How To: Make a good compilation album (Record companies take note).

What a week I’ve had. Since I got back from the Edinburgh Fringe…nothing’s happened. Seriously. Nothing. However, tomorrow (Thursday the 16th), I’m starting a week-long ‘intensive’ driving course. It’s been 3 years since I last drove, and in that time I’ve had to pass my theory test twice (yeah, I let a certificate expire- never a good move). So hopefully in 7 days from now I’ll be roadworthy.

But that’s not why I’m here today. Today, I’m going to be examining what makes a good music compilation, and what makes a bad one. Using examples from either my own collection, or from my parent’s. This would probably sound incredibly monotonous, so to help, I’m summoning up a second voice- the one that you hear when you read things. I’m not crazy- honest. For the purposes of this experiment, he will be named Fabian.

Hi.

…I was expecting a bit more…awesomeness than just ‘Hi’, considering the name cool.

What does it matter? You’re the one writing this. Now get on with it- people are getting bored and going over to Cracked.com. It’s a better site than this.

I know, I know. Right.

This is showing how some artist’s compilations can work so well, while others fail. Now, I’m not using anything that wasn’t sanctioned by the artist, or a cheap cash-in from an outside source, such as those ‘Essential’ CDs that are readily available in supermarkets. I’m also not including remix albums- these are something entirely different.

Get on with it. Now.

How to do it right- the 5 best compilations by artists/bands I’ve got:

Joy Division/New Order- Substance

These are two of the finest compilations you will come across. Why? Because they are flawless. The two Substance albums were released in 1987, with the subtitles ‘1977-1980’ for JD, and ‘1987’ for NO. So what makes them so good? I’ll tell you. JD’s Substance covers all of the band’s singles and EPs (including B-sides), and tracks from the Factory record label samplers. Right…? Therefore, almost nothing from either of the two studio albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer is here. Which means you can own all 3 without any overlap (except for a different mix of ‘She’s Lost Control’, but the mix is totally different, so it’s forgivable). NO’s Substance follows a similar pattern- all of the singles in full 12-inch format, paired with the original B-sides. Again, you can own all of their studio albums up to that point, and have only 1 song overlapping- ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ (again, an alternative mix).

So there’s nothing better? I mean, both bands have had tonnes of comps, surely those aren’t the best?

Well, if you own any of the albums and just want to ‘fill the gaps’, then they are the best option. New Order made more albums/singles after their Substance outing, but they went rapidly downhill, so chances are you don’t want the later stuff. And avoid Total– it’s just not worth it.

I’ve got more money than sense, and want more Joy Division. What should I do?

Buy the ‘Heart and Soul’ box set. It’s exhaustive. (I’m saying that, but should you come across it at a decent price, get it. It’s actually worth it.)

I’ve got more money than sense, and want more New Order. What should I do?

Nothing. Buy Power, Corruption & Lies and wonder how they lost their magic.

Buzzcocks- Singles Going Steady

It covers the singles and corresponding B-sides from the Manchester band’s stellar first run, from 1977 to 1979. Pop-punk as pop-punk should be- brilliant bouncy tunes with just enough edge about them.

So what makes this so special? I bet that there’s dozens of Buzzocks comps, and you’ve chosen one from 1981. Why?

Because of it’s timing- in every sense of the word. By 1981, the band were on the way out after 3 amazing albums and a run of singles. This ‘greatest-hits’ was to go alongside those records, but also for new fans to get up to speed with the band. And the way the songs are sequenced is perfect. In all honesty, anything after this isn’t as good.

So it’s everything you’d want?

Nearly- I’d have stuck something on from the Spiral Scratch EP, but it’s not a big deal.

Echo & The Bunnymen- Songs To Learn & Sing

Now, this is my mum’s. I’m a Bunnymen fan, and I remember her having this album on cassette in the car (and if you’re on here and you don’t know the joys of listening to music via tape, I really pity you.) Oh here we go- always loving the older technology. What are you writing this on exactly? This is the other side of the compilation ideal- a concise history of the band, showcasing their best songs up to that point. Your laptop, after drafting it on your phone. Your cellphone. Mr. Oh-I-Love-Old-Stuff-Just-Because-I-Have-A-Record-Player-And-A-Sega-Megadrive-And-Play-Cassettes-Now-And-Again. Pah. Echo & The Bunnymen had had a pretty good, if occasionally patchy career. 4 Fantastic LPs condensed into 1, plus an exclusive track, their masterpiece Bring On The Dancing Horses, as well as a few non-album singles.

Bring On The Dancing Horses is pretty good, yeah. So is it worth it just for one song?

In short, yes. Plus, it acts as a stepping stone to the rest of the Bunnymen’s back catalogue.

Seriously, one song? How’s it worth it?

It just is.

Couldn’t I just buy that ONE SONG from, iTunes or Amazon or something? Rather than waste money?

Well, yeah, but that’s not the point.

So what is the point?

The point is to appreciate the fact that using exclusive songs, the Bunnymen were able to tempt people who already owned their albums, and as having another great song for newcomers. Why are you arguing, anyway?

Just to watch you waste space as you keep typing. Ha.

Morrissey- World Of Morrissey

(I found this poster while looking around the internet. I didn’t have the heart to crop it, or even shrink it. Go on, give it a click.)

Hang on. Now, Morrissey’s had a tonne of comps, and he puts his singles on albums. Why this one?

Why? Because it doesn’t feel like a ‘greatest hits’- it’s not. It plays more like a mixtape- a mix of singles, album tracks, B-sides and live recordings. Buy it, put it on a stereo and leave it to play in it’s entirety. A truly good compilation should be better than the sum of it’s parts- World Of Morrissey does that. If you want his biggest hits, go for the EMI Very Best Of Morrissey, followed up by the Decca Greatest Hits. These two don’t overlap (being separate labels) and offer a comprehensive set of his most famous songs.

So why didn’t you say that instead?

Because…

Because what? You wanted to be all hipster-y and recommend a Morrissey album with almost no hits on it?

No- I chose it because it’s got his cover of Moon River on it. One of the greatest songs ever written.

Ever. Written.

Ever.

Written.

Right- I get it. Next!

Belle & Sebastian: Push Barman To Open Old Wounds

Like Joy Division/New Order, Belle & Sebastian have an annoyingly bad habit of not putting singles on albums- at least, they didn’t for many years. This means that often, their best and most popular songs have long been deleted. PBTOOW collects all of their earlier EPs and singles and places them neatly onto a double album.

Belle & Sebastian. Really? Belle. And. Sebastian. (Sigh) Aren’t you the unpredictable type ¬_¬?

…Shut up, you. Anyway, Push Barman is by far the easiest way to get hold of some of their best- ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’, ‘Slow Graffiti’, ‘I’m Waking Up To Us’ etc.

I’m not even going to comment any more- I mean, Buzzcocks, Morrissey and Belle & Sebastian- nothing wrong with being niche, but this is ridiculous! Seriously.

Whatever. Bye bye, Inner Monologue.

Don’t you dare stop thinking my voice. NOOOOOOOOOooooooooooo

That’s better.

Honourable mentions:

The Smiths- Hatful Of Hollow

John Foxx- Glimmer

Suede- Sci-Fi Lullabies

Super Furry Animals- Out Spaced

The Jesus & Mary Chain- Barbed Wire Kisses

Yeah, that’s about it here. I’ve already started planning something quite special, but I’ll be keeping that under wraps for the time being. I’ve also got another piece of awesome news, but I’m not throwing that on here yet- just in case.

(Dial Tone)

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