OTG's Top Ten (and Other Commentary) For 2003


OPENING GIBBERISH

This is my 17th year-end review, and I hit a first this time out. Usually, I end up with fifteen to twenty serious candidates for the top ten and then I whittle it down from there. This year, I only had eight real obvious ones to start with and realized I'd overlooked a ninth, but number ten took some looking around. Very unusual.

This was a much better year for reissues than new releases, there were some superb reissue jobs done, from two killer Who titles, the first four Jefferson Airplane albums, the two original Television albums, and more.

One other note: in the track listings, the tracks marked in blue are hyperlinked to sound files from a site whose name rhymes with "Bamazon", so you can get a little peek at what some of this stuff sounds like.

Enjoy the list ...


GOODBYE

Warren Zevon survived six months longer than his doctors estimated, giving him enough time to see the birth of his grandchildren and complete a final album, The Wind. Zevon's career was a bit of a rollercoaster ride, with big highs and equally big lows. He started out as half of the folk-pop due Lyme & Cybelle in the sixties (Warren was "Lyme"), and recorded an early album that remained unreleased until after his major-label debut. Six years later, his solo career began for real with the acclaimed Warren Zevon and Excitable Boy albums and the hit "Werewolves Of London". By the early eighties, he was in rehab and without a record contract. In 1987, a now-sober Zevon's career was reborn with his best albums Sentimental Hygiene and Transverse City. By '96, Zevon was out of the business again, but pulled off another comeback in 2000 with the now-eerily titled Life'll Kill Ya. While "Werewolves" put Zevon on the map, it unfortunately pegged him to many as a one-hit wonder, with a novelty hit to boot. In reality, he was really the flip side of the mid-70s singer/songwriters, writing about dark subjects with a biting wit. He'll be missed.


CATALOG REISSUES

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Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane Reissue Review page.

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Television

Television Reissue Review page.

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Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon Reissue Review page.


REISSUES

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The Beatles
Let It Be... Naked

In 1968, the Beatles planned to record a self-produced, back-to-basics, recorded live-in-the-studio album to be titled Get Back with the recording sessions filmed for posterity. The results were a mess, and the film shows how close the Beatles were to self-destruction. They eventually abandoned the project and worked with long-time producer George Martin for their swan song Abbey Road. The Get Back tapes first went to producer Glyn Johns, but the results weren't deemed acceptable. Eventually, Phil Spector (legendary for his "wall of sound" production style) was chosen to sort through the hours of tape and come up with a final album. His version was released in 1970 as Let It Be, including some dialog snippets in between the tracks and string sections overdubbed, notably onto "The Long And Winding Road" and "Across The Universe". Paul McCartney was never happy with this version, and in 2002 started work on a revised version of the album, removing Phil Spector's overdubs and the dialog snippets and leaving just a plain studio record with the best songs from the Get Back sessions. The result is Let It Be... Naked. Apart from the removed strings and dialog, the running order has been changed and two "songs" ("Dig It" and "Maggie Mae") were dropped and "Don't Let Me Down" added. Let It Be... Naked really does sound like a simple studio album instead of the audio verité of the original. Sadly, what it also shows is that regardless of mix, this is the weakest album in the band's legendary canon. "Get Back", "Across The Universe", and "Let It Be" are gems, but the rest of the album just doesn't hold up with the Beatles usual level. Interesting listening for a fan of the original, but hardly a "must".

tracks: "Get Back", "Dig A Pony", "For You Blue", "The Long And Winding Road", "Two Of Us", "I've Got A Feeling", "One After 909", "Don't Let Me Down", "I Me Mine", "Across The Universe", "Let It Be"

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Electric Light Orchestra
ELO 2 (First Light Series Reissue)

The second ELO album, recorded after founder Roy Wood departed and left Jeff Lynne in charge, sounds like nothing else in the ELO catalog. It's a much harder-edged album, with the 10-minute-plus closer "Kuiama" and the two "Boogie" songs close to qualifying as "progressive rock". The only well known song here is ELO's version of Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven". Personally, I think this is a fantastic album, but if you're familiar with ELO's bigger hits, this may not be the best choice, 'cause it's a big departure from songs like "Turn To Stone" and "Don't Bring Me Down".

This reissue is based on the UK version of the album. The UK version used an edited 6-minute version of "Roll Over Beethoven" as opposed to the full 8-minute version that was included on the US version (titled Electric Light Orchestra II). Technically, the "full" version was a mistake - the edited version is what was intended, but the full version is far superior in my opinion.

The "First Light Series Reissue" adds a bonus CD of amazing material, a mix of radio sessions, alternate mixes, and run-throughs for songs that would appear on ELO's third album, On The Third Day. The huge surprise is a previously unreleased ELO song, "Everyone's Born To Die".

I found the use of the edited "Roll Over Beethoven" disappointing, but the bonus material is just stellar. If you're a fan of the album, get this.

tracks: "In Old England Town (Boogie No. 2)", "Momma", "Roll Over Beethoven", "From The Sun To The World (Boogie No. 1)", "Kuiama"

bonus tracks: "Showdown", "In Old England Town (Boogie No. 2)" [Instrumental], "Baby I Apologise", "Auntie (Ma-Ma-Ma Belle)" [Take 1], "Auntie (Ma-Ma-Ma Belle)" [Take 2], "Mambo (Dreaming Of 4000)" [Take 1], "Everyone's Born To Die", "Roll Over Beethoven" [Take 1], "From The Sun To The World (Boogie No. 1)" [BBC Session], "Momma" [BBC Session], "Roll Over Beethoven" [Single Version], "Showdown" [Take 1], "Your World" [Take 2], "Get A Hold Of Myself" [Take 2], "Momma" [Take 1], "Wilf's Solo", "Roll Over Beethoven" [BBC Session]

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Elton John
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (30th Anniversary Edition)

Elton's best work, the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, gets a fancy deluxe reissue for it's 30th birthday. The 30th Anniversary Edition splits the album back into two CDs to allow for some bonus tracks, and adds a DVD of the "Classic Albums" show about the album (note: This is an edited version of the show - the full episode is already available as a separate DVD).

The album is definitely Elton's best, along with the big hits "Bennie And The Jets", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting", there's also the later-day hit "Candle In The Wind" and the 11-minute FM staple "Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding" (my personal favorite of Elton's work). On top of that, several other tracks (notably "Harmony", "Grey Seal", "I've Seen That Movie Too" and "This Song Has No Title") could have easily been singles as well. If all you've heard are the "greatest hits" type albums, give this one a shot ... it's well worth it.

tracks: "Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding", "Candle In The Wind", "Bennie And The Jets", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "This Song Has No Title", "Grey Seal", "Jamaica Jerk-Off", "I've Seen That Movie Too", "Sweet Painted Lady", "The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-34)", "Dirty Little Girl", "All The Girls Love Alice", "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n' Roll)", "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting", "Roy Rogers", "Social Disease", "Harmony"

bonus tracks: "Whenever You're Ready (We'll Go Steady Again)", "Jack Rabbit", "Screw You (Young Man's Blues)", "Candle In The Wind" [acoustic version]

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Randy Newman
Randy Newman's Faust

Like last year's reissue of Good Old Boys, this reissue of Randy Newman's Faust comes as a double CD packaged with Newman's demo recordings of the project. The demos are fascinating listening ... you can see how the album evolved from original concept to the final result. What the demos offer is a chance to hear more songs with Randy Newman on lead vocals. Some of the demos are sung by a chorus, but if you were disappointed with some of the guest choices on the original (like I was), this'll give you a chance to hear it with just Newman. Faust isn't his best album, but it's still very good, and the demos are a treat.

tracks: "Glory Train", "Can't Keep A Good Man Down", "How Great Our Lord", "Best Little Girl", "Northern Boy", "Bless The Children Of The World", "Gainesville", "Relax, Enjoy Yourself", "Life Has Been Good To Me", "Little Island", "The Man", "My Hero", "I Gotta Be Your Man", "Feels Like Home", "Bleeding All Over The Place", "Sandman's Coming", "Happy Ending"

bonus tracks: "Pass On Over", "How Great Our Lord", "Each Perfect Day", "Best Little Girl", "It Was Beautiful", "Nothern Boy", "Bless The Children Of The World", "Damn Fine Day", "March Of The Protestants", "Little Island", "The Man", "Love Time", "Relax, Enjoy Yourself", "When Love Is In The Air", "Gainesville Florida", "Life Has Been Good To Me", "My Hero", "Hard Currency", "Sandman's Coming", "Basin Street Blues"

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The Who
Tommy (Deluxe Edition)

The Who's landmark Tommy album gets another reissue, this time done right. The last reissue cleaned up the sound, but added nothing new. This time around, the album has been mixed into 5.1 sound for a hybrid CD/SACD (so regular CD players get the regular stereo mix). The bonus disc is the revelation, made up of outtakes that have never surfaced on bootleg before, along with the proper studio version on "Young Man Blues" (the reissue of Odds And Sods used the wrong studio take by mistake). The "new" tracks, "I Was" and "Trying To Get Through" aren't really proper songs (the first is a little fanfare and the second is more of a short jam), but the alternate versions are fascinating.

This is the way to get Tommy, which really should be in any serious rock music collection.

tracks: "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "Eyesight To The Blind", "Christmas", "Cousin Kevin", "The Acid Queen", "Underture", "Do You Think It's Alright", "Fiddle About", "Pinball Wizard", "There's A Doctor I've Found", "Go To The Mirror Boy", "Tommy Can You Hear Me", "Smash The Mirror", "Miracle Cure", "Sensation", "Sally Simpson", "I'm Free", "Welcome", "Tommy's Holiday Camp", "We're Not Gonna Take It"

bonus tracks: "I Was", "Christmas" [Out-Take 3], "Cousin Kevin Model Child", "Young Man Blues", "Tommy Can You Hear Me" [Alternate Version], "Trying To Get Through", "Sally Simpson" [Out-Takes], "Miss Simpson", "Welcome" [Take 2], "Tommy's Holiday Camp" [Band's Version], "We're Not Gonna Take It" [Alternate Version], "Dogs Part Two", "It's A Boy" [Demo] - Pete Townshend, "Amazing Journey" [Demo] - Pete Townshend, "Christmas" [Demo] - Pete Townshend, "Do You Think It's Alright" [Demo] - Pete Townshend, "Pinball Wizard" [Demo] - Pete Townshend

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The Who
Who's Next (Deluxe Edition)

Who's Next gets the "deluxe edition" treatment, this time using the original master tapes for the album and adding a bonus live CD taken from the shows at The Young Vic in London where the band was working on the original "Lifehouse" concept. The second half of the show had been bootlegged as Lifehouse Live, however, this disc is taken from the entire show, but with the Tommy songs dropped to keep it on one CD.

Like Tommy, this should also be in any serious rock music collection.

(see my 1995 Review for a full review of the original Who's Next)

tracks: "Baba O'Riley", "Bargain", "Love Ain't For Keeping", "My Wife", "Song Is Over", "Getting In Tune", "Going Mobile", "Behind Blue Eyes", "Won't Get Fooled Again"

bonus tracks: "Baby Don't You Do It", "Getting In Tune", "Pure And Easy", "Water", "Behind Blue Eyes", "Won't Get Fooled Again"

bonus live disc: "Love Ain't For Keeping", "Pure And Easy", "Young Man Blues", "Time Is Passing", "Behind Blue Eyes", "I Don't Even Know Myself", "Too Much Of Anything", "Getting In Tune", "Bargain", "Water", "My Generation", "Roadrunner", "Naked Eye", "Won't Get Fooled Again"


LIVE ALBUMS

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Love with Arthur Lee
The Forever Changes Concert

Arthur Lee, backed by his new version of Love (with The Forever Changes String and Horn Ensemble) manage to pull off something I would have figured was next to impossible: a faithful yet vibrant live performance of Love's eclectic classic Forever Changes, complete with the proper string and horn arrangements. If you're a fan of the original album, you really need to hear this.

(see my 2001 Review for a full review of the original Forever Changes)

tracks: "Alone Again Or", "A House Is Not A Motel", "Andmoreagain", "The Daily Planet", "Old Man", "The Red Telephone", "Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale", "Live And Let Live", "The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This", "Bummer In The Summer", "You Set The Scene"

bonus tracks: "7 And 7 Is", "Your Mind And We Belong Together", "Orange Skies", "She Comes In Colors", "Listen To My Song", "August"

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Television
Live At The Academy NYC 12.4.92

Sold only at Television shows, Live At The Academy catches the band on their first reunion tour, playing mostly material from their self-titled third album. A stellar performance, with sound that's not quite up to usual live album standards, but still very good. If you're a big fan of the third album, grab this. If not, get the Live At The Old Waldorf: San Francisco, 6/29/78 (see the Television Reissue Review page for more on that one.)

tracks: "Intro", "1880 Or So", "This Tune", "Venus", "Beauty Trip", "No Glamour For Willi", "Call Mr. Lee", "Prove It", "The Rocket", "Rhyme", "In World", "Marquee Moon"

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Richard Thompson
1000 Years Of Popular Music

In 1999, Playboy Magazine asked Richard Thompson for his choices for the "ten greatest songs of the millenium". Of course, as with all these "best of the millenium" polls, they were really looking for the best songs of the pop era, or the best songs of the 20th century at most. Thompson waggishly sent in a more appropriate list, including songs going as far back as 1068 AD. Not surprisingly, Playboy didn't use Thompson's list, but it did inspire a live interpretation of the same idea.

Backed by percussionist Michael Jerome (and with occasional vocals from Judith Owen), Thompson kicks off the show with "Sumer Is Icumen In" from the mid-13th century and moves to the present day with a tongue-in-cheek cover of Britney Spears' "Oops! I Did It Again", before throwing in a few older tracks and closing with another 13th century song, "Marry, Ageyn Hic Hev Donne Yt".

An extremely clever concept, and done very very well. You wouldn't expect the material to be catchy, but Thompson's interpretations make the songs too much fun to ignore.

You can only buy 1000 Years Of Popular Music at Richard Thompson's web site, BeesWeb. (Direct link to info page)

tracks: "Sumer Is Icumen In", "King Henry V's Conquest Of France", "When I Am Laid In Earth", "So Ben Mi Ca Ben Tempo", "Shenandoah", "Blackleg Miner", "Waiting At The Church", "Trafalgar Square", "There Is Beauty ...", "Why Have My Loved Ones Gone?", "Old Rocking Chair's Got Me", "Orange-Coloured Sky", "Cry Me A River", "Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee", "The Fool", "A Legal Matter", "Tempted", "Kiss", "Oops! I Did It Again", "Sam Hall", "Money, Money, Money", "It Won't Be Long", "Marry, Ageyn Hic Hev Donne Yt"

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Pete Townshend
Live: BAM 1993

Originally broadcast as a pay-per-view special, Live: BAM 1993 is a great live performance of Pete Townshend's dramatically underrated Psychoderelict concept album, complete with the actors reprising their performances on the album in person. The second CD has most of the non-Psychoderelict songs (although in the actual concert, some were performed before Psychoderelict and some were performed after. Superb.

(see my 1993 Review [and scroll to the bottom] for a full review of the original Psychoderelict)

You can only buy Live: BAM 1993 from Eel Pie, Pete Townshend's commercial web site.

tracks: "English Boy", "Meher Baba M3", "Let's Get Pretentious", "Meher Baba M4 (Signal Box)", "Early Morning Dreams", "I Want That Thing", "Outlive The Dinosaur", "Meher Baba M4 (Signal Box)", "Flame (Demo)", "Now And Then", "I Am Afraid", "Psycho Montage", "Don't Try To Make Me Real", "Predictable", "Meher Baba M5 (Vivaldi)", "Fake It", "Now And Then (Reprise)", "Baba O'Riley" [Demo], "English Boy (Reprise)", "Pinball Wizard", "See Me, Feel Me", "Let My Love Open The Door", "Rough Boys", "Behind Blue Eyes", "The Kids Are Alright", "Keep Me Turning", "Eminence Front", "A Little Is Enough", "You Better You Bet", "Face The Face", "Won't Get Fooled Again / Let's See Action", "Magic Bus"

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Frank Zappa
Halloween

The second Frank Zappa "vault" release captures some of Frank's legendary New York Halloween shows in DVD audio format, presenting the show in 5.1 surround sound. Taken from several shows in 1978, Halloween shows his touring band in fine form, running through a diverse set mixing rarely played numbers like "Magic Fingers" and "Ancient Armaments" (this is the sole version of this song) with live staples like "Easy Meat", "Muffin Man", and "Black Napkins". The only gripe here at all is the length of the CD. The main concert recordings on the DVD run a little over an hour, but the original concerts ran to almost three hours.

Note that this is a DVD audio disc, not a CD/SACD hybrid, so Halloween will not play on conventional CD players.

tracks: "Ancient Armaments", "Dancin' Fool", "Easy Meat", "Magic Fingers", "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow", "Conehead", "Zeets", "Stink-Foot", "Dinah Moe Humm", "Camarillo Brillo", "Muffin Man", "Black Napkins / The Deathless Horsie"

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various artists
Concert For George

One year after George Harrison's passing, this concert was held as a tribute to George. This concert is a little different from similar tributes largely because everyone involved were close friends of George's. Essentially, this is George's extended family paying tribute to his music.

As you might expect, the show started off with traditional Indian music (a big favorite of George's) featuring Ravi Shankar's daughter Anoushka. The highlight of the first half for pop fans is hearing Jeff Lynne and Anoushka perform the Beatles' "The Inner Light".

The second half is a great selection of George's best songs (both Beatles and solo) given inspired performances by his friends. A terrific show with real heart.

tracks: "Sarve Sham" - Ravi Shankar, "Your Eyes (Sitar Solo)" - Anoushka Shankar, "The Inner Light" - Jeff Lynne and Anoushka Shankar, "Arpan" - Anoushka Shankar, "I Want To Tell You" - Jeff Lynne, "If I Needed Someone" - Eric Clapton, "Old Brown Shoe" - Gary Brooker, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)" - Jeff Lynne, "Beware Of Darkness" - Eric Clapton, "Here Comes The Sun" - Joe Brown, "That's The Way It Goes" - Joe Brown, "Taxman" - Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, "I Need You" - Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, "Handle With Care" - Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers with Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison, "Isn't It A Pity" - Billy Preston, "Photograph" - Ringo Starr, "Honey Don't" - Ringo Starr, "For You Blue" - Paul McCartney, "Something" - Paul McCartney & Eric Clapton, "All Things Must Pass" - Paul McCartney, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - Paul McCartney & Eric Clapton, "My Sweet Lord" - Billy Preston, "Wah-Wah" - Eric Clapton, "I'll See You In My Dreams" - Joe Brown


COMPILATION ALBUMS

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Big Star
Big Star Story

Big Star Story is an odd compilation, mixing studio recordings, live tracks from the recent Columbia reunion album (that had Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens playing with Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow), two of Chris Bell's solo tracks, and a brand new studio recording, "Hot Thing".

I love Big Star, especially their two classic albums, #1 Record and Radio City, but this compilation is basically a waste of time (which is very surprising given that Rhino put this out). The new track is nothing special, and frankly sounds very little like Big Star, and the odd mish-mash of sources makes this a poor best-of. Go get the single CD that has both #1 Record and Radio City on it and skip this.

tracks: "September Gurls", "Thank You Friends", "Don't Lie To Me", "The Ballad Of El Goodo", "Holocaust", "I Am The Cosmos" - Chris Bell, "In The Street", "You Get What You Deserve", "Thirteen", "You And Your Sister" - Chris Bell, "Back Of A Car", "Jesus Christ", "Mod Lang", "Baby Strange", "O, Dana", "Motel Blues", "Nightime", "Hot Thing"

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R.E.M.
In Time: The Best Of R.E.M. 1988-2003

Documenting R.E.M.'s years on Warner Brothers, In Time is a nice compilation of later R.E.M. tracks with two new songs added. "Animal" is pretty good (though not great), but "Bad Day" (an older song resurrected for this compilation) absolutely cooks and is one of the best things on the CD.

The bonus CD collects a number of non-album tracks, all but one of which were available on singles and soundtracks and the like. The new track is a terrific live version of "Country Feedback" from R.E.M.'s summer tour. All through the tour, the band took requests at their web site, and "Country Feedback" was a runaway #1 request. The version is terrific.

What In Time also shows very clearly is how some of R.E.M.'s best work in recent years has been their slower material, like "Everybody Hurts", "Nightswimming", "At My Most Beautiful", "Daysleeper", and of course "Losing My Religion". Overall, In Time is a good introduction to latter-day R.E.M. (with a few quibbles over song choice, naturally).

tracks: "Man On The Moon", "The Great Beyond", "Bad Day", "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?", "All The Way To Reno (You're Gonna Be A Star)", "Losing My Religion", "E-Bow The Letter", "Orange Crush", "Imitation Of Life", "Daysleeper", "Animal", "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite", "Stand", "Electrolite", "All The Right Friends", "Everybody Hurts", "At My Most Beautiful", "Nightswimming"

bonus tracks (Limited Edition only): "Pop Song 89" [Acoustic], "Turn You Inside-Out" [live], "Fretless", "Chance (Dub)", "It's A Free World, Baby", "Drive" [live], "Star Me Kitten" [featuring William S. Burroughs], "Revolution", "Leave" [alternate version], "Why Not Smile" [alternate version], "The Lifting" [Demo], "Beat A Drum" [Demo], "2JN", "The One I Love" [live], "Country Feedback" [live]

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Teenage Fanclub
Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds: A Short Cut To Teenage Fanclub

Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds is a very well-chosen best of Teenage Fanclub, taking only one song from their debut album ("Everything Flows") and really starting with their 1991 breakthrough Bandwagonesque. Three new songs (one from each songwriter) are added in, and they hold up extremely well with the other songs on here. A stellar collection, and a great introduction to their Byrds/Neil Young/Big Star-influenced power pop.

Oh, and yes, the CD really is 4,766 seconds long (that's 79 minutes, 26 seconds).

tracks: "The Concept", "Ain't That Enough", "The World'll Be OK", "Everything Flows", "Star Sign" [Expertly Edited Version], "Mellow Doubt", "I Need Direction", "About You", "What You Do To Me", "Empty Space", "Sparky's Dream", "I Don't Want Control Of You", "Hang On", "Did I Say", "Don't Look Back", "Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From", "Neil Jung", "Radio", "Dumb Dumb Dumb", "Planets", "My Uptight Life" [Expertly Edited Version]

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Paul Weller
Fly On The Wall: B Sides And Rarities

Fly On The Wall is a three disc collection of non-album Paul Weller tracks spanning his whole solo career. Most of these songs have shown up on Weller singles, so if you have all of those singles, this doesn't really offer many new songs. One clever twist: disc three, titled Button Downs in tribute to David Bowie's cover album Pin-Ups, contains all covers, ranging from Traffic's "Feelin' Alright" to Cher's "Bang-Bang" and a great take of John Lennon's "Instant Karma". For hard-core Weller fans only.

tracks: "Here's A New Thing", "That Spiritual Feeling", "Into Tomorrow" [Demo], "Arrival Time", "Fly On The Wall", "Always There To Fool You", "All Year Round", "Ends Of The Earth", "This Is No Time", "Another New Day", "Foot Of The Mountain", "Wild Wood" [Portishead Remix], "Kosmos" [Lynch Mob Bonus Beats Remix], "The Loved", "Steam", "It's A New Day, Baby", "A Year Late", "Eye Of The Storm", "Shoot The Dove", "As You Lean Into The Light", "So You Want To Be A Dancer", "Everything Has A Price To Pay", "Right Underneath It", "Helioscentric", "There's No Drinking, After You're Dead" [Noonday Underground Remix], "The Riverbank", "Science" [Lynch Mob Remix]

Button Downs: "Feelin' Alright", "Ohio", "Black Sheep Boy", "Sexy Sadie", "I Shall Be Released", "I'd Rather Go Blind", "My Whole World Is Falling Down", "Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City", "Waiting On An Angel", "Bang-Bang", "Instant Karma", "Don't Let Me Down"


Ummm... "ALTERNATIVE IMPORTS"

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Pete Townshend
The Genuine Scoop

The Genuine Scoop is a lavish FIVE disc set compiling over 100 of Pete Townshend's demo recordings. The sources are a mix of official releases (like Pete's Scoop albums) and bootlegs, with a few thrown in that seem to only appear on this set (so far, anyway) like "I Always Say", "Riot In The Femail Jail", and "Why Can't You See I'm Easy". The set's a little pricey, which makes it tough if all you're looking for are those new tracks. it'll be tough to justify the cost. However, I like having all of these demos in one place and the packaging is nice, so it was worth it for me.

For some reason, the Thunderclap Newman track "Accidents" ended up on here. Pete plays bass on the Thunderclap Newman album, so I'm betting this was just a bit of sloppiness on the compiler's part.

tracks: "My Generation", "It's Not True", "Circles", "Things Have Changed", "La La La Lies", "Call Me Lightning", "The Kids Are Alright", "I'm A Boy", "Do The Strip", "Kill My Appetite", "I Can See For Miles", "I Always Say", "Run Run Run", "Disguises", "Don't Look Away", "Politician", "So Sad About Us", "Happy Jack", "Substitute", "Pictures Of Lily", "Melancholia", "Magic Bus", "King Rabbit", "Lazy, Fat People", "Riot In The Female Jail", "Accidents" - Thunderclap Newman, "Dogs", "That Motherland Feeling", "Rael", "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "Christmas", "The Acid Queen", "Underture", "Do You Think It's Alright", "Pinball Wizard", "There's A Doctor I've Found", "Go To The Mirror Boy", "Success", "Tommy Can You Hear Me", "Smash The Mirror", "Sensation", "Miracle Cure", "Sally Simpson", "I'm Free", "Tommy's Holiday Camp", "Welcome", "We're Not Gonna Take It", "Mary Jane", "Why Can't You See I'm Easy", "Pure And Easy", "Teenage Wasteland", "Going Mobile", "Baba O'Riley", "Time Is Passing", "Love Ain't For Keeping", "Bargain", "Too Much Of Anything", "Greyhound Girl", "Mary", "Behind Blue Eyes", "I Don't Even Know Myself", "Getting In Tune", "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Song Is Over", "Let's See Action", "Join Together", "The Relay", "Put The Money Down", "Long Live Rock", "Love Reign O'er Me", "Is It In My Head", "I've Had Enough", "The Real Me", "Sea And Sand", "The Punk And The Godfather", "I'm One", "The Dirty Jobs", "Bell Boy", "Cut My Hair", "Drowned", "Slip Kid", "However Much I Booze", "Squeeze Box", "Girl In A Suitcase", "Fight Until You're Mine", "Keep On Turning", "Who Are You", "Love Is Coming Down", "New Song", "Sister Disco", "Never Ask Me", "I Like It The Way It Is", "Love Is Wine", "Broken Nails", "Keep On Working", "Guitar And Pen", "Music Must Change", "Empty Glass", "No Road Romance"


OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

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The Magic Band
Back To The Front

I'll confess that I was really skeptical about this idea. The Magic Band is made up of four alumni of various Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band lineups playing Beefheart's songs. For starters, the Captain's howling lead vocals should be impossible to recreate, and the chaotic feel to the songs would be tough to capture.

I'm not sure how, but they've actually pulled it off. John "Drumbo" French on drums and vocals doesn't sound quite like Beefheart, but his throaty growl fits in fine. Rounded out by Gary "Mantis" Lucas and Denny "Feelers Reebo" Walley on guitars and Mark "Rockette Morton" Boston on bass, the new Magic Band captures the spirit of the original band with an ease I never could have imagined.

The album, recorded as a live-to-tape rehearsal, focuses on Beefheart's earlier work from early songs like "Abba Zaba" and "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes, I Do" through "Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man". The lone late track is "The Floppy Boot Stomp", which is an easy highlight of the album. If you're a Beefheart fan, you really need to hear this. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

tracks: "My Human Gets Me Blues", "Click Clack", "Abba Zaba", "I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby", "Sun Zoom Spark", "Alice In Blunderland", "Steal Softly Thru Snow", "Dropout Boogie", "Moonlight On Vermont", "Circumstances", "On Tomorrow", "The Floppy Boot Stomp", "Hair Pie", "Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man", "When It Blows Its Stacks", "I Wanna Find A Woman That'll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have To Go", "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes, I Do"

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Randy Newman
The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1

The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 is not a live album per se, but it's darn close. The album has Newman running through a selection of his past material accompanied only by his piano (the same way he performs live). The results are stark renditions of some of Randy's best songs that puts the focus squarely on the songs and not on the arrangements. It's a must for fans, and it would be an interesting introduction for others.

tracks: "Dexter's Tune / Lonely At The Top", "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)", "Louisiana 1927", "Let Me Go", "Rednecks", "Avalon", "Living Without You", "I Think It's Going To Rain Today", "You Can Leave Your Hat On", "It's Money That I Love", "Marie", "When She Loved Me", "Sail Away", "The World Isn't Fair", "Political Science", "The Great Nations Of Europe", "In Germany Before The War", "Ragtime"

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Mike Oldfield
Tubular Bells 2003

Mike Oldfield revisits his original recording, with what was purported to be a note-for-note recreation of the original, just with new technology. It's close, but it's definitely not a recreation, it's simply a new rendition. The arrangement hasn't changed, but the feel is definitely different. John Cleese sits in for the late Vivian Stanshall on "Finale". I'm not sure I really see the point of the album.

Note: By popular demand, the CD is broken down into more than just "part one" and "part two", using Oldfield's working titles for the various sections of the piece.

tracks: "Introduction", "Fast Guitars", "Basses", "Latin", "A Minor Tune", "Blues", "Thrash", "Jazz", "Ghost Bells", "Russian", "Finale", "Harmonics", "Peace", "Bagpipe Guitars", "Caveman", "Ambient Guitars", "The Sailors Hornpipe"

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Lou Reed
The Raven

The Raven captures Lou Reed's score for the stage production of POEtry, along with readings of Poe's writing backed by rough textures from the band as backing. It's an adventurous, gutsy project, but it doesn't really work that well on CD (it may be better on stage). Definitely a hit-and-miss proposition.

In what almost seems like a concession, there is also a single-CD version of The Raven, with almost all of the Poe readings sections removed. The single CD is the better detail for a casual fan, but it's still worth hearing it before you buy.

tracks (Double-CD Edition): "The Conqueror Worm", "Overture", "Old Poe", "Prologue (Ligiea)", "Edgar Allan Poe", "The Valley Of Unrest", "Call On Me", "The City In The Sea / Shadow", "A Thousand Departed Friends", "Change", "The Fall Of The House Of Usher", "The Bed", "Perfect Day", "The Raven", "Balloon", "Broadway Song", "The Tell-Tale Heart Pt. 1", "Blind Rage", "The Tell-Tale Heart Pt. 2", "Burning Embers", "Imp Of The Perverse", "Vanishing Act", "The Cask", "Guilty" [Spoken], "Guilty" [Song], "A Wild Being From Birth", "I Wanna Know (The Pit And The Pendulum)", "Science Of The Mind", "Annabel Lee / The Bells", "Hop Frog", "Every Frog Has His Day", "Tripitena's Speech", "Who Am I? (Tripitena's Song)", "Courtly Orangutans", "Fire Music", "Guardian Angel"

tracks (Single-CD Edition): "Overture", "Edgar Allan Poe", "Call On Me", "The Valley Of Unrest", "A Thousand Departed Friends", "Change", "The Bed", "Perfect Day", "The Raven", "Balloon", "Broadway Song", "Blind Rage", "Burning Embers", "Vanishing Act", "Guilty" [Song], "I Wanna Know (The Pit And The Pendulum)", "Science Of The Mind", "Hop Frog", "Tripitena's Speech", "Who Am I? (Tripitena's Song)", "Guardian Angel"


THE TOP TEN FOR 2003
(in my gallingly less-than-humble opinion)

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#10
Steely Dan
Everything Must Go

As you might expect, Everything Must Go is very similar in feel to 2000's Two Against Nature, and almost as good. As always, the sound is smooth, jazzy rock, played and produced to perfection. "Green Book", "Pixeleen", "The Last Mall" and "Things I Miss The Most" are easily the highlights. Like Two Against Nature, grab this if you're a fan.

tracks: "The Last Mall", "Things I Miss The Most", "Blues Beach", "GodWhacker", "Slang Of Ages", "Green Book", "Pixeleen", "Lunch With Gina", "Everything Must Go"

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#9
Robyn Hitchcock
Luxor

After splitting with The Soft Boys again last year, Hitchcock goes back to his softer, acoustic side on Luxor. Not quite up to the standard of his first acoustic album, I Often Dream Of Trains, Luxor is still a very good album (especially "One L"), but is a bit of a disappointment after the stunning Soft Boys Nextdoorland album from 2002. Definitely worth picking up if you're a fan of Hitchcock's acoustic work.

tracks: "The Sound Of Sound", "One L", "Penelope's Angles", "The Idea Of You", "You Remind Me Of You", "Luxor", "Keep Finding Me", "Maria Lyn", "Round Song", "Ant Corridor", "Idonia", "The Wolf House", "Solpadeine"

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#8
King Crimson
The Power To Believe

King Crimson's first new studio album in three years picks up roughly where The ConstruKction Of Light left off, with the current quartet blasting out dark, mainly instrumental, tracks that sound like a hybrid of the "double trio" VROOOM/THRAK material and the power trio rock of Red. Powerful stuff.

tracks: "The Power To Believe I: A Cappella", "Level Five", "Eyes Wide Open", "ElektriK", "Facts Of Life: Intro", "Facts Of Life", "The Power To Believe II", "Dangerous Curves", "Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With", "The Power To Believe III", "The Power To Believe IV: Coda"

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#7
Stereophonics
You Gotta Go There To Come Back

You Gotta Go There To Come Back continues the evolution started on 2001's Just Enough Education To Perform and if anything, shifts the balance even further towards quieter songs. There are still some loud tracks on here like "Help Me" and "Madame Helga", but the bulk of the album is taken up by slower, more elegant songs like "Maybe Tomorrow" and "Getaway" and the laid-back feel of "Climbing The Wall".

tracks: "Help Me (She's Out Of Her Mind)", "Maybe Tomorrow", "Madame Helga", "You Stole My Money Honey", "Getaway", "Climbing The Wall", "Jealousy", "I'm Alright (You Gotta Go There To Come Back)", "Nothing Precious At All", "Rainbows And Pots Of Gold", "I Miss You Now", "High As The Ceiling", "Since I Told You It's Over"

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#6
Richard Thompson
The Old Kit Bag

Richard Thompson's first album in four years is a mix of intense rockers like "Jealous Words", I'll Tag Along" and "Pearly Jim", should-be hits like "She Said It Was Destiny", and emotional, dramatic songs like "Gethsemane" and "A Love You Can't Survive". A chilling highlight of the album is "Outside Of The Inside", a song about the West written from a fundamentalist Muslim's point of view. A gutsy lyric, especially given Thompson is also a Muslim.

On The Old Kit Bag, keeps the cleaner sound of his last album, 1999's Mock Tudor. Thompson is backed only by a bassist and drummer (with an occasional second vocalist). The sparse arrangements lets the songs (and Thompson stellar guitar work) shine through. Another superb album from a vastly underrated songwriter.

tracks: "Gethsemane", "Jealous Words", "I'll Tag Along", "A Love You Can't Survive", "One Door Opens", "First Breath", "She Said It Was Destiny", "I've Got No Right To Have It All", "Pearly Jim", "Word Unspoken, Sight Unseen", "Outside Of The Inside", "Happy Days And Auld Lang Syne"

bonus tracks: "So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo", "Kiss"

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#5
Eels
Shootenanny!

Essentially an E solo album (long-time drummer Butch only plays on part of the album), Shootenanny! (a term coined by E for a shooting spree), is a return to the core Eels sound, away from the grunge of 2001's Souljacker. "Saturday Morning" is a catchy rocker sung from a kid's point of view, and "Rock Hard Times" has E's usual bleak outlook, but the best thing on here is the chilling "Restraining Order Blues", sung from the point of view of an obsessive stalker. It's creepy, but it's a great song. If Souljacker put you off Eels, this is the album that should bring you back into the fold.

tracks: "All In A Day's Work", "Saturday Morning", "The Good Old Days", "Love Of The Loveless", "Dirty Girl", "Agony", "Rock Hard Times", "Restraining Order Blues", "Lone Wolf", "Wrong About Bobby", "Numbered Days", "Fashion Awards", "Somebody Loves You"

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#4
Warren Zevon
The Wind

In September of 2002, Warren Zevon announced that he had inoperable lung cancer and less than six months to live. His reaction was to go into the studio to try to complete one more album. As usual for Zevon, a host of big name guests came down to play on the record, including Jackson Browne, Mike Campbell, Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, Jim Keltner, David Lindley, Tom Petty, Timothy B. Schmit, Tommy Shaw, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bob Thornton, Joe Walsh, Dwight Yoakam, Warren's son Jordan, and long-time collaborator Jorge Calderón. Zevon beat the odds, survived the cancer for a year, just long enough to finish the album and see its release.

The Wind will probably show up on a number of year-end best lists simply out of respect for Warren's career, but the album is really worthy of the priase. As you'd probably expect, it's a very personal album with less of Zevon's usual sense of humor. However, given what was going on in Zevon's life, it's suprisingly not depressing. The highlights include the rocking "Disorder In The House" (featuring a gritty guitar solo from Bruce Springsteen), the sentimental "She's Too Good For Me" (written to Zevon's ex-wife), the self-analytical "My Dirty Life And Times" and "Numb As A Statue", a beautiful cover of Bob Dylan's "Knocking On Heaven's Door" (complete with Zevon singing "open up! open up!" near the end), and the touching closer "Keep Me In Your Heart".

It's rare that an artist has a chance to say goodbye, and Zevon did it in style.

tracks: "Dirty Life And Times", "Disorder In The House", "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", "Numb As A Statue", "She's Too Good For Me", "Prison Grove", "El Amor De Mi Vida", "The Rest Of The Night", "Please Stay", "Rub Me Raw", "Keep Me In Your Heart"

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#3
Amy Rigby
Til The Wheels Fall Off

Rigby's fourth studio album is her best yet, although the style isn't much different from her first three. She combines pop, rock, and folk music with clever, witty lyrics about, well, life after 30. Highlights include the wistful "Don't Ever Change" and the wry "Why Do I", although the two best songs on here are a contradictory pair. The first, the Beach Boys-flavored "The Deal" is about giving up on real love and just being with someone, and the following song, "O'Hare", is a plea to a long-time friend to finally start a relationship. The lyrics are probably too "grown-up" to actually catch on with a large mainstream audience, but this is a great album.

tracks: "Why Do I", "Til The Wheels Fall Off", "Shopping Around", "Don't Ever Change", "Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?", "The Deal", "O'Hare", "How People Are", "Even The Weak Survive", "Last Request", "Here We Go Again", "Breakup Boots", "Believe In You", "All The Way To Heaven"

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#2
The White Stripes
Elephant

After all the attention given to The White Stripes after the success of White Blood Cells, I was curious to hear how the followup would turn out. Elephant is a fantastic album, and isn't simply a rehash of White Blood Cells. The album opens loud and nasty with "Seven Nation Army" and "Black Math", "Ball And Biscuit" is the best blues song they've recorded, and they still show a playful side with the tongue-in-cheek closer "Well It's True That We Love Each Other", featuring Holly Golightly singing with Jack and Meg White. Meg also gets a lead vocal on the charming "In The Cold, Cold, Night". There isn't an obvious single like "Fell In Love With A Girl" on here, but Elephant is overall the better album. Check this out.

tracks: "Seven Nation Army", "Black Math", "There's No Home For You Here", "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself", "In The Cold, Cold, Night", "I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother's Heart", "You've Got Her In Your Pocket", "Ball And Biscuit", "The Hardest Button To Button", "Little Acorns", "Hypnotize", "The Air Near My Fingers", "Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine", "Well It's True That We Love Each Other"

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#1
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Greendale

Neil Young seems to thrive by doing things no-one would expect, and he's done it again. Greendale is an ambitious concept album, and while the dreaded term "rock opera" has been avoided, that's really what we're talking about. The lyrics on Greendale link together to tell the story of the Green family and how their lives are thrown into chaos by the killing of a police officer. The CD also comes with a bonus DVD of Young performing the whole suite solo on acoustic guitar, with spoken interludes that help flesh out the story.

Rumor has it that this was Crazy Horse's first complete take of Greendale, and Young decided to go with that instead of polishing the songs over and over. Backed only by Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina (guitarist "Poncho" Sampedro isn't on the album, although he toured with the band for the Greendale tour dates), Greendale has a rough, loose, sound that really feels almost like a live album.

The songs on Greendale are simply amazing. They're mostly fairly long, but the groove is irresistable. It opens and closes with epic rockers "Falling From Above" and the pair of "Sun Green" and "Be The Rain". Along the way, you get a little blues ("Double E"), a little boogie ("Devil's Sidewalk") and haunting, stark ballads ("Bandit" and "Bringin' Down Dinner").

I always hate to come to this kind of conclusion with a new release, but it's quite possible that Greendale is the best thing Neil Young's ever done. This is a spectacular album.

tracks: "Falling From Above", "Double E", "Devil's Sidewalk", "Leave The Driving", "Carmichael", "Bandit", "Grandpa's Interview", "Bringin' Down Dinner", "Sun Green", "Be The Rain"


PAST YEARS' BESTS

Just click on the album cover to see that year's reviews.

2002: The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots2001: Manic Street Preachers - Know Your Enemy2000: The Dandy Warhols - Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia1999: Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin1998: Eels - Electro-Shock Blues1997: Paul Weller - Heavy Soul1996: Bob Mould - Bob Mould1995: Oasis - (What's The Story) Morning Glory?1994: Paul Weller - Wild Wood1993: Pete Townshend - Psychoderelict1992: Roger Waters - Amused To Death1991: Richard Thompson - Rumor And Sigh1990: Lou Reed and John Cale - Songs For Drella1989: Bob Mould - Workbook1988: R.E.M. - Green1987: Marillion - Clutching At Straws
Comments? Send 'em to me.

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