Thursday, January 21, 2010

Compilations From My Youth: Part 2

In part one of this series, I highlighted my absolute favorite compilations from my earliest years as a music lover. In part two, for the most part, these compilations came a couple of years later. We're talking middle '80s, when I was more like 15 or 16 years old. These were important records to me, but I do not hold them in quite the same esteem as, say, David Bowie's 'Fame and Fashion' or Buzzcocks' 'Singles Going Steady'. I think that's because these compilations didn't always necessarily sway me to buy the band's entire catalog or find other bands like them. As I wrote in part one, when both of these ingredients are in the mix, it must have been a perfect compilation.

To me, there are four important musical generations. My favorite is 1977-1979. That brought us Pretenders, the Police, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello and several other Stiff artists, the Clash, Squeeze and the list goes on and on. I also have a soft spot for the early '80s because that's the music of my youth. I feel like this past decade has had a huge impact on me as well. Finally, the middle '60s is, arguably, the most important of all. My first musical memories come from Mom's records, and that included the Beatles, Herman's Hermits, the Monkees and the like. The first non-Beatles record I ever bought with my own money was the Rolling Stones' compilation 'Hot Rocks'. For those not familiar, the double album covers several of the bands singles from 1964-1971. I love just about everything the Stones did from inception through 'Tattoo You', but the early to mid-'60s stuff is what I listen to the most to this day. From 'Hot Rocks' I got into lots of British Invasion stuff like Kinks, Dave Clark Five, the Zombies and the Hollies. 'Hot Rocks' was a pivotal purchase in my education.
The Rolling Stones - Under My Thumb (mp3)

I went through a huge ska phase when I was 16 years old. No, not Desmond Dekker and the first wave stuff, unfortunately. That would come much later. I'm talkin' second wave stuff like the Specials, Madness, the Selecter and the English Beat. All of these bands have compilations now, but only the English Beat had a good compilation when I was a middle teen. English Beat is one of those rare instances where I actually owned a band's record before I bought the compilation. I owned 'Special Beat Service' because I saw the video for "Save It For Later" on MTV. I was hooked and bought the compilation 'What Is Beat?' as my next purchase right after 'Special Beat Service'. I don't really listen to English Beat much these days like most of the others on my two compilation lists, but they were one of my favorite bands during an important time in my life.
The English Beat - Best Friend (mp3)

When 'Songs to Learn and Sing' came out in 1985 I was really into The Smiths and a couple of other guitar-oriented British rock bands, but Echo & The Bunnymen had somehow eluded me. So, this sampler came at a great time. Even now I can say this compilation really is the best material from their first four albums, plus you get a couple of other songs that didn't make their LPs. In 2007, Rhino released 'More Songs To Learn and Sing', which covers the band's first 25 years. I wouldn't steer you from that great collection, but I feel "Lips Like Sugar" (which came out after 'Songs to Learn and Sing') is really the only great single not found on the first compilation that is included on the second one. For me, the song order is so much a part of this compilation that I didn't upgrade to the Rhino edition. It just wouldn't feel right.
Echo & The Bunnymen - A Promise (mp3)

Here is another great band sampler that came out in 1985. I don't consider myself a huge Depeche Mode fan. With the exception of 'Black Celebration', which came out in 1986, I have never owned anything by them other than compilations and 12" singles. Apparently, I just CAN get enough, but I must say I do like Depeche Mode's first few years (found here) very much... even to this day. It would be a couple of more years before they invaded commercial radio and became a monster I didn't enjoy at all, but my fondest memory of this compilation is popping the cassette into the family station wagon and driving to no place in particular on my first solo post-license drive.
Depeche Mode - Shake The Disease (mp3)

Of all the compilations that defined my youth, I think 'Staring At The Sea' has aged the worst. The only studio album by the Cure I ever really loved was 'The Head On The Door' from 1985. It was so good that I bought 'Staring At The Sea' from 1986 on the day it came out, and I got it on cassette instead of my usual vinyl preference because it came with the B-sides. At the time, this one was untouchable. I was still really into them in 1987 when 'Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me' came out, but I thought it was four great tunes and a lot of filler. By the next record I had moved on to other things, and the band had moved on to commercial success with inferior product. 'Staring At The Sea' was a time and place compilation for me. I rarely listen to the Cure today, and the group didn't make me consider the band's that inspired them.
The Cure - Charlotte Sometimes (mp3)

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