The Sound and the Fury

February 6, 2020

Cherry Picking


A record label in England is compiling less obvious collector’s sets

BOX SETS ARE THE BIG TICKEt item of the music industry. And 2019 saw the release of a lot of lavish sets by the likes of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Elvis, David Bowie, and a 38-disc set documenting the Woodstock festival.

But there’s a record label in England that’s been busy compiling sets spotlighting less obvious choices. Like the Animals — not in their “House of the Rising Sun” heyday, but the years they spent signed to MGM. Or the Alan Parsons Project — not the platinum selling I Robot, but the vintage ’80s release Ammonia Avenue. And who — in the U.S. at least — remembers UK act the Honeycombs, let alone that they released three albums?

Look to Cherry Red Records to fill that gap. Cherry Red started in the 1970s as a concert promotion company in Great Malvern, Worcestershire (“the most unlikely of places,” according to the company’s official bio). In 1978, excited by the punk rock emerging in the British Isles, Cherry Red became a record label, its first release being the single “Bad Hearts”/“It”/“Cracked.” The subsequent decade saw the release of records by Blancmange, the Monochrome Set, the Marine Girls, and Tracey Thorn, in addition to licensed records by U.S. acts like the Runaways and the Dead Kennedys.

Over time, Cherry Red became increasingly involved with reissues. Currently, the company oversees numerous imprints putting out reissues from a wide range of genres: post-punk to ’70s funk to reggae to prog to metal, and a multitude of other stops in between.

“We have many freelance A&R guys, many of whom run their own imprint labels through Cherry Red that specialize in one genre or style,” explains Matt Ingham, Cherry Red’s publicist. “These guys are the brains of the operation! They know their own stuff so well, and we rely on their expertise. They pick and choose what they’d like to reissue and where there’s a market or a gap in people’s collections. The rest of us at Cherry Red support them with the licensing, marketing, manufacturing, distribution, and promotion.”

And despite indications otherwise, physical media remains very much in demand. “If you read the mainstream media, certainly in the UK, you would think the CD is dead,” Matt says. “The reality is far from it — despite a rise in streaming, it is still roughly 50/50 in first week sales for most artists, and most of our business is CDs. It’s reliable, looks great, and allows you a lot of space to create something special. We love vinyl as well, and we provide downloads and streaming options wherever possible, but the CD is our favorite!”


THE HONEYCOMBS’ HAVE I THE RIGHT? The Complete ’60s Albums & Singles (RPM imprint) features everything recorded by the original lineup, on three CDs. The UK band was best known for their thumping hit “Have I The Right,” a Top 5 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Subsequent releases didn’t fare as well, but the group nonetheless released two albums, a frenetic live album recorded in Japan, and a clutch of non-album songs. The albums are presented in glorious mono. Most of the band’s tracks were produced by Joe Meek, one reason this band still generates interest among collectors; another is that they featured a female drummer, Honey Lantree (real name, Anna Margot Lantree). Of special note are two previously unreleased tracks, “I Can Tell (Something’s Up)” and “Tell Me Baby,” produced by Meek shortly before his death.


WHEN I WAS YOUNG: THE MGM RECORD-ings 1967-1968 (Esoteric Recordings imprint) is a five CD box covering Eric Burdon & The Animals’ stint on the label. It was the second incarnation of the group, pulled together by Burdon after the original group split in 1966. It was a time that saw the band moving away from gritty R&B that made them famous, and delving into the new psychedelic sounds that were blooming on the West Coast, as evidenced by song titles like “San Franciscan Nights” (their biggest hit during this era) and “Monterey.” The set has all four albums the band released during time, newly remastered, with Winds of Change in both stereo and mono mixes. An interesting period to rediscover — especially tracks like the 18-minute epic “New York 1963 — America 1968.”


AND SPEAKING OF PSYCHEdelia, A Slight Disturbance in My Mind: The British Proto-Psychedelic Sounds of 1966 (Grapefruit imprint) is a treasure trove of delights. There’s a sprinkling of previously unreleased songs among the 84 tracks (on three CDs), and early songs by folks who went on to make a bigger splash, such as David Bowie’s “I Dig Everything,” a demo version of Marc Bolan’s “Hippy Gumbo,” and the Bee Gees’ “I Am the World.” There’s great stuff to discover here; how can you resist a song with a title like “Girl Child, I Am an Evil Witchman”? Performed by the N’Betweens, by the way. A number of quite interesting covers too; “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” by the Flies, and “Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Mirage, to name just two. Get your fuzzy guitar fix here.

ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING ELE-ments of the 1960s rock explosion was how rock musicians began incorporating classical elements into their work. Any knowledgeable Beatles fan knows that the piccolo trumpet was added to the song “Penny Lane” after Paul McCartney heard a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 featuring that instrument. I’d Love to Turn You On: Classic & Avant-Garde Music That Inspired the Counter-Culture (El Records imprint) uses that piece as the starting point for this compilation, which reveals the unexpected musical inspirations lying behind songs by the Beatles, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and Frank Zappa, among others, over three CDs. Sometimes the references are explicit; you hear Iannis Xenakis’ “Metastasis,” and immediately think “Oh, ‘A Day in the Life.’” Others are more nuanced, with Peter Pears’ rendition of “Six Dukes Went A-Fishing” included for its impact on Robert Wyatt’s vocal phrasing. An unusual theme that results in a fascinating, eclectic collection.

AMMONIA AVENUE (ESOTERIC RECORD-Ings) was the last album by the Alan Parsons Project to reach the US Top 20, featuring the hits “Prime Time,” “Don’t Answer Me,” and “You Don’t Believe.” The album was last reissued in 2008 with eight bonus tracks, but this limited edition box goes all out in giving you a greatly expanded edition of the album. The album is presented on CD in a new remaster, and on vinyl in a new stereo mix. Then there’s a region-free Blu-ray with 5.1 surround and high resolution stereo mixes. And there’s 45 bonus tracks, most intriguing of which are the demos and an entire CD’s worth of vocalist/keyboardist Eric Woolfson’s “Songwriting Diaries.” Dig in!

More upcoming releases include: Metal Church, The Elektra Years 1984-1989Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Sockin’ It To You: The Complete Dynovoice/New Voice Recordings, and Dionne Warwick’s Déjà Vu: The Arista Recordings (1979-1984), to mention a few.

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