In praise of … compilation albums

When it comes to lists of favourite albums, compilation albums are often conspicuous by their absence.    

There’s always been a tendency to be a bit sniffy about compilation albums, be they best-ofs or various artist efforts. Maybe people are haunted by Alan Partridge’s Best of the Beatles reply on being asked his favourite Fab Four album.  

Do we all fear people might not take our musical knowledge seriously if we admit to a love of, say, Golden Hour, as our favourite Kinks album? Surely, I should be quoting Village Green or even something less well known to prove my credentials?  

My love of compilation albums stems from their role in introducing me to so much music. Random first musical memories – snatches of Beatles’ b-sides (I’ll Get You, Things We Said Today), Count Basie and Elvis 78s, Ride of the Valkyries EP – were quickly supplanted by the first albums that I listened to. And those albums were the original songs by unoriginal artists that were the Top of the Pops albums of the late sixties and early seventies and their Marble Arch equivalent, Today’s Chartbusters.  

For the uninitiated, these albums were the hits of the day played and sung by session musicians. It wasn’t until the mid-seventies that K-Tel revolutionised things and created the original songs by original artists compilations that endure to this day in the Now .. series.  

Long before I knew who the Small Faces were I knew Lazy Sunday by a reasonable impression of Steve Marriott’s coc-ker-nee, music hall voice by an unknown singer backed by a sight-reading band on a Today’s Chartbuster’s album. Cor blimey!   

Other memorable highlights include a Top of the Pops version of Brown Sugar, probably my favourite Stones’ song (no coincidence surely). But best of all is a game attempt at Vodoo Chile. Whether the session guy attempted any teeth work remains clouded in history, but check it out in your local charity shops where these gems of turn-of-the-decade kitsch can still be found.  

I’d like to tell you that my first Bowie album was Hunky Dory before Ziggy broke, but, truth be told, I waited for Mr Jones to get up a head of steam before investing a couple of quid in the Ronson-era greatest hits album ChangesOne. And, to this day, you simply can’t get a better art school end of glam rock album than ChangesOne.  

My introduction to the rumbling, chooglin’ swamp-rock and Americana pioneers Creedence Clearwater Revival came not with the more creditable Cosmo’s Factory or Green River but my sister’s copy of Creedence Gold, which I have to this day. As an aside, it came as almost as much of a shock when I found out that the most Southern of voices, John Fogerty’s, was actually from California as when I discovered that none of the Beach Boys, save Dennis, could surf. 

While the odd single had been floating around in the ether of my early childhood, the real introduction to the greatest band there ever was and ever will be was in the form of Red and Blue albums. 

“That’s the main function of the compilation album, an easily openable door to whole new worlds. “

Compilation albums opened up new horizons. WOMAD’s Talking Book’s and Peel compilation tapes were the entry points for a literal world of music from outside of Europe and America. Blue Note samplers did the same for jazz. That’s the main function of the compilation album, an easily openable door to whole new worlds. 

Of course, as you grew up, you started making your own compilations, which now crystalise a time, a place and, often, a love now passed. I believe it’s been rebranded as curation nowadays. 

So, let’s not have any more of this sniffiness about compilation albums, let’s hear it for those gateways to our new vistas. 

Favourite five 

  • Golden Hour of the Kinks 
  • Blue 67 – 70 
  • Creedence Gold 
  • ChangesOne  
  • That’ll Be The Day 

In case you missed it …

XTC's early releases
Singles and album from the White Music era

A garden of earthly delights – XTC’s studio albums – White Music (1978)

Herky and, indeed, jerky. The sound of speed. 100mph. Non-stop. 

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