Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
In each of my previous Compilation Or Catalog? posts I discussed a compilation which was the only album I owned by a particular artist. The goal was to listen to it a number of times, figure out which tracks made the most impact on me, and then ask my readers if it’s worth exploring more of that artist’s discography or if the compilation is all I need. In most cases I chose to do some further exploration and discovered many great albums in the process.
Now I’ve decided to try something slightly different. As I’ve stated many times before, I tend to be a completest when it comes to the artists I love, which means I usually own everything in their officially released catalogs. In the majority of cases I’ve started with one or a handful of particular albums and subsequently amassed my collection of that artist’s work, but in some cases my obsession began with a simple “Best Of” or “Greatest Hits.” These are the collections that inspired me to become a devoted fan of each artist, or what I refer to as MY GATEWAY COMPILATIONS. There’s no need for me to ask the question “Compilation Or Catalog?” with these artists. Instead, I’ll tell you about each compilation, approximately when I first heard it, and how many other records I own by those artists as a direct result of that initial exposure to their music.
Compilation Title/Original Year Of Release: CHICAGO IX – CHICAGO’S GREATEST HITS (1975)
Number Of Albums I Now Own By This Artist: 18, including all of their studio albums through Chicago 17, three officially released live albums and one unofficial live CD recorded in 1974
I’m pretty sure I got this Chicago compilation from the Columbia House Record Club as part of their “13 Records For $1” deal around ‘78 or ‘79. I knew many of the songs from the radio (“Saturday In The Park,” “Just You ‘N’ Me,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”) and from early attempts at forming a cover band (“25 Or 6 To 4”). For a few years this was all the Chicago I needed but I eventually became a big fan and realized that their album tracks often presented completely different aspects of their music. They incorporated hard rock, classical, funk, psychedelia and many other styles into their sound, and the musicianship was always impressive (especially their late, great guitarist/vocalist Terry Kath). How these guys have never even been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame is beyond me but, considering what a joke that institution is, they should take it as a compliment.
Artist: BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS
Compilation Title/Original Year Of Release: LEGEND – THE BEST OF BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS (1984)
Number Of Albums I Now Own By This Artist: 17, including all of his Island Records studio & live albums (4 of them Deluxe Editions), a couple of collections of his pre-Island recordings, 2 other compilations, the 4-CD Songs Of Freedom box set and the Blu-ray edition of Legend with surround sound mixes of the entire compilation
My initial exposure to reggae, like many other white suburbanites growing up in the ‘70s, came via Eric Clapton’s cover of Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” and maybe Paul Simon’s “Mother And Child Reunion.” Then during the summer I turned 20 (in 1986), when I was working at my third record store (Sam Goody), one of the managers played Legend nearly every day. It took a few listens to fully sink in but I was quickly hooked and bought my own copy of the CD. A couple of years later I really dove into Marley’s catalog and became a huge fan. Legend might be the quintessential compilation…a perfect distillation of Marley & The Wailers’ output. Even though it misses out on some of their harder-edged and Afrobeat-inspired material found on albums like Survival, there isn’t a better introduction to Marley’s music. A friend of mine used to joke that “reggae is one song,” to which I always suggested he listen to just one Bob Marley album. Eventually he did and now he admits that his earlier opinion was misinformed. There’s so much diversity in his discography that he almost transcends reggae. I also give this compilation credit for expanding my reggae horizons toward artists like Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Culture, Third World, Majek Fashek, Steel Pulse, Ziggy Marley, Black Uhuru and many others.
Artist: EARTH, WIND & FIRE
Compilation Title/Original Year Of Release: THE BEST OF EARTH, WIND & FIRE, VOL. 1 (1978)
Number Of Albums I Now Own By This Artist: 23, including every studio album through Millennium (many of which I upgraded from the original CD pressings via The Columbia Masters box set), 4 live albums and The Eternal Dance 3-CD box set
Once again, being a white suburbanite meant that I wasn’t often exposed to “black music” during my childhood, other than the most popular material that showed up on AM radio. Earth, Wind & Fire was a band I knew a little bit about based on their appearance in the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie (yes, I saw that when it was still in theaters), performing The Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life,” and disco hits like “Let’s Groove” and “Boogie Wonderland,” but none of these songs appealed to me at the time. At my first job after college, a colleague was playing this compilation and it just hit me. I bought my own copy and became obsessed with it. How had I missed out on such uniquely funky music? Every song here is a winner, from upbeat tunes like “Sing A Song,” Shining Star” and “Getaway” to ballads like “Can’t Hide Love” and “That’s The Way Of The World.” Vocally & instrumentally they’re operating on another level from every other band of their era. They had plenty of amazing songs that came out after the release of this compilation (“In The Stone” and “After The Love Has Gone” are just two examples), but it’s still a great listen and the ideal introduction to the magic of EW&F.
Artist: ELTON JOHN
Compilation Title/Original Year Of Release: ELTON JOHN’S GREATEST HITS (1974)
Number Of Albums I Now Own By This Artist: 38, including all of his officially released studio & live albums (with the exception of Duets), an incredible unofficial live album recorded in 1979 with percussionist Ray Cooper in Moscow, the To Be Continued… 4-CD box set and his collaboration with Leon Russell, The Union
It was hard to escape Elton John’s music as a child of the ‘70s. “Crocodile Rock,” “Daniel,” “Rocket Man” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” were among many radio staples & were constantly played at summer camps by the counselors, and all of these appear on this excellent compilation. Although I knew many of his hits I didn’t own any Elton John albums by the time I began working at my first record store (Music Factory) in 1983. Then one of the managers started playing Elton John’s Greatest Hits every day and it was hard not to fall in love with all of these songs. A few years later I started collecting his individual albums (Tumbleweed Connection is probably my favorite), and his run of 10 great-to-incredible records between 1970’s Elton John and 1976’s Blue Moves has to be considered one of the most creative & prolific periods of any recording artist. This album has been replaced by numerous more comprehensive compilations over the years but it put me on the path to being a big Elton John fan and I still have a fondness for this particular track listing.
Artist: ELVIS COSTELLO
Compilation Title/Original Year Of Release: THE BEST OF ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS (1985)
Number Of Albums I Now Own By This Artist: 20, including all of his studio albums, with & without The Attractions, through All This Useless Beauty, a 5-CD collection of live recordings with keyboardist Steve Nieve and his collaboration with Burt Bacharach, Painted From Memory
I probably first became aware of Elvis Costello in ‘78 or ‘79. I liked some of his songs (“Radio Radio” and “Pump It Up” being two early favorites) but when I bought my first Costello album, 1980’s Get Happy, it didn’t resonate with me (beyond his cover of Sam & Dave’s “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down”) and I quickly exchanged it for something else. At the time I found myself drawn to similar “angry young man” artists Joe Jackson and Graham Parker, and Costello didn’t have the same impact on me. Over time I came to really like his music, starting with this excellent 19-track collection, and bought the majority of his albums (I’m now a big fan of the aforementioned Get Happy). I’ve since had a love-hate affair with Costello. I think he can often be a little too clever for his own good and he lost me by 2002’s When I Was Cruel. Hopefully one day I’ll rekindle my enjoyment of his music and check out some of his later releases, but I can still highly recommend The Best Of Elvis Costello And The Attractions to anyone who’s curious about his early years.
Artist: CAT STEVENS
Compilation Title/Original Year Of Release: GREATEST HITS (1975)
Number Of Albums I Now Own By This Artist: 13, including all of his studio albums beginning with Mona Bone Jakon, a 2-LP set of his earlier pop material, an unofficial live CD recorded in the mid-‘70s, his two most recent studio albums (billed as Yusuf) and the 4-CD box set Cat Stevens (aka On The Road To Find Out)
Growing up I had very little exposure to Cat Stevens. The father of a kid who lived on my street owned one of his albums on 8-track and I probably heard a few songs in the background, but it always seemed like “parents’ music” to me. That viewpoint changed in 1983, again thanks to my job at Music Factory, where this Greatest Hits album was constantly on the turntable. I may have been into hard rock and more contemporary guitar-based bands at the time, but it’s hard to argue with the quality of songs like “Wild World,” “Moonshadow,” “Peace Train” and the exquisite “Father And Son.” For anyone who thinks it’s nothing but twee acoustic singer-songwriter material, check out his version of Sam Cooke’s “Another Saturday Night” for the rock & roll side of Cat Stevens. His decision at the end of the ‘70s to step away from the limelight, get rid of his possessions and convert to Islam was not without controversy, but his fans remained loyal & eventually he re-emerged (under his new name of Yusuf Islam, or simply Yusuf) and has continued his recording career with that unique voice still intact. It’s nice to have him back, and without this compilation I might never have appreciated him like I do today.
Compilation Title/Original Year Of Release: SANTANA’S GREATEST HITS (1974)
Compilation Title/Original Year Of Release: VIVA SANTANA! (1988)
Number Of Albums I Now Own By This Artist: 32, including every official studio & live album released by Santana (the band) and Carlos Santana up to but not including the crossover pop sensation Supernatural, a couple of officially released archival live albums, the Dance Of The Rainbow Serpent 3-CD box set and an unofficial live CD of the 20th anniversary reunion of the original Santana lineup
Rock radio stations in the late-‘70s didn’t play a wide variety of Santana songs. Usually it was “Oye Como Va,” “Evil Ways” or “Black Magic Woman.” Their Latin-flavored, percussion-heavy music made them stand out from other artists, and my first album was this excellent Greatest Hits collection. My only complaint is that they separated “Black Magic Woman” from its follow-up track on the original album, “Gypsy Queen,” which was omitted here. The fade-out at the end of the track always made me sad, knowing I was missing out on some incredible musicianship that I always heard when they played it on the radio. In 1988 I was shopping in Compact Disc World when I heard an incredible instrumental with stunning guitar work. It was obviously Santana, so I asked one of the clerks & they pointed me to the newly-released 2-CD compilation of album tracks & rare live recordings called Viva Santana! I bought a copy that day and played it over & over in the weeks that followed. The song that caught my ear that day, and which still sends shivers down my spine, is a live recording of “Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile).” I credit that one track for turning me into a dedicated Santana fan, making this compilation an essential part of my record collection.
Artist: DAVID BOWIE
Compilation Title/Original Year Of Release: CHANGESONEBOWIE (1976)
Number Of Albums I Now Own By This Artist: 31, including every official studio & live album, the original pressing of the Sound + Vision box set and expanded editions of his self-titled debut album and his most recent release, The Next Day
David Bowie was one of those artists I knew about in my pre-teens but had never heard any of his music. None of my friends listened to him and the only image I ever saw was a giant poster over the bed of one of my fellow campers during summer camp. Musically & visually he was a complete enigma to me for many years. Once again, my job at Music Factory would provide a valuable introduction to an essential artist via this wonderful compilation. I’ve already discussed his catalog in great detail via my David Bowie series so I invite you to check that out if you haven’t already done so. That was not only my most popular series based on number of visitors & comments, but his discography was the most eye-opening of all the artists I’ve revisited so far. I believe there are numerous Bowie collections on the market, many covering a larger portion of his career, but I can’t imagine a better primer than this one. If you don’t like what you hear you probably won’t become a fan, but if you love it you’ll definitely want to dig a lot deeper.
This post was originally going to be longer since I have a number of additional titles to discuss, but I’ve decided to split it into two posts since it’s already a little too long as is. I’ll be back in a few days with Part 2, and then somewhere down the line I’ll share more of my favorite compilations with you. I’m eager to begin my next artist series so that’s where my efforts will be focused after the next post. Please let me know which compilations have inspired you to further explore certain artists’ work, and if any of the ones listed here are included. Thank you.