On Sunday I picked up a copy of the 3rd Edition of The Mojo Collection*, £2.50 at the FARA shop (like the poor and Davina MacCall, the Romanian orphan, it seems, is always with us...) It's another of those 'list' books so beloved of the anally retentive music enthusiast. I guess the idea is that the albums assembled here and given a brief-but-informative page-long precis by a luminous assortment of Mojo contributors might make up some sort of platonic 'perfect' record collection. As bizarre as it seems, there may just be something in that claim - although I'd very much like to see the household that bought the following releases in 1977:
Boston - Boston
Low - David Bowie
Damned Damned Damned - The Damned
Rumours - Fleetwood Mac
Marquee Moon - Television
Trans Europe Express - Kraftwerk
Live at the Hollywood Bowl - The Beatles
Small Change - Tom Waits
Hard Again - Muddy Waters
In Colour - Cheap Trick
Pacific Ocean Blue - Dennis Wilson
New Boots & Panties - Ian Dury
Blank Generation - Richard Hell & the Voidoids
Lust for Life - Iggy Pop
Aja - Steely Dan
L.A.M.F. - Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers
Out of the Blue - Electric Light Orchestra
Never Mind the Bollocks - Here's the Sex Pistols
Brel - Jacques Brel
Suicide - Suicide
Second Annual Report - Throbbing Gristle
Blue Lights in the Basement - Roberta Flack
The Stranger - Billy Joel (..that's right *Billy* *Joel*)
Live at the Old Quarter, Houston Texas - Townes Van Zandt
Before getting too despondent, it's worth noting that this is very much a team effort - my eyes started doing that roller blind thing about half way down the list of contributors...we're probably looking at around 50-75 people. I'd like to have been a fly on the wall during all those horse trading sessions..."OK, *have* your Billy Bloody Joel - but *only* if I can put Throbbing Gristle in..." and so on. Nonetheless, I came away from my initial skim overwhelmed by the sheer inadequacy of my own not insubstantial collection.
From what is unarguably a key year in pop history, I have less than half of the titles listed above. Perhaps not surprisingly as I was only 12 and a rabidly blinkered Beatlemaniac, the only one I bought during the year in question was probably the Live at the Hollywood Bowl. Books like the Mojo Collection have a curious effect; one is simultaneously consoled and rebuked by the lists themselves. As surely as one pats oneself on the back with one's left hand for possessing the most excellent bodaciousness of mind to be the owner of an original, pre-'Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll' copy of New Boots & Panties (and Out of the Blue) one's right hand wields the whip in readiness for the flagellation necessitated by one's failure to have got round to picking up that beautifully re-mastered version of Pacific Ocean Blue (or The Stranger, even).
So, for the collector, they are useful, if dispiriting, guides. Even though I'll almost certainly never have enough time in my life left over from picking at scabs or removing my own eyeballs to listen to Throbbing Gristle's Second Annual Report, there's a fairly good chance that the next time I see a Townes Van Zandt LP or Gerry Rafferty's City to City, I'll most likely pick them up.
Elsewhere, it's well written and hugely informative. Can't you just hear the band when you read the description of "XTC's vulgar prowess"? And there are some judiciously chosen and wry asides from the participants themselves. "I don't just strap the guitar on - I know how to ride it too...." says "sassy" Bonnie Raitt. And where to start with the pop trivia? Billy Joel was going to omit 'Just the Way You Are' from The Stranger until Linda Ronstadt persuaded him otherwise (...cheers Linda!) "You gotta go with the dames", deadpans BJ. Jacques Brel, a 100 a day sans filtre man, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1977. Rushed into the studio, the results of these final sessions were released in France with almost state funereal solemnity as the Belgian's last work and sold 600,000 copies within hours of release. Contrary to the last, Brel limped on for another 11 months. John Lydon suffers immobility in his hand to this day from the beating dished out to him by royalists during the recording of Never Mind the Bollocks. Iggy's Lust for Life was almost literally buried in the wake of Elvis Presley's death, with RCA dedicating most of its spare pressing and promotion capacity to pushing the dead king's product. And had anyone else spotted the fact that the Who are supposed to be urinating against a monolith (a reference to Pete Townshend's aborted Lifehouse project, which would evidently have pissed all over 2001: a Space Odyssey) on the cover of Who's Next?
Rather like Townshend's 'Rough boys', you want to bite and kiss the Mojo Collection. It's packed to the brim with lovely stuff, but the main thing it tells you is how much there is still to learn...and in such little time.
* this is the edition I bought. The 2008 edition has superceded it and may well be the preferable purchase, if you think sufficiently noteworthy efforts have been released since 2003...