Whenever I come home with yet another compilation album, the Conscience Gnome who sits on the amplifier with his little legs dangling over the volume knob shakes his head and waggles an admonishing finger. He never speaks; he doesn’t need to.
Why do you do this?
Back in the day, there were reasons. Not necessarily good ones, but justifications of a kind.
“There’s that great cover version of [insert title here]”
“It includes that rare track never on an album”
“Simply a terrific collection of music”
“A chance to explore a lesser known style”
“Plugs a few holes in the collection”
“The originals were never on LPs… singles or even 78s”
There are more excuses of varying degrees of flimsiness, including, naturally, being successfully seduced by marketing, completionism, attractive cover art… but usually by this stage the gnome has poked his tongue out rudely and sloped off to his cubby behind the box of CD singles of dubious interest awaiting delivery to the local Op Shop.
Here are a few examples from the four hundred strong section of Various Artist compilations in the Vinyl Connection Collection. (That sound you just heard was the gnome blowing a raspberry).
I knew about the highly regarded 4LP set Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock (released in 1975) but by the time I was properly getting into this music (late 80s), it was rarely encountered in the wild. So when a 3CD re-issue appeared in 1996, resistance was useless. Despite having one of those booklets that fall apart on first reading, it’s a fabulous introduction to the delights of UK folk-rock.
Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts & Lollypops collects blues 78 rpm sides with a theme captured very nicely by the title. For most people, CD comps are the only way to access such historical (and, in this case, hysterical) recordings. Back in 2017 I wrote a memoir piece connecting to this album.
The first 2LP volume of Cosmic Machine: A Voyage Across French Cosmic & Electronic Avantgarde (70s-80s) was entertaining enough, though sprinkled with a little more Euro-disco than I really needed. So why fork out serious dollars for The Sequel? Possibly the dreaded completionist virus, never fully eradicated once it enters your system. Or the wonderful retro sci-fi cover. Perhaps the sexy vinyl itself?
This collection of interpretations of Noël Coward songs has a star-studded cast but is a bit hit and miss—aren’t all such projects? Suede reimagining “Poor Little Rich Girl” is very cool, but Marianne Faithfull steals the show with her world-weary rendition of “Mad About The Boy”. Just wonderful.
Will it ever cloy
This odd diversity of misery and joy
I’m feeling quite insane and young again
And all because I’m mad about the boy
The perceptive reader might have worked out that I have not been attending closely to the Conscience Gnome. In fact, two more Various Artists compilations have found their way into the house these past couple of weeks, one via some actual leaving-the-house excursions to real-bricks-and-mortar Record Shops (where I was of course very restrained and didn’t gobble up anything and everything in sight. Right?) and the other via the miracle of on-line shopping.
Back in the day, record companies put out sampler albums of their wares, often at a bargain price to encourage punters to, well, take a punt. These were frequently a hotch-potch seemingly thrown together by a team of accountants and advertising executives with little thought about the actual music. Not so with Fill Your Head With Rock, a 1970 CBS double album compiled by one David Howells.
The front cover grabs you at first glance. Jerry Goodman of The Flock (and soon to join John McLaughlin in Mahavishnu Orchestra) is in full violinistic flight, his bare torso bathed in lurid pink stage light. (Fascinatingly, the image comes from the back of The Flock album, where it is mundane black and white).
Turn over and—bypassing the utterly horrifying image; even in 1970 who could possibly think that was a good idea?—focus on the list of artists.
Opening with a track from two notable debuts—Chicago Transit Authority and Santana—we then get a strong Spirit song, an interesting progressive blues-rock piece from the little known Steamhammer, and Blood Sweat and Tears fabulous cover of Traffic’s “Smiling Phases”. It’s exciting listening and reminds you how, at the turn of the decade, rock had not yet splintered into genres and tribes. There is a powerful current of invention in the music that flows straight into side two.
After The Flock we have the cheerful folk-satanism of Black Widow, Argent’s definitely-prog “Dance in the smoke”, and a Byrds track. The whole first LP is a wonderful window into what was happening in 1969-70.
Side three introduces the emerging singer-songwriter movement with Laura Nyro (think Joni Mitchell’s scary sister), Leonard Cohen and British folk-into-bedroom troubadour Al Stewart. On the final side, things get sweatily rootsy; very much electric blues-de-jour.
Fill Your Head With Rock demonstrates that once upon a time music simply progressed. It is solid entertainment from go to woe and I don’t regret buying it one little bit. So there.
GIRLS GO POWER POP!
An exclamation mark at the end of power pop! appears mandatory, and who am I to argue. The jangly, harmony rich pop smarts of power pop! are close to my heart, so I pre-ordered this one.
I’d suggest that some of these tracks are garage or even straight rock rather than p-p! but let’s not quibble. This disc is 25 cuts of fun with lots of artists I’d never heard of but enjoyed discovering. Scandal’s “Goodbye to you” rocks, “Dream lover” by The Rebel Pebbles swoons. Who could resist The Muffs, The Pandoras or Universal Honey? Not me. I’m smitten. And don’t even ask about “Lipstuck” by Eve’s Plum.
As I was unwrapping the girls, I noticed a pamphlet on the coffee table.
A glance at the acronym—COVID—told me instantly who the diminutive culprit was. Compilations On Vinyl Induce Disease, it said. Reading no further, I defiantly slammed Girls Go Power Pop! into the deck and cranked up the volume. I may or may not have poked my tongue out as I danced around the room to “Cherry Bomb”.
Got a favourite ‘Various Artists’ compilation? Do tell!