1. The Rain Parade, The Three O’Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Bangles - 3 x 4 (Yep Roc)
Above the din of a waning punk scene and a rising hard rock/metal movement, music in Los Angeles was in flux during the first couple of years of the 1980s. But what emerged from the periphery of these transitional times for the Sunset Strip circuit was the Paisley Underground, a tight collective of bands who transformed their love for deep dish '60s rock and pop into an electric kaleidoscope of melody that would be as key to the construct of college radio as what was emerging from such cities as Minneapolis, Athens and Chapel Hill at the time. And the four bands who defined this small revolution—The Rain Parade, The Three O’Clock, The Dream Syndicate and a pre-fab Bangles (then known as The Bangs)—have once again joined forces like some kind of jangle rock Avengers to celebrate their collective past as they tackle favorite songs from one another’s catalogs in this well-designed multiplication equation of a compilation.
2. The Byrds - Sweetheart of the Rodeo 50th Anniversary Legacy Edition (Legacy Recordings)
Truly one of the biggest highlights of the 2018 concert year was Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman going out on the road in support of the 50th anniversary of The Byrds’ country rock game-changer Sweetheart of the Rodeo, whose psychedelic twang rang out from L.A. across the whole USA, helping launch a sound that would give us such Americana favorites as the Eagles, Emmylou Harris, Pure Prairie League, John Mellencamp, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, The Old ‘97s, the Pistol Annies and a million other amazing acts keeping the genre fresh and exciting. Originally released in 2003, the two-disc Legacy Edition of Sweetheart has been spruced up yet again to commemorate its half-century mark with this vinyl remaster of not just the original LP but the 28 bonus tracks as well, including demos, outtakes, rehearsal versions and rare cuts from momentary Byrd Gram Parsons’ preflight group the International Submarine Band.
3. Czarface - The Dog Days of Tomorrow 7-inch (Silver Age)
The most lasting impression of the dearly departed Stan Lee’s legacy in popular music is just how much the Marvel Universe has informed hip-hop throughout the course of the genre’s 45-year history. It’s a bond that continues to strengthen every year with material like this special RSD release from the East Coast power trio Czarface, the uncanny union of Boston duo 7L & Esoteric and Inspectah Deck of the Wu-Tang Clan, whose latest double single comes housed in a 20-page comic book written by Esoteric and drawn by Marvel young gun Mike Del Mundo. Like MF Doom and Ghostface Killah in Tony Stark mode (who also happens to make a cameo within the pages of Dog Days), Czarface continues to stress the excelsior effect on three of rap’s truest believers.
4. Würm - Exhumed (ORG Music)
Chuck Dukowski has spent the last 40 years of his career as one of the strongest natural bridges connecting hardcore punk intensity and creative jazz complexity as a member of Black Flag, SWA, October Faction and his own Chuck Dukowski Sextet. But in 1973, he was busy pioneering the concept of sludge metal with his band Würm, whose practice space the Würmhole in Hermosa Beach, CA, was where he, Keith Morris and Greg Ginn first got together and made punk history. Würm only released one proper LP, Feast, in 1985 after the band's demise. On Exhumed, with the vital assistance from Dukowski, the long-out-of-print LP is made available once again through ORG Music, expanded with a bonus set of material featuring unreleased tracks, demos, and more. With retrospective liner notes from Dukowski himself, plus never-before-seen photos from the era, Exhumed is a crucial document exploring the earliest roots of American hardcore.
5. Eric Dolphy - Musical Prophet: The Expanded N.Y. Studio Sessions (1962-1963) (Resonance Records)
Alan Douglas was among one of the most controversial record producers in rock, namely for the way by which he mishandled the posthumous material of Jimi Hendrix until the guitarist’s father Al Hendrix secured the rights to his son’s music in 1995. However, prior to earning this dubious distinction in the annals of rock lore, Douglas was a championship-level jazz producer in the early '60s, helming such stone classics as Charles Mingus’s The Complete Town Hall Concert, Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle and Kenny Dorham’s Matador among others, including a pair of masterpieces by the uncompromising reed lion Eric Dolphy in 1963 with Conversations and the aptly-titled Iron Man. Both titles featured a who’s who of equally lauded masters of the craft, including saxophonists Clifford Jordan and Sonny Simmons, trumpeter Woody Shaw, bassist Richard Davis and NEA Jazz Master vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. And thanks to the ever-intrepid “Jazz Detective” and Resonance Records Co-President Zev Feldman, Musical Prophet delivers what is considered to be the holy grail for Dolphy fans in the complete studio recordings from these sessions, including expanded editions of both Conversations and Iron Man as well as a bonus LP of the first batch of previously unissued studio recordings from the sax-and-flute icon in over 30 years, accompanied by a thick booklet of rare photos, scholarly essays and interviews with such acolytes as Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz hero Henry Threadgill, saxophonist/bass clarinetist David Murray and acclaimed flutist Nicole Mitchell along with surviving session members Davis and Simmons.
6. Fritz the Cat Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Craft Recordings)
Conspired by iconic cartoonist Robert Crumb in 1965 and adapted for the silver screen by visionary animated filmmaker Ralph Bakshi in 1972, Fritz the Cat is easily the most controversial feline conspired by human hands (sorry, Heathcliff and Garfield) whose adventures as an misanthropic college-age conman were well-worth the X-rating the Fritz the Cat film received upon its theatrical debut. For fans of comix and cult films alike, this year’s Black Friday RSD is made even more special with the arrival of this limited edition picture disc of the funky fresh soundtrack, which features a combination of classic material from the likes of Charles Earland, Bo Diddley, Billie Holiday and Cal Tjader along with original music conspired by a crack team of, um, cats that included longtime Jerry Garcia associate Merl Saunders on electric piano, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums and soul guitar giant Cornell Dupree.
7. Madonna - Ray of Light (Rhino/Warner Bros.)
It’s been 20 years since Ms. Ciccone’s great artistic reinvention with the classic Ray of Light, which saw her Madgesty take the trip-hop promises of Erotica and Bedtime Stories and travel with them backward while reminding folks who the queen mother of dance-pop truly is with the pulsing, club-ready title cut. This special anniversary edition of Ray returns its grooves to wax with this special double clear vinyl edition.
8. Paul Williams - Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (Varese Sarabande)
If you were one of the first families on your block to have HBO in the late '70s, you might've caught Jim Henson’s incredibly sweet tale of Emmett Otter, his Ma, the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band and the local talent show everyone is trying to win in a plot loosely based on O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” And at the heart of this Muppet masterpiece were the songs of Paul Williams, crafted just before the man who portrayed Little Enos Burdette in Smokey & The Bandit made the whole world cry with Kermit the Frog’s signature salvo “Rainbow Connection.” Songs like “The Bathing Suit that Grandma Otter Wore” and the absolutely touching “Where The River Meets The Sea” sparkle with nostalgic country balladry, while the theme song to Emmett’s feared rivals The Riverbottom Nightmare Band stomps with the force of an unholy union between Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter. It’s a genuine yuletide miracle that this soundtrack is finally available on vinyl for the very first time, so it can rightfully sit beside Bing Crosby's White Christmas and Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas in heavy holiday rotation at homes all across the land this season.
10. Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films (A&M-Universal)
Originally released in 1988, there isn’t a cooler collection of Disney covers than this Hal Willner-produced compilation, which includes Ringo Starr, James Taylor, Tom Waits, a rare solo turn from Michael Stipe, The Replacements, Bonnie Raitt (with Was (Not Was) as her backup group!), Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Suzanne Vega, Sinead O’Connor, Harry Nilsson, David Johansen in full Buster Poindexter mode, Aaron Neville and NRBQ taking on classics from the Disney catalog in a way that will make you fall in love with these songs all over again. Especially if you are a parent immersed in Disney 24/7. Pressed on two LPs for greater fidelity per side, this anniversary edition also includes the previously CD-only track "Dumbo & Timothy" for the first time on vinyl.