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Various Artists (Label Samplers) - Bumpers CD (album) cover

BUMPERS

Various Artists (Label Samplers)

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Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars An essential comedy of errors

Let me take you back.back to the days not long after the last ice age, when houses cost about the same as a packet of crisps do now, and being gay just meant you were happy. Men had hair longer than women's, and the United Kingdom ruled the whole world (except the inhabited parts of Iceland). No CDs, no MP3 downloads, indeed no PCs. Yes, people really lived in such times, and what's more they made music. The problem was, no one heard the music, since there were only two radio stations in the whole world, and they were only allowed to play popular music for 30 seconds a day.

How then to let people hear all the wonderful new sounds which was being made and released by record companies for whom their mission statement and the word "profit" were not one and the same thing (of course they didn't actually have things like mission statements then)?

The answer lay in "samplers", later to become known as "compilations". Record companies would make up single, double, even triple albums (LP's) packed with new, unheard music, and sold them at give away prices. At the time of their release, the bands on these albums were still setting out on their road to fame and fortune. In the case of albums such as "Bumpers" (and indeed "Fill your head with rock", "You can all join in", "Nice enough to eat", and many more), these have gone on to become historical documents and definitive guides to the music of the time.

"Bumpers" was one of Island records many samplers. In the late 60's and early 70's, Island were at the forefront of progressive music. Their stable now lists like a who's who of the great bands of the time, the vast majority of whom were British. Released in 1970, this double LP collection sold for £1:50 sterling, well below the normal price of a single LP at the time.

Apart from the great music contained here, which I will cover in a moment, the wonderful thing about "Bumpers" is the quaintly British slackness with which it was compiled. Virtually every track has something different, unique, or just plain wrong about it.

Side one of the album consists of just four tracks. Traffic's magnificent "Every mother's son" from their "John Barleycorn.." album kicks things off. Steve Winwood offers one of his finest organ solo's here. Mysteriously, Jim Capaldi's writing credit is omitted from the LP and from the sleeve. "Love" by Bronco (Jess Roden) is next, a wonderful piece of laid back prog. Both the title of the source album and the catalogue number are wrongly quoted. Spooky Tooth's interpretation of the Beatles "I am the walrus" must be one of the best cover versions of all time. The highlight is a breathtaking guitar solo, which builds to a dizzy climax before female vocals gently take on the "choking smokers" refrain. This version varies from the "Last puff" original which it purports to be, with different lead guitar. The Quintessence track which closes the side is primarily a repetitive chant. It is claimed to be from their eponymous second (studio) album, but is in fact an otherwise unavailable live version!

Side 2 has tracks by Mott the Hoople, Jethro Tull, the great reggae artist Jimmy Cliff, the Tull offshoot Blodwyn Pig, and ex-Traffic Dave Mason. Of these, the Jimmy Cliff track claims to be from a non-existent release by him, the Tull track is poorly transferred, the Blodwyn Pig track is a full minute shorter than claimed, even though it has been slowed down from the album version(!), and the Dave Mason track was an obscure single only B side.

Side three includes King Crimson's "Cadence and cascade" from their second album, but almost a minute of the track is missing through an early fade out. Free's "Oh I wept" has a completely different vocal track to the album from which it claims to come.

The final side has Fairport Convention's wonderful "Walk awhile" to lead off, astonishingly nothing to report here! Cat Steven's "Maybe you're right" though, more than make up for this. Recorded in the key of G throughout, the version here slows down midway through, and adopts the key F#, thus lasting 11 seconds longer. The final track, Clouds "Take me to your leader" is reported to be taken from their forthcoming (Chrysalis label!) album, but in fact was never released on any Clouds album in the UK.

As can be seen from the artists who appear on the album (others include Fotheringay, Renaissance, Nick Drake, If, and John & Beverley Martin), the line up is nothing short of excellent. The goofs I have mentioned only go to emphasise the essential nature of this sampler. A true classic.

Reference - The errors etc. reported here are superbly detailed in the December 1996 issue of "Record collector" magazine.

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Posted Thursday, March 30, 2006 | Review Permalink

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