“Brutal out there” may be a good description for how Record Store Day Black Friday will feel for those customers who have their appetites set only on the limited-edition piece that Olivia Rodrigo has coming out for the occasion. Rodrigo is essentially playing the role of Taylor Swift this time around, in drawing the attention of consumers who might otherwise be fine leaving a Record Store Day event alone with a special release that will be noted for its immediate scarcity — in this case, “Guts: The Secret Tracks,” a four-song EP that has not been pressed in anything near the quantity to meet the demand. Participating indie stores may want to stock tissues by the door; some have already preemptively warned customers they were allocated few or none of the 7,500 copies copies of the title).
Will it be any consolation to Rodrigo devotees that this RSD event is teeming with another 175 exclusive vinyl titles or so, most of them also worthy finds that will much easier to come by on Black Friday or beyond? Maybe not — it’s understandable that her fans would be obsessed with picking up the EP that includes her song “Obsessed.” But there really is a lot more goodness where that came from in this RSD BF lineup, not all of them doorbusters.
From the list of 175 releases, we’ve culled 20 especially good items we were able to preview ahead of the Black Friday holiday… and yes, “Guts: The Secret Tracks” leads that list, because it really is that good. (Sorry for not letting everyone down gently.) Do check out the full list of today’s RSD releases here, and a searchable database of participating stores here. And read on for a curated selection of highlights worth further salivating after the holiday stuffing.
Olivia Rodrigo, “Guts: The Secret Tracks” (purple vinyl, 12” EP, 7,500 copies)
For anyone who may not yet know what the hoopla is about, this release rounds up the four numbers that Rodrigo previously only put out as unlisted bonuses on different vinyl variants of her excellent sophomore album, “Guts,” in September. All four are strong enough — B+ tracks at worst, and that’s a conservative assessment — that they would have been worthy inclusions on the main track list. “Obsessed,” co-written and performed with the rocker-queen St. Vincent as well as Dan Nigro, is the banger of the four (and also, conveniently, the one that was already tagged onto the vast majority of LP variations, so it’s no obscurity at this point). But there’s as much to be said for the pungency of the acoustically based other three: “Scared of My Guitar” (because “I can’t lie to it the same way that I lie to you”), “Stranger” (“I’ll love you ‘til the end of time / You are the best thing that I’ll keep so far out of my life”) and a more playful kiss-off, “Girl I’ve Always Been,” that suggests Rodrigo might have a country record in her. It’s hard to imagine that she won’t ultimately find some more accessible way of issuing these tracks to a wider public, like a digital release. But for this weekend, let the hunger games to procure a copy begin.
Noah Kahan, “Cape Elizabeth EP” (marble vinyl, 12” EP, 5,000 copies)
Kahan might currently be the hottest of all this year’s best new artist Grammy nominees, the molten Ice Spice notwithstanding. He already made his 2020 EP “Cape Elizabeth” readily available for digital downloads and streaming, so that may ameliorate the demand for its first significant availability as a physical product in three years… but — who are we kidding — not by much. Because if you look at the Discogs record-collector site, existing copies of the collection on vinyl have been going for a median of $80 and as high as $300, when they’re even available. “Cape Elizabeth,” which was originally conceived and released as a homespun outlet for his feelings during the early phases of the pandemic — a mini-“Folklore,” if you will — will now be getting its day before a wider audience, due to this RSD exposure. Never mind that these newly pressed vinyl copies may end up again feeling as hard to find as a twig in the forest during stick season.
Nas, “I AM… Autobiography” (black vinyl, 2-LP set, 4,100 copies)
There‘s never been a Record Store Day event so heavy on hip-hop catalog releases, including titles from Dr. Dre (a CD longbox version of “The Chronic”), De La Soul (a 7” boxed set of “3 Feet High and Rising” tracks), Schooly-D (“Get on Down”) and Lil Wayne (whose “I Am Music” hits set is not to be confused with Nas’ similarly titled release). But probably none is so anticipated by the cognoscenti as a first-time-ever Nas album under the title of “I AM… Autobiography,” due to a complicated legacy, or even legend, dating back to the late ‘90s. The faithful will remember that the rapper promised a concept double-album by this name, only pull it back, possibly in pique, after a version of it got leaked and bootlegged. Ulitimately, most of the tracks saw the light of day on three other releases (“I Am…,” “Nastradamus” and “The Lost Tapes”), which didn’t negate the intrigue of the unissued original. So does this title, a quarter-century later, finally deliver the full opus, which ran to some 30 numbers? No, surely frustratingly to some, this tops out at 13 tracks… but it does come closer than anything has or probably will, re-collecting most of the tracks that got dispersed to other projects and adding a handful that were previously officially unreleased. (Just don’t expect any annotation in the package, as uncovering the backstory of this release will remain a strictly DIY affair.)
Joni Mitchell, “Court and Spark Demos” (black vinyl, single LP, 6,300 copies)
Rhino and Warner Records will frequently mine their boxed sets to pull out a single LP’s worth of material that makes sense for Record Store Day. That’s the case with this vinyl sidebar of demos originally released in August as part of “Joni Mitchell Archives, Vol. 3: The Asylum Years 1972-1975.” That five-CD set was a lot to wade through for less intently devoted fans, who may be more interested in this distilled selection — but even those who already own the boxed set are likely to want to put this bespoke LP on the turntable as a distinct listen. It finds Mitchell in one of her more commercially successful periods even as she’s chafing against the limits of folk-rock, in demos that have her mostly self-accompanied on piano on Side 1 and mostly on acoustic guitar on the flip side (with overdubbed backing vocals) — including the hit “Help Me” in a less completely breezy mode and a full piano suite of other songs targeted for “Court and Spark.” The artwork may be enough for some to want to pick it up, anyway (and has anyone pointed out how much, in the studio shot on the cover — she looks like a fresh-faced ringer for Boygenius’ Julien Baker)?
Gram Parsons, “Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels — The Last Roundup: Live from the Bijou Café in Phildaelphia March 16th 1973” (black vinyl, 2-LP set, 7,500 copies)
For a fuller accounting of why this is one of the essential RSD Black Friday releases this year, refer to Variety’s stand-alone review of the Parsons live album, the first issue of previously (greviously?) unreleased material from the country-rock icon in about 40 years. Amoeba Records is not an imprint that puts something out every day, or every decade, so it’s easy to feel the passion of the retail chain’s co-founder, Dave Prinz, in bringing this tape to the public a half-century after Parsons’ death. Emmylou Harris really could get full co-billing, so prominent are her near-constant vocals, and a few moments of solo vocals — these count nearly as much as duets as they are, technically, harmony parts.
Prince, “Gett Off!” (black vinyl, 12” single, 7,000 copies)
Warning: Exposure to this release could result in the involuntary public singing of the hook “Twenty-three positions in a one-night stand,” which could be cause for excommunication from further family gatherings this holiday weekend. The recent “Diamonds and Pearls” boxed set gets a fun spinoff in this one-track product, which revives the otherwise unavailable “Damn Near 10 Min.” mix of that album’s biggest hit. This version was issued prior to the album in a very limited edition of only about 1,500 12-inch singles that were sent to DJs. If you were to try to buy that record today, Discogs registers it having sold for a median of $300 and a high of $700… not that there are any copies on the market at the moment. The packaging recreates Prince’s hand-drawn design, all the way down to the lack of any printing on the back cover, and the absence of any label info whatsoever. (Sony Music went humble in duplicating that.) Prince’s lead guitar and Eric Leeds’ so-ahead-of-its-time flute solo up the ante.
Los Lobos, “Kiko (30th Anniversary Edition)” (black vinyl, 3-LP set, 3,500 copies)
Los Lobos’ breakout with something closer to an art project than the roots-rock the band had previously been known for gets celebrated in the first vinyl issue for “Kiko” since it came out three decades ago. Spread across three LPs and a triple gatefold jacket, the reissue has the original album spread across two slabs of vinyl instead of the original one for higher fidelity, then tags on a bonus LP wih alternate versions of key tracks on one side and a few very loose studio jam sessions on the flip. None of the bonus material will read as essential, but it’s “Kiko,” damn it — a landmark that’s saintly beneath producer Mitchell Froom’s paint, and more than worth the vinyl revival.
The Doors, “Live in Bakersfield” (orange vinyl, 2-LP set, 7,500 copies; also, 12,500 CD copies) The doors of perception were misleading for you if you imagined that there couldn’t possibly be any more unreleased Doors concert material in the can. But the music is never really over for this group that’s been gone for more than 50 years, especially when there’s a tape whose existence has been talked up among the faithful as this one. Fairer-weather fans should be aware that the sound quality on this is not such that probably anyone is going to play it over and over again as the sole Doors live set in their collection; it was recorded up in Buck Country in 1970 with two ambient stage mics feeding into to a reel-to-reel, which got transferred to a cassette, not by a sound truck. But with that low-fi caveat established, it’s a perfectly listenable show that’s often fascinating for the flights of fancy that emerge as seemingly spontaneous medleys in the set list. Excellent annotation inside the gatefold jacket offers an interesting history of the tape and a guide to the set’s nuances.
Margo Price, “Strays (Live at Grimey’s)” (marble vinyl, single LP, 2,000 copies)
A pressing of 2,000 isn’t a lot for a strong live album from an artist of Price’s stature. (And this writer can attest to the dangers of sleeping on a limited edition of a special release of hers, having missed out on the vinyl of her new “Strays II” album, which sold out before it was even released, so don’t make the same mistake.) The singer-songwriter celebrated the release of her “Strays” album this past January with an in-store at Nashville’s most renowned record shop, putting on a six-song set that included four numbers from “Strays,” one from a previous album and a made-for-a-soundtrack song that has yet to be released anywhere else. She and her band sounds like they’re playing for a packed theater, not blue-light shoppers; almost the only giveaway that it’s an-store occurs when Price offers to sign record buyers’ cleavage in the line afterward. With the singer taking “Light Me Up” to an even more feverish place live than on record, you have to wonder how many Grimey’s customers might’ve been blushing. (Speaking of color: The “sangria” marbled vinyl on this one is about as pretty as tracks-on-wax gets.)
Cal Tjader, “Catch the Groove: Live at the Penthouse (1963-1967)” (black vinyl, 3-LP set, 2,000 copies)
Nothing says good vibes better than… vibes. Right? The jazz great Tjader did not phone in his vibraphones, and “Catch the Groove” is testament to just how much sustained interest that undervalued instrument can hold, although the other members of his ensemble certainly hold their own in upholding the variety of the arrangements. Tjader is also one of the key figures in the development of the Latin jazz subgenre, even though the extensive liner notes reveal that even some of his biggest acolytes didn’t get that he was a suburban white guy of Swedish descent, not a Latino. As is typical with many of his shows, the concert gets underway with some more traditional jazz before a fifth member of the quintet joins in on percussion, so there’s plenty of sublime stuff here whether your tastes run toward the Latin flavor or not. This is one of a series of albums that “jazz detective” Zev Feldman has produced using tapes from the archives of the Penthouse, a Seattle club that had a weekly live broadcast. As the source of other Penthouse-recorded releases even this year (see below), it’s a trove that looks to keep on giving for a long time to come.
Ahmad Jamal, “Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse (1966-1968)” (black vinyl, 2-LP set, 2,300 copies)
As promised, here’s more from the archives of the Penthouse in Seattle. (As the copious liner notes remind us, the Penthouse was located on the ground floor of its building, so go figure… but as a future depository of tapes of visits by many of jazz’s all-time greats, the club certainly earned the right to go by any name it wanted.) Turns in the Penthouse from this legendary pianist were plentiful enough that the new double-album is the third and final in a series of releases from his appearances there in ‘60s. The sad factor is that this was apparently put into production shortly before Jamal died this year, as the notes refer to him as a supervisor on the project, and not in the past tense. That he lived to see the public interest in these outstanding archival albums is almost as much of a joy as hearing the well-recorded and -preserved music itself.
Sia, “Everyday Is Christmas (Snowman EP)” (splatter vinyl, 12” EP, 7,000 copies)
It’s bloody merry. Sia’s 2017 Christmas album was and is one of the best modern entries in the holiday genre. From the following year, 2018, until now, she’s followed up with deluxe editions and expansions of the original set, including a 20-track update, as of this year, this is available for streaming and download and on a limited webstore CD. This EP takes “Snowman,” the biggest hit from the six-year-old album, and tags on five of the more recent bonus tracks, pressed on candy-cane-style splatter vinyl. Thankfully, unlike some of the other colorful releases this year that hide their light under a bushel, the Sia EP comes in a see-through package, for purposes of display. It should also come with a label cautioning buyers not to give in to primordial urges and attempt to eat it.
JD McPherson, “The Warm Covers LP” (splatter vinyl, single LP, 2,250 copies)
Concertgoers who saw McPherson both opening for and playing in the band of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on recent tours were privvy to a secret many of us already knew: that the singer-guitarist is one of the coolest musicians on the planet at present. His coolness will be in no way diminished by this exclusive RSD covers album, which culls nine songs from digital EPs that McPherson put out in 2014 and 2022, then adds three completely fresh tracks recorded especially for this 2023 set to round things out. McPherson is known primarily as a roots guy, so you may wonder how he’ll adapt his style to something like Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream,” but he gets there, in his spooky, baritone-guitar way. With the cover choices ranging from Iggy Pop to Nick Lowe to the Velvet Underground to the country group Alabama (!), McPherson’s must-get LP is a cornucopia of sources and sounds that proves you can be an all-out omnivore and still maintain an unmistakably singular identity.
Willie Nelson, “Shotgun Willie (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)” (black vinyl, 2-LP set, 5,500 copies)
Along with his 90th birthday, Nelson is celebrating — or at least we are — the 50th anniversary of the biggest signal change in his career, when he was switching labels (from RCA to Atlantic), cities (Nashville to Austin) and just overall ethos and aesthetics, going from being one of Music City’s undervalued in-laws to country music’s greatest outlaws. “Shotgun Willie” wasn’t quite as developed as the albums that immediately succeeded it, and maybe could have used a bit less horn section — but it’s still the beginning of a great second act for Nelson that hasn’t died down over a half-century. This RSD vinyl release includes the original album on one disc and then a set of alternate versions and outtakes on the other, including another balladic “Song for You” and a more chillaxed “Whiskey River,” soon to become an all-time concert signature song. Although this bonus material was included in a CD boxed set of his Atlantic sides in the 2000s, it still feels worthwhile to have all the “Shotgun” material get its own singular vinyl release.
Aimee Mann, “Dead Eyes” (black vinyl, 7” single, 1,000 copies)
When Mann says she’s doing an RSD-only piece, it’s an RSD-only piece… as learned by fans who have waited and wished for a represssing of the “Bachelor No. 2” reissue she put out and sold out a few years ago. A 7-inch single that just includes two versions of a song she wrote and recorded as the theme song for Connor Ratliff’s “Dead Eyes” podcast may count as a trifle, but if so, at 1,000 copies. it’s a trifle that you won’t pick up on day one at your peril.
War, “The World Is a Ghetto (50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition)” (gold and black vinyl, 5-LP set, 2,000 copies)
It’s hard to remember a more expansive vinyl set dedicated to celebrating just a single CD — with War’s “Ghetto” album from 1973 getting the five-record-set treatment from Rhino and company. But there’s more deservedness to that luxriousness than you probably know or remember. With so many 50-year-old albums being celebrated this year, put your hand up if you actually knew that “Ghetto” was officially the bestselling album of 1973, not “Dark Side of the Moon.” Rhino’s boxed set is as handsomely packages as it is exhaustive: Within the hard outer shell are separately housed 2- and 3-LP sets, in double or triple gatefolds. One package includes the original LP on gold vinyl and bonus tracks on an additonal black disc; the second set (all on black) is made up of six 25-minute-or-so jam sessions that led to the album’s major tracks. The exploratory jams, honestly, aren’t something most fans are going to listen to more than once, and would probably exist fine as digital files in someone’s collections… but they do prove how quiet the vinyl is, as the band stops to talk between generating ideas. It all feels appropriate, anyway, in the service of an album that shouldn’t be forgotten, and of a group that has one of the weirder origin stories in rock — as laid out in a long but fascinating oral written history.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, “Mindsets” (black vinyl, single LP, 2,900 copies)
Give this one credit for real conceptual novelty value, for a start: Side 1 consists of five new studio tracks, and Side 2 contains live renditions of the very same tracks. Given the choice, the concert renditions get the nod; it’s not as if the studio versions are so slickly rendered that you don’t just want to automatically jump anyway to the rougher feel that Jett and her band achieve in whatever unmarked venue these performances took place it. The material is on the punky side, but kudos to Jett for slipping in the very country-Western waltz “Whiskey Don’t Go Bad” and placing it right next to a slamdance generator like “Shooting Into Space.”
Les McCann, “Never A Dull Moment! Live From Coast To Coast (1966-1967)” (black vinyl, 3-LP set, 2,500 copies)
Later on in his career, McCann got trippier, alternately dipping into free jazz and experiments with synthesizers. But at this earlier date in the mid-‘60s, he’s just content to be one of traditional jazz’s better crowd-pleasing pianists. It’s a style that his contemporaries, in the liner-note essays and interviews, keep describing as “joyful,” as if they all got the same memo, even though they didn’t. (Even a non-jazz cat like Bonnie Raitt weighs in with an appreciation.) The style, which some termed soul-jazz, came out of the church, from all indications, for all the secularity of McCann’s playful personality. He’s still with us, and listening to this captivating collection is one way to give him his flowers now.
Wes Montgomery/Wynton Kelly Trio, “Maximum Swing: The Unissued 1965 Half Note Recordings” (black vinyl, 3-LP set, 3,000 copies)
Montgomery’s most famous album, one of the landmark albums of ‘60s jazz, was “Swingin’ at the Half Note,” and Zev Feldman was determined to show there was a lot more swing where that undulating came from. With Kelly’s band in tow, Montgomery had a fine setting for showing off the chops that made figures like George Benson into serious devotees. Jazz guitar doesn’t come any finer, so if you’ve been sleeping on Montgomery for a half-century, “Half Note” is not a half-bad place to get started, even before moving on to his signature albums. By the time you get to Side 6, there is some material where the source tapes had more problems than the rest of the collection, and required a lot of work to get them in the same ballpark as the majority of the material here. But the uniqueness of those performances was worth it, and reading in the elaborate booklet notes about the work that went into restoring and mixing the tapes is nearly as captivating as the music itself. In the after-glow of Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks for the folks who do the labor-of-love restoration work that lets us time-travel back to one-of-a-kind nights 60 years ago.
There are plenty of big and small names represented beyond these on RSD’s list of 175 titles. Read the full list here to see what there is to get caught up on from U2, Post Malone, Kim Petras, the Grateful Dead, Motley Crue, Chet Baker, the Monkees, Sparks, Faces, My Morning Jacket, Madlib, Charles Mingus, Norah Jones, Jesus Lizard, the Flaming Lips, Lenny Kaye, Amos Lee, Rilo Kiley, X and dozens more.