If an Alien landed in my back garden, broke into my house and threatened to suck as much human knowledge as possible from my mind, I'd tell him not to bother cos I don't know much about anything, although if he wanted to know a bit about the music and culture from my bit of the western world during the late 20th century, I'd gladly offer to lend him all my compilation albums, on the understanding that he returned them as soon as he had digitally encoded the sounds and scanned the sleeves.
Compilation albums are fantastic. And I'm not talking about classy retrospective CDs with slip-cases and big chunky booklets full of previously unpublished photos and copious production notes. No, I'm mean the ones that actually came out at the time; the one's that attempted to bottle the zeitgeist, to compress the Now into a two-part, 45 minute vinyl grab-bag, in a way that was as exploitive as it was informative. Of course, there are surely many similarly great compilation albums released this year alone (I assume), but the above picture, taken this evening, features a bunch of old platters randomly selected from the gutter-archives. Why pick out this old dross? Perhaps because the passing of (much) time has left them with a pungent aura, like 12" postcards from the past. No doubt you could find all the tracks on these albums easily enough on Soulseek, but I need to have these fossils taking up space in my house, cos its not just about the music, its about the graphic design, the type-faces, and all the scuffs and marks that indicate that these objects have history, and specifically they are a part of my history.
What do I present here, anyway? Well, top left is Volume 1 of React's seminal "Reactivate" Belgian Techno Anthems series, which continued for many years, but its the first two or three volumes that I cherish the most, with the wonderfully garish graphics. This was back when it was still acceptable to squeeze 10 tracks onto a single piece of vinyl, which does reduce the sound quality somewhat, but who cares? - that's how I'm used to hearing them. Next to that is Volume 1 of Rumour Records' sensational "Breaks, Bass & Bleeps" series - "An Ultimate Collection Of Aural Technology - A double album featuring full length 12" versions" - Yum! I have volume 2 as well. I think there were several more, too, but for some reason I never bought those. After all these years, I suddenly feel rather annoyed about this. I really should have the complete series. E-bay beckons...
Top right is Volume 1 of the Streetsounds Electro series. I repeat: Volume 1. From 1983. I'm not trying to show-off here, cos its not particularly rare or valuable, but it is a very important artifact. Everyone should own a copy of this record. 1983 was of course a watershed year for compilations, as it was also the beginning of the "Now! That's What I Call Music" series, the first to strike at the heart of the 7" single's supremacy (remember that, before "Now!..", pop compilations were poor reproductions by session musicians). Nowadays, with downloading and iTunes playlists, people like to make their own compilations every day. Maybe official compilations will die as thoroughly as the single itself, which would be such a shame, cos compilations tell us more about ourselves and our culture than any other form. You really can divine the spirit of the age from them, and if you have enough of them they can really help to build an accurate picture of what actually happened.
Bottom left is Champion Records' double compilation of early cuts from Richie Hawtin's +8 label. I haven't played it for years. I may play it later this week. I'm thinking about it. The important thing is that its presence is reassuring. If ever I need to remind myself what early +8 sounded like, I will always have this compilation at hand.
Ahh, finally we come to Needle Records' "House Hits" ("As seen on TV"!!). As I've freely admitted before, I don't own any genuine Chicago import records, cos I was always too skint to pay the prices, but I do have a fucking huge pile of dodgy compilations. The only thing more astonishing than the amount that I have, is that the market could ever bear so many of the bloody things. Was Chicago House ever that big? Apparently so. I adore the dodgy graphics on this one, which incidentally is a double-gatefold sleeve with liner notes, and I find it much more satisfying than the typical semi-naked bodies than adorn most House compilations these days. Record sleeves were so much more fun and innocent before the lad-mag culture set in. I'm no prude, but I just wish that popular culture and soft-porn could be put in separate boxes again. If I want to use porn I'll go and get some, but I don't want it rammed down my throat everywhere I look, thanks.
Anyway, this is just the tip of an idea for a blog post. I may expand on it later. But I'm going away on holiday this weekend, and just wanted to leave a few ideas floating around, in the hope that it might generate some interesting responses for when I return.
Oh, and one last thing. Here's an MP3 for you, from side four of the above "House Hits" album, just cos I know that this is still supposed to be an MP3 blog and you all love an MP3 to listen to, right? It's basically a mash-up of all the best bits from sides 1-3, edited together by Double Trouble, aka Leigh Guest. I'll let you have fun spotting all the tunes in there, although I should mention that the Cookie Crew are in there somewhere, which is the best recommendation I can think of.