An annual look at the best reissues, box sets, and live releases of 2016.

See also: 2015’s list, 2014’s list

  1. Frank Zappa – Meat Light (Zappa Records / UMe)

    A three-disc reissue of one of his creative peaks, featuring the original vinyl mix, an alternate version of the record and a trove of previously unreleased odds-and-ends. Easily the definitive version of one his best works.

  2. Lush – Chorus (4AD)

    The band’s entire recorded output, housed in a nice little box, and stuffed with alternate takes, acoustic versions, live cuts and more!

  3. Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders – GarciaLive Vol. 6: The Lion’s Share, 1973 (Round Records)

    Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders - GarciaLive Vol. 6: July 5, 1973 (Round Records/ATO)

    Coming in at #3: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders – GarciaLive Vol. 6

    Garcia at his most out there: a killer set from his time with Merl Saunders, when his playing at it’s apex and it seemed like anything was possible at any moment.

  4. Frank Zappa – Little Dots (Zappa Records/UMe)

    Zappa’s horn-drenched Petite Wazoo band, with lots of on-stage improvisations and guitar heroics. Enter through an early verison of “Cosmik Debris,” but make sure you stick around through the two-part improv “Columbus, SC.”

  5. The Beatles – Live at the Hollywood Bowl (Capitol)

    Newly remixed and with the crowd pushed way back, it’s finally possible to not only hear how them play, but how tight they were as a live band. The documentary is a hoot, too.

  6. Big Star – Complete Third (Omnivore)

    There’ll never be a definitive version of Big Star’s third LP, a freewheeling collection of Alex Chilton self-sabotage, but this collection of demos, works-in-progress and final takes is all anyone could want from a record which still haunts listeners a good four decades later.

  7. Charlie Parker – Unheard Bird (Verve)

    The Bird, presented with a heaping helping of false starts, alternate takes and finished versions. While it sounds like an odds-and-ends collection (and kind of is), it’s also a fascinating look at how his music progressed and shaped itself in the studio. You could call a best-of from an alternate dimension, an audio documentary or just a chance to hear some new Parker soloing.King Crimson - On and Off the Road (2016)

  8. King Crimson – On and Off the Road (DGM)

    Crimson’s 1981-84 lineup, presented in depth. Come for the remixed versions of their studio albums, stay for the killer live sets from 1982 and 1984. Don’t sleep on either of the two work-in-progress studio LPs, either.

  9. Albert Ayler – Bells/Prophecy: Expanded Edition (ESP Disc)

    It’s been over 45 years since Alyer’s untimely death, but as this reissue shows his playing still seems like it’s from another planet: harsh, expressive, wild and ultimately, part of a rich lineage of genre-busting sax players. Let’s hope other Ayler LPs like Spirits Rejoice get a deluxe treatment, too.

  10. Steve Hillage – Searching for the Spark (Madfish)

    Hillage to the nth degree: all his studio albums, four discs of rarities and demos, plus a generous helping of live concerts. Everything the hardcore fan could want, plus a bunch of stuff even a casual fan will like. If nothing else, every serious space/prog/classic rock fan should own copies of L, Motivation Radio and Green.

  11. Miles Davis – The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Freedom Jazz Dance (Columbia/Legacy)

    A set mostly drawn from raw session reels, this volume is a fascinating look at the inner workings of Davis’ famed Second Great Quartet, showing how they tackled new material in the studio. The rhythm section run-through of “Country Son” is also a facinating look behind the scenes.
    miles-davis-freedom-jazz-dance

  12. Frank Zappa – Crux of the Biscuit (Zappa Records / UMe)

    A dive into Zappa’s biggest-selling album, this has interesting alternate takes, a tasty live jam with Jack Bruce and even a his 1973 band playing a 23-minute opus about the perils of yellow snow.

  13. Jerry Garcia – GarciaLive Vol. 7: Palo Alto, 1976 (Round/ATO)

    Okay, so by 1976 Garcia had settled into something of a groove: occasional Motown covers, lots of roots rock and gospel and a stable backing band. As this shows, he wasn’t shy about laying down a nice groove, too. The setlists may have settled down but his playing hadn’t yet.

  14. Betty Davis – The Columbia Years: 1968-69 (Light In the Attic)

    A long-rumoured, never-heard slate of music, The Columbia Years is all it’s billed to be: swaggering funk, played by some of the finest musicians in Davis’ band (John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, etc) and featuring Betty Davis, only a couple of years away from groundbreaking albums like They Say I’m Different. You can hear three of four waves of music coming from this, everything from Headhunters to Bitches Brew to Purple Rain to The Love Below. And yet, nobody heard this music for over 40 years. They just heard what everyone involved did next.

  15. Grateful Dead – July 1978 (Rhino)

    A tasty selection of shows from their summer tour in 1978, this shows the late-70s lineup as the peak of their powers, in a variety of settings: fourth of July shows, football stadiums and half-filled concert halls. All the late-70s Dead jams are you you’d like (“Scarlet > Fire,” “The Other One,” and “Terrapin Station,” but don’t sleep on their cover of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” which would soon vanish from setlists. The Red Rocks show is available separately and recommended for jam band fans.

  16. Jack White – Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 (Columbia)

    True, White’s a loud guitar rocker, a guy who plays like 1967 never ended. At the same time, his acoustic side is easily overlooked, a problem this nice set should solve.

  17. Pink Floyd – The Early Years (Legacy)

    Okay, maybe it’s too much for anyone but the hardcore nut. And there is a notable dip in quality on some of these studio adventures. But even in it’s slimmed-down, 2-CD form, there’s plenty here showing the Floyd were plenty exciting between See Emily Play and Dark Side of the Moon. And as a set, you can track the creative spark (and implosion) of Syd Barrett and the band’s slow ascent up to a dark, lunar landmark LP.

  18. Led Zeppelin – Complete BBC Sessions (Rhino)

    Before the side-long tracks, fish misadventures and grandiose guitar solos, Zeppelin was a smoking-hot blues band who ripped off everyone in sight and were so good, people looked the other way. This set offers a nice example of why – and only occasionally shows the pompous excess they’d later fill sets with.

  19. Jimi Hendrix – Machine Gun: Fillmore East 12/31/1969 (Sony / Legacy)

    Not his most innovative band, nor his most famous, but for a moment Hendrix’ Band of Gypsies were a compelling mix of hard rock, electric blues and funk. Enter on “Hear My Train A-Comin’,” imagine what the unaware crowd must’ve made of “Machine Gun” and exit through a powerful “Burning Desire.”

  20. Bob Dylan – The Complete 1966 Live Recordings (Columbia/Legacy)

    Ain’t copyright a drag? This box has everything Dylan and his Band played in 1966: patchy audience tapes, professionally recorded dates and a fan yelling Judas, which would quickly become bootleg lore. The box is nice for the hardcore fan; the two-CD set doesn’t offer anything Volume Four has with more emotion (and with better liner notes). Although it’s too bad they didn’t compile a set of highlights featuring different songs, this box will fill a nice hole in any Dylanologist’s shelf.David Bowie - Who Can I Be Now (2016)

  21. Van Morrison – It’s Too Late To Stop Now Vol. II-IV (Legacy)

    Live Van in 1974, with complete shows and even a concert film. Might be overkill for most people, but that’s what Volume I is for. And for everyone else addicted to Van the man, three extra volumes might not be enough. But it’s a start.

  22. David Bowie – Who Can I Be Now? (Rhino / Parlophone)

    Well, any 70s Bowie is good Bowie and the newly-released The Gouster is interesting – if not as good as the finished album Young Americans – but still, I wish they included more bonuses. If you already own the Sound+Vision box and any of the anniversary editions, there isn’t much reason to upgrade. But if you don’t, this is where to start.

Freelance writer and music fan, whose writing has appeared on The Good Point, The Toronto Review of Books, and CTV.ca, among other places. Favorite albums: Dig Me Out, Live-Evil, Decade.