Monday, 18 October 2010



I’m 62 and in the last 10 years I’ve probably bought more Rock CDs than ever in my life and in real terms, as a proportion of my income, it’s probably cost me much less than it would in my youth when I bought vinyl. Many people in their 50’s and 60’s will be finding the same thing. Their kids, if they had any, have left home; they’ll be receiving legacies from relatives (usually, sadly, their deceased parents); they’ll have paid off most, if not all, of their debts such as the mortgage; their incomes, if they’re still working, will be at their maximum; and, if they have any sense, they’ll be the beneficiaries of a private or works pension.

But that is only part of it. Let me tell you a short story. 

Just about a week ago I came across a mention of J J Cale. I can’t remember exactly what it was –I may have seen it as an Amazon recommendation- but I had heard of him before and did a little digging to find out more about him. The obvious place was All Music Guide -   which is probably the best one-stop music resource on the Web and I use it a lot. From their I went back to Amazon and listened to samples from a collection of his. Before I’d heard  more than ten I put the CD in my basket and ordered it. Anyway The Wind Blows is a massive 50-track anthology, first released 1997, covering 11 albums from 1970-1993, includes a decent booklet (always a plus) about the man and his music, and it’s fucking amazing. Now I’ve got all his albums since then, plus a collaboration with Eric Clapton, to look forward to hearing. You could describe Cale as Americana in the same way Johnny Cash is. Cale is Rock for sure, with a little Blues, and a little Country, and a little bit of this and that, all played in a deliciously laid-back rolling style though, as the introduction points out, “A fast song could be laid back as easily as a slow one.” 

I imagine when this anthology first came out it would have retailed for around £15.00 plus. I got it for £3.99. Yes, that’s right, one penny less than four quid which works out at 8p per track. While this is outstanding value in both quantity and qualitative terms, it isn’t all that unusual. It’s very easy to pick up excellent single artist anthologies for a very small outlay and that’s what I’ve been doing a lot of during the last ten years. I’ve had the opportunity to pick up music by artists whom I’ve liked but financial constraints in the past have prevented me from picking up.  In many cases, as Best Of (or Ultimate, or Essential) is all I want to hear of that artist. I’ve got the really good stuff and, to quote Donna Summer on one of my all-time favourite tracks, “enough is enough is enough is enough.”

What follows is a sort of companion piece to my 100 Favourite Tracks that I posted in June this year. (That itself was an early draft and the full revised piece can be found in my fanzine Siddhartha 8 on This is a selective list and I’ve omitted almost all Blues single artist compilations and numerous others (or the list would be twice the length at least) for reasons which seemed good at the time but it is a pretty comprehensive list and does cover most of the Rock, with a few others thrown in for variety. I’ve included a few albums covers to break up the text plus some explanatory notes or comments. Now while most of this list I obtained relatively cheaply (say, under £7.50), a number are in the £10-£20 range and a handful over £30.00.
It’s arranged alphabetically from my ITunes list which means Bob Marley and Blondie are both under B. I could have done it by surname but that would have been too much like hard work .


The Animals: The Complete Animals. 2 CDs. It’s the 1960’s, it’s white-boy Blues, of course I liked it, it just took me 45 years before I bought it.
Aretha Franklin: Respect, The Very Best Of Aretha Franklin. 2 CDs.

The B-52s: Time Capsule. 1 CD. Weird, wonderful, funny, I love it.
The Beach Boys Platinum Collection. 3 CDs. Comprehensive and cheap too.
Big Country: Through A Big Country. 1 CD. See my Top 100 Tracks.
Blondie: Atomic.  CDs, one of which is a collection of remixes.
Bob Marley: Legend. 1 CD.
BB King: Vintage Years. 4 CD.
BB King: King of the Blues. 4 CD. Both massive and expensive compilations, each with a lavish booklet, and surprisingly little overlap.
Bob Dylan: Essential. 3 CDs. Dylan, like Bruce Springsteen, is one of those artists I buy an anthology to supplement my existing collection of his albums. In neither case I’m a completist but enough of fan to want a good selection of their material.
Bonnie Rait: Best Of. 1 CD.
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: Cornology. 3 CDs. A rather tatty copy, though the discs are fine, I found about to be chucked out in our charity shop. This is the sort of diamond, or example, of the reason why people scour charity shops in search of the overlooked treasure.
Booker T & The MGs: Best Of. 1 CD.
Bruce Springsteen: Essential. 3 CDs, one of which contains  previously unreleased material.
Buddy Holly Memorial Collection. 3 CDs. An excellent anthology for a fiver but misses out my favourite song of his –Bo Diddley- which I had to buy & download separately.
The Byrds: Essential. 2 CDs. The Essential series (from UA, I think as they’re in the loft, and not to be confused with any other Essential titles on different labels) is a generally excellent series and this is no exception.

Canned Heat: Uncanned. 2 CDs. Great booklet, massive collection, wonderful stuff. Boogie on!
Chuck Berry: Have Mercy, the complete Chess recordings 1969-74. 3CDs, sadly including 3 versions of My Dingaling, but otherwise excellent.
Chuck Berry: The Ultimate Collection. 3 CDs. Like the above this also displays just how versatile Berry was and that there’s so much more than just the hits.
The Clash: Essential. 2 CDs.
Credence Clearwater Revival: Chronicle. 2 CDs.

Dick Dale: King of the Surf Guitar. 1 CD. Any explanatory comment seems somehow superfluous.
Donna Summer: The Journey. 2 CDs. See my Top 100 Tracks.
The Doors: The Very Best Of. 2 CDs.

Echo & the Bunnymen: Crystal Days. 4 CDs. Truthfully, I borrowed this from the record library and copied it. A few years later I then bought a selection of the remastered and extended originals, many tracks, but not all, are on this lavish box set.

Fairport Convention: Meet On The Ledge. 2CDs. Live at the BBC. 4 CDs.
Fela Kuti: The Best Best. 2 CDs. "FEH-LA! FEH-LA! FEH-LA!" as I used to drunkenly shout out at a friend's house in the early 70's in order to get him to play a Fela album. One of the greatest African musicians ever. A short track is one under 10mins. Some of his double-backed albums on one CD contain only two tracks. But they’re great.
Fleetwood Mac: The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions. 6 CDs packed with false starts, alternate takes, studio chat.
Frank Zappa: Strictly Commercial. 1 CD. The lighter side of FZ. I’ve stopped listening to Bobby Brown when I’m out of the house because people stare at me when I burst out laughing; every time.

Gary Moore: Best of the Blues. 2 CD.
George Thorogood: The Baddest of George Thorogood and the Destroyers. 1CD.
The Grateful Dead: The Golden Road 1965-73. 12 CDs. Beyond Description 1973-89. 12 CDs. All the original major label albums remastered with extra tracks which sometimes doubles their length, plus extensive booklets, and both in a box which really is a solid box not a thin piece of card. The most expensive box sets I’ve ever bought with both costing over £80.00, but worth it.

Heart: Essential. 2 CDs.
The Hollies: Greatest Hits. 2 CDs. Back to the 60’s with one of the greatest British pop bands. Slick and professional with a string of great songs and great singing.
Howlin’ Wolf: The Genuine Article. 1CD. See my Top 100 Tracks.
The Human League: Very Best Of. 2 CDs.

Intermission: What makes a good single artist anthology and how do I find it?

With popular and even not so popular artists there are probably more anthologies than you can count. Just look at Jimi Hendrix for example who has many more compilations available than he had original albums issued during his life.

The easiest way is to go to All Music Guide and type in the artist you’re interested in and then select Compilations. I don’t always agree with their reviews of individual albums (Trans, anyone?) but there’s more of a consensus on compilations and I’ll often take their recommendations. However, their highest rated compilations might be an expensive multi-disc set when I just want a mid-price 2-disc set at most. Also there may be different editions of the same compilation. The Cale set below is available in a single disc fillet (with a different title) at an Amazon price more than twice the 2-CD set. Also AMG, being an American site, it may not list or review good compilations available only overseas like the UK.

The next step is to check out what’s available on Amazon and read the buyer reviews which can be a good guide and sometimes they can’t. Rabid fans can either be hypercritical or sickeningly fawning. It goes without saying that you can trust my reviews implicitly. There’s also the advantage of often being able to listen to samples.

As for what makes a good anthology, that’s also subjective. Mostly a 2-CD set and sometimes a single CD is enough for me as long as it covers all the best known/popular tracks. Unreleased tracks are aimed at squeezing money out of the die-hard fan and aren’t necessarily a plus for the casual buyer as, with honourable exceptions (e.g. Dylan & Springsteen), they almost certainly aren’t the artist’s best work. I also like a good booklet about the artist and his work. In this respect the Cale anthology, which finally got me round to writing this piece, is exemplary. It’s cheap (though it wasn’t when it was first issued), it has a lot of tracks which end at 1993 leaving plenty of his later work to explore, there’s a good booklet, and it has 6 unreleased tracks. All of which makes it a great introduction to Cale’s work.

J J Cale: Anyway The Wind Blows. 2 CDs. See the introduction and above.
Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child, The Best Of. 2 CDs. There are umpteen Hendrix collections available. I’ve checked and this is probably the best 2 CD around and the price is good.
Johnny Clegg and Savuka: In My African Dreams. 1 CD.
Jonathan Richman: Roadrunner, Roadrunner The Berserkley Collection. 2CDs.

Kirsty MacColl: From Croydon To Cuba. 3 CDs.

The Levellers: One Way of Life. 1 CD. I have phases when I play this a lot. One of the best single disc compilations around.
Link Wray: King of the Wild Guitar. 1 CD. Some artists are best listened to in small doses otherwise they get a but repetitive. Wray is one of them.
Lou Reed: NYC Man. 2 CDs.

Marvin Gaye: Very Best Of. 2 CDs. No Marvin Gaye, no soul.
Mike Oldfield: Boxed. 3 CDs. Oldfield, the Ralph Vaughan Williams of Rock?
Muddy Waters: Hoochie Coochie Man, The Complete Chess Masters 1952-58. 2 CDs. There are so many Muddy compilations available, but for the price and the quality, this is one of the very best. It also comes in lovely thick card covers with a good booklet containing a short but good essay by Mary Kathrine Alden and some vintage photos on grainy stock paper. Lovely package.

Neil Young: Archives vol 1 1963-72. 6 CDs. Despite the great music, this comes as a disappointment. Check out my Amazon UK review for why. I got my copy from the States at a price much cheaper than over here and later sold it on Amazon Marketplace for a small profit. After copying it to my Ipod of course.
Nils Lofgren and Grin: Best of the A&M Years. I CD. A guy who was decorating our house last week heard me playing Trans and recognised it. He told me he was a fan of Lofgren, who has played with Young, and seen him live several times. I thought: why not? The only track I actually remembered from the 70’s was the excellent Keith Don’t Go. After playing the CD once, it still is.

Osisbisa: Best Of. 1 CD.

Pat Benatar: Greatest Hits. 1 CD.
Paul Butterfield: The Elektra Years. 2 CD set. Amazon UK  charge a ludicrous price for this but I got it at a reasonable price on Ebay.
Pentangle: Last Flight. 2 CDs.
Pet Shop Boys: Discography. 1 CD.
Peter Gabriel: Hit/Miss. 2 CDs.
Phil Collins: Hits. 1 CD. Okay, tell me you don’t have a Collins track or ten somewhere in your collection. Oh, you don’t, okay then.
Prefab Sprout: A Life Of Surprises. 1 CD.

The Ramones: Hey Ho Let’s Go. 2 CDs.
The Rolling Stones: Singles Collection, The London Years. 3 CDs. Check out my recent review in this blog. 40 Licks. 2 CDs.

Sandy Denny: Boxful Of Treasures.  5 CDs. See my 100 Favourite Tracks.
Santana: Ultimate Collection. 2 CDs. I like it but a true definitive Best Of has yet to appear.
The Searchers: 40th Anniversary Collection. 2 CDs. More great 60’s pop music and beyond. Takes me back to my teenage schooldays and heated arguments about Del Shannon and Dionne Warwick. Hated the former, loved the latter.
Sheryl Crow: Very Best Of. 1 CD.
Simple Minds: Best Of. 2 CDs.
Steeleye Span: Spanning The Years. 2 CDs.
Steely Dan: Showbiz Kids. 2 CDs.
Stephen Stills: Turnin’ Back The Pages. 1 CD. A very good filleting of his 70’s solo albums, plus good booklet. I used to own a couple of the vinyl albums.

Talking Heads: The Name Of This Band Is. 2 CDs.

ZZ Top: Rancho Texicano.  2 CDs.

If you've found this interesting, why not do something similar and let me see it. 

Very special thanks go to  Greg Pickersgill and Mark Plummer for their unexpected but very welcome responses to my revised fanzine version of 100 Favourite Tracks.

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