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ELP: bombast or brilliance?

From time to time I get an urge to revisit past musical pleasures. The other day it was Emerson Lake and Palmer, and I dug out Brain Salad Surgery, the eponymous first album, and the sprawling live affair Welcome Back my Friends.

I can’t make up my mind about this band. It seems to be a mood thing; sometimes the interesting rhythms, Keith Emerson’s flowing keyboard and Greg Lake’s delicate vocals fill me with admiration. Other times it sounds over-the-top and adolescent.

I suppose in an absolute sense it is more like the latter. Still, I think you have to concede at least moments of inspiration.

Why I hate compilations

Back when I was at school, we all despised compilations. Thing is, they have no artistic integrity. Artists make albums, record companies make compilations.

It seems we lost the argument. When I search for an artist on Amazon and sort by bestselling, all the top choices seem to be compilations. Despite myself, I buy ’em. It’s got all my favourites on, I reason.

Then I remember why I hate them. It has all my favourites on, but two of them are the live version, and I wanted the studio version. Or vice versa. So then I have to buy the album that had the version I really wanted. And then I have crazy duplication.

I don’t even like it when they stuff extra tracks on the end of a classic album (I don’t mind when it’s a separate CD). The bonuses can be interesting, but they don’t fit. Unless, of course, it was a compilation to begin with.

There’s another reason I hate compilations. Sometimes it’s the only way to get some song that was released as a single, or some such. So you have to buy the compilation, 95% of which you already own, just for that one song.

I realise that this is one good thing about buying downloads. You only buy what you actually want. Well, I’ll cheerfully buy from Robert Fripp’s music download store, where the downloads are DRM-free and uncompressed, but not iTunes or one of the Windows DRM stores where neither of those is true. Actually, there is a Windows DRM store that offers lossless WMA, but the CD is still, usually, a much better deal.

Nevertheless, I realise that the CD is dying and it will be download-only at some future time. I’m pinning my hopes on a sane subscription scheme. In the meantime, did I mention that I hate compilations?


Mott the Hoople

Way back when, Island Records had a sampler LP called Nice Enough to Eat. There was a song on it called At the Crossroads, written by Doug Sahm and performed by a band called Mott the Hoople. I liked its yearning, dylanesque sound and later picked up the album of the same name. I’ve had a soft spot for the band ever since, even though in an absolute sense they are kinda trashy.

I’m writing this now because of a supermarket find on Saturday – you know, when you see a CD for next to nothing on one of those budget labels and it intrigues you. This one was by Mott and called Essential Young Dudes – Live and more; it was obviously some kind of compilation but the sleeve was silent on details like when or where the songs were recorded. I was curious because I know the band’s output fairly well, but titles like “The Ballad of Billy Joe” and “If your heart lay with the rebel” were new to me.

I stuck it on when I got home and have to admit I enjoyed it. Very English, very seventies; raucous in places, often silly, but full of energy. The songs seem to be from concerts previously released by Angel Air; the sound quality is bootleg-like but with compensating atmosphere. You even get David Bowie singing backing vocals on his song All the Young Dudes – the song which rescued Mott from complete obscurity.

As I was sitting here wondering what I like about the band I came across this remark from George Starostin:

The fact that certain reviewers and critics hold a very soft spot in their heart for the band can only be explained – as far as I believe – by the fact that Ian Hunter’s lyrics speak to them on a personal level: his constant humble saga of a little man stuck in an ambitious rock’n’roll band and always getting his kicks in the wrong way is quite biting on the social plane of things, if you know what I mean.

Good comment. I guess you had to be there.