Celebrating 45 Great Years of Rhino Records With Exclusive Vinyl (review)

Rhino Records Celebrates 45 Years with New Rhino Red Editions of Classic Albums

Each album comes with a bonus 45 rpm single

Rhino Records is the most important record label of the last 50 years.

While that might sound like hyperbole, the fact is, no other record company has done more to promote the rich history of music than Rhino.  From their humble beginnings issuing novelty records, the little label from California soon began to repackage forgotten hits of the past. Imagine what the genres of garage rock or girl groups or soul would be like without Rhino’s fantastic reissues.  They’ve also overseen countless classic album remasters, each with their meticulous attention to detail.  

In celebration of 45 great years, Rhino has started a Rhino Red campaign, taking a variety of legendary albums from their catalog and reissuing them on translucent red vinyl, along with a bonus 45 single.  Some are straight reissues, while others are special editions.  These exclusive editions are only available at rhino.com

The Doors – Golden Album

A recreation of a 1968 Japanese compilation that covers the band’s first three albums: The Doors, Strange Days, and Waiting For the Sun.  Mastered by Bruce Botnick and lacquers cut by Bernie Grundman Mastering, the album was pressed at Third Man in Detroit.  The deluxe gatefold jacket comes with a lyric booklet and photos of the band.  

I don’t think you can name a single LP Doors’ collection that features “Light My Fire” AND both epic pieces, “The End” and “When the Music’s Over.”  I’m surprised at side two’s track listing.  When you total all six of the songs, you’re at roughly 27 minutes, which is pretty full for an album side.  While one might quibble over the choices – “Moonlight Drive” seems an odd omission – but it’s a pretty killer, no filler look at the early days of the Doors.

The 7-inch single is an interesting one, a 33 rpm single featuring 5 songs also available on the album: “Hello, I Love You,” “Strange Days,” “The Unknown Soldier,” “Light My Fire,” and “People Are Strange.” Odd choices, since “Strange Days” especially wasn’t a single.  But, it’s maybe the only time that the full, album-length version of “Light My Fire” has been available on a 7-inch single.  

Todd Rundgren – Runt (early version)

Todd fans will delight with this discovery: a rare, “early mix” of the Runt album.  The biggest surprise is a full version of what became the Runt “Baby Let’s Swing Medley.”   I also hear echo on some of the tracks that isn’t on the later, more-common mix.  They’ve faithfully recreated the inner sleeve with the lyrics and band photos.

The 45 rpm single is the mono mix of “We Gotta Get You a Woman” backed with the “Baby Let’s Swing” Medley – also in mono.  They used the Bearsville logo for the LP, but they paid homage to the Ampex logo, but substituting the word “Rhino” instead.  

Doobie Brothers – Minute By Minute

Although this is touted as a straight reissue, this is sonically different from my 1978, OG LP.  “Here to Love You” seems compressed, while the kick drum and bass on “What a Fool Believes” seems louder.  Also, the claps on “Depending on You” also seem more prevalent.  They did faithfully recreate the album’s inner sleeve, complete with the giant doobie!

The 45 single is “What a Fool Believes” backed with the excellent, “Don’t Stop to Watch the Wheels.”

Chicago – V

Probably the best packaging of this series.  Two, large, black and white posters of the band.  Gatefold cover (but what band would literally not list the song titles either on the front or back cover 0R even the inside cover??

Chicago V was really a triumph considering it immediately followed the bloated, 4-LP live At Carnegie Hall box set, and the band’s previous studio album, Chicago III didn’t contain any major hit singles.  Chicago V also marked the first time the band issued a single LP – everything before that was a double album or the aforementioned live set.  

Side one is absolutely flawless.  Robert Lamm is on fire as a songwriter.  As some of Chicago’s previous releases featured a lot of styles of music, especially excursions into jazz and experimentation.  Here, the band seems focused.  But, make no mistake, this is still very much the classic, Chicago sound.  With the very next album, the band would find success in ballads.  “Dialogue Part 1 & 2” is the perfect fusion of melody and improvisation.  Guitarist Terry Kath has a killer solo at the end. 

Side two starts with a funky, jazz number called “While the City Sleeps.”  I love Cetera’s bass on this.  It’s followed by the quintessential Chicago song, “Saturday in the Park.”  The horns sound somewhat muted here on this new vinyl version for some reason.  It is truly one of the greatest pop songs in history.  “State of the Union” is a great, slinky rocker.  The album ends with “Alma Mater,” giving Kath an opportunity to show off his acoustic guitar skills over some rather unique chord changes.  

Foreigner – Agent Provacateur

A side-by-side comparison of the new, Red version to an original album shows this new one to be warmer, with more low end.  This album is very digital sounding in any format, they were using the tools of the moment, including synth drums. Their previous album, 4, was a huge success, but also introduced a more pop element.  Here, Foreigner sounds trapped between two worlds.  They started out as a hard rock outfit, but every rocker here sounds forced.  “Reaction to Action” and “Tooth and Nail” suffer from mid-Eighties production, so lack the punch of their earlier work (even though the guitars are meaty, they’re wrapped in echoed drums and a gloss that isn’t necessary).  

By contrast, the pop side of things really shine.  “That Was Yesterday” is still a fabulous single, “I Want to Know What Love Is” is the heartfelt ballad follow up to “Waiting For a Girl Like You.”  Some of the album’s best songs are on side two, like the sleeper album cut “Love in Vain,” while “Down on Love” perhaps should’ve been a bigger hit.  Both are synth driven, but still sound great.  

The 45 rpm single included is the single version of “I Want to Know What Love Is” backed with “Street Thunder,” an instrumental which sounds like it came from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack.  It isn’t really memorable though.  The 45 Atlantic label is actually incorrect.  I believe it had the “F” Foreigner logo.

The original album sleeve featured a raised letter “F” but that was probably too pricey to recreate.  

Also available is Love’s second album, De Capo, in its rare, mono version.  The accompanying single has “7 & 7 Is” backed with the non-LP “No. Fourteeen”; Love Man, Otis Redding’s third posthumous album, here in stereo, along with a promotional EP featuring four songs in mono from the same album; and Aretha Franklin’s fifth Atlantic album, Soul ’69, featuring the single “Gentle on My Mind,” backed with the non-LP “I Can’t See Myself Leaving You.”

Rhino Red offers a chance to grab unique copies of some of the classic albums in the Rhino catalog.  Some, like the Doors and Todd Rundgren, are worth getting because they offer different versions.  Either way, this is an excellent way to celebrate the many accomplishments of Rhino Records.  Here’s to another 45!  —Tony Peters