Monday, January 18, 2010

Compilations From My Youth: Part 1

A couple of items I wrote about last week -- one on the Buzzcocks and one on Pavement -- has had me thinking about compilations. I was pondering the current crop of youngsters and wondering if it's possible the upcoming Pavement best-of package, 'Quarantine the Past', could have the same meaning to them as the Buzzcocks' 'Singles Going Steady' had on me when I was a teen back in the '80s.

For the most part, I will usually recommend great individual albums from a band long before a best of or greatest hits, but compilations have a time and place. That time and place, however, isn't the same today. When I was a kid, I bought compilations because I wanted to try a band I thought I may like, and my paper route money didn't afford me the chance to buy a band's catalog. Now, with digital downloads, you can easily create your own compilations, spend as much money as you want doing it and make them as long and short as you desire. So, this begs the question: Do we really need new compilations? Best-of packages were important to me, and the following five have had a huge impact on my listening tastes to this day. Do you remember these?

'David Bowie's 'Fame and Fashion' was one of the first albums I ever owned. I bought it not long after his smash 'Let's Dance'. This compilation was not even close to as cool as 'Changes One' and 'Changes Two', but those weren't available at my local K-Mart, and that was the only place in my hometown that had music. So, I jumped on my ten speed and got this low-price vinyl that came without a syllable of liner notes but great songs like "Heroes", "TVC 15" and "Golden Years". 'Fame and Fashion' did what it was supposed to do. I eventually owned the entire Bowie catalog. From this branch of the music tree I went on to buy Roxy Music's compilation, 'The Atlantic Years 1973-1980'.
David Bowie - Golden Years (mp3)

The Jam's 'Snap' was cool because it had great liner notes, was a double album and covered the band's entire career. From this compilation I was able to tell which stage of The Jam appealed to me most, and I bought pieces of their catalog based on those judgments. At the time, it turned out I liked the later years. So, I bought 'The Gift' first. Years later I bought the CD version of this compilation, but it wasn't the same. Several songs were omitted so it could fit on a single disc. I was so used to listening to the song order of that double album that it just didn't work for me. From here I bought several late '70s British punk bands including the Buzzcocks, Clash and Undertones.
The Jam - Start! (mp3)

I tend to remember every musical purchase I ever made because each hunt and transaction was so exciting to me. Sadly, with e-Bay, Amazon and digital downloads, I imagine that's lost on today's youth. I bought XTC's 'Waxworks: Some Singles 1977-1982' while on a camping trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with my best friend's family. I found it on cassette at a Cosco-type store while picking up supplies. We listened to over and over during the eight-hour drive back to our hometown. I was most amazed by the crazy keyboard parts on the songs that I later learned came from the album 'White Music'. It didn't take long to have the entire catalog from these lads.
XTC - Science Friction (mp3)

This photo is taken from John Lennon's 'Shaved Fish', but I could have used several different pieces of art from compilations to convey how important The Beatles and the solo work of Lennon and Paul McCartney meant to me. This goes all the way back to discovering Mom's records when I was 9 years old, but I really dug two double albums I checked out of the library when I was in fourth grade. I transferred 'The Beatles/1962-1966' and 'The Beatles/1967-1970' (sometimes referred to as the 'The Red Album' and 'The Blue Album') from vinyl to blank cassette tapes on my parents' living-room stereo and darn near wore them out. It was cool to listen to those 54 songs in chronological order and hear the massive changes in sound that occurred in less than a decade. Of course, over time, I bought the entire catalog and wouldn't be caught dead listening to these compilations, but those copies of library copies taught me more than any book ever did.

'Shaved Fish' and 'Wings Greatest' were also big listens during the "me decade", and I still pull those two out from time to time. It was easy to call yourself a Lennon fan and put down McCartney for his syrupy pop, but the songs of Sir Paul meant more to me than any other Beatle. While I'm on the subject, as a kid I thought it was funny that 'The Best Of George Harrison' had only one side of solo material while the other was his best work while a member of the Beatles. It took many more years to discover what a great artist he really was. I'm happy to report he finally has a good compilation called 'Let It Roll'.
Paul McCartney & Wings - Jet (mp3)

In the early to mid-'80s, Elvis Costello was my favorite artist. By the time his first compilation was released, the very weak 'Best of Elvis Costello & The Attractions' on CBS Records, I already owned every song that was on it. So, I never had a Costello compilation. I had read somewhere that Costello had produced Squeeze. So, I bought 'Singles - 45 And Under' on cassette from a national music chain in St. Louis. The date was August 1984. I know, it's a sickness. I bought it on tape because I wanted to listen to it immediately, and I had my boom box in the car for the weekend trip with my family. By Christmas of that year I was asking for the Squeeze catalog as holiday gifts. My aunt bought me 'Argybargy' on vinyl and got a good laugh from the family as I opened it and she told all of the other relatives that one of the songs was "Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)".
Squeeze - Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) (mp3)

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