“Reissue, repackage, pack them into different sleeves, satiate the need...” Morrissey sang back in 1987 on The Smiths effortlessly quotable classic ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’. And few people have been repackaged as often - or needlessly as The Smiths. In fact, the last four ‘new’ Smiths albums have been titled... “The Best of....I”, “The Best of.... II”, “The Singles”, and “The Very Best Of”. Nice. Even Morrissey had to order “The Very Best Of” over the Internet to see what Warner Bros Music had done to his best work. Maybe they didn’t send it to him because they were (secretly) ashamed of the shameless pillage of a great body of work for easy money. But not so ashamed to give it away. You pay £13.99 for the pleasure of owning songs you have already got.
Everybody’s doing it... why can’t we? The last four albums by members of Pink Floyd - “Pulse - live”, “In The Flesh - live”, “The Wall - live”, and “Echoes - the best of” have contained not one new song, merely best ofs, most ofs, and numerous unnecessary live versions of old songs. Each one of the above albums contains “Another Brick In The Wall”. and “Comfortably Numb”, by the way.
Silvertone, that most despicable of labels, managed to get a total of five compilation albums out The Stone Roses 18 month, 24 song recording career with them. That’s a b-sides album, a “best of” culled from their five official singles and the six unapproved singles the band didn't want released (including three remixed reissues of Fools Gold), a “demos” album not even worth the CD it’s pressed on, a double CD remastered with booklet & CD-ROM/b-sides box set, and an album of vomitable remixes by ’contemporary’ hitmakers 808 State, and the Utah Saints. Hopefully the risibly small sales of that one have shown them the error of their ways. Shame they didn’t actually release a Stone Roses live album though. That might have actually been worth listening to.
It costs money and takes time and effort to record an album of new material. And then you need to make videos. Which costs money. Often far far more than the record itself costs to make. Even in 1993, The Wonder Stuff’s ’On the Ropes’ video costs more to make than the whole album, at a measly £63,000. Metallica’s recent video cost over £1million. Missy Elliot’s video cost about £2.5million. That works out at about £600,000 a minute - about the cost of your average Hollywood blockbuster.
It’s far easier to simply stick all the old hit singles (and the odd rarity to grab the completist) onto a CD just in time for Christmas. Jaded? Cynical? Well, instead of say, gathering all those b-sides and releasing them on their own CD a year later, why not just pack a “limited edition bonus rarities CD” in as well. This will either be old b-sides, unreleasable out-takes, or a castrated version of a tacky gig. Save the rest for the inevitable boxset.
Hell, if the band are still going get maybe one or two new (or preferably old, unused songs) and get them as bait to draw in the more committed fan. get the old VHS tapes out of the archive, smack them onto a DVD, find some old interview footage (there, that’ll do for extras) and stuff it into the shops. Now, go and buy it! Aren’t you lucky to access special DVD-ROM weblinks? (if you have a special several hundred pound PC running W*ndows X*). Nope. You know, you can get four hours onto a single DVD. The Cure “Greatest Hits” managed to contain a total of 18 or 19 songs. That means there’s more videos they didn’t include than actually on the DVD, but won’t. Well, not until a special deluxe edition is reissued in a few years no doubt.
Money for old rope. Easypeasy. And some bands have no control over this anymore. The most recent “best of” albums by Motorhead, Pop Will Eat Itself, Neds Atomic Dustbin, Carter USM, happy Mondays, and Morrissey seem to have been stuck together by a bored record company employee with a DAT player, the old albums, and a copy of Photoshop. In fact, the first one of the members one of these bands knew about their latest “Best Of” album was when I showed it to him over a drink.
Instead of thinking about what people who buy music might want - for example, an album of long-deleted b-sides, compilation tracks, and other rarities (for example, there are about 22 not-on-any-album Carter songs, or about the same number of Pop Will Eat Itself songs, and at least 29 Morrissey songs) that will sell steadily to fans and enable the long-awaited ’cultural reappraisal’ that nostalgia brings, the bigwigs reheat old album tracks and throw on the first thing that they can think of.
Maybe, just maybe, in a few years time, if say, critical acclaim has grown enough to rate these bands far better than the NME did when the latest bunch of spunky upstarts turned up, we’ll get a box set. An awkwardly compiled set of live crap, redubbed rejects, old mono rehearsals, and remastered tosh, all hopelessly un-chronological, complete with gushing sleevenotes and Previously! Unseen! Exclusive! Pictures! I can hardly contain my boredom. Though you can bet I’ll buy it at a quarter of the price after the Christmas sales.
In some respects these things are nice - a way of collecting up all the old stuff you couldn’t afford to buy at the time in a flashy box. Inevitably though, these things are done in a half-assed fashion. Someone always forgets some hidden gem that’s been long-deleted. (As a matter of fact the “complete recordings of “ Joy Division box set managed to omit a total of 52 songs that have been released - about 20 songs that had come out, alongside an 11 song unreleased “Warsaw” album, a 8 song Peel Sessions CD, and 23 songs-over-two CD’s worth of live material, later released on a semi-legal label in your local high street).
The track listing is normally so out-of-order as to be virtually unlistenable, hastily thrown together with none of the care of the original recordings, (I’ve got it, lets put the a track on the 1987 Pink Floyd album next to a track on the first one, recorded 20 years before, with a completely different lineup that only share a drummer). That’ll sound great! Unless of course, you’re actually listening to it. And of course these won’t be cheap. Echoes by Pink Floyd sells for £17. I've got a bike. It's a very nice bike with bells and horns and knobs on. And the record company executive bought with the money you stumped up for something you already own. Pop WILL eat itself.
On top of all this, there’s also the “remastered! reissued! rereleased!” versions of old classics. In new, crap sleeves, with rubbish sleeve liner notes, and reproductions of the original artwork hastily copied from the original CD and poorly reprinted. And a whole host of unreleased “bonus” tracks, so any devotee must buy them all over again. The recent James reissues manage to spread about 20 unreleased live tracks across 4 full-price CD’s. The same reissues manage to omit the obscure, and very very rare “One Man Clapping” live album. Something actually worth reissuing.
Cheers, mate. Won’t be buying those. I don’t think I need two copies of the fairly crappy “Whiplash”.
OK, I own some of these albums I mention above. I know, I know. I’m collaborating with the Enemy. But you take what you can get. Even if you can’t always get what you want. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?