POPTOPIA!

All record collectors have their ‘grails’, those rare and desirable albums that rarely pop up or, when they do, require a second mortgage to obtain. Some people keep a list of those items they long to call ‘my precious’, others simply hope for a chance encounter in the wild at a reasonable (or not totally unreasonable) price.

Discogs, that notorious Alice’s Restaurant of music purchasing, has many rarities; it’s a record store the size of the planet, after all. Yet unless your bucket of funds is bottomless, the locating of such booty—anywhere from Scandinavia to South Carolina—is more a matter of wishful thinking than genuine intention. Most of us stand outside with our noses pressed against the glass, like pauper children outside a pie shop.

After a very long time accumulating records and CDs, I find that there is an additional factor in play. It is not to do with money. Well it is, but not about not having enough. I could afford most of the things I wish for, or at least quite a few of them. It would be simply a matter of going through the on-line search process and picking the best option. Click ‘Buy Now’ and it’s sorted. But having started the Vinyl Connection collection when I was about eighteen and a young fellow of very limited resources, the habit of not paying premium prices is deeply ingrained. At several stages of my life (or, as I tend to think of it, collecting career) I have sold off vinyl (and CDs) to fund other purchases, developing both a keen sense of market value and an appreciation of the importance of ‘the hunt’. Now, snug in petite bourgeoise middle age, I don’t really have the same constraints. Yet something stops me from going, ‘Yeah, eat it all’. Some things you gather, others you hunt, but it’s being a Vinyl Hunter-Gatherer that defines my music hoard rather than bragging rights about this first pressing or that gatefold rarity. 

A case in point was a series of three compilation CDs put out by Rhino in the nineties. Called POPTOPIA!, there is one volume for each of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. They are beautifully designed with a Roy Lichtenstein homage front cover and an Andy Warhol nod on the back while the track selection has been thoughtfully and lovingly done too, with 18 power pop songs offering an hour of guitar-driven, hook-laden fun. Times three. 

I found the first one first. That was great, but as much of the material was already in the collection, it was the others I instantly needed. Once you start a set you have to finish it, right? A few years later I came across the ’90s volume at a record store in Adelaide. It was a bit pricey, but not enough to introduce more than a flicker of hesitation. Two down.

As the years passed and it became more of an ordeal getting down on hands and knees to flick through the carpet-level boxes where stores often file their VAROUS ARTISTS discs, I almost forgot about POPTOPIA! Then along comes Discogs, with its endless inventory and collector wish lists so of course I put a flag on the ’80s volume and then kind of forgot about it again. 

[This is, naturally but uncomfortably, an increasing capacity of the mature-age brain. And by capacity I mean incapacity. Why, just this evening I was trying to extract from memory the name of the actor who made an amusing Police Station cameo in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which we were watching as part of our family’s ‘Coming of Age’ film season. Three scenes later I shouted ‘Charlie Sheen’ and made the others jump. But I digress. I think.]

Two years ago a copy came up at a reasonable price, but the booklet was water-damaged and the postage tripled the cost. No thanks. Then early this year another copy, claimed by the seller to be in top-notch condition, came to my attention. The postage from the US was exorbitant so I sent a message wondering if the seller would post the CD without the jewel case, thus lightening the weight considerably. The reply was polite and clear: this CD has a tray (the bit that holds the CD) with lenticular grooves, making the underlying picture of a 45 and tonearm spin and move. I’d forgotten that, and naturally would not want an incomplete copy. Sigh.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, a seller in Norway listed a copy in MINT- condition. It was rather expensive, even in Euros, but he was open to offers so I sent off a proposal and the deal was closed.

It arrived yesterday and it’s great. Cross one off the list, Sir Gawain!

The music on this POPTOPIA! trilogy is really good, if power pop is a style you enjoy. Some songs emphasise the power, others lean towards pop, but all are worth getting to know. If it is an unknown area but your interest is piqued by this epic tale, may I offer an article from the back pages of Vinyl Connection that shares both my journey with the music and some recommended listening? It’s called Here is a sunrise. Ain’t that enough?

For those already on board, here are the track lists for the CDs. You’ll certainly know a couple.

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30 comments

  1. Wow – 54 tracks of power pop! Looking forward to checking some of these out (along with the ones I didn’t know from Golden Hour of Powerpop. And congratulations on tracking down the final volume!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Ryland! Thought of you as I was listening on the weekend. There is some great lesser known music on these and the packages are just wonderful.
      Also in your wheelhouse, I’m just sitting down to read Graham’s ranking of all the XTC albums. Plenty of material for a lively discussion there!
      https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/118838899/posts/3515107365

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice to read a bit about your, er, process.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There is doubtless a correlation between level of neurosis and collecting behaviour, but I choose not to delve too deeply. 😉

      Liked by 3 people

  3. This looks great – I don’t know if I even need it as I have half the tracks already, but a lot of the time it’s picking out my favourites. Whenever You’re On My Mind is totally my favourite Marshall Crenshaw tune. I don’t know much on the second half of the 1990s disc though.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In a just universe Marshall Crenshaw would be a household name, eh?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just when I was thinking I know about all records with Warholian soup can covers, of course you had to come up with these! 😀 Never seen this series before, Bruce, looks great. Congrats on finding all three!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Guy. Would you search these out, or are they too derivative?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now I have read about your years long effort to find them for a reasonable price, I don’t think I’m going on that same road. But when I write a blog post about soup can covers (any time soon) I hope you don’t mind I borrow your pictures! 😉

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Sure! If you’d like, I could remove the inserts and scan them for you. Let me know; happy to.

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  5. All Grail items can be listed on the KMA Master Grail List on keepsmealive.wordpress.com. It’s a Community page where we list our unfindables and then we can all consult it when we are out in our towns/countries. The list does work, we’ve found things for each other and it’s an amazing thing. COMMUNITY!!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I love hearing your “Vinyl hunter-gatherer” tales! These are great collections, my local library has the 80s edition and I made a copy. Incidentally, I have a Rickenbacker guitar just like the one on the 70s CD and re-created the cover with my son holding the gtr and cord.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Very nice indeed, Rick. As is raising a child on power pop! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Looks like a fun collection of tunes, and I like the comic book artwork. I noticed Let’s Active in there, a fun band and Mitch Easter is very talented, I know he was the producer on some of my favorite REM albums, even if his ’80’s singing sounded like a chipmunk on helium.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Interesting. I only know of Mitch Easter in a production role. The Let’s Active song is pretty good; I don’t recall thinking excessively about chipmunks while listening. 😁

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      1. I have 2 albums, really good clever stuff but sometimes there’s that Alvin angle.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ll look out for them. Cheers, Robert.

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  8. 365musicmusings · · Reply

    Love a heartfelt collecting story!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “There are eight million collecting stories in the naked city…”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wonderful, wonderful stuff Bruce – musically and writing-ily; bonus points for Arlo Gutherie reference. My pet hate isn’t paying too much, it’s buying too much and not listening to it properly. I hate that, it makes me feel like a glutton. It’s why I started all this blogging nonsense, to make sure I listened to everything properly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Joe. And well done on the Alice song ref. Your bonus points are in the post.
      Like you, I sometimes feel totally over fed and overwhelmed by the sheer weight of music. I’ve noticed many more multi-album posts the last couple of years. Maybe I am trying to get through 5% before I join Charlie Watts.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ah well, Charlie was my darling.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Haven’t stopped laughing at the Alice’s Restaurant description for Discogs. I have a mostly love relationship with that site, but hate does raise its head now and then when it comes to the subjective denoting of “mint” to “acceptable” with the condition of a record or CD. I’ve gotten burned a handful of times, even though most sellers on that site are quite transparent and honest. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pretty much the same story here too, Marty. But if you cannot go out as all the shops are closed, Discogs exerts an irresistible pull!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    I love that Warhol design, that’s cause enough to nab it. And how you describe the hunt vs just spending recklessly. The labyrinth of the mind we find ourselves in, rationalizing. Ha ha ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I enjoyed that story Bruce and yeah I can see why you’d be inspired to go down this path. Very cool. You’re the Lee Van Cleef of music (Bounty) hunters. “Once you start you have to finish it”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly, that has some truth in it CB.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A few years ago that urge left me (still a pull once in a while) so I do enjoy when you and others share your treasures.

        Liked by 1 person

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