They are a phenomena of our times – compilations I mean. Well, not compilations per se, but intelligent compilations. There have, of course, always been compilations. Well, at least since the mid-1960s seventies when they were first visited en-mass as a marketing concept.
In New Zealand, we were plagued with dozens of Solid Gold Hits and Platinum Plus type collections and the normal K-Tel nonsense. These generally had the tracks “abridged” by some record company twerp in the studio “in the interests of giving you as much music as possible”. They were, mostly, complete shit – badly mastered and pressed on the cheapest vinyl with appallingly designed and realised sleeves.
The irony of all those compilations is that they have now become vaguely collectable and somewhat cool, which just goes to show that one generation’s complete crap becomes the next one’s gold.
Of course, there was the odd great collection but they were few and far between, so much so, that they often exerted an influence beyond their few tracks. I’m thinking of the Motown Chartbusters Series, or the very cool Hard Up Heroes collection of obscure Decca beat groups that I thrashed daily for god knows how long.
Punk and the rise of the indie label changed it that, but these tended to reflect contemporary music and were not intelligent, annotated thematic retrospective compilations of the type I’m talking about now.
The last few years have seen so many fantastic compilations, it really is very hard to keep up. Sometimes, for me, I already own half the bloody thing but the theme works so well, or the liner notes are so damned readable, or the there is a track or two I need beyond rationale, that I have to own it.
I find myself playing and exploring these quite a lot. I tend to ignore the ones where they are a) mixed, as I want the tracks, the songs without something bumping over the top when I least want it; or, b) full of re-edits by the compiler. Dave Lee and Dimitri are especially bad at this, providing pointless ego-driven re-edits of some classic that didn’t need it. That said, when Dave Lee gets it right, he really does. I’m currently thrashing the Destination: Boogie collection on his Z label, a bunch of fairly obscure (to me at least) early 1980s tracks that no doubt filled floors in dirty London basement clubs back then.
Co-complied, and wonderfully annotated by the ever dependable Sean P (and I wonder just how much of these albums Sean actually does and Joey puts his name to, to sell records), I dig this early-to-mid eighties electro funk period. It’s come into its own again in recent years. My only real complaint is the lack of production, songwriting or licensing credits (which may have something to do with the lack of, ahh, licensing, on this album) – if you are going to release a collection for the trainspotters, you have to give it all to us…
Souljazz are the kings at this sort of thing and I tend to buy many of their collections simply because they are so good. There have been a couple of duds but, mostly they hit the proverbial nail. I love the second New York Noise album more than the first, which had a few too many tunes I perhaps knew too well, but this sort of fucked up, drug phased raw, often simply wrong, funk is timeless. The label’s prototype hip hop collection, Big Apple Rappin’, is a loveable and timely replacement for my much played vinyl collection, Back to The Old School (complied by Dave Lee many years back for his Republic label) but the two, while they cross over, really are going to complement each other. I love rough, passion driven, under-produced noise and this is just that, pushed along by the hustle on the street as much as anything. Wicked….
And I’m gagging for the forthcoming Tom Moulton comp. In a similar vein, Salsoul’s Mixed With Love, their collection of mixes from the legendary and crazy Walter Gibbons is both captivating and frustrating. Captivating in that the first 2 CDs show one of the greatest master craftsmen of his era at the height of his powers, his rework of Loleatta Holloway’s Hit’n’Run still, after all these decades, causes me to shiver in awe just a little; and frustrating because, firstly, most of CD 3 is pretty awful, as his eccentricity overwhelmed his music, but, secondly, and even more so, because CD 3 did not need to be so decidedly average. What the world really needed was a cross-label anthology so we would get the likes of the percussive and very special (as in, you’ve never heard so much space in a disco record) I’ve Been Searching by Arts and Crafts, or the mind-blowing Treehouse / School Bell, a remix of an Arthur Russell journey, or the two versions of Set It Off on Gibbon’s own Jus Born label.
So with that in mind, maybe someone will do cross label compilations of Larry Levan, or eighties Francois K, Shep Pettibone, Jellybean or Arthur Baker (before the coke kicked in and he started doing Bruce Springsteen mixes etc, for the cash). They’d sell at least one of each to me….
Oh, and I also like the Arctic Monkey’s album a lot …does that make me a fashion victim….