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….

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