As the stack of compilations on my shelf grew larger, it was time to adopt a methodical approach to my collecting. I tabbed on over to the utterly invaluable Discogs database and spent the better part of a week working my way though the entire chronology of K-Tel releases, with a specific emphasis on the years between 1975 and 1984. Promising entries were jotted down on a ream of post-it notes — too many of which still litter my workspace — and prioritized for future purchase.
The determination of what to buy and when hinged on a number of factors. Availability and price point played a significant role, given the current overheated state of the collector’s market, but the decision really boiled down to the presence of a certain “critical mass” in the song selections. This could either be a handful of killer cuts or a broader evocation of historical or nostalgic atmosphere. The music matters but it can be obtained — with less hassle — from plenty of other sources. I’m more interested in the contextual intangibles.
Of the dozens of compilations flagged for possible interest, only one elicited a get-that-fucker-right-now response on my part —
– The Beat, a 1982 showcase of the “sound wave of the 80′s.”
The album was an attempt to cash in on the revived fortunes of “New Wave” music, whose dimming chart prospects had experienced an astonishing turnaround thanks to the advent of MTV. A scene that had been pronounced dead in the water at the end 1981 had made steady inroads into Top 40 format radio by the summer of 1982, thanks to the magic of music video. Even though MTV’s national reach was still fairly limited, its impact in those scattered markets were enough to spur a nationwide shift in record sales and programmers’ playlists.
Never one to pass on a potentially profitable trend, K-Tel readied its own New Wave omnibus for curious souls on a midlist budget.
A1 A Flock Of Seagulls – I Ran (So Far Away)
A2 Kim Wilde – Kids In America
A3 Haircut One Hundred – Love Plus One
A4 Sparks – I Predict
A5 Split Enz – I Got You
A6 Graham Parker – You Hit The Spot
A7 The Waitresses – I Know What Boys Like
B1 The Go-Go’s – We Got The Beat
B2 Bow Wow Wow – I Want Candy
B3 Duran Duran – Girls On Film
B4 Thompson Twins – In The Name Of Love
B5 Depeche Mode - Dreaming Of Me
B6 Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Joan Of Arc
B7 Billy Idol – Hot In The City
The compilation sports an incredibly solid fourteen track playlist, thanks to being free from the “hot hit” curation dynamics that governed K-Tel’s more familiar offerings. The selection balances familiar radio fare with interesting cult/novelty cuts and lesser known material from the college radio fringes. It has Sparks at the height of their new wave phase and features a Depeche Mode a couple of years before Some Great Reward brought the band serious stateside attention, which is pretty remarkable for a mass market effort.
Even the weaker choices aren’t particularly weak. Some of the tracks aren’t what I would’ve used to spotlight the respective artists and others have lost a bit of their luster after decades of repeated listening, but those are entirely personal and subjective quibbles.
All in all, The Beat is tied with Rock 80 for the favorite K-Tel compilation in my collection. It’s the type of record I could easily spend an Saturday afternoon spinning and flipping repeatedly.
I haven’t done so because my copy has a pair of scratches which have turned the last two tracks on side one and the first two tracks on side two into an unlistenably skipping mess. Typically, I’d replace the damn thing, but The Beat (along with Rock 80) is one of the few K-Tel releases that commands big money it the collectors’ market.
Most K-Tel releases can be had for under six bucks. The brutal edits and iffy audio quality scare away serious audiophiles, leaving behind only niche enthusiasts and other retro-damaged souls. I paid two sawbucks for my copy of The Beat, and that was because the seller was (mostly) forthright about the condition of the record. I took a chance because the next lowest asking price was double that and I’ve had decent luck in the past with supposedly damaged vinyl.
I once paid a buck for an original UK pressing of The Clash’s first album that looked like it had been excavated from a landfill, but played fine apart from some expected hisses and pops. So, y’know, some overconfidence on my part is understandable.
Eventually a reasonably priced, VG grade copy of The Beat will cross my path, but until then I will-
Oh, for fucks sake.