While K-Tel’s discography of pre-1985 compilations is deep and wide (and a confusing mess to wade through), it is a finite system. I’ve spent over a year sifting through it, adjusting and re-adjusting my search parameters, and trying to find a few promising grains of wheat among the massive volume of chaff. There have been times where I think I’ve hit a hard limit on discovering anything new and worthwhile, and will have to content myself with the lower tier stuff I marked down in the “maybe” section of my notebook wishlist.
And then I stumble across something like The Main Event.
The LP was released for the UK market in 1979, and it’s both astonishing and bewildering. The sleeve lacks anything resembling the label’s typical visual or written hype — just a modest title and some featured artists overlaid on a garish lens-flared-to-fuck shot of a soundstage. The copy I got (from a German seller) has some weird off-kilter lamination on the front of the sleeve that could either be from a less-than-meticulous industrial job or a previous owner’s preservation efforts. (The sleeves on UK K-Tel releases in that era tended to use a far flimsier cardboard stock than American albums got.)
In any case, there’s an aura of understatement about The Main Event‘s trade dress that feels at odds with what the package contains.
A1 Boomtown Rats – Rat Trap
A2 Blondie – Hanging on the Telephone
A3 The Dickies – Banana Splits (The Tra La La Song)
A4 Stranglers – No More Heroes
A5 Generation X – King Rocker
A6 Elvis Costello – Radio, Radio
A7 Jonathan Richman – Roadrunner
A8 Squeeze – Cool for Cats
B1 Blondie – Presence Dear
B2 Squeeze – Take Me I’m Yours
B3 Patti Smith – Because The Night
B4 Nick Lowe – American Squirm
B5 Generation X – Your Generation
B6 Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)
B7 Boomtown Rats – Mary Of The 4th Form
B8 The Members – Offshore Banking Business
The tracklist offers a stellar mix of cuts pulled from the “respectable” (for lack of a better term) side of the punk and wave scene — the type of material one might suggest to a dubious yet receptive person when making the argument there was more to the scene than spitting, cussing, and three-chord agitprop chants.
Elvis Costello’s finest (in my non-fan’s opinion) jam is on there, along with a Costello-backed cut by Nick Lowe. Crossover sensation Blondie contributed a pair of offerings, as did teenybopper punkers Generation X, pub-pop fellow travelers Squeeze, and the ever eager to please Boomtown Rats. Scene-adjacent and precursor artists Patti Smith and Jonathan Richman are represented with their signature — and UK-charting — efforts, and the Class of 1977′s more sophisticated vanguard show up to add a little safe-for-radio edginess.
Tonally, The Main Event reminds me a lot of Virgin’s Fun, Filth, and Fury and Rhino’s DIY UK Punk/UK Pop compilations from the early 1990s. That’s not a bad place to be, at least to my ears, as those efforts were instrumental in shaping my tastes at a time when louder-faster aggro fare had begun to lost its savor. It’s not the mix I would’ve made to represent that particular moment (needs more Rezillos and Lene Lovich and Tubeway Army) but it’s still a consistently solid listen devoid of any mood-derailing clunkers. (Contrast that with the New Wave collection K-Tel released in Scandinavia the same year, where the highs were higher but the lows were utterly abysmal.)
It’s about as close as I’ve gotten to my concept of an ideal K-Tel compilation — consistently listenable, strongly evocative of a specific moment, and featuring stuff that I’d never think to include if I’d compiled it.
And if it happens to include the 1974 Beserkley single version of “Roadrunner,” even better.