Magazine article The Spectator

Unalloyed Gold

Magazine article The Spectator

Unalloyed Gold

Article excerpt

Olden but golden

Be honest. How many albums, even great albums with a cherished place in your own personal pantheon, do you listen to often, all the way through?

It may be that I am cursed with the attention span of a gnat, but I must confess that CDs rarely make it to the final track on my beloved Bose Acoustic Wave system - and, if they do, it's only by dint of heavy use of the skip button.

Most albums, particularly those recorded in the CD age, which allow a running time of almost 80 minutes, are far too long for their own good. And even acknowledged masterpieces often have their dud moments. Has anyone ever listened to George Harrison's direly pretentious sitardroning `Within You Without You' on Sgt Pepper with anything approaching pleasure?

For much of its history, pop music was shaped, and dominated, by great singles rather than great albums. Most LPs and now CDs consist, if you are lucky, of a handful of terrific tracks and a good deal of filler. And then there are the countless albums which are nothing but filler.

Greatest Hits and Best Of collections might seem to be the answer, but somehow they rarely work. Most artists have a purple patch, followed by a decline in which their records keep selling, even though they aren't anything like as good as they used to be. Just ask anyone who has bought anything recent by Van Morrison. So most Greatest Hits and Best Ofs have their barren moments, while the sequencing often causes uneasy jumps in mood and style.

Pop music is largely about instant gratification - a quick shot of musical bliss, preferably followed by another and another and another. That's why juke-boxes are still so popular, allowing you to mix and match your own tracks, and why some of the happiest hours of my childhood were spent choosing the six perfect singles to stack up on my Dansette and then playing them as loudly as that dear old machine could manage.

The record companies' equivalent of the juke-box or Dansette experience is the compilation album. In my youth they used to be known as samplers, offering a selection of tracks by various artists from one label at a budget price, the hope being that you would be encouraged to go out and buy more. Tamla Motown's Chartbusters, and Atlantic's This Is Soul were my introduction to black music, while CBS's blinding The Rock Machine Turns You On did just what the title promised, turning me on to a great wealth of psychedelic acts, including Moby Grape, Spirit, Grace Slick and Janis Joplin. …

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