Not so surprisingly, the weeks leading up to the holidays have yielded a bounty of reissues, box sets and archival releases.
There’s the usual grab bag of expanded albums, deep-dive anniversary celebrations, unearthed lost treasures and dusted-off vault recordings in the below roundup of fall 2021 releases.
Some big names check in: The Band, David Bowie and Joni Mitchell offer new box sets that follow successful collections from recent years tying up specific periods in the artists’ careers. Cat Stevens and Frank Zappa also continue to expand their catalog albums with deluxe anniversary sets that put their eras into sharper focus.
Meanwhile, David Crosby, Radiohead and the Replacements mark milestone records with additional demos, outtakes and live tracks, while box sets by Billy Joel and Elvis Presley chart, in Joel’s case, the start of a career and, in Presley’s, the final stretch of a legendary life.
The Band, Cahoots 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition
What It Is: The Band’s fourth album is expanded to three discs (two CDs, one Blu-ray) for its golden anniversary. The original LP – remixed and remastered here – tags on bonus tracks and live cuts recorded around the same time.
What’s on It: A May 1971 live show from the Olympia in Paris is cut short, but classic Band cuts “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “The Unfaithful Servant” and “Chest Fever” are all here. Instrumental versions of LP songs fill out the second disc.
Best Song You Know: Cahoots includes favorites like the single “Life Is a Carnival,” a rousing cover of Bob Dylan‘s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and “4% Pantomime,” co-written with Van Morrison, who also shares lead vocals with Richard Manuel.
Best Song You Don’t Know: Bonus tracks include early studio takes (“Endless Highway”), an alternate “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and the outtake “Bessie Smith.” But check out the remixed “Life Is a Carnival” for a taste of the punchier sound.
David Bowie, Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001)
What It Is: The fifth box set to collect David Bowie’s career output spans the decade that included 1993’s Black Tie White Noise through 1999’s Hours. It’s not a revered period, but this 11-CD box provides insight to this unjustly neglected era.
What’s on It: In addition to the studio LPs Black Tie White Noise, The Buddha of Suburbia, Outside, Earthling and Hours, there’s a two-CD BBC set and three discs of singles, radio edits, soundtracks and alternate versions. Plus an unreleased album!
Best Song You Know: “Jump They Say,” Black Tie White Noise‘s lead single, is one of Bowie’s best post-’80s songs; so is “I’m Afraid of Americans” from Earthling. Both tracks show up multiple times throughout Brilliant Adventure in various edits and forms.
Best Song You Don’t Know: Toy, an album that includes songs Bowie first cut in the ’60s and updated for the new century, was recorded and set for release in 2001 but was eventually shelved. The 12-track LP finally sees an official release here. Worth the wait.
David Crosby, If I Could Only Remember My Name (50th Anniversary Edition)
What It Is: The 1971 solo debut by David Crosby followed stints with the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, and marked an independent turn for the spiritually evolving singer-songwriter. Wordless, free-flowing tracks dominate his still-best solo record.
What’s on It: The two-CD 50th-anniversary edition of If I Could Only Remember My Name adds an entire disc – almost an hour’s worth – of previously unreleased recordings, including demos and alternate versions of some of the album’s songs.
Best Song You Know: “Laughing” was written at the same time CSN were recording, and even includes guitar and backing vocals by Graham Nash. Joni Mitchell and three members of the Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia plays pedal steel) are here, too.
Best Song You Don’t Know: “Riff 1 (Demo)” kicks off the second disc of previously unreleased tracks and pretty much encapsulates the album in less than two and a half minutes. The spare, intimate demos collected here serve as road maps and blueprints.
Billy Joel, The Vinyl Collection, Vol. 1
What It Is: Billy Joel’s first six studio albums, collected in a lavish vinyl box set, chart his evolution from struggling singer-songwriter to one of the world’s best-selling artists. The live Songs From the Attic and a new concert set are here, too.
Best Song You Know: The autobiographical “Piano Man” has long been Joel’s signature song, and it’s the anchor on The Vinyl Collection, which has been sourced from the original album tapes.
Best Song You Don’t Know: The previously unreleased and exclusive double LP Live at The Great American Music Hall – 1975 is the big draw for fans. It includes Joel’s earliest songs, like “New York State of Mind,” which turned up a year later on Turnstiles.
Joni Mitchell, Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971)
What It Is: The second volume of Joni Mitchell’s Archives series covers the three early years in which she recorded for Reprise Records. The classic albums Clouds, Ladies of the Canyon and Blue are all part of the time span this five-disc box includes.
What’s on It: Previously unreleased demos, live tracks and studio sessions offer intimate looks at this pivotal period in Mitchell’s life – from tracks recorded at home to alternate versions and outtakes from the career-making Blue era.
Best Song You Know: “River” made it onto 1971’s Blue, “Urge for Going” didn’t and both remain among Mitchell’s all-time best songs. The versions included here add French horns and strings, respectively, giving new layers of warmth to them.
Best Song You Don’t Know: In March 1968, Jimi Hendrix set up his tape recorder during Mitchell’s performance in Ontario. The songs he captured reveal an artist beginning to find her voice. “The Dawntreader” (from her debut LP) is the highlight.
Elvis Presley, Elvis Back in Nashville
What It Is: Four discs chronicle Elvis Presley’s last recording sessions in Nashville, including songs that ended up on the Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas album and the 1972 gospel record He Touched Me.
What’s on It: Even though the 82 songs here were recorded in 1971 – Presley and his band performed everything live in the studio – many of the tracks didn’t show up until later. The Christmas LP was released in 1971, but other cuts had to wait a couple years.
Best Song You Know: Presley recorded a cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time for You to Go” in May 1971, and a single was released the following January. It made it to No. 40 and remains a highlight of this often-ignored period.
Best Song You Don’t Know: All the tracks on Elvis Back in Nashville are included in their original forms, so none of the later orchestrations and overdubbed vocals are here. A raw early take of the 1971 single “I’m Leavin'” is especially energized.
Radiohead, Kid A Mnesia
What It Is: Radiohead not only reinvented themselves on their 2000 album Kid A and its 2001 companion record Amnesiac, they also reworked popular music for a new century. This three-disc set adds a record of alternate takes, B-sides and unreleased cuts.
What’s on It: The two albums have always sounded like a single piece when listened together. Kid A Mnesis makes this even more clear. And third disc Kid Amnesiae collects leftovers and sketches that paint an even wider portrait of these classics.
Best Song You Know: Kid A‘s “Idioteque” remains a highlight of the band’s catalog, pointing the direction for a brave new electronic world. “Everything in Its Right Place” and “Pyramid Song” (plus several others) still sound like little else out there.
Best Song You Don’t Know: “If You Say the Word” has never been released before and is a standout track on the disc of bonus songs. “Follow Me Around,” on the other hand, was played live, but the studio outtake brings whole new levels to the track.
The Replacements, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash: 40th Anniversary
What It Is: By the mid ’80s, the Replacements were being heralded as the greatest rock band on the planet. They never lived up to the hype – and a big part of that had to do with their knack for self-sabotage. This is where it all started, their scrappy, messy debut.
What’s on It: This four-disc expansion for the album’s 40th anniversary tags on demos, outtakes, alternate versions and a concert from their Minneapolis hometown recorded seven months before Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash came out.
Best Song You Know: “Takin a Ride” and “Shiftless When Idle” revealed the Replacements’ dichotomy, even this early on. The former is a typically sloppy two-minute punk song, while Paul Westerberg hints at his melodic pop heart on the latter.
Best Song You Don’t Know: A studio demo of “I Hate Music” comes from a disc of early recordings that tried to wrangle the band’s penchant for volume and speed. They’d clean up a bit as the decade went on, but they never truly abandoned their punk roots.
Yusuf / Cat Stevens, Teaser and the Firecat 50th Anniversary Edition
What It Is: The deluxe-edition box set of Cat Stevens’ 1971 album is loaded: four CDs, a Blu-ray, double vinyl album and a 7″ single. Like the breakthrough Tea for the Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat was a hit and an essential record in his catalog.
What’s on It: Disc two includes demos, alternate versions and rehearsals; disc three is filled with BBC performances; and the fourth CD is a live show from Montreux in May 1971. The Blu-ray features HD audio and videos.
Best Song You Know: Take your pick – Teaser and the Firecat is loaded with some of Stevens’ best songs. “Peace Train,” “The Wind” and “Morning Has Broken” are all here in remastered form, overseen by original producer (and Yardbird) Paul Samwell-Smith.
Best Song You Don’t Know: A 1970 studio demo of “Moonshadow” – a hit single from the original LP – was recorded before the release of Stevens’ two albums that year, Tillerman and the earlier Mona Bone Jakon. This performance offers an intimate glimpse.
Frank Zappa, 200 Motels 50th Anniversary Edition
What It Is: Frank Zappa’s 1971 album was billed as a soundtrack to a movie of the same name, but it more resembles Zappa’s musical mindset during this era. 200 Motels was sandwiched between a pair of live records and sounds like a brief excursion.
What’s on It: The original double album is expanded to six discs in this new “50th Anniversary Edition.” Demos, outtakes, interviews, work mixes and even an early audio edit of the movie are included in this collector-friendly box set.
Best Song You Know: There’s not much here – despite 34 tracks found on the original 1971 LP – that stands out in Zappa’s catalog. There are suites, orchestral pieces and comedy numbers, but the highlight is the ambitious 11-minute closer “Strictly Genteel.”
Best Song You Don’t Know: The chugging rocker “Mystery Roach,” another album highlight, slips into the work-in-progress “Dialog Protection Reels” found on the box’s third disc. The raw mix particularly suits the number.