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Vinyl Cave: Legendary Masters Series by Bobby Vee
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The rock 'n roll era started anthologizing itself in the LP format within only a few years of its initial ascendance to the top of the pops in the mid-1950s. In many ways, that was a natural occurrence for a musical form of which the highlights lived largely at 45 RPM for at least the first decade of its prominence. Of course, it didn't hurt that rock and R&B labels saw the opportunity to recycle past hits into fresh cash, as did many others who licensed other labels' work. Heck, iconic series such as Original Sound's Oldies but Goodies series stayed in print into the CD era.

Whether focused on random singles or individual artists' hits, most of these compilations tended to be pretty scattershot in terms of what was included, at least until the advent of collector-oriented labels with a rock focus such as Rhino in the U.S. and Bear Family in Germany. But there are earlier examples of intelligently-curated compilations -- those springing to mind include the Sire Records Vintage Years collections and the United Artists Legendary Masters Series, both consisting of double-LP sets released in the early/mid-'70s.

Some of the UA albums are still easy to find today. Collections by Jan & Dean, Fats Domino, Ricky Nelson and Eddie Cochran sold well enough to remain in print, and pop up in used racks frequently. Later volumes are much more obscure; a Little Anthony & the Imperials set assigned a catalog number may or may not have ever been pressed, and comps of Shirley & Lee and Bobby Vee are very hard to find. In the case of the Vee album, that's a real shame, because between the packaging and song selection it's probably the snazziest volume I've seen in the series.

Bobby Vee is one of those under-appreciated early '60s singers, who more often than not are shunted into the teener category and ignored in a historical context. In Vee's case, though, the teen rock label shouldn't be considered a bad thing; his initial string of hits shepherded by producer Snuff Garrett were essentially the forerunner of a similar string of mid-decade pop classics by Gary Lewis & the Playboys.

Are any of these records going to change your life? Probably not -- but as with The Monkees' first couple albums from later in the decade, they're indelibly well-made and far more enjoyable to listen to today than a large segment of the "heavy rock" and singer-songwriters from a few years later that made pop passe for the hip.

Along with being able to deliver the goods when plopped down in a glossy Hollywood confection, another point in Vee's favor is that he actually did have some songwriting talent to go along with a malleable but recognizable vocal style. That's not so much the story of this compilation, however, as only a few songs here bear an R. Velline writing credit. Interestingly, two of those songs are original to this compilation, both unreleased numbers from his initial recordings for the Soma label in Minneapolis. They show Vee and his original backing band The Shadows as relatively unreconstructed rockers, and that's the style he returned to from his Minnesota home base during the past few decades.

The Legendary Masters Series album includes all of Vee's Billboard Top 40 singles, with a particular focus on 1961-62. But it also includes charting flipsides such as "More Than I Can Say" and lesser-known singles such as the Vee original (and Beatles-esque) "I'll Make You Mine." There are also a few album tracks, and a third song which appears to be released here for the first time, "Someday When I'm Gone for You."

Beyond being an intriguing collection of tracks, the album's packaging takes this one over the top; it's as if a Sundazed deluxe LP reissue existed in the 1970s. Featuring a double spread of 45 labels, a complete discography compiled by Greg Shaw and essay-length liner notes by Greil Marcus, this is a compilation in a class rarely seen from a major label in the United States, particularly before the CD era. And then ... they immediately withdrew it? Or never really released it officially? I can't quite tell from the info out there online; the usually reliable Both Sides Now newsletter lists it (PDF) as "Unissued?" Oh well, I'm just glad I found a copy.

EMI (the eventual parent of the Imperial/Liberty/United Artists labels) revived the Legendary Masters series during the CD era, and did issue a Bobby Vee disc in the '90s. That compilation added some more lower-charting sides and removed all the unreleased or album tracks featured on the '70s LP. Now ... if only either era's compilers had done a Vol. 2 featuring Vee's obscure mid-to-late'-60s singles. There is, however, a very intriguing looking double CD called Rarities issued by EMI UK in 2011 which I'll be checking out. (United Artists, 1973)

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