Is it possible to review a work of art without witnessing it, but only reading a press kit about it? Since the very idea seems to have a Warholian ring to it, let’s give it a shot.
15 Minutes is not your usual box set, which is to be expected since Andy Warhol wasn’t a musician. It is instead a work of visual art itself – a collection of 12×12-inch silkscreens by sixteen visual artists “who either knew or worked with Andy Warhol or were influenced by him”, each accompanied by an audio recording, pressed onto three CDs and four vinyl LPs. The audio contributions range from conversational reminiscences to poetry readings to avant garde music. Of the rockers in the fold, Bob Dylan contributes the cover to Self Portrait and the familiar recording of “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, while Patti Smith offers a recent reading of her poem “Edie Sedgwick”. As a piece of audio, it’s interesting, if you can get into something like a guy reciting “Uh yes” and “Uh no” for fifteen minutes. Some of the music is OK but placing Dylan doing one of his most classic songs in the middle of it is not a fair fight. The poetry pieces by the people known as poets are generally the most successful, which makes sense since they’re rather in their element, compared to visual artists dabbling in a less familiar medium.
But even the people who do enjoy such things would never spend $600 for a copy, were it not for the art world, in which limited editions of tributes to a famous artist which include none of that artist’s own work can still sell for big money. Indeed, the rock world has no equivalent to the $20,000 Super-Deluxe box set – identical to the $600 set except that it will bear signatures on the prints and the guarantee that the screens were made by hand by Warhol’s own printmaker. There’s only 85 of them in the world, but STILL. The art collector world is on a whole other level of valuation from the record collector world. As a result I’m not sure whether to call the thing “overpriced”, or “priced about right” or even a “bargain.” Since I don’t own the actual thing I can’t think about whether it’s going to rise or fall in value, how happy I’ll be in twenty years that I got one while I could, or if maybe I could someday trade it to another collector for something I really want.
This undeniably handsome set takes an interesting approach: an exhaustive documentation of every single day in a pivotal year, combining all the studio masters, all the outtakes, and all the professionally recorded live sets. The music on the Studio Masters disc, containing the tracks from his first two LPs on RCA and the singles of the period, is unshakably great hot-shit rock and roll, something you should absolutely have on your shelf. The live recordings on disc three, including a previously unreleased complete show from the Louisiana State Fair, show him to be a reliably intense presence as well as one of the most polished performers in rock.
But after that, the fourth disc of studio outtakes, dominated by eleven nearly identical takes of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and twelve of “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, and the fifth disc of interviews, are for completists only. The $160 online price is about triple what it would cost you to pick up a copy of the Complete 50s Masters box which includes all the same studio material, most of the outtakes, and of course a lot of great songs from those other years of the fifties. And if outtakes, live shows and interviews don’t appeal, you could just pick up a copy of the single-disc collection Elvis 56 for about $12. What this set adds for people who already own that is: an elaborate box, containing 8×10 prints, replica ticket stubs and concert posters along with an 80-page book that details what Elvis did every single day of 1956, a 7-inch single, some live material and outtakes, most of which can be found on similarly affordable collections, and some unreleased interviews.
The material is fantastic, but you may want to choose a more efficient delivery method if fancy packaging and limited edition collectibility isn’t a high priority. But if you’ve got ducats to blow, that Louisiana State Fair set really is great, as thrilling a live album as I’ve heard from the era despite its bootleg sound quality, and the day-by-day timeline of the book offers a rare chance to trace an artist’s career right when it’s taking shape, starting the year in municipal auditoriums, finishing it up in arenas, tracing every step along the way.
For this single disc career retrospective, Patti herself picked songs from every album in her catalog, giving equal weight to each era. At this point the body of work produced in her “comeback” period dwarfs the seventies output that made her name, so it’s appropriate that over half the running time of this compilation is devoted to the music she’s made since her return to public life in 1996. While that seminal seventies work is better represented on the two-disc collection Land 1975-2002, Outside Society may be useful for folks who already have the early records but never picked up the later ones, which contain some real gems among them. For the audience it seems ultimately aimed at – people who haven’t heard much Patti at all but have recently heard about her via the book Just Kids – it’s a coherent and strong sampler, and Smith’s liner notes describing the inspiration for each track are illuminating.
This album was originally issued in 1972, a live compilation aimed at presenting songs that Hendrix hadn’t released in studio versions, including covers like “Johnny B. Goode”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and his deconstruction of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as well as originals that hadn’t been on previous live albums. Recorded over multiple locations between early 1969 and summer of 1970, it’s somewhat disjointed as it flies from year to year, Noel Redding and Billy Cox swapping bass duties, but if you can ignore the dislocation of space and time, the performances are all strong. Hendrix collectors who own the original vinyl will note that this reissue replaces “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and “Little Wing” with alternate versions and adds three additional songs from San Diego in May 1969 – “Fire”, “I Don’t Live Today” and a phenomenal extended jam on “Spanish Castle Magic.” It’s a worthwhile addition to even the most modest Jimi collections.