All Ears

Sound + hi-tech vision

prince is back with a vengeance. Purple Rain (Warner Bros.), the movie that established the Little One's bigness, is finally out in the spiffed-up special edition it always deserved. No, it's no advance of the cinematic arts (and wouldn't Prince have made a better commentary track than the flick's now-forgotten director?), but it does what the best rock films all have to do: It carried Prince's singular personality and astounding onstage charisma beyond the radio and into our hearts. Happily, this and Warners' other new Prince films - the somewhat less memorable Graffiti Bridge and Under the Cherry Moon, both directed by the Kid himself - all feature some of the MTV clips that helped cement his crazy image in the Pop consciousness.

The Prince onslaught has me thinking about other recent music-you-can-see releases. Not too long ago, record labels were crazy-go-nuts over a fancy new technology that was supposed to drive consumers wild: the Enhanced CD. Most of what they released seemed like a lot of hassle for a little payoff, especially when computer compatibility issues were thrown into the mix.

Now, labels can leapfrog those tiresome "will this play on my Mac?" questions by releasing double-disc sets with a DVD companion disc for the video content. It's an idea whose time has come.

You're not likely to get the extra disc for free, but it comes a lot cheaper than it would if sold separately. On Columbia/Legacy's new "Legacy Edition" of Jeff Buckley's Grace, two CDs and a DVD will set you back around 30 bucks. That's the original album, a disc of alternates, live tracks, and the like, plus a DVD featuring the original promotional making-of video for the record, new interviews and footage, and all the videos from the album, some of which are as evocative as the songs they accompany.

The Beach Boys are the recipient of their 73rd or so greatest hits comp, Sights and Sounds of Summer (Capitol), but this one stands out thanks to a 10-track DVD. Four tracks from the T.A.M.I. Show are a highlight, with the lads full of adrenaline and lighter on the syrup than usual, but a couple of early promotional films are the biggest curiosity: "Sloop John B" gets a cute Monkees-ish romp, while a medley thing for Pet Sounds has the boys in monster masks running around the woods.

The real bargain in the latest crop is Bluebird's ongoing "Centennial Collection," each volume of which pairs over an hour of greats from a single artist - Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Coleman Hawkins in this batch - with a DVD of vintage performances (sometimes as few as three songs, sometimes over a dozen) for just under $20. As you'd expect, some of the stuff isn't in pristine shape; the Coleman Hawkins disc, for instance, takes most of its tracks from an old TV program that hasn't been well preserved for posterity. (Actually, it probably looks and sounds about like it did to viewers back then at the dawn of the tube.) But the Ellington disc is a treasure trove, with the famous Symphony in Black film and five shorts from the great "Soundies" series.

Another series devoted to vintage jazz doesn't bother with the audio disc: the Swing Era collection (put out by Idem Home Video/MVD) features Soundies-like shorts, excerpts from feature films where big bands made a cameo, and assorted rarities. Their Duke Ellington release, for example, has some overlap with Centennial's - both releases contain Symphony in Black - but it also reaches back to the Duke's first screen appearance (in 1929's Black & Tan) and features guest appearances from Billie Holiday and (in clips from Leo McCarey's Belle of the Nineties) Mae West. •

By John DeFore

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