NEW YORK — Following in the footsteps of its prestigious Frank Zappa and David Bowie catalog reissue programs, Rykodisc has obtained the North American rights to Elvis Costello's Columbia Records output, and will begin reissuing the material in October with a major promotional effort.
Released between 1977 and 1986, the body of work encompassed in the acquisition — 11 albums and an assortment of prized B sides, giveaway singles, EPs, and promo-only discs — represents one of the most valued songwriter catalogs of the modern rock era.
According to Rykodisc president Don Rose, the label, in close association with Costello, his long-time manager Jake Riviera, and their co-owned label Demon Records, will reissue the albums in "universal editions," not only reconciling early differences between U.K. and U.S. versions of the same album, but also including the contemporaneous additional tracks.
"Anything that was originally included on the U.S. or U.K. album versions will be included in the universal edition," says Rose, "along with certain B sides or outtakes or extra tracks that are appropriate in a specific album's context They're being very careful to keep within the character of the original recordings, so there will be some separation — like a band of silence — between where the original album leaves off and the odds and ends begin."
The Columbia albums, in order of original release. are My Aim Is True, This Year's Model, Armed Forces, Get Happy, Trust, Almost Blue, Imperial Bedroom, Punch The Clock, Goodbye Cruel World, King Of America, and Blood & Chocolate.
One album excluded from current plans is Taking Liberties, Columbia's 20-track compilation of off-album tracks.
The initial release calls for a multi-album special configuration, with the rest to follow "over many months," says Rose. An "aggressive" promotion campaign on the level of that behind Rykodisc's Bowie and Zappa reissues is being laid out. But he declined to elaborate further on the plans.
Rose also notes that Columbia has the rights to market the titles from Punch The Clock through Blood & Chocolate until the middle of 1994, thus holding off Rykodisc's re-release plans on those albums.
"It's safe to say that we hope to recapture some of the spirit that they created in the early Stiff years — irreverent and slightly self-mocking, with a lot of great items for collectors and completists," says Rose. In England, Costello was first signed to the legendary Stiff Records label, which was co-owned by Riviera. Costello later recorded for the Radar and F-Beat labels in England; Rose says that the memorable artwork and promotional graphics from all of Costello's affiliations will be reprinted in the reissues.
"Elvis and Jake have maintained a fantastic archive, and they've had a lot of fun going through and rediscovering all the material," says Rose.
The two also have supplied previously unreleased studio material as well as recordings Costello made prior to his professional music career, which will also be included in the "extended play" material following each album proper.
Oddly, Rykodisc picked up the Costello catalog after being informed last spring of a rumor that it was in fact doing so. Learning that the rights to the Columbia albums were reverting back to Costello and Riviera, the label made contact, and began marketing plans even before discussions began.
When the green light was given, Rose, VP of business affairs Arthur Mann, and the Costello catalog's product manager Jeff Rougvie flew to London to meet with Costello and Riviera.
"We had a great working session, and Elvis was very hands-on," says Rose.
"He has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, and his own music in particular, and a very good perspective of the context it should be viewed in at this point. Some here say he's the Cole Porter of our time, and we want to reinforce in our campaign the perception of Elvis Costello, the songwriter.
"When these albums first came out on CD, it was in the early days of CD reissues. Nobody would dispute they can be done much better today and we intend to do them in the highest standards which we've set for rereleases."