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These days, the compilation album put out by a label as a sampler of some of their artists, is pretty much dead as a concept. The digital age has put an end to it's worth but back in the 60 and 70s, it was a primo marketing tool for record labels. And for a record collector like me, it was often the first place I heard of artists such as Nick Drake, If, Blodwyn Pig or Juicy Lucy. They gave you a taste of an often obscure group from which you could decide whether you wanted to hunt down their records. In fact, even now, they can perform the exact same service.
Often released at a budget price, some compilations sold so well they became a top ten album. The Island records from the late 60s to early 70s are great examples of this. They feature artists that are often hard to find. The first was 'You Can All Join In' in 1969
followed by 'Nice Enough To Eat' and then the best selling of them all, the double album 'Bumpers',
which made the top 10 and finally 'El Pea' in 1971 whose inner sleeve was a hard clear plastic, with two strips of foam at the opening, to try and protect the records. They didn't!
Island had some of the best and most progressive artists on their label, so these 4 records are all stone cold brilliant musical feasts featuring the likes of Traffic, John Martyn, Fairport, Quintessence, Mott the Hoople, Spooky Tooth, King Crimson, Free and many many more.
Better still, because these all sold heavily, there are plenty of secondhand copies available as hippies die off and their families ship out their record collections to junk stores and charity shops. A near mint copy of Bumpers, needn't cost you more than £5 or less.
A record you should pick up if you see is Vertigo's Suck It And See.
It pulls together all of their early 70s artists and is crammed full of stuff by Black Sabbath, Gentle Giant, Jade Warrior, Beggars Opera, Aphrodite's Child, Rod Stewart and on and on it goes. Absolutely classic stuff and often music that is hard to get on the original releases because it's on rare and expensive records..
But it wasn't just hip labels like Island and Vertigo who made good use of this idea. CBS released a fantastic record called Together! some of which were on blue vinyl. Here you got Johnny Winter, Janis, Santana and Argent but also rare music from hard to find bands like Trees. Mick Softley and Dreams.
The Rock Machine Turns You On was one of the first budget compilations and it's follow up Rock Machine I Love You was also a big seller.
Here was where I first heard Spirit, The United States Of America, Taj Mahal, Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy and many more. today these are all but given away by secondhand record shops but are wonderful snapshots of a moment in music history. Underground '70 and Fill Your Head With Rock are another 2 brilliant CBS compilations, both covers featuring Jerry Goodman, then of The Flock, later of Mahavishnu Orchestra in full flight on violin. By the mid 70s they released The Music People - a triple of CBS wonderfulness and still often in the racks for £5 or less.
Polydor were always a company that put out great artist 'best ofs' but didn't have as bigger compilation hits as Island and CBS. Decca had a whole series of World Of Blues Power albums which introduced us to exactly that, mixing the white British blues boom people with black blues guys on the same record. They're an education in themselves.
One of my favourites is the less mainstream Buddah In Mind which pulls together the likes of Lovin' Spoonful, Melanie Shan-Na-Na, Johnny Winter (not sure how he was on Buddah) and Captain Beefheart from releases on Kama Sutra and Buddah.
Some are even very collectible. I have a copy of How Blue Can We Get, a collection of music recorded for Blue Horizon and that weighs in as a £50 record.
Look out for compilations of Chrysalis and Charisma bands as they'll have tracks by Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator, Audience and the like. A final mention must also go to Elektra's classic psychedelic folkie compo Garden Of Earthly Delights, which will hold your hand as you walk through their eclectic catalogue.
So I'd encourage anyone who never looks at these records, to pick them up when you see them. They'll cost you pennies and will open some musical doors for you.