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.
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.
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.
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.