REISSUE HISTORY

Please note that throughout this website the name "Ryko" is used to identify the 1993-1995 reissue program and "Rhino" to identify the 2001-2006 reissue program. These names are used for the sake of simplicity, but they are not strictly accurate. Both reissue programs were produced in collaboration with Demon Records, which has been responsible since 1986 for the vast majority of the UK releases of Costello's 1977-1987 catalog.

THE RYKO YEARS

Between 1993 and 1995, Elvis Costello's first 11 albums were reissued with a generous selection of bonus tracks. The reissues were largely assembled by Demon in the UK, with Rykodisc providing additional input and issuing them in the US.

The reissues were extremely well received, and with good reason. They were intelligently assembled and attractive packages. In addition to gathering together most of Elvis' key non-album tracks and placing them onto the chronologically appropriate albums, they featured what seemed at the time like quite a lot of unreleased material.

Although it has since become clear that the choice of bonus material was sometimes haphazard, today the Ryko releases suffer only in comparison with the more extensive Rhino versions. The Ryko presentation remains superior to the handling of the vast majority of other artists' catalogs.

After the expiration of the Ryko deal, the catalog was available in 2000 through EMusic.com as MP3 downloads. The next reissue program would begin the following year.

ENTER RHINO

The Rhino reissue program was first announced to the world in a posting dated February 28, 2001 on John Everingham's Elvis Costello fan site:

The June release date was eventually postponed to August. Two other details either changed or had been inaccurate to begin with. The CDs would be released three at a time, and the additional bonus tracks would not be limited to two. (It seems possible the implication that the bonus discs would have exactly two new bonus tracks is based only on My Aim Is True, the only album previously released by Ryko included in Rhino's first batch of reissues. Rhino's version actually added four bonus tracks, but only two of them were previously unreleased.)

Although not specifically stated in the initial posting, anyone with the knowledge that Rhino Records is part of Warner Music Group could have guessed that Rhino's program might extend to Elvis' Warner Bros. catalog. (Unlike Costello's 1977-1987 catalog, which was initially licensed to other companies with the rights gradually reverting back to Elvis, the 1989-1997 Warner Bros. catalog is owned outright by Warner Bros. In the UK, the majority of what I call "the Rhino reissues" are actually on Demon Records' Edsel label, with only the six albums owned by Warner Bros. released by Rhino.)

BACKGROUND

Rhino's relationship with Elvis began with the 1998 album Bespoke Songs, Lost Dogs, Detours & Rendezvous: Songs Of Elvis Costello, which collected Costello songs performed by other artists, with an emphasis on the songs Elvis never released himself. After Rykodisc's rights to the catalog expired, Rhino made an offer and became the new American home of the Costello catalog.

The original plan actually involved single-disc reissues for at least some of the titles, which would have severely limited the amount of bonus material. Thankfully, the plan changed to the much more ambitious double-disc format for all releases. Similarly, the extensive liner notes penned by Elvis himself, now a trademark of the Rhino reissues, were not part of the original plan. Although Elvis had written notes for the Ryko reissues and seemingly had more to say with each release, he initially declined to write notes for Rhino. Instead Rhino hired established music critics (including Greil Marcus for My Aim Is True and Chris Willman for All This Useless Beauty) to write new notes. Their efforts were rejected by Elvis, who then started work writing them himself. (Greil Marcus' notes did not go to waste, however. They were recycled in a piece in the Guardian.)

GROUPS OF THREE

After Rhino's April 2001 release of The Very Best Of Elvis Costello (which attracted relatively little attention, since the same collection had been available in much of the world since 1999), a more formal announcement of the reissue program appeared in a May 7, 2001 report in Billboard. That article's interviews with Costello and reissue co-producer Gary Stewart as well as a later interview with Stewart on Rhino's website explained much of the thinking behind the reissue program.

Each batch of three is intended as a thematic group, although sometimes the thematic connection is rather loose. The first group of My Aim Is True, Spike, and All This Useless Beauty was described by Stewart as "what I like to call the beginning, middle, and latest chapter in his career. They also reflect an eclectic and varied solo sound." Elvis called them "sort of all solo records, really — odd to say, because [All This Useless Beauty] is credited to the Attractions, but the group was essentially breaking up while we were making it."

Elvis described the second group of This Years Model, Blood & Chocolate, and Brutal Youth as "the beginning, middle, and end of the Attractions as a rock 'n' roll band. They all sort of relate to the band blueprint. It's a sound we checked in with about every eight or nine years."

Stewart explained the third group, Armed Forces, Imperial Bedroom, and Mighty Like A Rose, was meant to "show off the more elegant, detailed pop textures," while Elvis said they were about "using the studio in a slightly more expansive way, as an ornamenting workshop."

The fourth group, Get Happy!!, Trust, and Punch The Clock, would "show you the evolution of the Attractions from '60s soul to '80s pop and R&B," according to Stewart, while the fifth group, Almost Blue,King Of America, and Kojak Variety "shows off an American-roots side of Elvis."

AND THE REST

The plans for Elvis' remaining albums were less clear. Billboard described tentative plans to issue Goodbye Cruel World along with "an expanded edition of the odds-and-sods compilation Taking Liberties," and said The Juliet Letters "might be issued with" an album Stewart described as "something that collects a lot of his artier things, records he did with the Jazz Passengers, things that reflect a jazz and classical flavor." By the time of the interview on the Rhino website, Stewart was no longer talking about grouping any of the remaining releases together, saying instead that "The Juliet Letters, Goodbye Cruel World, and an expanded Taking Liberties won't be part of a group, because they each stand on their own." He made no mention at all of the "artier things" collection.

By late 2003, the plan to release Almost Blue, King Of America, and Kojak Variety as the fourth group had changed, with Goodbye Cruel World taking the place originally occupied by King Of America.

King Of America eventually became a stand-alone release in 2005, with The Juliet Letters appearing the following year. Additional releases were rumored but never materialized.

The Billboard article detailed a very ambitious schedule for rapid reissues. In fact, it quickly proved too ambitious:

Albums Proposed Release Date Actual Release Date
My Aim Is True
Spike
All This Useless Beauty
August 7, 2001 August 21, 2001
This Years Model
Blood & Chocolate
Brutal Youth
October 16, 2001 February 19, 2002
Armed Forces
Imperial Bedroom
Mighty Like A Rose
January 2002 November 19, 2002
Get Happy!!
Trust
Punch The Clock
April 2002 September 9, 2003
Almost Blue
King Of America
Kojak Variety
July 2002 Almost Blue, Kojak Variety,
and Goodbye Cruel World
were released August 3, 2004.

King Of America was
released April 26, 2005.

The Juliet Letters was
released March 21, 2006.

Taking Liberties and "artier things"
were never released.
Goodbye Cruel World
The Juliet Letters
Taking Liberties
"artier things"
unspecified

(The above release dates apply to the US only. The UK release dates were slightly different, most notably when Get Happy!!, Trust, and Punch The Clock were issued six weeks earlier than the US versions.)

Fortunately, the chronic delays were among the few real disappointments of the reissue program. Overall, the reissues maintained a very impressive level of quality, presenting both the original album and the bonus material in a context and price which should appeal to both new and longtime fans.

THE HIP-O ERA

A mere 19 weeks after the release of The Juliet Letters, on August 2, 2006, Universal Music Enterprises issued a press release heralding its licensing of Elvis' 1977-1986 catalog and plans for "definitive reissues, box sets, live albums, multiple CD sets, compilations for the company's highly successful branded series and rarities discs as well as limited editions via the award-winning Hip-O Select imprint. DVD collections of music videos and concert/TV performances are also anticipated... UMe also expects to mine Costello's catalog for ringtones, digital box sets, and more."

Although the press release implied a wide variety of projects were in the works, key details were curiously absent, with no specific project or timeline mentioned. It was difficult to tell where the boilerplate text describing Universal's general approach to reissuing an artist's catalog ended and where the Costello-specific content began.

Details did not surface until March 2007, with the announcement that Universal's Hip-O imprint would be releasing Elvis' first 11 albums — My Aim Is True, This Years Model, Armed Forces, Get Happy!!, Trust, Almost Blue, Imperial Bedroom, Punch The Clock, Goodbye Cruel World, King Of America, and Blood & Chocolate — in May (June in the UK), along with two new compilations, Rock And Roll Music and The Best Of Elvis Costello: The First 10 Years.

Two unreleased tracks (a demo of "Welcome To The Working Week" and an alternate of "Honey, Are You Straight Or Are You Blind?") would appear on Rock And Roll Music, but otherwise these CDs appeared to be aimed at a different audience from the one that had recently purchased the Rhino CDs. For the first time since 1993 the main albums were being released without bonus material. (The first three albums still include the hybrid UK/US tracklists which have become standard.)

Of more interest to hard-core fans was the news that the "Welcome To The Working Week" demo was a preview of My Aim Is True: Deluxe Edition, a two-disc set scheduled for a September 11 release. According to Billboard, this is the first of "several" Costello albums planned as deluxe editions, with This Years Model scheduled for 2008, "along with others at appropriate intervals. The vault-plundering could also result in some full-length live albums."

Of course, even the most optimistic fan must be a little skeptical of yet another round of reissues so soon after Rhino released two-disc expanded editions of all these albums. Hip-O's My Aim Is True: Deluxe Edition, which includes 30 tracks not on the Rhino set, looks like a promising start, but that's largely due to the fact that My Aim Is True was easily the skimpiest of the Rhino CDs in terms of new bonus material. It remains to be seen whether Hip-O will even attempt to top the truly ambitious Rhino sets like Get Happy!! and Imperial Bedroom.

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