Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the title given to 1992's Sheryl Crow by collectors and journalists alike is a misnomer. That is to say, the "Unreleased Album" was not strictly "unreleased". In 1991, when Sheryl Crow was first signed to A&M, she was sent straight into the recording studio to produce her first LP. One year later, the resultant record was ready.
Entitled Sheryl Crow (A&M 75021 5393 4), it was only manufactured as a promotional test pressing cassette, not meant for DJ distribution (note: the "4" at the end of the catalogue number means tape cassette, while "2"s mean cd. There was never a legitimate CD of this album).
This tape consisted of the following tracks:
- "All Kinds Of People"
- "Father, Son"
- "What Does It Matter"
- "Indian Summer"
- "I Will Walk With You"
- "Love You Blind"
(and, on side two)
- "Near Me"
- "When Love Is Over"
- "You Want It All"
- "Hundreds Of Tears"
- "The Last Time"
- "Borrowed Time"
Notably, the version of "Hundreds Of Tears" is different from the version commercially released late the previous year on the Point Break soundtrack. This version has some guitar, is edited by 45 seconds (from 6:48), and does not feature the heavy drum overdub that dominates the opening of the released version. Another interesting aspect of this tape is that it does not include the track "Hand Mix", which most discographies list as the final track from this album. Sadly, as far as anyone knows, this track remains unavailable.
The Sheryl Crow album was slated to be released on September 22, 1992, and a press folder (with a photo and a press release) was prepared, in anticipation of releasing the tape for general DJ distribution, as a promo, so that the LP could receive radio play. The press release reads as follows:
"She's one of the best female singers there is right now. Period, bar none."
Although her much-admired vocal talents garnered her the coveted back-up slots on the
road with Don Henley and Michael Jackson, Sheryl Crow is a composer first and foremost. Her
self-titled A&M debut is filled with stirring and luminously romantic songs all written or
co-written by Crow.
SHERYL CROW, produced by Crow and Hugh Padgham, features tracks that range from turbulent
rockers to affecting balladry. The band, fronted by Crow's piano and Hammond organ work, includes
Dominic Miller, Vinnie Colaiute, Pino Paladina and many of the musicians who played with Crow
during her days as a performer in St. Louis. Don Henley guests on the song "What Does It Matter."
Although Crow has had a hugely successful career recording and touring with artists as
varied as Joe Cocker, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Hornsby and Bonnie Raitt, the songs on SHERYL CROW
were written when her career had reached a temporary impasse and her personal life was at a low.
"I wasn't doing sessions. I was barely making the rent," she explains. "A lot of them were
written after a three year, really rocky relationship...They're dark pop songs."
Sometimes dark, always powerful and stirring, SHERYL CROW is the work of a movingly
original pop music artist.
Out on A&M September 22.
Of course, as we all know, the record was not released on September 22. The reasons were twofold. Firstly, the label itself felt that Sheryl could produce a much more accessable LP, given the right surroundings. Secondly, Sheryl was intensely unhappy with the feel and production of the work. Thus, it was mutually agreed that the LP would be shelved, and a less "produced" and more informal LP would be made for issue in its stead. That LP was Tuesday Night Music Club, released about a year later, and becoming an international success.
Meanwhile, fans and media alike were quite curious to hear the 1992 LP, but A&M would not relent to rereleasing it, even for media only, feeling that it was unrepresentative of Sheryl's ability. Sheryl agreed that the LP should not be released, even for media review, and when asked about it by interested press, said that she felt the LP was "too mature". Amusingly, many rock critics, desperate to show just how "in the know" they were to their lowly readers, claimed to have been given a new promo of the LP, and (unsurprisingly, since A&M never did reissue the promo, and thus, they never did hear it) agreed with Sheryl's judgement.
With no distribution of the tape, since the promo was so rare, and no real SC internet community (or, at best, a fledgling one) to fuel interest and aid availability, the tape remained very obscure. It was traded on audio cassette for a while, but audio trading tends to be very limited, and every time one dubs, the quality gets worse. With the advent of affordable computer CDRs, in early 1997 or so, somebody started pressing a few CDRs of it, from a bad source (too fast, and hissy). The only way that particular CDR still circulates commercially is through a company called "Media Detox".
Shortly after that, a regular (silver) cd, sourced directly from a pretty clean copy of the tape cassette, showed up. It was, on its binding, called "Sheryl Crow-The Unreleased Album", and its catalogue number is SCPRO1, but it gives no label. It started showing up, again, in very small quantities, in late 1997. This disc starts with the wrong side of the tape though, so you have to play tracks 7-12, then 1-6 in order to hear the album right. There are also three not too spectacular live songs from an unnamed source-Leaving Las Vegas, Happy, and Can't Cry Anymore.
This CD is the best around. It does, though, state that the album was recorded in 1990 (wrong), and implies that LLV is a studio cut (false advertising being a long standing tradition amongst bootleggers and pirates). Also, the cover is not anything unique, but rather a black and white photocopy of the All I Wanna Do US promo single cover. Very cheap looking, but sounds great. Recently (in the last six months or so) this disc has gotten a much greater circulation than before, but still is not as easy to find as many other boots. There are also several CDRs which generally have not as good fidelity (a little bit of hiss), and, for some odd reason, the most common ones color the black and white front and binding graphics with a yellow highlighter.
There is yet another (much rarer) CD-R of this album called "Sheryl Crow Unreleased 1992". It features a rather compressed source tape, which also shows some "clipping" of the high end. This is a great pity, as it is an easy source for the track "The Real Life", an outtake from these sessions, and swiped direct from a publisher's demo tape. Perhaps the source (as the clipping is a CDR pressing error) for this track will show up on CD, and thus we could get the track in clear quality. Here's hoping! The aforementioned Warner/Chappell publishers demo cassette is called "Sheryl Crow Songs", and includes the following tracks, all except "The Real Life" available on the 1992 LP:
- "I Only Want You Near Me"
- "The Real Life"
- "Borrowed Time"
- "What Does It Matter"
- "Hundreds Of Tears"
Note the title "I Only Want You Near Me" for the track more commonly known as "Near Me". The 1992 cassette calls it "Near Me", but who knows for sure what the official title would have been (though a cover of the song is called "Near Me", that can hardly be taken as absolute gospel, as a cover of "Father Son" by Wynnona Judd is called "Father Sun" on the album artwork).
Recently, yet another, poor quality, CDR pressing has been thrown our way. This time, "The Real Life" is added to with the tracks "The Ways Of Love", "Destiny", and "Stolen Moments". So keep on the look out for that one! Also, more recent CDR copies of the "Sheryl Crow - The Unreleased Album" CD have added a new set of live tracks - "Volvo Cowgirl", "All I Wanna Do", "Run Baby Run", and "Leaving Las Vegas". Meanwhile, other entrepreneurial bootleggers have attempted to make their version more attractive by adding any of several non-LP tracks, such as "In Need" and "Sad Sad World". Such behavior will surely continue, leading to a myriad of inferior CDR clones (or non-clones, as it were) of the original (and still the best source) "Sheryl Crow Unreleased 1992" bootleg.