What’s happening Sorry Staters? Wishing you all well out there.
This week I wanted to talk about compilation LPs and how great they can be on several levels. Over the years, the way we listen to music has changed immensely. Nowadays, you have the internet and all the streaming services and video channels to access so much music. You can hear about a record for the first time one minute, and the next minute can download it and be listening to it. (Adopting comedy voice) In my day you had to either buy the record, hear it played on the radio or at a club or know someone who had a copy to hear obscure music. Everything wasn’t available at the click of a mouse. You had to work hard to access new music. Digging deep was a dedicated endeavor.
After some years of releasing popular music, several bright sparks had the idea of releasing compilation albums of hard-to-find music from bygone eras. There were your label curated compilation records, where the music typically came from the vaults of one label, and then you had the new generation of compilations where the music was pulled from a multitude of different labels and matched a mood or theme. The compilation that most people in rock consider started the ball rolling was the Nuggets set that came out on Elektra records in 1972 and was compiled by Lenny Kaye. For those that are not familiar, Nuggets collected mostly one hit wonder type records culled from the great American Garage Band era of the mid to late sixties. The influence of this set of tunes on the following generations cannot be underestimated. The track listing became a map reference for young bands and record hounds that came after looking for something different from the mainstream stadium rock and stodgy prog that was the norm at the time in the seventies.
The set contained bands that were obscure to many but are now household names amongst collectors and those in the scene. It inspired legions of folks to look for these old records and also inspired a whole industry of curated compilations to follow. To name a few, you had Nuggets, then Pebbles, followed by Rubble, Boulders, Chocolate Soup, Perfumed Garden, Calico Wall, Back To The Grave, Teenage Shutdown, Garage Punk Unknowns and on and on and on. These were just the ones focusing on sixties garage and psych. By the eighties and then nineties and the CD era, there were hundreds of different series coming out. The focus shifted to other areas of collecting. There were comps on rare soul and funk, on heavy psych, acid folk, library recordings, International groups, you name it. In the pre-internet era these items were essential. They were the Wikipedia in your record store. The place where you received your homework and next assignment. Signposts and instructions given on where to go digging next. Also, not for nothing, they were the only place where you could hear most of these tunes and afford to do so. Comps offered you the chance to have on wax tunes that might set you back a small fortune to own on vinyl if you could ever find them. They also offered the chance to hear unreleased or different versions of tunes too, as compilers got access to lost tapes and masters.
Since the Doo Wop days there has been a bootleg market for rare and obscure singles and compilations were no exception. Obtaining rights and finding out true ownership of songs was not always top of the list for some collections. Also getting master tapes to produce the comp was also nigh on impossible in most cases, so quality levels varied from comp to comp and often from tune to tune within the same collection. Often records were mastered from original vinyl records, the only source available. Depending on who was doing it and the equipment they used, these could sound decent or not so much. Sometimes you would hear the defects from the original record used, pops, clicks etc. Up to that point though, these were the only ways that the greater record buying public could listen to a lot of these tunes.
Going into a record store during the eighties and nineties was a real adventure every time you flicked through the comp section. First off, the covers on most were excellent and through the right use of imagery suggested the type of music held within. They made it all look so exciting and interesting. At once you wanted to buy even if you had never heard of the groups and records. If there was a series that you had been buying before, you were hooked on getting the next installment. Pebbles nine? Sure, hit me with it. Rubble thirteen? Of course, I need that. Acid Dreams? You bet.
I also believe that without all these compilations many scenes might not have survived very long or even have got started. They helped fuel the Garage/Mod/Psych/Soul scenes without doubt. Making newly discovered tunes known to DJs to spin at the next event and making sure that the audience isn’t listening to the same old songs week in week out. Scenes got larger and have endured because once the flood gates were open and so much “new” old music kept getting discovered, it meant things stayed fresh and appealing and continued to draw in a new audience.
For my pick this week I would recommend the aforementioned Nuggets set and the subsequent releases under that umbrella and, as luck would have it, there has been a recent reissue of it and we have copies available. For a more UK slant, the Rubbles series are excellent too. Anything from the Back From The Grave series or Pebbles for more US garage and psych. Of course, for punk, the Killed By Death series should be familiar to readers here, plenty of those to get into. It really is endless.
Something that I pulled from our compilation section recently was one called Zapped. It’s an official release on Bizarre/Warners/Reprise that contains records that were written by, produced by, played by or involved Frank Zappa. It’s pretty ace and contains cuts from albums that are even today still hard to score. Stuff from Captain Beefheart, Alice Cooper, Jeff Simmons, The GTOs, Lord Buckley, Wild Man Fischer, Tim Buckley and ending with Zappa himself and the stone-cold groove of Willie The Pimp from Hot Rats. Excellent.
You can find a copy of this comp pretty easily and cheaply compared to finding the original albums, and the thing is official, so it sounds great.
Happy digging folks. Get into some comps and expand your record collection quickly, easily and somewhat less expensively. Until next time-Dom.