OPERATION COVID

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).

GET FOLKED

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.

ARCHIVAL DELIGHTS

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. 

SEDUCED!

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?

COVER VERSION

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.
CLASSIC COMP

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!

 

40 comments

  1. I gotta keep an eye out for “Fill Your Head With Rock” which looks great. I think the people at Uncut magazine paraphrased that title for one of those free CDs that come with each issue. It was an art-rock sampler called “Fill Your Head With Prog.” I still have it, a good listen as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, magazine CDs! If this piece wasn’t already long, there was a nice little tangent there. And heck, I’d buy Uncut for a CD called “Fill Your Head With Prog”!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Local samplers remain my favourite of the VA compilations. They used to be a great way to explore local scenes. One of my favourites is a late 80’s Indie Top 20 from the UK with a collection of bands/songs that were unknown where I was living at the time (Switzerland).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I remember holding – but eventually putting back – a comp of Akron, Ohio bands that had a scratch and smell patch for… wait for it… tyre rubber. 😆

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I like it. It’s always (a) Good Year in Akron.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. LoL. Just between us, Yahooey, if the scratch had still smelt of rubber, I’d probably have bought it.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. 400, that’s more than Spartan.
    But some nice ones…Fill your head…
    A Paul Simon album one of just a few compilations here. They tend to be vocalists.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Of course the jury is still out on how having so many Various Artists albums reflects on one’s mental health. And in case you are curious, roughly 10% are jazz collections.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I feel overwhelmed (and a bit inspired too) by the amount of compilations in Your possesion! I may have about 15 myself, so my conscience gnome doesn’t even bother to care. “Feel Your head” – I have it and enjoy, so this would be my choice from the ones showed above. Although my favourite V.A. record in my collection would be “Lonely is an eyesore” filled with 4AD delights.
    But I’m very intrigued by this Cosmic Machine thing! Is it Euro-disco heavy just like the first part? I wouldn’t expect this judging from the title and it wouldn’t be one of those pleasant surprises. So I’m holding my horses but it looks very tempting!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey, iwarti. Good to hear from you. A 4AD comp would be cool. I fear I’d snap that up!
      Reckon I might put Cosmic Machine on now and refresh my memory.
      Will report back. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. OK. The answer is ‘Yes’. Pretty heavy on French synth-driven disco. In the right mood – perhaps with a few glasses of Bollinger under the belt – it’s great fun. But the more serious tracks (Pinhas has one under his own name and one as Heldon) do rather stand out. And a couple of early 70s film music pieces (one from Francis Lai, no less) add to the cheesiness. Still, lots of fun and a fabulous package that also came with the CD and, even better, the CD booklet.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. That Cosmic Machine album looks fantastic. I would’ve bought that for the cover alone.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I suspect I did, mate. 😜

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love compilations, though I don’t own too many. Right now I’m in a chill surfer mode for comps, so the Jack Johnson/Brushfire records stuff appeals. But you’ve got some really tasty stuff there, I loved them all!

    Also: You must’ve gotten issied a Guilty Conscience Gnome. I have one of those Consicence Gnomes living in my house too, a distant cousin, perhaps, because we have a pretty good relationship (no raspberries in months). This may in large part being due to how few records I have bought in this calendar year, but it generally seems to approve of what I bring home. Perhaps turn yours in for an exchange…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point. Maybe my CG needs a holiday? I’ll tell him I have some very fine contacts in North America and see you he responds.

      Like

      1. Start small with a night out to go drinking and womanizing. Rejuvenate the spirits! 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  7. While in absolute numbers my Various Artists collection would compare to yours roughly as total Covid cases in Bulgaria would to total cases in the United States, I am unable to estimate any proportional comparison as a subset of total holdings without further data. Winning here in terms of listens would be the first two Rhino 4-CD “Nuggets” box sets, Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968 and Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond, 1964–1969, both of which I own w/o pangs. Of most sentimental value would be the 1985 Windham Hill compilation A Winter’s Solstice, which I likely bought, as did many of my undergraduate friends at the time, in an unconscious attempt to prove my passage into adulthood. Well, I mean, that and Shadowfax, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Transparency requires the disclosure that 20% of the V/A comps are CDs that came with magazines, primarily MOJO. Although that probably only proves that I have a problem with buying magazines too.

      Those two Nuggets boxes are absolutely top shelf. Can I say I’m delighted you have II as well, and value it. I might have jumped to the presumptuous conclusion there was way too much whimsy for you in that package.

      I love Shadowfax. Made an adult out of my in the mid-80s. Or so I thought.

      PS. Up to Bridge of Sighs.

      Like

  8. A question: In your above spreadsheet excerpt, believe I understand the “V” and “C” entries, but I am having trouble guessing at that one “CB”; are you willing to decode?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure. The B is for ‘burn’ – a CD-R. The other one is CT where the T is for transfer; a digitisation of a vinyl record undertaken at home.

      Like

  9. Wow, that photo on the back of Fill Your Head With Rock is as awful/egregious as the one on the front is thrilling. Yikes. One of my favorite V.A. albums is No Prima Donna: The Songs of Van Morrison; Elvis Costello does a cover of Full Force Gale that, despite my agnostic views, never fails to move me. And none other than Liam Neeson covers the spoken word number Coney Island. And some fun, useless trivia: Eve’s Plum is said to have been named for Eve Plumb, an actress in the popular American TV series, The Brady Bunch.

    Like

    1. It’s appalling. The pull to censor was powerful.
      The funny thing about the Van tribute (which I don’t have) is the title. Because Mr Morrison is a classic grumpy prima donna. I wonder if he got the joke?
      Thank you for the factoid (a bit of a JDB speciality; cue small bow) regarding Eve’s Plum. Confession: I was sorely tempted to make a crack about Eve’s Cherry but showed admirable restraint, I’m sure you’ll agree. Great bit of trivia, though. The invisible middle child… And now let’s all sing the theme song together, and try to keep your dinner down!
      “Here’s the story
      Of a lovely lady
      Who was bringing up three very lovely girls…”

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What’s Brand Neu? I remember She Will Have Her Way being pretty big when it came out. I don’t do compilations very much as I’m pretty blinkered and focused on running an album review site but obviously that approach misses out of some great one shot wonders.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Brand Neu! is an interesting collection of artists paying homage to seminal German band Neu!
      [Neu! have been covered at Vinyl Connection here and here.]
      The idea of the compilation is a good one: don’t simply get bands to cover a piece by the tribute artist, get them to produce something new that demonstrates the influences and inspiration. A laudable goal. Sadly, this CD is only marginally successful. Most of the artists simply lock into something approximating the Neu! ‘motorik’ groove and stay there. Kind of ironic, as Neu! really did experiment and push the boundaries. The final track, by Michael Rother himself, is probably the highlight.
      A good example of an V/A tribute album that demonstrates how good the original artist was.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I like Neu! – that’s why I was interested in what the compilation offered.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Hope the brief ‘review’ offered some insight. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  11. jprobichaud · · Reply

    The only compilation I have in my vinyl collection is the Help album reissue from a couple months ago. I can’t think of many more that I want.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Help! As in the Beatles film?
      Your final thought gives me an idea…
      10 Various Artists Albums You Really Need 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. jprobichaud · · Reply

        I think it was named after that. It was released in support of Warchild back in 1995. Excellent compilation.

        I couldn’t come up with 10 compilations I need but I’d definitely read your list.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Started pulling things out of the shelves, JP. I’m mulling over a two parter:

          5 V/A compilations you need to hear

          5 V/A compilations you don’t need but are a shedload of fun

          Liked by 1 person

          1. jprobichaud · · Reply

            Awesome! Looking forward to it.

            Liked by 1 person

  12. Fill Your Head With Rock was preceded by the much better CBS sampler, The Rock Machine Turns You On which, indeed, seemed to turn a lot of folk on given by how many reminisce fondly whenever I mention it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rock_Machine_Turns_You_On

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s certainly a varied and interesting comp, Paul. What a difference a couple of years can make. I guess ‘much better’ resides in the ears of the beholder, eh?
      Having said that, I’d pounce on a copy of the earlier LP if I came across one!

      Interesting footnote: I have a much later V/A comp entitled “The Sire Machine Turns You On” which even references the cover design or the 1968 CBS release.

      Like

  13. 365musicmusings · · Reply

    “Completionist virus”! Gonna have to steal that one! Afflicted myself. Best/personal favorite va comp? 🤔 That’s a tough one! Maybe – The 1969 Warner / Reprise Songbook. Kinks, Hendrix, Tull, Young, Fugs, Electric Prunes, Guthrie, and a bunch more.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Some of the early comps are great, that’s for sure. Steal the virus at your peril. There’s no antidote, you know!

      Liked by 2 people

  14. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    You share that completionism strain with Anthony. He has it baaaad. I think I’d go for that Lonely is an Eyesore 4AD comp.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Like another widely distributed social virus, completist seems to subside when really it’s simply dozing, awaiting for a stress surge (positive, negative, makes no odds) to flare into renewed life and lay waste to good intentions.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        Ha! I have other, though related variants of that. Not to possess necessarily but to complete a task. Wish I could aim that at my writing projects.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yeah. Just yeah.

          Liked by 2 people

  15. What a great cover with Jerry Goodman.

    Liked by 2 people

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