Record Store Day is back to put the drop on vinyl hounds and their long-suffering debit cards. At least, a modified version of it is. As happened last year, pandemic conditions caused the traditional RSD April event to be delayed and broken up into two theoretically crowd-suppressing halves, with the first of two RSD Drops 2021 events happening Saturday.
By our count, just slightly under 250 exclusive titles are on deck in the U.S. for the June 12 kickoff, out of a total of 420 that will have come out by the time the second drop comes around July 17. (If you already make a checklist of which albums were coming out on which dates when things were first announced, recheck it, as a few titles may have shifted in flight. You can find the full list of releases here, and a list of participating stores here.)
Some indie stores are making do with the traditional early morning lines, while some have set up lotteries for appointments. It’s worth reiterating that there should be plenty of spoils later on in the day, and for days to come, for shoppers who aren’t into the competitiveness of the morning hours. But be prepared to head to the secondary market if you tarry on the most coveted or least pressed titles. Here’s a list of 20 releases that caught our fancy, although of course it’s really just a start. On your mark… get set… “Zippo.”
1. Elton John, “Regimental Sgt. Zippo”
How many people knew there was a “lost” Elton John debut album, recorded in 1967-68 and planned for release but shelved in favor of “Empty Sky”? And that it was faintly psychedelic? Apparently, Elton, who later covered “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” came by his trippiness at least a little bit naturally, or while heavily under the influence of “Sgt. Pepper.” “Regimental Sgt. Pepper” never got so close to release that it had actual cover art prepared, so this very belated first issue colorizes an ink drawing done of John in his handlebar-mustache days in the late ’60s. But apparently it is an authentic (planned) album and not just a set of likeminded flower-power demos. (An article just published on Elton’s website explains the history of the project.) Most of the songs did appear in some form on his rarities-filled “Jewel Box” collection last year, but five of those are heard in their finished form for the first time here, and one (“You’ll Be Sorry to See Me Go”) is a complete premiere. “Zippo” will zip right off the shelves this weekend, but since it’s designated as a “Record Store Day” first, it would appear it’s destined for a re-release at some point… unlike the expanded edition of “17-11-70” that John put out for RSD four years ago and never again issued anywhere else, mercurial vinyl geek that he is.
2. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture She’s the One)”
When the phenomenal and seemingly exhaustive “Wildflowers” boxed set came out last year, Petty fans mostly thought a bow was being put on that particular fruitful mid-’90s era. “But wait, there’s more!,” as they say. Coming as a P.S. to that whole project is “Angel Dream,” an interestingly mongrelized version of the “She’s the One” soundtrack that succeeded “Wildflowers” in the Petty (+ Heartbreakers) catalog. Besides a remastering and retitling, Petty’s estate and vault overseer Ryan Ulyate have removed a few tracks from the soundtrack LP, which recently appeared in the “Wildflowers” box because they derived from those sessions, and replaced them with four previously unheard numbers: two original vocal tunes (“105 Degrees” and “One of Life’s Little Mysteries”), a cover of JJ Cale’s “Thirteen Days” and the instrumental “French Disconnection.” It may be more a case of playing musical chairs with some of these tunes than worrying about creating a definitive version of an album that wasn’t that definitive, but Petty fans appear ready to adopt it as an official canon entry, based on strong reaction to the new tracks when they premiered this week on his SiriusXM channel. If you miss this cobalt-blue edition on RSD, don’t fear — a standard black LP, CD and digital release will get wide distribution come July 2, after a decent collectors’ interval of three weeks.
3. Prince, “The Truth”
The lack of “The Truth” no longer hurts. There’s nothing unreleased here, but one of the favorite staples of Record Store Day is when something that previously saw light only as part of a boxed set or other bigger collection gets its own singular release for the first time. That’s the case with “The Truth,” whose title may ring a bell with Prince fans but has gone unheard by most of them. A collection of songs with an acoustic guitar base — yet produced enough that it hardly qualifies as unplugged — “The Truth” previously saw life only as a fourth-disc addendum to Prince’s sprawling “Crystal Ball” CD boxed set of 1998… kind of like the unrelated third LP bonus in George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” except good. Too good, really, to have gotten lost to history at the beginning of that era when Prince went indie and started confusing the hell out of people with his release patterns. It’s on purple vinyl with a foil-embossed cover, but even without the nice packaging, the long-awaited stand-alone release of this set is a must-have for the faithful. (And it will inevitably create howls of jealousy among Paisley-ites with CD players but no turntables; chances are they’ll get their turn.)
4. Fontaines D.C., “Live at Kilmainham Gaol”
Record Store Day tends to focus on “classic” rock — because that’s the only kind there is anymore, right? Au contraire, as they say over in Dublin. This trenchant Irish outfit, recently Grammy-nominated, is the toast of the Rock’s Not Dead Yet crowd… or as a headline in Variety crowed in March, “Ireland’s Grammy-Nominated Band Fontaines D.C. Is Everything That’s Right About Rock Music Today.” One of the closer things we have to a modern-day Clash, the group recorded this live set at the titular former prison in July of last year for the “Other Voices Courage Series” on the Irish television channel RTÉ. Unless you still have that special on your Irish DVR, this is the only place to get it — it’s a true RSD exclusive. Value-added elements include a poster and a back-cover essay on the significance of the locale by Donal Fallon. “Kilmainham Gaol” — ask for it by name!
5. Thelonious Monk, “Palo Alto: The Custodian’s Mix”
Or: “What the Janitor Heard.” When the original live “Palo Alto” album came out in 2020, it was an object of curiosity for its odd origins as well as acclaimed for the quality of Monk’s performance. In 1968, a custodian taped the jazz great’s show at a high school, and virtually no one heard it for the next 52 years. Of course there was a digital clean-up job on the audio, but fans intrigued by the story might wonder just how much cleansing was done. Now they can find out: Exclusively for RSD and only on vinyl comes the unretouched tape — “bench squeaks and all,” as a Verve label rep puts it. Rarely do we get a chance to do this kind of A/B compare-and-contrast on an imperfect artifact that has been made shiny for its public debut; we can listen and decide whether life really does go better with uncensored rustling.
6. Ariana Grande, “K Bye for Now (SWT Live)”
(7500 copies on vinyl, 10,000 on CD)
Grande’s 2019 outing was one of the more captivating arena tours of recent years. But how much of that was due to its choreography or dazzling production design, as opposed to the pure music? Grande had confidence enough that the aural portion would stand up on its own that she released a live album of the entire 32-song set (minus the Christmas songs that figured into the very last shows of the tour) as a streaming and download release days after the tour wrapped at the end of 2019. Like a lot of contemporary albums, it had no CD release at all, let alone vinyl… until now, when it debuts in both physical forms for RSD. The CD package is two discs and the vinyl package has three LPs, so younger Grande fans who are just getting accustomed to vinyl will have to step over to the turntable a lot till there are no tears left to cry and no sides left to flip.
7. Various Artists, “Golden Gate Groove: The Sound Of Philadelphia Live In San Francisco 1973”
The 50th anniversary of Philadelphia International Records is a thing to celebrate, and there is no better way to get that party started than with this rendering of a 1973 concert that brought together, for one occasion only, label stalwarts Melvin and the Blue Notes (featuring Teddy Pendergrass), the Three Degrees, Billy Paul and the O’Jays, all backed by a 35-piece MFSB Orchestra, including Leon Huff and Thom Bell on piano and organ. The setting was a CBS Records convention at a hotel in San Francisco, far from home environs, but if these soul stars thought they were playing for a bunch of industry stiffs, they sure didn’t show it. Little did they know that classics of the era from “Back Stabbers” to “Me and Mrs. Jones” to “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” were being laid down for posterity — albeit a posterity that would have to wait, since the recording went unreleased till it came out on CD for the Philly label’s 40th anniversary. A decade on, this belated vinyl release replicates that CD, and not a moment too soon for the “Love Train” to get on the drive belt.
8. Joni Mitchell, “Joni Mitchell Archives, Vol. 1 (1963-1967: Highlights)”
We love sprawling boxed sets. And we also love sprawling boxed-set condensations. The recent six-hour, five-CD collection of early Mitchell recordings leading up to her debut album is certainly worth wading through in its entirety, but there’s no shame in wishing for a best-of-the-box distillation, because even completists can be down with some curatorial editing now and again. This 1-LP set offers a little bit of the best of everything from the larger collection’s many elements, including demos, folk-club performances, radio shows and seminal studio tracks. Even if you already have the box — maybe especially if you have the box — it’s nice to have a best-of that allows you to look back at Joni via only two sides now. (Also, the ingenue-style cover photo is pretty much to die for.)
9. The Doors, “Morrison Hotel Sessions”
As the Doors’ albums have all received their 50th anniversary editions, Rhino has reliably culled highlights of the previously unreleased bonus tracks into vinyl RSD highlight discs. Last year, there was “The Soft Parade: Stripped,” although the eight unadorned tracks on that really only amounted to an EP. The recent “Morrison Hotel” boxed set’s companion vinyl is more expansive: It fills up two full LPs with the recording sessions for just three 1970-era tracks: ““Roadhouse Blues,” “Peace Frog/Blue Sunday” and “Queen Of The Highway” (plus a snippet of the oldie “Money”). It may be more hands on the wheel than anyone needs, but it’s a nice package, with a vintage photo session outtake and new liner notes by engineer Bruce Botwick, and it’s undeniable that this is a grand studio wall to be a fly upon.
10. Rage Against the Machine, “The Battle of Mexico City”
Another staple of RSD lineups: taking audio that was previously only available on a home video release and taking it back straight from its DVD or Blu-Ray origins to analog, without stopping at go for a CD issue. (The music did finally make its streaming debut in 2020, only 19 years after the concert was first released on, yes, VHS.) With a title obviously playing off their “Battle of Los Angeles” studio-record moniker, this 1999 show from Mexico City’s Palacio de los Deportes captures the band in its pre-Prophets of Rage glory. Will the revolution be colorized? Yes, it will: the two LPs are on green and red vinyl, with white labels, in homage to the Mexican flag. Seeing those spinning might be an even sweeter sight than the DVD’s moshpit chronicling.
11. Jonathan Winters, “Unearthed”
Here is where scarcity comes into play. If you don’t usually splurge on comedy discs, might you be on the fence about buying into a three-LP boxed set of vintage 1958-60 stand-up from the late comic Jonathan Winters? Perhaps you are. More likely to give in and buy in knowing there are only 1000 copies available of this epic dive into his mad, mad, mad, mad world? Who could blame you? The set combines both released and previously unreleased material from back in the day, including a full, unedited version of the 1960 performance that was abridged to form his “Down to Earth” Verve LP. The liner notes are said to include contributions from Jimmy Kimmel, Billy Crystal, Carol Burnett and Patton Oswalt. Sold.
11. Flaming Lips, “The Soft Bulletin Companion”
Outside of maybe the Grateful Dead and Elton John (who have releases this RSD) and the Dave Matthews Band and David Bowie (taking the event off this time), no artists are more reliable in coming up with something for Record Store Day than the Flaming Lips. And “The Soft Bulletin Companion” is so inevitable a release, it’s surprising they didn’t get to it sooner. “Soft Bulletin,” a ’99 release, was successful enough for the at-that-point already-veteran band that a companion CD of outtakes, B-sides, alternate mixes, etc. was assembled — but only as a “handmade” promo CD given to radio and media types. It finally officially makes its way to rank-and-file fans as a two-LP set on silver vinyl… with deliberately distressed-looking packaging that makes it appear as if someone did take a homemade CD cover and slap it on a plain white gatefold sleeve. Anyway, 22 years after it began its life as a promo item, the album can no longer be said to be getting a soft launch. With 11,000-plus copies going out, there’s clearly a belief pent-up hunger for it exists.
13. Harold Land, “Westward Bound!”
From “jazz detective” Zev Feldman — working for the Reel to Real label, as he sometimes does, instead of his usual home at Resonance Records (which has items on deck for the July RSD Drop) — comes a tribute to “an unsung hero of the tenor saxophone.” These nine tracks were captured at Seattle’s Penthouse, source of a great deal of recent archival discoveries, in 1962-65. That they cover several years of club dates allows for the tenor sax man to be joined by several musicians who are legends in their own right, including Hampton Hawes, Buddy Montgomery, Carmell Jones, Monk Montgomery and Philly Joe Jones. How revered is Land (who may be best remembered as part of the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet in the ’50s)? Enough so that Sonny Rollins recently sat for an interview about him included in the copious liner notes. ” Harold Land was one of the premier saxophonists of the time,” says Rollins. “He was one of the best. We had Dexter Gordon, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Sonny Rollins, Teddy Edwards, and you had Harold Land…. Please excuse my putting myself in there.” It’ll be interesting to see whether he’s so undersung that these scant 1000 copies don’t move fast.
14. The Replacements: “The Pleasure’s All Yours: Pleased to Meet Me Outtakes & Alternatives”
“Pleased to Meet Me” may or may not have been the Replacements’ best album, but it caught them at the most fruitful intersection of peak popularity and peak record-making, with the song “Alex Chilton” threatening to make a group of lovably ramshackle no-accounts into actual rock stars. Paul Westerberg was certainly regarded as a poet laureate of post-punk by this time. You wouldn’t always know it, though, from some of the goofier outtakes that didn’t make for the record, for understandable reasons — like “All He Wants to Do is Fish,” “Lift Your Skirt” and “Till We’re Nude,” all included in this outtakes set. All of the material is culled from the 1987 album’s deluxe CD edition, released last summer. There was so much good stuff on that that a single LP’s worth of it seems too short, but the rougher alternate versions of classics like “Chilton” and “Can’t Hardly Wait,” combined with some strong vault numbers that aren’t all as silly as the aforementioned titles would indicate, make it an indispensable enough addition to a ‘Mats collection.
15. Ella Fitzgerald, “Original Grooves: Ella in Berlin”
For better or worse, the high-concept gimmick items that used to draw attention to RSD in the event’s early years are mostly a thing of the past. So now, novelties are truly novel. This Fitzgerald 12-inch single definitely counts, incorporating a “parallel grooves” format, although its twist isn’t unprecedented. It’s in the format of that famous Monty Python LP from the ’70s that had two different grooves going on each side, and you could never be sure which one you were going to click into when you put the needle down. In this case, moving the one arm over to Side A will land you on one of two versions of “Mack the Knife” — one from 1960 in Berlin or one from the same city in ’62. Same for SIde B’s “Summertime.” There are much less rewarding lotteries to play.
16. Steely Dan, “Two Against Nature,” “Everything Must Go”
(5000 copies each)
How is it that Steely Dan’s “Two Against Nature” won the album of the year Grammy after coming out in 2000, yet never got a vinyl release until 2020. Well, you young whippersnappers, believe it or not, there was a time when vinyl was not omnipresent, hard as that may be to believe — it’s called the very, very early 21st century. LPs were so passe circa the turn of the millennium that the duo who were once kings of the format were consigned strictly to CD. That 20-year oversight seems criminal… and you hate to say that a record that won the Grammys’ top honor is underrated, but this one really is. It gets a three-sided LP release (an etching fills out side 4), while the other studio album they made in their reunion era, the less essential swan song “Everything Must Go,” fits onto a single Bernie Grundman-mastered disc. Don’t believe the hype that these records weren’t that strong, even if you are pissed that Eminem shoulda won that year.
17. Warren Zevon, “Preludes: Rare and Unreleased Recordings”
Following the death of one of rock’s greatest singer-songwriters in 2003, Zevon’s son Jordan discovered a treasure trove of demos, some for highly familiar songs — from “Hasten Down the Wind” to “Werewolves of London” — and some never professionally recorded. Six such never-before-heard tunes made their way onto the original CD issue of “Preludes” in 2007. Now even that rarities collection is rare, i.e., out of print in CD form. Maybe it’ll be back someday, but in the meantime, it’s even better having it as a first-time vinyl release in a slipcase with a large-scale booklet that puts the collection “Back in the Highlife” (to quote the Steve Winwood song that Zevon unexpectedly covers amid his originals).
18. Dirty Three, “Ocean Songs Deluxe Edition”
The sort of release that makes RSD special… and frustrating, if you’re locked out of landing one of the mere 400 copies; Dirty Three may be for specialized tastes only, but they’re probably not quite that cult. The instrumental guitar/violin/drums trio from Australia, which has been known to stir up a ruckus on other occasions, released its most subdued, hypnotic, ambient album in the late ’90s, produced by Steve Albini, to great acclaim. A remastered version accounts for the first two LPs in this four-piece boxed set. The other two contain the first release of a full-album performance at All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2005 in which their biggest fan, Nick Cave, joined in on piano. Cave once explained why he loves the group so much: “I find singers in bands quite distracting.” Dirty Three fans will not be distracted from their task of tracking this down Saturday.
19. “Vinyl Nation”
The one Blu-Ray/DVD package among this year’s crop, this feature-length documentary — released in PPV form last fall while we’re were all quarantining, and easy to miss as a result — covers the full spectrum of the wide world of vinyl. Its opening scene takes place, naturally, in… a Record Store Day line. That’s meta enough for you, isn’t it?
20. The Beatles Yellow Submarine Portfolio Turntable
And now, some bonus swag: Crosley usually issues a different pop culture-branded, self-contained turntable for each RSD, and this year it’s a “Yellow Submarine” edition. The sound of a portable table is nothing to write home about or to make a permanent home for any of these LPs you’ve just picked up, but the Audio Technica needle won’t do your discs any damage, anyway, while you’re living out all your best 1968 playing-rekkids-on-the-bedroom-floor fantasies.