It All Started Here (K 20025) and The New Age of Atlantic (K20024) (1972)

The title of This Is Where It All Started is vague and somewhat misleading. First of all, the antecedent of “It” is left tantilisingly unexplored and secondly, most of the music comes from the late 60s/early 70s quite a while after the time whatever “It” was had already pretty much got started. Still, an excellent overview of soul on Atlantic without recourse to the label’s biggest hits.

The recent acquisition of this pair of iconic and worthy early 70s Atlantic Records compilations got me to worrying about the changing face of music compilations–from cheapo kitsch and genre defining scholarship in the past to their present ubiquity and consequent devaluation over the last 10 years or so. Will the comps of today have resonance with future middle-agers? Of course, the Thrifty Vinyl pages are littered with compilations of all stripes, K Tel soul albums, TV themes, Boogie, all kinds really (just click on the Compilations category to get a full flavour of the breadth) that “my parents had” or “was the first time I heard rap” or etc.

Though there is plenty of overlap, I would divide Popular music compilations into the following types: Label Promotion (see above); Top 40/Popular Reviews, both Contemporary and Retrospective; Genre Definition-e.g. C86, Spiritual Jazz, Good God!, or, er,  The Best Dubstep Album In the World…Ever; Sound-a-Likes; themed Magazine Comps; Single Artist Best Ofs.

Many contemporary and retrospective Top 40 comps from the past (e.g. those from Ronco, K-Tel, Time-Life, etc.) were, of course, available at knock down prices through mail order television ads or cut out bins. These days, the Now That’s What I Call Music series (which commenced in 1983!), and its attendant spin-offs, have a lock on the Top 40 market (with Ministry of Sound largely cornering the dance market) outselling most single artist albums several fold. It peaked in 1999 with Now 44 selling 2.4 million copies in the UK. Full-price but shortly available cheap at bootfairs, their very ephemerality remains part of the Now charm. I have done my own alternate series of CD compilations of Now! CDs of the two to three songs (e.g. Amerie’s “One Thing”) per collection I like which I like to call No, That’s What I Call Music.

At this point in history, one could argue that the various artist compilation is stronger than ever with wide-ranging, brilliantly collated records by boutique labels such as Sub Rosa, Revanent, Jazzman, Blood & Fire (RIP), Mississippi, Numero, etc., etc. The twin models for this strategy are Harry Smith’s idiosyncratic folk music collection and the Origin Jazz Library (OJL) label which virtually jump-started a renewed interest in American roots music in the 50s and 60s. Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets did likewise for garage rock.  Significantly, these projects were the brainchildren of single-minded individuals. The music fan of today is overwhelmed with a glut of budget, past-copyright titles by right thinking companies like Proper (who’ve done great Bepop and Ellington collections) and magazine CDs from the  likes of DJ, Muzik (RIP) and Mojo who offer monthly themed collections. I get Mojo and some of their comps ( like this and this among many others) are really good (though their whole-album or one-artists covers comps are almost always poor). It’s a proverbial embarrassment of riches, the tyranny of choice. But if you’re a serious collector who must have an entire disc of “Heroes and Villains” “feels” or 6 discs of Charley Patton’s Paramount sides and the attendant “orbit” than this a golden age where astronomical sums are no longer required to satisfy your cravings. I mean, you can get the complete Byrds collection, bonus track and all, for under £30.

And it’s all about the music, right? Well, yes and no. I like decent sound, completism and I’m a sucker for the packaging. But while I am one of those obsessives, I’ve come back around to better pruned compilations and albums-as-they-were re-issues–a couple years ago and I would have had the SMiLE Sessions box set, these days I’m happy with just the two Lps.

Given it’s ubiquity, I’m happy that my son has not resorted to illegal file sharing; but he’s found a clever hedge–the online mixtape. So he can download and legally listen to his awful Odd Future and Wocka Flocka music, picking and choosing his favourites for the old iPod. This is the thing that will resonate most to his middle-age self. And so it continues.


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Published in: on December 9, 2011 at 9:01 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. i realised many years ago that i not only wanted to hear only tracks that i liked, but also in the order that i wanted to listen to as well. so from the very beginning of my relationship with long-playing records it irked me that i would have to listen to tracks i didn’t care for (or else have to get up and move the needle over) that somebody else had decided i should listen to regardless… so never mind original artist albums, even compilations weren’t for me! instead i would copy them over to cassette in the order i wanted to listen to them (ditching the duffers in the process) then get rid of them as they were then surplus to requirements (from the early 80’s onwards most were borrowed or blagged rather than bought anyway so i just returned them to their owners afterwards)…

    although this released me from the tyranny of having to listen to stuff against my wishes, compared to today it was still a relatively rigid format. so as my tape compilation collection grew i developed a system to maximise my listening pleasure within its limitations: i would listen to an album, decide which tracks i liked, and then record them in an order where my favourites were in the middle of the cassette and the lesser ones at the beginning and end (a kind of sonic version of table mountain!). then i would record another album (often by the same or similar artist) on the other side of the cassette in the same manner – that meant i could either choose to listen to each album (or at least the tracks i had chosen from it) from beginning to end… or i could just listen to the best of one album in the middle of the cassette, then flip it over and listen to the best of the other! of course in this age of mp3s and computerised playlists it now seems so crude, but it served me well at the time (and even today when i listen to certain tracks on my mp3 player i hear the beginning of the track that originally followed on the cassette in my head afterwards ha ha!)…

    regarding “illegal” mp3 downloads: it seems odd that getting hold of individual tracks in this way is frowned upon, yet if you put a load of tracks together as a “mix” on to mixcloud or similar website (even if you don’t actually mix the tracks, you just put them on one after the other on the file) then that’s apparently perfectly acceptable…

  2. I, too, was a chronic cassette compiler, but mine tended to resemble the completist CD with bonus tracks or CD box set model, as I made it a point to include non-Lp b-sides. Good times.


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