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Marking time

Culture performing in 1981 (David Corio/Redferns/Getty Images)

Marking time

Some anniversary editions make sense as well as money

Ever since the CD era, the music industry has banked on the willingness of the average consumer to re-purchase his favorite recordings whenever they appear in bigger, better formats. It’s a gamble of which the proliferation of expanded “anniversary editions” is the latest example.

Sometimes the approach makes aesthetic as well as financial sense, especially when the album in question was underappreciated to begin with and therefore deserves rediscovery. A recent example is the two-disc 40th-anniversary edition of Two Sevens Clash (VP) by the Jamaican reggae vocal trio Culture.

Upon its initial release, the album suffered commercially by being unavailable in the United States except as a pricey and hard-to-get import and by not having been made by Bob Marley—then as now, practically the only reggae performer capable of amassing large sales. By the time Shanachie Records released Two Sevens Clash stateside in 1987, its moment had passed.

That moment, by the way, was a literal one—July 7, 1977, to be precise. Rastafarians such as Culture’s leader Joseph Hill believed that on that day, in keeping with a prediction reportedly made by Marcus Garvey in 1944, the apocalypse would ensue.

Culture’s hopeful anticipation inspired in them and their accompanying musicians an irresistible soulfulness. The guitars and keyboards blend atop the rhythm section’s liquid pulse, saturating Hill’s grainy tenor with an empyreal quality tarnished only slightly by the increasing awareness during the last 40 years of the foolishness of Hill’s beliefs and the likelihood that the recordings took place amid a marijuana haze. Unlike many stimulant-free but equally mistaken Rapture-themed Jesus-rock recordings of the 1970s, Two Sevens Clash endures as music.

And the 11 bonus tracks on the anniversary edition’s second disc extend rather than dissipate the official material. As the original recording’s 33 minutes have always left listeners wanting more, another 52 minutes are most welcome.

Many of this year’s anniversary packages, however, wear out their welcomes pretty fast. One might have thought, for instance, that a 50th-birthday edition of the Doors’ eponymous debut album would contain more than a remastered stereo version, a remastered mono version, and eight bootleg-quality live tracks (“The End,” unfortunately, among them). And the 40th-birthday edition of Jethro Tull’s charming progressive folk-rock Songs from the Wood could’ve done without the two unprepossessing live discs that make listening to the whole thing feel like a slog.

Somewhere between essential and dispensable are the Beach Boys’ two-disc 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow (Capitol) and the “super deluxe edition” of U2’s 30-year-old bestseller, The Joshua Tree (Island).

The U2 box’s main selling point is the inclusion of a 1987 Madison Square Garden concert during which the Joshua Tree material—the studio renditions of which still suffer from Bono’s delusions of Tarzan-like grandeur—gets the stuffiness knocked out of it. And, as they did in the film Rattle and Hum, Harlem’s New Voices of Freedom steal “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

The Beach Boys package leads off with a new, mostly stereo mix of Wild Honey, followed by alternate and live versions of Wild Honey material and contemporaneous leftovers. So why isn’t it titled Wild Honey: 50th Anniversary Edition?

Probably because Wild Honey has never been a strong seller, released as it was in the wake of the group’s popularity-deflating post-SMiLE-debacle. It should have been a smash. Stripped down, upbeat, and fun fun fun, it proved that, doubtful though it seemed at the time, options besides self-parody and self-destruction lay open to the band.