I Raise My Glass To The B-Side

Posted: January 18, 2013 in Uncategorized
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moonbeamMy very first music purchase was a strange one. I was 10, and Men Without Hats’ Pop Goes the World was topping the Canadian charts. Instead of buying the album, though, for some reason I bought a cassette EP of their second single, Moonbeam. Thus began a lifelong bent towards the random and the obscure.

My music collection has grown and shrunk at various times over the years, but I have always gravitated to those little gems found on b-sides, imports, or long-deleted releases. In the days before the Internet, that sometimes meant years of waiting for a rarity to pop up in a used record shop or a one-off record show.

I remember my amazement when a short-lived shop in my hometown of Ottawa, Canada had a two-cassette Australian ‘zine from 1981 including a demo of the Cure’s 100 Years. The Cure’s collector guide didn’t even have a picture of this treasure. To my chagrin, it’s since been cleaned up and released on a Rhino deluxe edition CD. Likewise, one fortuitous record show uncovered two copies of a US flexidisc with a hilarious demo of Sloan’s I Can Feel It. That little nugget was not included in the recent three-disc reissue of their classic album Twice Removed, so it remains an obscurity.

This blog is dedicated to completists and obscurists. Bit by bit, I hope to review and document the hundreds of records and singles I’ve gathered over the years. My tastes are very diverse – I grew up on mopey British 80s music (Cure, Depeche Mode, Morrissey/Smiths, New Order) and I still love the early releases of the era’s juggernauts: REM and U2. In the 90s I never got into grunge. Instead, I was one of two kids in my Canadian high school addicted to Britpop. On this side of the pond, there was no Blur-Oasis rivalry. If you even knew those bands (before Song 2 and Wonderwall), it was you against the world. Definitely Maybe was decadent rock ‘n roll in a world of brooding Seattle metal; Parklife was sophisticated, bubbly pop in a sea of three-chord punk. The 21st century has found me looking backwards: I’ve come to love the British Invasion, late 50’s jazz (John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk), Italian opera, and old country music.

It’s on that last note that I begin my blog. Given the recent release of Johnny Cash’s Complete Columbia Collection, which has rendered many of my old scratched up records obsolete, I’m going to work my way through his Columbia records catalogue, over 50 releases strong. Some are absolute classics, some are terrible, but all told, you’d be hard pressed to find another artist quite as iconic and prolific as Cash (and no, those endless Hendrix posthumous releases don’t count!).

Some other year I’ll get around to the Cure’s Live In Japan video or the minimalist beauty of Low and Ida, but I thought Cash would be as good a place to start as any. In my opinion, Johnny Cash is too often reduced to one thing. To some, he’s the Folsom Prison bad boy giving the finger to an annoying press photographer. To others, he’s a good ol’ boy singing well-worn hymns and songs about the cotton fields. I love Johnny Cash because he’s all these things and more, and it takes his entire catalogue to understand this. Including the worst of all Cash albums, Rainbow (how can Johnny Cash singing Creedence Clearwater Revival sound so bad?).

So that’s where I’ll start… over who knows how long, I’ll give a comprehensive look at Johnny Cash’s impressive Columbia catalogue, reviewing it record by record, pausing to discuss rarities and outtakes along the way. And who knows… I might just get around to his Sun, Mercury and American releases too!

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