Dire Straits’ The Studio Albums 1978–1991, which came out around the beginning of 2021, is excellent, but if your wallet can accommodate only one box from the group, the one to buy is the new Live 1978–1992.
In fact, if your budget can’t handle this one, you might want to consider applying for a loan because this is not an anthology that any respectable popular music collection should be without. The eight-CD (or 12-LP) set, which comes with a 16-page booklet, is a treasure trove of great rock performances.
For starters, it features a newly remastered copy of Alchemy: Dire Straits Live, the band’s stupendous 1984 album and one of the best and bestselling live LPs of the rock era, which was last mastered in the mid-1980s. This upgraded version includes all the songs that appeared on the first CD edition, which expanded on the original two-LP set, plus three additional numbers: “Portobello Road” as well as previously unreleased readings of “Industrial Disease” and “Twisting by the Pool.”
Alchemy, which collects material from 1983 shows at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, captures the band at a peak. Electrifying standouts like “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “Sultans of Swing,” “Telegraph Road,” and “Tunnel of Love,” which each clock in at more than 10 minutes, leave no doubt that Dire Straits leader Mark Knopfler ranks among rock’s most accomplished and elegant guitarists. Other highlights include “Romeo and Juliet” and “Going Home,” a gorgeous instrumental that served as the theme from the film Local Hero.
Next comes a 17-track, newly remastered version of 1993’s On the Night, which includes six previously unreleased performances. This tour document embraces some of the same songs as Alchemy but adds other key tracks, among them “Brothers in Arms,” “Calling Elvis,” and “Walk of Life.” A four-song EP called Encores, which also first appeared in 1993, actually adds just three numbers because it inexplicably incorporates the same version of “Your Latest Trick” that’s in On the Night.
Also featured is a remaster of the misleadingly titled Live at the BBC, a 1995 CD whose material aired on but was not recorded at the BBC. The band performed this disc’s “Tunnel of Love” for a 1981 broadcast of TV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test, and the other seven tracks date from a July 1978 appearance at London’s Paris Theatre. This was shortly after the release of the group’s debut LP, so the disc gives a sense of how Dire Straits sounded in its earliest days – already pretty great.
Perhaps the biggest thrill in the box, though, is the 21-track Live at the Rainbow Theatre, whose previously unreleased contents were recorded in December 1979. The band is on fire throughout this show, which opens with a beautifully executed “Down to the Waterline” and maintains a high level of musicianship throughout its 100 minutes. A special treat is a concert-ending set of oldies covers (Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s Alright Mama,” Chuck Berry’s “Nadine,” and Little Richard’s “Keep on Knocking”), all of which feature guest appearances by British musicians Tony De Meur (aka Ronnie Golden) and Phil Lynott, the Thin Lizzy leader.
Upgraded Beatles Anthologies: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!
As rock drummer Kenny Aronoff noted in a recent interview with me, “It wasn’t like one good song on a “[Beatles] record – every song was pretty damn good.” Indeed, and that’s why it would have been hard to recommend the original versions of the Beatles’ two 1973 anthologies, 1962–1966 and 1967–1970. Sure, every number on these bestselling collections of hit singles and key album tracks is amazing but so are virtually all the many songs that they omitted. Unless you’re just a casual Beatles fan (Are there any?), why would you want to opt for a mere sampler platter when everything on the menu is delicious?
Justifying the purchase of the recently released upgraded editions of these anthologies is much easier, however – even for fans who already own every one of the original albums from which they draw material. That’s not primarily because they expand the 1973 releases’ 54 tracks to 76, adding noteworthy early cover versions as well as some George Harrison contributions that were unjustly omitted from the first release. Nor is it because they incorporate excellent new liner notes, not to mention “Now and Then,” a likable and previously unheard Beatles track that weds a 1970 John Lennon demo recording to subsequent contributions from his bandmates.
No, what most makes this set worth having are its terrific remixes. Granted, some of them have already been available on box sets devoted to Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles, Abbey Road, andLet It Be. But 36 of these stereo remixes – including all 30 of the recordings that date from 1962 to 1965 – are brand new, and they take the listening experience to new heights, especially for those who listen on headphones. (For those who want to be blown away even more, Dolby Atmos mixes of all 76 tracks are also available, though not on physical discs.)
Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, and Sam Okell, who worked on the recent boxes, created the new mixes using technology previously employed by filmmaker Peter Jackson (Get Back), and what a job they did. Remixes of the later material, such as “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Revolution,” are first-rate, but the new versions of the early tracks, which were recorded more than half a century ago on relatively primitive equipment, offer the biggest upgrades. Stereo separation is much improved, vocals jump out of the speakers, and you can clearly hear every instrument.
These two anthologies – which are available individually or together and in multiple formats – offer a reminder of how far and fast the Beatles progressed – from “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” to “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” in just over four years, for example. Thanks to the remixes, the new sets also demonstrate that the Fab Four’s early work was even better than it initially sounded.
The Weeklings, Raspberry Park. The power-pop band the Weeklings, who variously seem redolent of the Smithereens and the Raspberries, consist of four musicians whose long resumes list work with Electric Light Orchestra, Southside Johnny, Dave Mason, Bruce Springsteen, and many other artists. They specialize in high-energy Beatles covers and you’ll find two excellent ones – “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “She’s Leaving Home” – on this album, along with a garage-rock rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and an unlikely but successful medley of Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”
This is not just a cover band, however. Dominating the program are 13 infectious originals, all co-written by multi-instrumentalist Glen Burtnik and guitarist Bob Burger. Virtually all of them are loaded with head-turning harmony vocals, stinging guitar work, and catchy melodies. This one’s a keeper.