AN IDEAL PRESENT

Christmas trading at Max Rose Electronics was rarely frantic but usually busy. Which was just as well. Like many small businesses, Max relied on a significant spike in December sales to coast through the hot holiday months of January and February.

In those years when I was a part-time sales assistant on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, the influx of extra Christmas stock coincided with the beginning of my full-time summer stint. It also matched up quite neatly with the end of university exams, though in the early years this was of little consequence as my academic commitment was inconsistent, to say the least. Mind you, exams were still stressful, largely due to the “You may start writing now” lightning-strike realisation that all those missed lectures, ignored readings and study periods devoted to reading Fantasy and Science Fiction novels might have had an impact on my learning, rather than any pressure arising from the intense concentration and applied brainwork required by a three-hour examination. If the candidate’s brain has nothing salient to recall, brow-furrowing focus gains little. And my grey matter was untroubled by anything even vaguely relevant to passing exams.

So it is fair to say that starting full-time work in Max’s shop was something of a relief after all that academic denial. Here was a task I could perform: unpacking electrical appliances of extraordinary diversity and arranging them artistically in the glass-fronted cabinets. Shavers here, toasters there, transistor radios down the end.

The boxes, and extra stock, lived on shelves up above the record racks while the cabinets were below. Looking back, I can see that there were some disadvantages to this physical arrangement, as it required staff member and customer to descend to carpet level and kneel in front of the glass sliding doors. Only from this position of devotion could the items be clearly viewed, making my morning task of vacuuming the carpet an important part of creating a positive shopper experience.

Sometimes, as in the case of an elderly gentleman wanting to buy his aged spouse a new toaster, the descent to floor level was clearly inappropriate. Well, not so much the going down part, that could be achieved with the assistance of gravity. But the reverse journey, heavenwards, was not easily navigated unaided. After several back-straining interventions of assistance, I hit upon the more spine-friendly strategy of whipping a couple of examples out of the cabinet and standing them on the edge of the record racks, comfortably at waist level. The Sunbeam four-slice with sunshine-yellow side panels would lean casually back against John Denver’s Greatest Hits and dare the customer to choose a lesser model. Or perhaps several transistor radios would slouch against the debut Radio Birdman record. Funnily enough, I don’t recall ever cross-selling between albums and appliances, or visa versa.

For the record, here are a few of the items we sold.

Hair-curling Wands

Hair Dryers

Head Cleaning Cassettes

Headphones

Heaters (not a big Christmas item in Aus)

Hi-Fi (if you apply that term loosely—we sold lots of Three-in-one stereos*)

Hissing steam irons

Home Entertainment units (the trolleys and cabinets for stereos)

Hot Pots (a kind of slow cooker)

Hot Rollers (not what you think, boys and girls**)

Humming Transistor radios of various sizes

Hysterectomy kits

If it plugged in and was used in the home, we sold it#.

Expertise in the Wonderful World of Appliances notwithstanding, it was the music section where I was most at home. After a couple of years, Max invited my input into the engorged record and cassette order we submitted in early November. Although normally cautious about over-ordering, it was important to have an enhanced selection in the lead-up to the year’s most busy weeks so there was a chance to supplement the shelf-stock with both back catalogue and recent releases.

But this being suburban Melbourne, the safest bet was to order a bloody great swag of Greatest Hits and Best Of albums, many of which were released for the yuletide convenience of Aunties and Uncles whose pop music knowledge consisted of quite liking that song ‘Yesterday’ and being instructed that young Mickey liked some girl singer called Alice Cooper.

So in an unashamed burst of Yuletide nostalgia, here is a small selection of Golden/Best/Greatest Hits albums that date from my time at Max Rose Electronics of Bentleigh.

Max Rose Electronics

*  For younger readers, this was a single unit comprising turntable, cassette, AM-FM radio with a couple of mediocre speakers plugged in the back.

**  Neither sexy roller-skating babes nor photos of the Bay City Rollers draped seductively over tartan bedspreads.

#  Except for the last item. I made that up.

*

Alice Cooper Greatest Hits 1974

Alice Cooper—Greatest Hits  [1974, Warner Bros]

A fun cover by Drew Struzen and Bill Garland whose theme continues inside the gatefold,  providing hours of ‘spot the star’ entertainment for Mum and Dad. Meanwhile, locked in his bedroom, Mickey is wailing along to ‘School’s Out’ and ‘I’m Eighteen’. This is a serviceable compilation, though coming so soon after Muscle of Love, it’s a bit cheeky to have two songs from that album on the Hits disc.

*

Leonard Cohen Greatest

Leonard Cohen—Best of  [1975, CBS]

A choice which gained greater resonance (and perhaps reverence) between the idea for this post and its writing. I refer, of course, to Mr Cohen’s death in November 2016. For those unfamiliar with Laughing Len’s work, this collection is a solid introduction to his intense, poetic and often deeply sensual songs. The first four albums (1967—1974) are well covered in the twelve tracks.

*

Jethro Tull MU 1976

Jethro Tull—M.U. – The Best of Jethro Tull  [1976, Chrysalis]

MU is the first proper Tull collection, containing songs recorded between 1969 and 1975. There is one previously unreleased song, ‘Rainbow Blues’, but otherwise we get a primer demonstrating the variety and invention of Ian Anderson’s lads that delivers quality, if few surprises. ‘Teacher’ rocks, ‘Living in the past’ is an eternally catchy single in 10/8, ‘Bungle in the jungle’ is dumb fun, Eastern tinged ‘Fat man’ still pleases (as does its parent album). Certainly a fine place to start, but don’t overlook—as the compilers did here—the excellent Minstrel in the Gallery (1975).

Tull fact: MU stands for Musician’s Union, probably referring to the substantial troop of players.

*

Everly Brothers Golden Hits

Everly Brothers—20 Golden Hits  [1977, WEA]

Before the era of the long-playing album, singles were the currency of pop. So there has been a tendency to recompile and endlessly repackage material from the early years of rock. The twenty short tracks in this collection are all most people will need or want from Don and Phil Everly. Having said that, many of these are essentials: classics like ‘Bye Bye love’ and ‘Wake up little Susie’ (1957) rub shoulders with ‘Lucille’ and ‘Cathy’s clown’ (1960). Golden songs indeed. This comp’s inclusion of UK/US chart positions and years provides welcome context. Oh, and those cover illustration segues by Mick Brownfield are a hoot.

*

Bob Dylan Masterpieces 3LP

Bob Dylan—Masterpieces [1978, CBS]

Arriving just eight months after Neil Young’s ground-breaking 3LP career-spanning compilation, Mr Zimmerman’s contribution to the burgeoning ‘greatest hits’ catalogue is a sprawling, almost overwhelming tour of the World of Dylan. Opening with the popular but tedious ‘Knockin’ on heaven’s door’, it arrives at ‘Sara’ six sides, thirty-nine songs and 164 minutes later.

In between we have the mandatory folk/protest songs (‘Blowin’ in the wind’, ‘I shall be released’), the electric maybe-land parables (‘All along the watchtower’, ‘Hurricane’) and Bob thinkin’ ‘bout love in his unique way (‘I want you’, ‘If not for you’). Are they all masterpieces? Doesn’t really matter and it sure ain’t worth fightin’ about. No matter what you think of His Bobness, these songs are a part of the core curriculum of popular music and this set remains as good an introduction as any.

Dylan Masterpieces gatefold

*

Creedence Clearwater Golden Greats

CCR—20 Golden Greats [1979, Fantasy]

Fabulous songs, many of them sing-along classics. Twenty on a single disc, however, was not a good idea. The sound is thin and compressed while chopping ‘Susie Q’ in half is simply unforgivable. Choose the albums (more consistent than you might imagine; an example was re-visited here) or seek out a later CD compilation.

*

Best of Emerson Lake and Palmer 1980

Best of Emerson Lake and Palmer [1980, Atlantic]

The idea of a single LP ‘Best of’ compilation of the expansive prog-rockers always struck me as a silly idea. And so it is; as daft as the ménage à trois of Japanese ELP fans spinning discs on the cover. Yet, because it is weighted towards songs, this nine track album serves as a fine sampler of the work of vocalist player Greg Lake (d. 7 Dec 2016). Those who want to immerse themselves in the keyboard wizardry of Keith Emerson (d. 11 Mar 2016) would only have their appetite whetted here.

The pass-the-parcel back cover illustration by Richard Evans is great. I love that it anticipates Cowboys and Aliens by thirty years.

Best of EL & P back cover

*

Little Feat Hoy Hoy 1981 2 LP

Little Feat—Hoy Hoy [1981, Warner Bros]

Released a couple of years after the death of founder Lowell George, Hoy-Hoy is an excellent example of the mutant ‘Best of’ package. Across its four sides we have a handful of album tracks, live recordings, some demos and a couple of ‘rarities’. The album also has a classic Neon Parks cover, which is always valued-added for me. There is a fabulous career-spanning collection available elsewhere (As Time Goes By: The Very Best of Little Feat, 1981), so this is probably not the starting place for new chums, but it augments both the Best Of and indeed a compleat Feat collection nicely.

*

Good wishes to all for the Festive Season. Hope Santa brings you lots of records.

I’ll be back after pudding.

*

 

32 comments

  1. Boy, you really had me on that Hysterectomy kit, Bruce. I even Googled it before I saw your footnote reference. Psyche! I remember very well the 3-in-1 stereos. Here they seemed to be all made by Emerson or Lloyds, both really crappy manufacturers. I also remember that ELP “best of” record. Although not a fold-out, it was a favorite of ours in the dorm to seed and roll. For the uninitiated, we’ll just say we were baking bread. Great post, Bruce! Merry Christmas! – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Marty.
      The most popular three-in-one we sold was made by EMI. I recall people asking if it was better quality to have all the components in one box. This was when I learned the hi-fi (and life?) truism: You get exactly what you pay for.
      And a customer truism too: People often want Jaguar performance at a Beetle price.

      Hope your bread rises over Christmas and the New Year, Marty.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When I first read that Hysterectomy Kit I thought “What the hell is that?” Glad to hear it was a gag.

    It sounds like fun times. Electronics repairs and sales were big then. It is too bad that things have become so disposable now. I still enjoy my component stereo. Most of my gear is from the 70’s and early 80’s . They heyday.

    As for greatest hits, were the Steve Miller, Queen and Eagles hits packages popular there at that time?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah Brian, most hits LPs of big bands sold pretty well. The selection above was from albums in my collection.
      With you on repair over replace, but it’s getting difficult to find technicians, isn’t it?

      Like

  3. When I saw hot rollers, I did not think of bikini clad girls on roller skates, I thought of bikini clad girls that could roll a mean fattie.

    😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Please hold… adjusting brain to think of December-February as summer…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can fix that easily. Come visit, I’ll pour you a beer.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I knew a guy who only bought Hits sets. Said ‘why bother getting the albums and putting up with the shite tracks, when all you need is right here in one place?’ Hm.

    Haha home hysterectomy kits. Oy vey. Nice try.

    That Yesterday tune was alright, I preferred Something…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They wrote some fine tunes those lads.

      Like

  6. All the best to you and yours for the holidays, Bruce, and here’s a to a smashing 2017 for you, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice post, I always found the best of led to buying the rest of most of the time. Eventually my family gave up buying records for me and would send me out to buy my own, then they would make me wait to hear them, this is a particularly devilish form of cruelty, I also nearly googled the hysterectomy kit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What, don’t you like protracted beforeplay?
      Good point about hits comps; they can indeed act as a gateway. Though many of my favourite artists have never had enough hits to justify compilations!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And now the compilation has been replaced by the Deluxe version, with everything you never knew you wanted to hear tagged on. I think the Spotify Playlist has replaced the compilation today, some artists need a little editing though.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Always loved M. U. That was my introduction to Tull and, although I’ve delved much further since, it’s still a good listen. Really should have had Minstrel… on it though. And Witch’s Promise too! That was the first Tull song I ever heard.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ‘Witches Promise’ is fantastic! What a way to start with Ian and the lads. Kinda chuffed to hear you are a fellow Minstrel In The Gallery fan too.
      Have a very heavy Xmas, Scott.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And a very fusion-y Xmas to you! And hope you have a very jazzy 2017.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Re Hysterectomy kits…I instantly wondered if you were checking if we were paying attention. The wonderful Noel Dunstan, my favourite boss at the bureau of statistics, once insterted the footy results for South Melbourne into the monthly report of the rural statistics section to see if senior mgt noticed. Unlike your readers, they did not notice. Our reports became pretty basic after that. Nevertheless, I count my 1976 investigation of the impact of milk standardisation on apparent consumption of cream in Victoria as one of my writing triumphs.
    Thanks.
    Happy Festivus.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t possibly comment on your speculation. But didn’t the Swans have a great season that year?

      Hope the season finds you in fine spirits (and wine too).

      Like

  10. Pudding you say? What’s the old line, if you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding!
    Well said about there being no need to debate the ‘masterpiece’ label with Dylan – like it or not, it ought to be heard.
    Enjoy the holidays Bruce!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Geoff. I will be eating my turkey because the consequences of not ‘eating my meat’ are unconscionable. I’d be forced to listen to the whole of The Wall. AAAAAGH!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ha! That hysterectomy kit was a curveball! A definite double-take reading that! Anyhoo, cheers for sharing this one… really enjoyable as always, Bruce.

    As for those ‘best of’ records, I’m mighty impressed by the Little Feat one. A very good point about the artwork; I’d nab it for a slice of Neon Parks regardless of the content. A truly remarkable artistic vision.

    Also, that Leonard compilation is one I recommend to folks who haven’t listened to him.

    Like

  12. Happy Christmas, sir. My seasonal memories of purchases past leaned heavily on the goofy second cousin of the greatest hits comp… the live LP! Bad performance, poorly recorded with crowd noise to boot! Best to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mark. Though I’ll not hear a bad word against live albums (which I also saw as a kind of ‘hits’ (and misses) thing). Love ’em round here.

      Best for the season.

      Like

  13. Great stuff. As an impressionable teen I once heard one cool looking pretentious dude turn to another and say ‘personally, I always go for a classic album rather than a Greatest Hits’ and, like the weak-willed sheep I am, I’ve always followed suit with ‘new to me’ big artists.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Joe. That pretentious dude may well have been me. That’s certainly been my policy too, meaning that I have relatively few ‘hits’ packages. Though sometimes they have worked as a gateway – Little Feat being a fine example – or a gap-filler. As Mark notes (above), live albums also serve as a kind of ‘from the field’ best of, don’t they?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have no idea what a ‘live’ album is, as you know I’ve never heard of them!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Thumbs up! My own 3-in-1 HiFi, purchased circa 1978 consisted of turntable, AM-FM, and 8-track player/recorder(!). On the day I bought it, my stepdad and I took it straight to my local ward house to unpack and set it up so me and a couple freshman friends could DJ a church dance that same evening. I still remember spinning KISS’s “Shout It Out Loud”, Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good”, and Rush’s “Fly By Night” alongside “The Hustle,” “Boogie Fever,” and “Stayin’ Alive.” I loved that machine, which lasted all the way into graduate school and through my second wedding anniversary. I gave it away to some now forgotten day laborer who (probably) squatted in the basement of the old house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the attic of which my new bride and I first overlapped our room and board.

    Of these, the one I had was the Alice Cooper on cassette. Funny how memory works, I remember that tape specifically as soundtrack to epic hacky sacking events in my teenage backyard.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I enjoyed this story and will appreciate it even more when the English (UK/Aus) language version is released. Ward house? Where you a prison warden? Is hacky sacking a now obsolete Winter Olympic sport? Where the sacks getting too expensive? Or prickly? So many questions.
    ‘Overlapping room and board’ is superb, btw.

    Like

  16. Listening to those albums or songs from them must conjure up images from “Max’s Place”. Too bad you didn’t grab a few items off the other list. “Humming Transistor radios” are hard to find. I remember climbing up a telephone pole with mine to get better reception.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s right! Little radios were very particular about which way you pointed them and sometimes even their height about sea level (as your anecdote confirms!).

      Liked by 1 person

  17. […] exams than dozing through lectures and listening to music in the Rowden White Library. Luckily the store where I worked Friday nights and Saturday mornings offered me a full-time position or I would have […]

    Like

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