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CD CORNER : Catching Up on Ray & Sam

November 22, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN

Despite the avalanche of old catalogue albums being released on compact disc, several classic works are still available only in vinyl or cassette.

Pete Howard, publisher of the informative International CD Exchange newsletter, reports that at least 15 of the 100 best rock albums ever made--as defined by Paul Gambaccini's book, "Critic's Choice"--are still unavailable on compact disc. They include Otis Redding's "Otis Blue" and the Who's "The Who Sell Out."

No major artist perhaps has been as under-represented on CD as Ray Charles, arguably the most influential figure in the development of modern soul music and a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Only two of Charles' early jazz and R&B albums on Atlantic Records are now on CD: "The Great Ray Charles" and "Ray Charles Live." The singer-pianist's '60s work on ABC-Paramount--both recordings, like "Hit the Road, Jack," that continued in the R&B tradition and those, such as "Born to Lose," that represented a dramatic sidestep into country--have been absent from the CD market, except in limited import editions.

However, Dunhill Compact Classics, the Northridge-based CD-only label, has arranged with Charles, who owns the ABC-Paramount masters, to release two CD retrospectives, both of which have 20 songs and more than an hour of music. Charles worked with Dunhill's Steve Hoffman on the digital remix and remastering of the master tapes.

Rather than arrange the 40 tracks chronologically or by type of music, Dunhill, hoping to encourage the Charles fan to buy both, simply divided the spoils among the two discs. Thus, "His Greatest Hits, Vol. 1" (63 minutes) contains "Georgia on My Mind" and "Born to Lose," while "Vol. 2" (66 minutes) features "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "America the Beautiful." Sound quality varies, but is mostly good.

Charles' only rival as a soul influence in the '50s and '60s, the late Sam Cooke, had an especially interesting career because he seemed to be traveling down two musical paths at the same time: a gritty gospel-pop synthesis that was aimed primarily at a black music market and a softer, more homogenized style that seemed targeted for a broader pop audience.

The soulful side of Cooke is best captured in "Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963," a 37-minute CD released earlier this year by RCA. Now, Allen Klein's ABCKO Records has released on CD a second live album that showcases the smoother, pop side of Cooke: "Sam Cooke at the Copa" (45 minutes).

Recorded at the Copacabana nightclub in New York in 1964, the album--which was been out of print for 20 years on vinyl and cassette--features Cooke singing such mainstream numbers as "The Best Thing in Life Are Free" and "Tennessee Waltz" (along with a surprise rendition of "Blowin' in the Wind") in an warm, agreeable style, but offering little of the showstopping urgency of the "Harlem Square" package. Cooke's numerous studio hits--from "You Send Me" and "Wonderful World"--are contained in RCA's "The Man and His Music" (70 minutes).

FINAL SPINS: With Rycodisc's CD-only release of Jimi Hendrix's "Live at Winterland" drawing considerable media attention, Warner Bros.' CD release of Hendrix's "The Cry of Love" (40 minutes) and "Electric Ladyland" is especially timely. But some Hendrix fans will squawk when they find they are having to pay for two discs when the music on the album only totals slightly more than 74 minutes--which could be accommodated on a single disc. Explains Rick Wietsma, vice president of production, "The only way we could fit the album on one disc would be to trim at least 30 seconds of music and we simply don't feel comfortable tampering with history." On why the CD album wasn't discounted, he said, "The issue of CD pricing is something that has to be dealt with. . . . In this case, the album was always considered a double-album and still is."

PolyGram releases Monday a revised version of the Alan Parsons Project's "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" (42 minutes), a musical interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe stories that was released originally in 1976. The CD features a narrative segment by Orson Welles that wasn't included in the original LP, plus some new music.

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