Times of our Lives: 2009 – The Return of the Compilation LP

The news that Sainsbury’s is launching its’ own record label brought memories flooding back. Self-proclaimed as Britain’s biggest vinyl retailer, the supermarket chain is to launch a low-cost imprint with the first two releases curated by Saint Etienne stalwart Bob Stanley. NME has the tracklisting of both albums here.

It brought to mind the links of K-tel, Old Gold, and Ronco, among others. Pickwick was another record label which bought into the ‘Tesco ethos’ of pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap. Castle Recordings straddled the worlds of the low-cost record labels and ‘the real world of vinyl’ with a series (initially) of anthologies. The one I remember first buying was of The Byrds; that was me converted to the Rickenbacker sound, as well as folk-rock.

I didn’t realise until looking into this piece – research is too strong a word but it will come as some surprise to learn I do occasionally look things up – that Pickwick was actually owned by Woolworth’s.

I know this now because there is an online Woolworth’s museum. It contained the Woolies philosophy toward music,

“So as well as selling more James Last and Carpenters Albums than anyone else, the stores attracted punk rock fans and disco lovers, selling them singles, albums, 8-track stereo cartridges and compilation LPs and tapes.”

If you were young and British in the 1970s, Woolworth’s was a haven in the High Street. It was a shop which reflected your age; the young started at the front in the pick ‘n’ mix and as you aged, you worked further back into the store via stationery, toys, records and into home & ware, a refuge for adults while the youth congregated at the front of the store.

There was something of a rites of passage for the young tea-leaf. Woolies layout was such that shelving provided plenty of cover for miscreants to carry out their nefarious deeds and stock up ready for a quick sale at school the following Monday.

Along with WH Smiths, Woolies were the town’s purveyors of low-cost vinyl. In the former, alongside the racks of the Status Quo album Twelve Bars, were rows of Old Gold singles, housed in their distinctive sand and dark brown sleeves. Someone will no doubt claim they are old gold in colour – it’s the 70s and cheesy was in – but they were sand coloured.

It was quite a good notion; get the hits of yesteryear on 45rpm although the flaw in the concept was pairing hits from one artist with another. So, the A-Side of the single might be You Really Got Me by The Kinks but the flip was Itchycoo Park by Small Faces, or Winifred Atwell backed with The Singing Nun.

Sadly not a reproduction of the original release, more a way to acquire your own jukebox. The catalogue of often-defunct record labels were pillaged and owning the publishing rights were the order of the day.

Curiously, the label survived a lot longer than I remember noticing. Maybe because I stopped frequenting those shops, beyond magazines and books in Smiths, I didn’t notice them. But I happened across this image when looking for photos to accompany this piece. Old Gold kept up with the times. Had it kept up with The Times, I might well have been impressed.

K-tel, the daddy of the low-cost scene, makes its’ money these days from licensing; no albums, just deals. CD killed the compilation star.

So, Sainsbury’s move is to be welcomed. It isn’t returning music to the listener or any nonsense like that; it’s capitalism and the desire to make another pound or two. But if it keeps the marketplace alive for compilation records and brings the cost of vinyl down, then it can only be a good thing for collectors. Maybe encourage more people to return to or newly discover the pleasure of hearing every snap, crackle and pop of vinyl.

Apropos of nothing, the latest in the Times of our Lives series is here. 2009, the tunes of which are here for your delectation.

Title Band
Short Pants For Fatty The Reigning Monarchs
Last One To Die Rancid
Who Fingered Rock’n’Roll Cornershop
French Navy Camera Obscura
Red Lipstick Skint & Demoralised
The Great Escape The Rifles
In Like a Lion Pop Noir
Hammond Smoove & Turrell
Electric Twist A Fine Frenzy
Old World The Burning Hell
Stellify Ian Brown
The Menace Mongrel
The Ragged Shoreline The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Coming Up Easy Paolo Nutini
My World Is Empty Without You Lee Fields & The Expressions
New Heights A Fine Frenzy
When the World Ends The Burning Hell
This Song Is Definitely Not About You Skint & Demoralised
Thou Shalt Always Kill Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip
Black John Soul Of Black John
Hooting & Howling Wild Beasts
Somebody Stop Me The Dynamites
Emergency Contraception Blues Bombay Bicycle Club
Crime Scene Queen The Informants
Devil on the Wind The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Fire And The Thud Arctic Monkeys
Wild Young Hearts Noisettes
To Lose My Life White Lies
Whispered Words (Pretty Lies) Dan Auerbach
Swans Camera Obscura
Science In Violence The Rifles
Fifty On Our Foreheads White Lies
Nation Of Checkout Girls The Enemy
Money I$ King Lee Fields & The Expressions
Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’ Mayer Hawthorne
Autumn Bombay Bicycle Club
Oh My God Ida Maria
The Cure Tegan and Sara
DIY Pop Noir






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