It’s 35 years since the release of Rumours, but will yet another version add anything to the classic, asks Stuart Bathgate, or are reissues just a cynical ploy by record companies to capitalise on our memories?
YOU bought the record. You’ve got the CD. Perhaps, in the early days of the Walkman, you also had it on tape. All in all, you might well reckon you’ve done your bit by Rumours, Fleetwood Mac’s classic 1977 album. Bought it, bought it again, bought it a third time and given at least two versions to the charity shop.
Ah, but you don’t have the expanded or the deluxe 35th anniversary edition, do you? And you want them, don’t you? Or at least, that’s what the band and their record company hope.
More than 40 million copies of Rumours, in its various guises, have been sold to date, and now the aim is to shift a few more when those two new versions are released on Monday. Which, incidentally, as you may have noticed, is almost a month after the 35th anniversary ended. They always did take their time getting projects finished, Fleetwood Mac, and this one has been no different.
The expanded version consists of three CDs: the original album (with the additional track Silver Springs, which has been on most previous reissues), a dozen live recordings from the band’s 1977 world tour and a disc of previously unreleased out-takes from the Rumours sessions. The deluxe edition boasts all that and more: a DVD documentary about the album, another disc of out-takes (many of which were on the extra CD which came with the special 30th-anniversary edition) and the album on vinyl.
The cost? Needless to say, that’s also expanded. A modest £15.49 is the full price for the cheaper of the new releases, although it is already widely on sale at £12. The deluxe is £61.99 here, and just two cents short of $100 in the USA (although, again, an online search will turn up a better deal).
Remember, that does not include the price of the display case and stand you’ll need to show it off to best effect once you get it home. Or the cost of the duster and polish you’ll need to keep the display case and stand nice and shiny.
Because there’s a feeling, is there not, that when it comes to these luxurious reissues, it’s not about the music any more? That it’s more about paying homage to the greatness of the original with hard cash? Or perhaps simply paying homage to your own memories?
And in the case of Rumours, those memories still have the power to move. Memories of hearing Songbird for the first time as a 16-year-old at school and in love with a girl called Kim, in the case of this jaundiced reporter. So many memories for millions of us now in middle age.
The key element of Rumours, the essential component of its success, was its tension between the smooth and the raw. Between the consummate professionalism of the musicianship, the tightness of the band and the desire of its five members to get out of each other’s sight.
Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had called it a day. Christine and John McVie had divorced. Mick Fleetwood’s wife had taken up with his erstwhile best friend. This was a band on the edge of a collective nervous breakdown, but they somehow held it together long enough to record Rumours, and then to embark on a world tour.
Some of the tracks are syrupy sweet. Second Hand News, for instance, jogs along jauntily, and it’s only when you listen to the lyrics that you realise this upbeat tune is about someone who has been ditched by his lover.
On Songbird it’s the other way round. Christine McVie sings of her love and commitment, but she sounds inconsolable. It’s heartrending: a song for a funeral, not a marriage. You can write off much of Rumours as merely professional pop, but the stark, unadorned beauty of Songbird transcends that description.
It’s one of the great performances by an English singer, perhaps rivalled only by Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes? (on Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking album) and Kathleen Ferrier’s What Is Life?, the aria from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.
Mention of Ferrier, a much-loved figure in the immediate post-war years, returns us to the theme of re-releases. As last year was the centenary of her birth, while 2013 marks 60 years since her tragically early death from cancer, there has been a significant revival of interest in her work recently.
Proving that even the demure world of classical music is not immune from commercial pressure, Decca marked the centenary by reissuing its complete Ferrier recordings in a 14-CD box set with a documentary DVD thrown in. In an echo of the new Rumours edition, some previously unreleased live recordings were included.
But the difference is that much of Ferrier’s recorded output had been hard to come by for decades. And when she performed, she gave her all, every time. During her last public appearance, the femur in her left leg fractured. She carried on singing. In contrast, the Rumours live CD is throwaway stuff. And so, quite frankly, is an overwhelming percentage of rock re-releases, with their extras and out-takes. The clue is in the name. They’re called out-takes for a reason: someone at the time decided they were not quite good enough to make the final cut.
A swift sift through a CD collection of any size will reveal a good few examples, so let’s find a couple.
Exhibit A: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, released in 1968. The original album consisted of 15 tracks, and while there were a few standouts, there were also a couple of fillers in there. In 2004 it was re-released as a ‘special deluxe’, three-CD edition: the original stereo album (with four bonus tracks), the original mono album (with six bonus tracks) and a third disc featuring 22 ‘rarities’. That made 62 tracks in total, with only the wistful Where Did My Spring Go? adding much of value to the original 15. Mick Avory’s Underpants, to cite one dispensable track, could easily have been left in the closet. Spotty Grotty Anna, to namecheck another, need not have shown her face.
Exhibit B: The Who’s 1965 debut LP, My Generation. Billed as ‘Maximum R’n’B’ in the days when that meant hard rock, not rap, My Generation was 12 tracks of snarling, amphetamine-fuelled aggression. In 1974, when the New Musical Express first did a critics’ poll of the best 100 albums, it came in at No 22.
Three decades later, the deluxe edition had 30 tracks in all, though quite a few were merely different takes of the original songs. The snarl and aggression were not enhanced. The new stuff just got in the way.
Same goes for the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen when it was given a 25th-anniversary re-release back in 2002. The superbly splenetic original was accompanied by two dance remixes. Imagine John Lydon on stage flanked by Pinky and Perky and you’ve got an idea of how incongruous that was.
The extra material on the new editions of Rumours is in no way so crass or incongruous. But the problem is the same with this and virtually every other reissue. Nothing compares to the original.
And if you know it so well that it’s lost its lustre, listening to some second-hand old stuff won’t help you recapture it. Instead, just refrain from listening to it at all for three or four years. That should do the trick. Although, of course, doing that won’t earn the record company an extra penny.
• The 35th anniversary expanded and deluxe editions of Rumours are out on Monday.