Questioning Compilations

Compilations; often ignored except for around holiday season and service station fillers. But is there a hidden side to the compilation that we all forget, or is it basically what it seems to be on the surface? Cody Atkinson investigates.

Yo, what’s your problem with the Hottest 100?

IT’S NOT AS GOOD AS IT USED TO BE. I would even go a step further and say that it wasn’t that great even back then. Barely any of the really good songs ever made the CDs, and you were stuck with stuff like the Screaming Jets on there. Anyway, can’t I just get old in peace?

Not all compilations are bad though, right?

Not at all! There are so many great label compilations out there that it would be a disservice to any number of them to name only a handful here. At their best, the compilation can act as a gateway to finding new music for listeners, based on an introductory song or two. But most compilations are terrible.

What?

I mean just look at So Fresh! They release a nearly endless stream of radio playlists in two CD sets with nearly indistinguishable themes. But each album is substantively indistinguishable by intention, melding into one blob of ordinary pop music. But So Fresh! is merely one awful example amongst a plethora of contenders.

Like Horcruxes these popstars’ souls have been hidden inside various fruits for the purpose of attaining immortality, until the next So Fresh! compilation replaces them and banishes their memory into oblivion.

Yeah, there are a lot of compilations. Why are there so many?

Compilations are easy albums to make, because the music has often already been recorded. The entire cost is bundling up the songs together and finding whatever theme the songs fit into.

Like?

Well, let’s step into the playground of one of the masters of the genre, ABC Music.

ABC, like the taxpayer funded Australian broadcaster? Since when did they release music?

The ABC has run a record label for at least four decades, with the profits feeding back into the wider Corporation. Right now, they have actually built a pretty decent artist roster, with people like Tim Rogers, Dan Kelly, Ben Salter, Kate Miller-Heidke, Custard and All Our Exes Live In Texas on the label. It is basically like a biggish indie label, but only if the Government ran it. And if they put out reams of compilations.

Come on, hit me with the compilation goodness.

Well, did you know that we are currently in the eighth year of the Beaut Ute Anthems series? The collection, described by the ABC as being “all the music you need for hitting the road!” This year, the (double) album hit #33 on the iTunes chart, and last year’s edition was the 88th best-selling country album across the length of the year.

I did not know about “Beaut Ute Albums”…

Or Keep Calm and Enjoy The Irish Craic, which combines an ignorance of Ireland’s role during World War II (the “Keep Calm” posters are British, and Ireland was neutral during the War) and includes several non-Irish artists. I mean Canadian musician Rufus Wainwright gets a run, and US hip-hop group House of Pain.

Wow…

Or Baby Let’s Dance – Country Wedding Songs, which is exactly what it says on the packet. Or perhaps Queeny Rocks The Party, a compilation of the best British Alternative songs of the last 25 years that manages to include Irish songs at times instead. But I guess that’s fair enough, because no good music has ever come out of England or the rest of the UK.

OK…

And that’s before we get to the rich “gendered country” area. We have Hunky Country Boys, one for “the ladies”. Also for the ladies is Country 4 Mum, while men have to make do with Dad Likes Country. Apparently Dad likes a variety of music, which is why we have Dad Likes Classical, Dad Likes Rock and even Dad Likes Celtic. Which is a lie; Dad only pretends to like classical to seem intellectual.

Thank you ABC Music for bestowing this gift upon us.

Surely other record labels, other the Government one, are just as bad?

In a totally unsurprising development, they are! If the might of the ABC can come up with Baby It’s Cold Outside – Smooth Jazz for a Cozy Evening 2, then you better bet that Sony are going to up the stakes with Lazy Sunday 2, featuring some of your mum’s favourite songs.

Is there a bit of tit for tat with the compilations?

I think so, which is why we have ended up with Ray Hadley – Those Were The Days: Golden Hits From The 50s & 60s. Why the fuck do we need an album from Ray Hadley? Oh, it probably follows on from the (ABC Music released) Alan Jones Presents The Great Love Songs. Because what the world needs is rivalling music compilations from shock jocks who seemingly derive their only joy in life from calling people “bludgers” or yelling loudly at the clouds while being somewhat offensive to whoever is seated opposite.

Oh man…

How about the rivalling “dance fitness” compilations then? You’ve got NOW Fitness, Ministry of Sound: The Workout, Michelle Bridges: Booty Blitz Trax, Ministry of Sound: Running Trax Summer 2016 just for starters. I don’t know what Booty Blitz Trax has to offer any small corner of human society – past or present – other than to further line the pockets of Michelle Bridges.

But isn’t the compilation pointless in 2017?

What do you mean?

Well, Spotify/other streaming services playlists. Why would you buy a “Dad’s Favourite Beer Guzzling Dittys” CD when you can play the “Beer Swillin’ Dads” Spotify list?

I… don’t know. The business model looks, at face level and using a legitimate businessperson’s term, “fucked”. But right now they are pretty big business with respect to the Australian music industry.

Explain with numbers if possible.

Compilations still sell massive numbers, in petrol stations across the country. The So Fresh! albums usually (somehow) go gold, which indicates the equivalent of 45,000 sales. But the why is perhaps more interesting.

OK. Why do they sell?

This is only a theory, but it’s because people are terrible at buying gifts. Think about it: Christmas/Father’s Day/Family and Communities Day is coming up and you have nothing to give your fifth closest relative. You don’t want to give cash (too basic) or a gift card (too lazy), but you don’t actually know enough about the person to buy them something unique, like a pencil case or an integrated shelving system for their home. Instead, you know that they like to do work around the house, so you buy them 101 Greatest Houseworking Songs and feel great about the decision right up until you hand over a five-CD set about doing work around the house. Why did you waste money on a CD set about housework? You idiot.

And Sony are $25 richer…

Precisely.

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