VARIOUS ARTISTS — AN INTRODUCTION

Compilations.

Collections of tracks by various artists.

They have been around as long as long-playing records and aren’t stopping any time soon.

We’ve bought them, made them, mocked them and sometimes even played them.

They are ubiquitous.

Everyone has some, everyone files them differently.

Various Artists.

Compiled albums. They include tacky TV specials and curated archive treasures.

Any music magazine worth its cover price includes one stuck on the cover with translucent gunk.

Themed compilations are so commonplace you could fill an entire room with variations of, say, Hits of the 60s.

Comps may be useful for plugging a gap in the collection—a 2-CD set of glam rock classics is enough for any sane mortal—but we rarely end up with just one.

‘Oh,’ we exclaim, ‘This killer song isn’t on Best of Glam so I better buy Glamtastic!! as well’.

Nostalgia prompts many a Various Artists purchase. Perhaps it is a charity shop encounter with that TV Special LP from your childhood, or the fond remembrance of a film and its accompanying ‘hits of the era’ album.

Soundtracks are a major source of ‘Various Artists’ albums. Automobile glove boxes are another.

Some, like Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets (reviewed here) are simply essential. Others are a waste of space.

They should be culled, but how can you discard a rare live version of ‘Green Onions’, despite having most of the other tracks elsewhere?

And what if someone—at some indeterminate point in the distant future—wants to experience that obscure live collaboration between Randy California and Steve Hunter?

So our shelves continue compiling Various Artists albums, seemingly on their own. Somehow they quietly multiply in the background. Exaggeration? Go check your shelves.

If you get down on your hands and knees, down where V for Various meets the carpet crawlers, what will you find? Are there delights to be found in this hotch-potch of trash and treasure?

Starting on 1st December, Vinyl Connection is delighted to announce a celebration of the compilation album as a range of music bloggers dig into their Various annals and extract some treasures to share.

Just under the banner (above), you’ll find a link to a specially prepared page listing posts by all the participating bloggers. They may post on more albums than listed here, so check out the individual blogs at your leisure.

By way of warm-up, here are some VA albums from the Vinyl Connection collection to illustrate the variety of this multi-hued section.

Discovering a new kind of music

Having enjoyed—well, partly enjoyed—Paul Simon’s Graceland safari, I remember deciding to take a punt on Soweto Street Music based on Simon’s song ‘Gumboots’. Good decision! The songs were full of such energy and life, and the album expanded my limited knowledge of South African music.

The label collection

Didn’t know much about the Sire label, nor most of the bands on this sampler. But I figured that any comp that included Aussie legends Radio Birdman (featured here) had to have something, and anyway it was cheap. I soon found out that the connecting theme was anger and attitude, plus a bit of snot on the side. Some of the featured albums were subsequently acquired (Richard Hell, for example) while the inclusion of a rare Patti Smith single (‘Hey Joe’) was (and still is) a bonus.

Magazine CDs

There have been occasions where I’ve bought the magazine for the CD. This was one. Who could resist such a strange but enticing selection ‘approved by Paul Weller’? After all, his insightful contribution makes all other cover notes superfluous.

I fucking love it. New, old, whatever. Just music. [Paul Weller, June 2015]

I recall reading the artist list and thinking any comp successfully melding Neu! with Sun Ra and including both Santo & Johnny’s 1959 classic ‘Sleep walk’ and one of my favourite tracks from Public Service Broadcasting’s excellent 2014 album The Race For Space must be worth hearing. And it was. A number of unfamiliar artists made their mark as this CD owned the car stereo for several days.

The film soundtrack

At the time I bought this curated soundtrack album of the film based (very loosely) on Nick Hornby’s book I was not in possession of The La’s album, so the sublime ‘There she goes’ was the hook. Fever Pitch was also the first soundtrack I acquired that included snippets of film dialogue, made tolerable by the voice being Colin Firth.

It’s not the smoking, Steve, it’s the crapness

Still, this one also yielded unexpected treasures, such as the infectious simplicity of Harry J Allstars’ ‘Liquidator’. The original material by Neill MacColl and Boo Hewerdine is good too.

Cover versions and tributes

There are so many fantastic songs out there, it’s a wonder anyone feels the need to write new ones. Joke, OK? But the vast number of great compositions already in existence does provide a reliable excuse for tribute albums. All too often these have a going-through-the-motions feel, but sometimes one comes along that is so well thought out and sincerely enacted that it truly enhances your sense of a time and/or a place. Such is Bleecker Street, picking some great (and lesser known) sixties songs of the New York folk/pop scene and breathing fresh life into them while honouring the original artists. A clever combination of music and history.

Recording history

In terms of history, audio recordings have only appeared quite recently. There are no extant recordings of Handel conducting the Water Music, for instance, nor of Jane Austen’s favourite lounge mix. So we are incredibly fortunate that early in the history of recorded music some far-sighted souls took it upon themselves to commit the oral tradition to wax. Although I’m by no means an expert on roots music, such albums—through time and crackles—open our ears to the past. They Sang The Blues is an example. It is simply incredible to think that these songs were performed some ninety years ago.

The quick buck

Hey, this video game craze seems to be going from strength to strength.

Don’t get it myself. Like manipulating the TV test pattern.

You should play Space Invaders. It’s addictive!

Waste of money. But we could cash in with a record, maybe?

Yes! Open that flagon of Liebfraumilch and write down every song with a space connection.

What type of music?

Who gives a shit? Just put some blippy image on the cover and dumb-ass punters will buy it.

There are other Various Artist modes, of course. Live albums from festivals, compilations from particular years, home-made specials… No doubt some will feature in the posts kicking off the Various Artists / Various Blogs Festival on 1 December.

Stay tuned… variety is assured.

VA Banner – Version 1

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26 comments

  1. I’m finishing up my third Various Artists post for this series as I type this.

    So…can we do soundtracks? The catch is they have to be by various artists?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes and Yes. Soundtracks that are clear compilations of pre-existing tracks are fair game.
      Maybe Soundtracks of original material could be held over for a return of Film Soundtrack Festival II next year?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’d be into that.

        Well, this potentially thickens the stew. I’ll have to look further!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m finishing up my 3rd case of procrastination today.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Sounds like a fun romp. Looking forward to being reminded about the pain of spending my money on some of those! – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hopefully with some entertainment to ease the pain, Marty!

      Like

  3. My curiosity is hereby officially piqued!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As long as it’s not a fit of pique!

      Like

  4. How do I feel about the upcoming various artists series? See Paul Weller’s concise comments!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul said it all, really.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A whole range of various artist compilations there! I remember building a fine collection of cover mount compilations back when I subscribed to Uncut, but regularly reading 3 articles on Floyd, The Who, Clapton or Dylan each year got too much for me. The CDs? Binned, I’m afraid.

    Anyhoo, looking forward to seeing and reading about the various artist treasures that require me to reach into my pockets for cashpennies!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Binned? Binned? The CD PCs will be pounding on your door later tonight, young man.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know… it was a clear out during a move, though. Had to shed stuff quickly.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great topic! I don’t buy that many V.A. compilations but I have some I value from various (pun intended) reasons. Some of them contain rare tracks, like ‘The New age of atlantic’ – with ‘Hey Hey what can I do’ by Led Zeppelin, or ‘Picnic’ compilation with ‘Embryo’ by Pink Floyd. Some of them have hard to find or expensive artists like Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera on ‘The rock Machine Turns You On’ or Pacific Gas and Electric on ‘Fill Your Head With Rock’ compilation. Some have sleeve art I like – it’s ‘Vertigo Annual 1970’ – great cover by amazing artist (Marcus) KEEF. I’ll eagerly read about some more compilations I may need 🙂
    Arterrorist

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sure is a fine selection of classic/collectible compilations, A. Hope a few appear during the festival that pique your interest.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Great theme and idea Bruce! Shared with my buddy Anthony and hoping he’ll at a minimum read and check out the posts.

    Like

  8. […] a note, I’m taking part in the Vinyl Connection‘s various artists posts over the first ten days of December, so all my posts during that time will concern a […]

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  9. The interesting thing is that such compilation LP’s like “The Flower Power Generation” appeared when a term was about to lose its distinctive function. I remember a sampler with the title “That’s Underground” made of colored vinyl that was popularized by CBS in 1968.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Did you have any of the Warner Bros “loss-leader” samplers. I bought several of them in the early 70s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Know the ones you mean, but don’t have any. I recall that they may have been double albums?

      Like

  11. The Guitars That destroyed The World.

    Who can resist that album title? Certainly not me back when I was 12 years old. My father came home with some coupons to order some freebies from the Columbia Record Club. Everybody got to leaf through the catalog,and pick one.
    That was my first ever album that I chose for myself. My sister and I would share K-Tel collections of hits-but this one was all mine.

    And it hold up surprisingly well,with cuts from Santana,John McLaughlin;Edgar Winter,and my absolute favorite rock and roll instrumental EVER from Blue Oyster Cult

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I want every album you noted above. ‘Legends of the Mind’ has to be the same cover art guy from ‘Wheels of Fire’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hadn’t made that connection. Good get!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. […] This is part of the series on compilations organised by Vinyl Connection. […]

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  14. […] thanks to Bruce over at Vinyl Connection for inviting me to participate in his tribute to the Various Artists collections we’ve all […]

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