Back in the dark days when CDs were pretty much the only medium for music, I often got on my critical soapbox to lament the vast number of classic Canadian albums that had vanished into the ether. One year at the Juno Awards, I realized that the artist getting the lifetime achievement award didn’t even have a greatest hits album in print, never mind anything from their back catalogue.
The situation has improved somewhat since then, thanks in no small part to the rise of streaming audio. Complain all you want about sound quality and lack of proper compensation for artists — which I’ve done — but there’s no denying that the medium has rescued countless songs and albums from musical obscurity. The vinyl resurgence and accompanying nostalgia haven’t hurt either, I suspect. If anything, it all seems to have encouraged the music industry to revisit some of those albums that slipped through the cracks in the days gone by — like the trio of vinyl reissues that landed in my mailbox this week, courtesy of the fine folks at Universal Music Canada.
Teenage Head’s 1983 EP Tornado, Streetheart’s concert set Live After Dark from the same year, and Rational Youth’s 1982 cult-classic debut full-length Cold War Night Life have all been refurbished, reissued and (in most cases, anyway) expanded with new tracks and memorabilia. Here’s a quick rundown of the LPs (which are also available digitally and on the dreaded CD):
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Originally a six-track mini LP, Tornado was the band’s first international release outside of Canada. For the 2019 reissue, this mini LP has been expanded with the vinyl now a 14-track full album and the CD/digital album containing 21 songs. Included on all formats are the six songs originally released in 1983, the new 2019 versions which have been remixed by music producer Mark Berry (David Bowie, Headstones, Billy Idol, Joan Jett), and never-before-released demos from 1982 that have been restored by Grammy Award-winning producer Peter J. Moore (The Band, Joe Strummer, Cowboy Junkies). This limited-edition reissue of Tornado is packed with collector items including rare band memorabilia, a Teenage Head family tree outlining the history of the band which dates back to 1971, new liner notes and a forward written by original band member Stephen Mahon, and a pair of original concert tickets.”
MY VERDICT: Granted, Tornado wasn’t exactly the high point of Teenage Head’s career. But hey, beggars and choosers. And you can’t quibble with the effort: The new mixes sound great, the old demos and unreleased tracks are a treat, the coloured vinyl is vibrant and the booklet is thorough, entertaining and informative without being self-indulgent. More like this, please.
Live After Dark
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Originally recorded during their July 1983 tour dates in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Regina, the high-powered live recordings of Live After Dark capture an historic moment in the band’s career. Remastered and packaged within a special 1CD or 2LP reissue, Live After Dark also includes a new forward written by the band and a collection of tour photos from the Streetheart archives. Live After Dark is a celebration of the band’s career that has now spanned over 40 years. Comprised of 15 tracks, the album includes fan favourites such as Action (the lead track from their 1978 debut album Meanwhile Back in Paris…), What Kind Of Love Is This (the highest-charting single written by the band), and Look In Your Eyes (from their Double-Platinum self-titled album).”
MY VERDICT: It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the other sets here — the LPs are basic black vinyl, and there are no previously unreleased cuts — but for down-to-earth prairie-rockers like Streetheart, that almost seems fitting. More importantly, the performances and mixes are all top-shelf, serving as both a fine tribute to late frontman Kenny Shields and a reminder that the band continues to carry the torch despite his loss. A must for fans.
Cold War Night Life
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Rational Youth have released the deluxe expanded edition of their 1982 debut album, Cold War Night Life. Featuring extensive liner notes, testimonials, and rare photos from the band’s personal archives, the expanded reissue also includes both the original 1982 album tracks and all of the related original extended remixes and singles. When originally released in 1982, Cold War Night Life was one of the first all-synth pop albums to ever be released in Canada. Founding member of Rational Youth, Tracy Howe, remembers the recording process: “The most remarkable thing about making this album, from an historical perspective, was the fact that we were making an all-synthesizer pop album, and in Montreal in 1981-82 that was pretty new. A lot of our arrangements and all the synth sounds were worked out at home and sequenced, so when we got to the studio we would set all the synths up and patch everything, tell the engineer to put machine in record and roll the tape, we’d start the MC-4 MicroComposer and half a song would instantly go to tape. The rock and roll engineers we had were kind of stunned by this, and by the fact that we were using a drum machine (a Roland TR-808, one of the first on Canadian shores)…”
MY VERDICT: I was never a Rational Youth fan — and I don’t think I ever got review copies for any of their previous reissues — so aside from singles like Saturdays in Silesia, I haven’t heard many of these tracks before. And likely never would have, had it not been for this superbly packaged set on cool clear vinyl. Which makes them exactly the sort of band I was talking about up top. Here’s hoping there’s more goodies in their vault. And that a growing list of Canadian bands benefit from the same sort of treatment in the near future. Maybe they could start with whoever gets the lifetime achievement prize at next year’s Junos.