Saturday, September 27, 2008

The World's Second Most Confusing Discography

I've been a music collector since I was a small child. If I was interested enough to pursue an artist's work, then I usually wanted all of it. Every album, B-side, remix, foreign release bonus track, studio outtake, home demo, live version, and cover version by other artists. For starters.

The Beatles were always my primary obsession. I still collect their work, and even after more than thirty years, I don't have it all. At least, I don't have it all in properly catalogued and indexed form, as my obsessive-compulsive geekhood demands.

The Internet made my quests immeasurably easier. Rather than having to find fellow obsessives with whom to trade cassettes that got worse with each generation removed from the source, Napster and its brethren allowed me to connect anonymously with collectors all over the world.

I've lost most of the passion I once had for this. The mania is no longer so manic. However, I'd still like to "finish" the Beatles collection. Several years ago I started a spreadsheet that was intended to index every Beatles recording. Song name in one column, version (release, demo, outtake, live, etc.) in another, source (the album or bootleg where it could be found) in another. That project quickly proved too huge for my liking and I abandoned it. I didn't regret having done so once I found Bootlegzone, whose Songs Encyclopedia serves more or less the same purpose.

This is one of the greatest things about the Internet. No matter how obscure your interest, there's a community of people out there who share it.

I had long envisioned an index of Beatles recordings fashioned after Kochel's index to the works of Mozart (those "K" numbers you often see after the title of Mozart works). A unique identifier would be applied to each version of each recording, allowing collectors to assemble complete sets with no duplication. Once again I found out that has already been done, at least in part. For instance, recordings from the January 1969 Get Back sessions have index numbers beginning with "GB". For an example, see here. What I haven't found yet is a source that completely explains, and preferably lists, the entire Beatles index system.

I will never amass my complete Beatles collection. For one thing, over the past several years, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have each toured extensively, and there are recordings floating around of multiple shows from each tour. Even I don't want them all, since they tend to be carbon copies of one another. One good quality recording from each tour, plus a copy of any deviations from the standard set, is enough.

Several years back I told a friend of mine who shares my interest in Beatles recordings that I intended to start trying to compile chronological sets of as complete a collection of recordings as available. I never got too far with it, mostly because I found out about a couple of more serious attempts at doing just that from people with better connections and / or more time on their hands. Way Beyond Compare and the Come Together Project (which may be defunct, since I can't seem to find any good links for it) are both making much better progress than I ever did. The latter has only released one CD and seems dead in the water as far as I can tell, but that's still far more than I accomplished.

Some people think the Beatles have a complicated discography. Even the truly obsessive sometimes look over what's available in the bootleg trading community, throw up their hands, and stick with a copy of 1. Maybe it's because I spent far too long immersed in it, but I have no problem navigating the sea of Beatles outtakes, live versions, and alternate mixes.

However, the Beatles aren't the only group with which I've gone too far for reasonable people. I have scarily exhaustive collections of both released and unreleased material by many other artists, including Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Weird Al Yankovic, King's X, Billy Joel, The Choir, The Who, Van Halen, and more.

There are some exceptions to my completionism. For example, I have most of his earlier albums, but I haven't found any of Elton John's work since the early 1980s interesting enough to keep.

Even more rare is a group where I'm actually satisfied with a compilation (blasphemy!) and maybe one or two "essential" albums. The group I'm talking about in the title of this post is one such group - but one whose catalogue puzzles me.

My Dad has always liked the Ventures, and as soon as I got old enough to put records on the turntable myself, the two Ventures albums that he owned (The Ventures Play Telstar and a live album recorded in Japan whose name escapes me - based on the Ventures album titles I know, it was probably something on the creative level of "The Ventures Live In Japan") went into heavy rotation.

I still like the Ventures, and while I've heard quite a lot of their massive body of work, I see no real need to have a collection that runs much deeper than a good compilation or two. (Plus for nostalgic reasons, I'd also want copies of the two albums that Dad had.)

Therein lies the confusion. The Ventures have the second most confusing discography I've ever seen. I like to be able to tell the difference between original albums, compilations, and live albums. In the case of compilations, I like to be able to identify whether each song is the "standard" release - i.e., the same as what you get on pretty much any other album containing that song, including its original album release - or a variant. If it is a variant, I like to know what's different about it (new recording, live version, remix, edit,. etc.).

I wouldn't be surprised if there are literally hundreds of Ventures compilations, most of which are simply titled "The Ventures" or some variation of the words "Best Of" and / or "Greatest Hits". They're present on every discount rack in every department store in the world, and seem to be on dozens of different labels. This makes me question the legality of most of those releases, but someone with a bootleg collection as extensive as mine is in no position to quibble over such matters.

And good luck trying to figure out whether the versions on any given Ventures collection are original recordings, remakes, or other variations. Even if you can find an online listing of the exact CD in your hand (you'll probably need to search by catalogue number), you almost never get any substantive information on the source recordings.

It's fortunate that I don't feel driven to compile a complete Ventures collection. I suspect that trying to identify a comprehensive listing of their officially released tracks alone - the basic starting point for a completionist - would drive me crazy. A few fifteen-track compilations - most of which include the same dozen or so base tracks - will do just fine.

Up next: the only artist I've ever seen with a more confusing discography.

Can you stand the suspense?

Enough rambling. Here's another picture from our our recent church-sponsored afternoon of trap shooting. The man lining up his shot is my pastor, and the other fellow is a club representative who came along to help us figure out which end of the gun goes bang. Since nobody wound up in the emergency room, he did an excellent job.

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