Electro - Various
When Queen boasted in the liner notes of their A Night At The Opera album to assure us that no synthesisers were used in its making, it looked like they still cared, really it did. As though armed with a home-made guitar, a Harlequin leotard and a houseful of dwarfs wearing trays of cocaine on their heads, Queen were saving us from...cheap pop. And this from the band that recorded Fat Bottomed Girls.
But, cheap pop is as thrilling as getting drunk on champagne and The Human League understood this perfectly, saying on the cover of Travelogue that it, "Contains vocals and synthesisers only", putting a line between them and Queen. Of course, that The Human League were standing alongside Kraftwerk made things easier for them, as did, that a couple of years later, pop from Sheffield and Dusseldorf was pushed through sound systems on the streets of New York and hip-hop was born. That doesn't leave much of a legacy for Queen other than a West End musical that owes more to ABBA and Mamma Mia than anything Deacon, Taylor and May have done in the last ten years. Other than playing God Save The Queen on the roof of Buckingham Palace, naturally.
This compilation...oooh, just look at the tracklist
Back in 1986, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash and Mantronix played Wembley Arena and hip-hop made it to the UK. Derek B was probably there that night but, thankfully, he doesn't make it onto this but almost everyone else from that time does. Some tracks - Afrika Bambaataa's Planet Rock, Herbie Hancock's Rockit, Grandmaster Flash's White Lines (Don't Do It) and Rock Steady Crew's (Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew - pick themselves so crucial are they to hip-hop's early years but as well as those songs, there are some that are less-well-known but are just as good, including those by Cybotron, Xena and Dr Dre's pre-NWA band, the World Class Wreckin' Cru.
But this is mostly a great collection due to its inclusion of the things that you wouldn't expect alongside those that you would. Sure, Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Run DMC are all here, just as they should be but New Order and The Art Of Noise are both in there. It's about time that Stetsasonic got a listing in compilations like this, given that it was the first band to feature Prince Paul who would later for Gravediggaz with The Rza and you can forget just how great Lovebug Starski's Amityville really is.
But it's Eric B & Rakim's Paid In Full that really stands out. The version that's included here is the Coldcut remix that features Ofra Haza and despite this being part of the first wave of hip-hop, it sounds more assured than all but the very best of what's come since. At the same time, this one track reveals the worst of this compilation in that Paid In Full should last seven minutes but the version here is over in a few minutes meaning that, as you might have guessed, this is a party mix of hip-hop tracks that jumps through its total of 48 tracks without a break between songs.
No doubt, that's nothing to worry about if you're treating this as the soundtrack to a retro party, dressed in Adidas, obviously, but as a way to relive the music that was produced, often naively, during the first years in which hip-hop was enjoying chart success, this feels rushed. Instead of this being 'definitive' it's a good summary of a major change that happened in music during the early eighties but is too sketchy to be the last release that you'd ever need on hip-hop.