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Start Your Ear Off Right with Limited Edition LPs from Rhino Entertainment

03-29-2024 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 132

Rhino Entertainment has announced their cleverly named Start Your Ear Off Right series, which features a slate of eighteen limited edition LP releases, with most of them are being offered in cool colored-vinyl variants. The releases criss-cross a multitude of genres and artists, ranging from rock (The Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, Stevie Nicks), R&B (Ray Charles, Zapp & Roger, Curtis Mayfield), country (Eddie Rabbit), new wave (The English Beat), prog rock (Yes), and compilations (like the psychedelic garage-band classics Nuggets, Vols. 1 and 2). The LPs are encased in tip-on-style outer jackets, many with cover artwork that's very faithful to the originals. Some feature new jackets that have been created especially for these limited edition releases, for example, like those in the new "Now Playing" series represented here by artists like America, Foghat, Eddie Rabbit, and Ray Charles. 

Surprisingly, I received seven of the eighteen titles for evaluation. Most of them were pressed on standard-weight 140 gram vinyl, and many were pressed at Memphis Record Pressing, which I have a lot of excellent recent experiences with. Some of the LPs, however, had no identifying information engraved in the deadwax. The surfaces of the LPs were all flawless and exceptionally glossy, and most arrived in plain white paper inner sleeves, although certain titles featured printed facsimiles of the original inner sleeves. The colored-vinyl variants were all beautifully realized, and were waaay beyond cool! No information was provided in terms of mastering, origin of source tapes, etc., but as is typical for Rhino's LPs, the pressings were superb, and offered exceptionally quiet playback. The LPs are not available at Rhino's web store, but can be found at a multitude of online and brick and mortar locations, including your local independent record store. The actual selling price of each LP may vary slightly across online and in-store locations.

The Doors, Alive She Cried. 140 Gram Translucent Emerald LP, $24.98 MSRP

The Doors enjoyed a sudden surge of popularity following the release of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film Apocalypse Now, which prominently featured their classic song "The End" throughout various stages of the movie. Elektra Records took the opportunity to release a flurry of reissues and new compilations, including 1983's Alive She Cried, which was a live album culled from Doors concerts scattered across a period from 1968-1970. Since the original issue of the record on LP, it's been unavailable domestically for over forty years. The Doors' classic live album, 1970's Absolutely Live, omitted several key tracks because the record label felt the recordings were inferior. Most notably, Absolutely Live was missing the band's biggest hit, "Light My Fire," which was omitted because of Jim Morrison's drunken interludes and poetic ramblings that are in evidence throughout Alive She Cried. That was a huge fan point of contention with the official live album, and it's been rectified by Alive She Cried, which, warts and all, is definitely more representative of a Doors concert than the sanitized original release. The translucent emerald green vinyl is a shade darker than the green tint used on the album jacket art, and it's exceptionally cool! Never having heard the album prior to getting this LP, I can completely understand complaints from both fans and critics alike. But I also feel The Doors' performances on Alive She Cried are nothing less than incendiary.

The Grateful Dead, Terrapin Station. 140 Gram Opaque Emerald LP, $24.98 MSRP

1977's Terrapin Station was The Grateful Dead's ninth Studio Album, and their first for new management and Arista Records following the demise of the band's label, Grateful Dead Records. Sound man extraordinaire Keith Olson had enjoyed tremendous success with the Buckingham/Nicks version of Fleetwood Mac a few years earlier, taking them to 7x Platinum with Fleetwood Mac. He was quickly hired by Arista Records to produce Terrapin Station, which was a serious departure from the Dead's last several studio albums. The album's lead single, a cover of Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancin' In The Streets" was given a funk and disco-influenced beat, and was a minor hit years before Van Halen lit the airwaves up with their remake. Other songs like "Estimated Prophet" and "Passenger," along the full-album-side "Terrapin Station" got plenty of AOR radio airplay and helped fuel the album's Gold record sales status. This was still the Keith and Donna Godchaux version of the band, and the album featured her first lead vocal on a song, "Sunrise," which closes side one. With the exception of an Analog Productions reissue from 2012, Terrapin Station had been out of print domestically on LP for over 37 years, and the opaque emerald green vinyl LP is really quite gorgeous. I've owned this album for many years in both LP and CD formats, but I definitely feel the sound quality on this new reissue LP offers an uptick over previous versions. And it was an absolute joy to revisit old favorites, especially the side-long "Terrapin Station"!  

The Grateful Dead, In The Dark. 140 Gram Opaque Silver LP, $24.98 MSRP

The Grateful Dead's In The Dark was released in 1987; it was the band's twelfth studio album and nineteenth overall, and followed a seven-year hiatus from the studio. In The Dark was the Dead's first studio album since 1980's poorly received Go To Heaven, and became unexpectedly popular, achieving double Platinum sales status. In The Dark reached number six on the Billboard 200 album charts, with album sales driven by the ebullient Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia single, "Touch Of Grey." Which reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and was the band's only top ten hit of their lengthy career. Interest in the album was also fueled by videos for the songs that were in heavy rotation on MTV, including "Touch Of Grey," "Hell In A Bucket," and "Throwing Stones," and the album also received significant airplay on AOR radio. The base tracks for In The Dark were recorded live in San Rafael's Marin Veterans' Memorial Auditorium, helping to give the album a very "live in concert" kind of feel. You can hear that in spades on this new opaque silver LP, which is among the hippest-looking colored vinyl versions of the entire Start Your Ear Off Right series! Aside from a couple of expensive, limited-edition LP versions from MFSL (2012) and Grateful Dead Productions (2022), In The Dark hasn't been available domestically as an LP for 37 years. 

Yes, Yes. 140 Gram Opaque Cobalt LP, $24.98 MSRP

Yes was the eponymous 1969 debut album from progressive rock band Yes, and while it received critical praise upon its release, it was commercially unsuccessful and failed to chart either in the UK or the US. The band's original lineup featured Jon Anderson on vocals, Peter Banks on guitars, Chris Squire on bass, Tony Kaye on keyboards, and Bill Bruford on drums. Peter Banks would last for only one more album; he was particularly unhappy with the band's recorded sound on their first two.  Upon leaving, he was replaced by Steve Howe on 1971's The Yes Album; later that same year, keyboardist Rick Wakeman would join for Fragile, solidifying Yes' classic lineup and propelling them into superstardom. For Yes, the band members (especially Peter Banks) were vocally unhappy with the label's choice of producer Paul Clay, who'd never recorded a rock band; Yes didn't find a satisfactory producer until Eddie Offord came to the helm with The Yes Album. That said, Yes is a solid album of good songs that shows the band's early influences, if not particularly the best-sounding Yes album ever. And as presented here in the Start Your Ear Off Right series, Yes is pressed on cool-looking cobalt blue vinyl, and also features the very first American release of the LP that features the original cover album artwork. Aside from a Friday Music label LP release in 2012, Yes has been out of print domestically for 47 years. While the sound quality of the LP would have benefited tremendously from a new remix, I thought the album sounded much better than my CD version, and I was actually impressed with how very much I enjoyed the band's playing on Yes, especially the excellent guitar work of Peter Banks. And it's really great to have a cool colored vinyl version with the more graphically stylish original cover artwork!

The Velvet Underground, Live At Max's Kansas City. (2) 140 Gram Opaque Orchid/Magenta LPs, $34.98 MSRP

1970's Live At Max's Kansas City was the last appearance by Lou Reed with The Velvet Underground, which by this point only featured Reed and Sterling Morrison from the band's classic lineup. In addition to Lou Reed on guitar and vocals and Sterling Morrison on lead guitar, VU also featured brothers Doug Yule on bass (and lead vocals on several songs as well) and Billy Yule on drums. The new reissue is an expanded edition that features fifteen songs spread across a pair of colored vinyl LPs (one is orchid purple, the other is magenta); that's in comparison the original's ten songs on a single LP. The sound quality of the album is fairly low fidelity, and actually was recorded with writer/historian/singer Jim Carroll (Catholic Boy, "People Who Died") holding the microphone that was used for the recordings; you can hear him talking and ordering drinks in the background. By the time of Live At Max's Kansas City's release, Lou Reed had already left the band, which soldiered on for a while with Doug Yule on lead vocals, but the band was never the same without a creative giant like Lou Reed. The remaster for this version was done by Bill Levenson in 2015, and offers significantly improved sound quality over the muddled original. The expanded Live At Max's Kansas City will mostly appeal to collectors and completists, especially since the LP has only been available sporadically since the point of its original release.

Foghat, Now Playing. 140 Gram Translucent Tan LP, $19.98 MSRP

I was particularly excited to get Foghat's Now Playing LP; the Now Playing series features mostly collections of bands' more notable songs or biggest hits. My expectations were high, especially for an album from a nearly legendary bands like Foghat, who have very few catalog albums currently available on LP. So Now Playing makes a welcome addition for those of us who don't happen to have many (if any) of the band's LPs in our collections. While it's a cool looking translucent tan LP, and the low price is definitely right, unfortunately, Rhino chose to only include the single edits of the band's most endearing songs like "Slow Ride" and "Fool For The City," making for a less-than-satisfactory listen. Most of the songs here have been remastered, which is good, but six of the songs are radio edits or single versions. Which is a shame for an album that clocks in at just under 37 minutes, when it appears there was plenty of room for at least the full versions of some of their best songs. YMMV, but I was hoping for a bit more with this release.

Various Artists, Nuggets, Volume 2. (2) 140 Gram Marbled Psychedelic Blue LPs, $39.98 MSRP

The actual title of this two-LP collection is Nuggets, Volume 2: Original Artyfacts from the Psychedelic Era 1964-1968. The original Nuggets collection was released in 1972 as a double LP, and featured obscure garage-rock psychedelia and one-hit wonders from the era. Guitarist and music historian Lenny Kaye (later of the Patty Smith Group) was enlisted to collect and compile the multitude of album tracks, and this second double LP was planned from the outset—but not unsurprisingly, never happened. Everything here eventually got released in a CD box set later in the Nineties, but never made their way to LPs—until now! Both 2-LP sets have been reissued on psychedelic splatter colored vinyl; I received the second set, and it actually contains the more obscure tunes from the collection. This is really great stuff, from both a historical but also musical viewpoint, and the double-gatefold album jacket and particularly the cool psychedelic colored vinyl makes both of these LP sets must-haves, especially for collectors. Lenny Kaye's essay and notes for each of the tunes are informative, entertaining, and indispensable. I've already picked up the double LP for Volume 1 at my local independent record store!     

Rhino's Start Your Ear Off Right Series Was Full of Surprises!

You can see the components in my audio systems by clicking on my name in the header above. I used my all-analog system to evaluate all LPs from the Start Your Ear Off Right series. It's just been upgraded with a pair of Vanguard Scout loudspeakers, which are superb, stand mounted compact monitors in the same vein as classic British designs like the LS3/5A. I'm using them in tandem with a Vanguard Caldera 10 subwoofer; that setup also incorporates the excellent new PS Audio Stellar phono preamp, and the loudspeakers are powered by the PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier. I've just upgraded the amplifier with a quad of premium Gold Lion KT77 power tubes and a pair of vintage, NOS (New Original Stock) Brimar 12AU7 output tubes, both of which provide an impressive uptick in my analog sound quality. LP playback was handled by the ProJect Classic turntable that's mounted with an Ortofon Quintet Bronze moving coil cartridge. It gave these LPs the finest quality of sound one could possibly expect.

That sound quality was, of course, somewhat variable among the LPs, but I totally expected that due to the less than stellar sound on many of the source tapes. Especially the live albums from The Doors and The Velvet Underground, along with the Nuggets collection, which was assembled from sources of sometimes dubious origins. Otherwise, the sound quality of the music as presented by the colored vinyl LPs was nothing short of exceptional. Most of these LPs are being offered with limited availability, and while some of them may only have a certain degree of appeal to completists and collectors, I still found them enjoyable and quite desirable. These first LPs in the Start Your Ears Off Right series come very highly recommended! 

Rhino Entertainment


All images courtesy of Rhino Entertainment