By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
Where were you when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show? When you first heard the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K."? When Bono waved that friggin' white flag and yawlped, "This is not a rebel song"?
Or when you encountered your first bootleg album? For record collectors, that was the moment when an entire, previously unenvisioned universe winked open, and your heroes would never appear quite the same again.
For me, it happened sometime around '74 or '75. I was off at college, and while I'd read about these illicit gems -- most notoriously, Bob Dylan's Great White Wonder collection of Basement Tapes and the Rolling Stones' Liver Than You'll Ever Be document of the '69 tour (it prompted the band to issue its official Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out live album) -- I'd never actually fitted my paws around one. One afternoon, wandering down Chapel Hill's main drag, I stuck my head in a small business that doubled as a record emporium and head shop. As I browsed through some albums located, significantly, in nondescript boxes beneath the main bins, I chanced upon a pair of favorite-band titles I'd never heard of: Golden Eggs, by the Yardbirds, and Who's Zoo, by (natch) the Who. Each bore intriguingly reverse-anthropomorphic cartoon depictions of the artists in question, the Yardbirds as freshly hatched baby chicks being menaced by a henhouse-invading fox, the members of the 'oo as four morose-looking caged beasts. Significantly, both records were loaded with unreleased songs. And it slowly dawned on me that there was a lot of material that either the artists or their record companies, ever the careful image cultivators, didn't necessarily intend for me to hear.
An obsession was born. A quarter-century later, I'm here to tell ya, pal, that you can keep your Napsters, Gnutellas and Diamond Rios. In 2000, real collectors cared naught of MP3 gewgaws because the bootleggers kept us very busy, and very happy, indeed.
1. The Beatles, Thirty Days: The Ultimate Get Back Sessions Collection (Vigotone) As this 17-disc (pro-CD-R) box was scrupulously detailed in the October 26 issue of New Times, I'll just add a few side comments. The Vigotone label has ascended to the top ranks of contemporary bootleggers not only by ignoring conventional wisdom that claims collectors are satisfied just to hear the music, but by indulging outrageously elaborate -- and costly -- productions that surpass the reissue efforts of practically everyone out there with the exception of Germany's Bear Family. (It's no secret that the astute archivists at Sony, Sundazed and Rhino sometimes take their musical and artistic cues from bootleggers.) Earlier this year, Vigotone turned a lot of industry heads with its 26-disc Jewels and Binoculars box purporting to be the end-all/be-all documentation of Dylan's 1966 studio and concert exploits. Here, you get close to 20 hours' worth of the Beatles' January '69 sessions that gave the world Let It Be. Much of this had already made the rounds of collectors' circles; earlier in the year, the Yellow Dog label offered its own eight-CD look at the January 1-15 period (The Twickenham Sessions), and Vigotone itself has covered the '69 material to an extent on previous titles. Still, Vigotone has done an impressive job in terms of selecting the most interesting and significant moments, remastering the (mono) studio tapes, and packaging Thirty Days in a handsome 11" x 11" box complete with an exhaustively annotated 50-page book. Price? Get back, Jo Jo! Plan on five bills, minimum. (If you don't fancy making a visit to your local loan shark, one less comprehensive option would be Get Back Glynis, on the Secret Trax label, a double disc touting the "early Glyn Johns remixes" and the "final Glyn Johns remixes" of Let It Be -- then called Get Back prior to Phil Spector's unfortunate involvement -- material.)
2. Beach Boys, Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 17: Smile Sessions (Sea of Tunes) Elaborate even by this Beach Boys specialty label's general high standards, this three-CD box collects fascinating studio outtakes, unreleased songs and fragments of material from the aborted '66-'67 Smile project. (The box comes on the heels of Vol. 16 in the Sea of Tunes BB series, an 18-cut envisioning, via mostly finished takes, of what might have become of Smile, generally acknowledged as the most legendary unreleased album in history.) A massive, informative 112-page book also appears in the 9" x 6" box.
3. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Live/1975-88 (Orange) First came the CBS Live/1975-85 Bruce box. Then came the bootleggers' response, the two-CD 75-85: The Outtakes, which was precisely what it claimed: material recorded for but left off the official set. Now comes the ultimate elaboration, a flawless-sounding four-disc (pro CD-Rs) box, tapes also direct from the source (how do folks get their hands on this stuff?), and extending its purview by three years to include selections from a pair of '88 Tunnel of Love concerts, July 25 in Copenhagen and July 14 in Basel, respectively. Included is a colorful 12-page booklet with track listings and commentary.
4. Van Morrison, The Genuine Philosophers Stone (Scorpio) 2000 seemed to be a banner year for raiding the vaults (the aforementioned Beatles, Bruce and Beach Boys; a Traffic title, Low Spark of High Heeled Sessions; the Band's Academy of Outtakes collection of material originally recorded for Rock of Ages). Ditto Scorpio's three-CD Morrison collection, an alternate peek at the artist's unreleased archives (Them BBC sessions, '68-'69 demos and more), suggesting that Van has a wealth of material to consider if he ever gets around to issuing Philosophers Stone Vol. 2. The packaging itself is worth noting, a trifold mini-LP sleeve with individual slipcases for each disc and a nice booklet featuring a Morrison interview.