hopefully it’s a sequel to the Strange Worlds collection of the BYG/Actuel albums and contains similar, awesome recordings from 1970-1).

Leftovers…

…make the best breakfast, lunch and dinner after Thanksgiving.

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So fer starters — yes, we have some of Record Store Day™’s Black Friday releases. Many were sold in the first hour of the day so feel free to call ahead if you’re looking for one in particular. We also saved a couple large collections of classic rock, jazz and rhythm and blues LPs to put out today.

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What we were excited to post today is a video from the PBS documentary Soundbreaking which several friends shared with us last week. Turns out the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach is a fan our our li’l record shop, naming it first when he listed stores he likes to visit around the country. We were more than a little flattered to hear that!


This summer we discovered this compilation album of songs by Junior Kimbrough, called Sunday Nights, and played the hell out of it. Our favorite track on the album was the Black Keys’ version of “My Mind is Ramblin’.” We were even more excited to discover they’d recorded an entire EP of his songs, called Chulahoma. We listened to these records all summer, and we’d be embarrassed if Mr. Auerbach came in while we were playing them!

 

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