Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Michael Stipe Presents...

After the Alcopop bike blog on Monday, I toyed with the idea of a 'Compilation Week' - a whole week's worth of blog posts about compilations, samplers and mixtapes - but I eventually decided to forget about it because a) I wasn't really sure what else to write about, and b) I'm seeing the Young Knives tomorrow and - one way or another - I'll probably want to blog about that on Friday. 

So instead of padding it out for the rest of the week, I'm skipping straight to my favourite compilation of all time. I've been buying Uncut every so often for over eight years, and since every issue comes with a free CD, the lower end of my Album Wall is littered with things that came stuck to magazines. I've discovered a lot of great bands through those compilations, but I never spat out my retainer and signed up for a subscription because a) I'd soon have more free CDs I could handle, and b) of all the discs I've picked up on my own initiative, my favourite is still the one that was attached to the first issue I bought.

Image from The Dicko's Collectables

Let's travel back in time to the summer of 2005. I was 13 going on 14, and I'd only been buying albums and seriously listening to music for about six months. For reference, this was around the time when I discovered the Eels and The Flaming Lips, both of whom would go on to number among my very, very favourite bands.

Anyhow, I was on Albany Road for one reason or another, and I decided that it was time to pop my music magazine cherry. I purchased the current issues of Q and Uncut, because both of them promised stories about R.E.M. (my favourite band, then and now). Q just had a live review of a recent R.E.M. gig, but Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe were Uncut's cover stars for the month, and a multi-page feature about the band's history was that issue's centrepiece.

Here's where it gets complicated. That issue of Uncut came with three different covers, and all three had a different CD attached. Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Michael Stipe had each put together a compilation of their favourite songs, and the mix you got depended on the cover you bought. I plumped for the yellow one, depicting the band in their early '90s heyday, and consequently ended up listening to Mr Stipe's personal favourites.

And what favourites they were-slash-are. For starters, this was the collection that introduced me to Tilly and the Wall; if you take's word for it, Nights of the Living Dead went on to become my most-played song of all time.

It also gave me my first taste of Bright Eyes with a live version of We Are Nowhere And It Is Now, but perhaps even more important were the obscure tracks, the ones by artists I've barely even heard of since. Coming Down (an intimately soaring track) by Karen Elson (a model who married Jack White); Je T'Aime Scumbag (a celebration of sluttiness) by The Citizens Band (some kind of cabaret supergroup); H to the President (a futuristic political rage) by Flash to Bang Time (Stipe's sister's band). All gems.

Best of all, though, is No Boys by Leona Naess. This song doesn't even seem to exist outside of Michael Stipe's mixtape, and that's a shame because it's really beautiful and it deserves to be heard by everyone. I managed to track it down on GrooveShark, and I implore all who read this to have a listen:

As I mentioned above, Uncut have brought me all manner of goodies since - I found The Hold Steady, Okkervil River and Josh T Pearson through their free CDs - but none to match Michael Stipe Presents... 

It's probably on eBay if you dig deep enough.

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