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.
Head Cleaning Cassettes
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
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.
* 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, 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—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—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—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 [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.
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, 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.
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.