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compilation history, vol. 1

March 15, 2009

looking back through all the boxes of tapes, cds, and records, it really struck me how big a deal compilations were to the whole tape craze/etc back in the day.  there were tons of compilations out there, and tons of fucking great ones to boot.  it seems like these days, most bands/artists give compilations throwaway tracks that weren’t good enough for some other proper release.  a lot of people look down on compilations for this reason – they usually have a lot of filler.  but i don’t feel like that was necessarily the case in the 90s with all these tape labels.

the biggest example of this is shrimper.  their compilation of compilations, abridged perversion, is scary good.  i’ve got a few of the compilations that the tracks were culled from and highfly graveyard, pawnshop reverb, etc have tons of standouts on them.  for example, lou barlow’s “certain dance, circumstance.”  look, i’m not the biggest lou b fan by any stretch of the imagination (though i was pretty into sebadoh… iii and bubble & scrape – good stuff.  wish i still had copies), but this song is up there with the best of his stuff if you ask me.

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also on abridged perversion, the extra glenns’ “badger song.”  mindblowing song?  no, but fairly legendary in certain circles (sort of like the mountain goats’ “cubs in five”).  this was the song that changed everything for me when a friend of mine played it for me over the phone.  i wrote to shrimper b/c i had to have something that sounded so weird and good, but at the same time had the same sound quality as the shit my friends & i were doing.

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and of course, the end all, be all of great shrimper compilation songs is franklin bruno’s “clean needle.”  it’s such a simple, amazing song.  gotta be one of the best love songs ever… seriously.  bruno’s lyrics were always second to none and this song is the proof in the pudding.  he re-recorded it in the studio for a later solo album, but that version didn’t have the same rawness, the same power that this did.  and it was on a fucking compilation.

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from my own label, simon joyner contributed arguably the greatest song cactus gum ever released to a freaking tape compilation (chutes & ladders).  and this was when joyner was already releasing an lp/cd release and multiple vinyl releases every year.  he had better offers.  he hooked me up.  “flannery o’connor” is a mini-masterpiece of bedroom folkiness.  i’m pretty sure a compilation of his rarities came out in the past few years and this song was on there.

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speaking of simon joyner, it reminds me of another amazing bedroom songwriter compilation, our salvation is at hand on themepark.  joyner’s song on there is another mindblower.

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the same compilation also featured a classic mountain goats track (“alpha omega”) and tmg bassist peter hughes’ finest solo moment with “hit the north 3.”  this is another song that also appeared in full-band form on the first diskothi-q album (harmless, but ultimately unloveable).  the band version was good, but stripped down to its core the song just went through the fucking roof.  listening to this song, it kind of bums me out a bit that hughes is mostly just the mountain goats bass-player (an awesome gig, for sure, and don’t get me wrong, darnielle & co. are lightyears beyond the old tapedeck days) – dude can write some great songs.

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one thing you’ll probably notice about all the songs in this post are that they’re more singer/songer kind of stuff, not really out there shit.  and i think that’s an interesting observation.  maybe it’s easier to write a great songy-song than it is to contribute a great weirdo piece.  but i don’t think that’s true, and in vol. 2 of this series will give examples of such.  i remember for john & i with ocasek, we wanted our best shit to go on these compilations because we figured more people would hear those and would then be more likely to check out our other stuff.  that’s not to say our full-lengths were shit (i don’t think they were), but our two, arguably, finest moments both appeared on compilations. on some level, i still feel that, and i think compilations are becoming a lost artform.  but man, there was some great shit back then…

and this doesn’t even take into consideration a lot of the great tape and 7″ compilations on labels like catsup plate, vegas, union pole, ef, etc.  i want to rip/document those too.  this project/blog has sort of taken on a life of its own in the past week, but based on the encouraging/inspired emails/responses, people seem to be digging it, and i’m just happy there’s more music fans out there to hear and appreciate all this unheralded/barely-exists stuff.  listening back to it makes me appreciate my teen years even more.

if anyone has any releases/info/posts/pictures/etc they’d like to contribute, email me.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. dialsquaretapes permalink*
    March 15, 2009 11:45 pm

    good god, i just got finished listening to “our salvation is in hand” all the way through for the first time in probably 10 years… what a friggin compilation! will post more of it soon cuz there’s some amazing stuff from a bunch of unknown dudes and a franklin bruno song that’s up there with ‘clean needle.’

    • Tristero permalink
      March 16, 2009 3:41 am

      This is just brilliant. Thanks for all the time you’re putting into this, Brad, it’s become my most visited site.

  2. dialsquaretapes permalink*
    March 16, 2009 8:16 am

    cheers michael! glad you’re enjoying it… i’m having fun doing it. and getting in touch with sean byrne b/c of it certainly makes it all the more worthwhile.😉

  3. dialsquaretapes permalink*
    March 16, 2009 10:25 am

    my friend wim who runs morc records made this comment in an email to me, and i think is very much to the point (hope you don’t mind me reposting it wim! :)):

    “90s comps really werent just about leftovers – i think that due to a lack of an easy way to spread music, like mp3s, comp tracks were a sort of ‘business card’.”

    i think that is it, for sure.

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