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the entire history of punk
Various Artists
The Entire History of Punk
Dressed to Kill

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Licensing issues and costs had a lot to do with which songs made it onto this collection, which is part of the reason why The Entire History of Punk doesn't even come close to living up to its title. Even with twenty CDs, over 300 songs and about 15 hours of punk music, it's missing groups like Television Personalities, Public Image Ltd. and the seminal Howard Devoto bands. It also ignores almost every great American punk band.

Among the songs that made the cut you'll find roughly fifty punk songs in their "essential, must-have" versions, another hundred that are pleasant but inessential, and about 150 fair-to-middling tunes. Among the inspired inclusions, you'll find early Billy Bragg tracks, acoustic Tom Robinson anthems, and a handful of hard-to-find gems (like Menace's "GLC"). Almost all of the best singles from minor British punk acts like Angelic Upstarts or Slaughter and the Dogs, are featured, and this should give you an excuse not to buy these groups' bloated "greatest hits" collections.

Entire History also does a good job of documenting failures. There are enough Brix Smith missteps in History to prove -- to everyone but Brix, at least -- that the solo route does not suit her. As far as seminal bands are concerned, California's Dead Kennedys are the most kindly represented, with their best tracks ("Kill the Poor", "Holiday in Cambodia") featured in their studio glory, and set beside either mediocre acts (Vice Squad) or pointless covers. They have never, ever stood out from the pack so brilliantly as they do here. But why did the Dead Kennedys and Johnny Thunders make this comp while almost every other American act didn't? Their relationship with infamous French indie label New Rose, whose own new box set is shorter and better than this one, probably helped them out. A spot in New Rose's rolodex did nothing for The Cramps, though; they failed to make the cut.

Most major punk acts, like the Sex Pistols, are represented almost exclusively via bootleg-quality live versions. Few are accurately listed as "live" tracks in the credits -- a deceptive act by the label which makes punk's Entire History smell a bit like a swindle. The compilation's last of many "Is this punk?" covers, Guana Batz's awful rockabilly rendition of Springsteen's "I'm On Fire", does not end this History on a sweet note, either.

It's hard for the collection not to justify its extremely modest price (US$80 for twenty CDs) -- though you feel the bite of cheapness in its details. Rather than the copious, scholarly liner notes that would accompany a costlier compilation, The Entire History's accompanying essay, by Beki Bondage, is both amusingly short and memorably idiotic. Bondage basically says punk is good and glorious, then rephrases that sentiment a few times until she fills her word count. The pictures are nice, though; they include a cool shot of Chrissie Hynde giving the photographer the finger.

The compilation's title, while unfair to punk in so many ways (least of all its insult that punk can be fully documented in 20 CDs), is provocative when you pretend the Dressed to Kill label took it seriously. Perhaps the compilation's plethora of lo-fi live tracks is Dressed to Kill's way of pointing out the fact that cash-poor punk fans love the music so much they'll record concerts with an eight-dollar K-Mart tape recorder -- and then go that extra mile, decades later, to preserve the rotten-sounding fucker on CD. As for the compilation's numerous punk rock covers of other punk bands' filler material, you have to wonder if this is the label's way of saying the "Anyone can do it" mentality was, in truth, a proclamation that "anyone can almost do it".

-- Theodore Defosse
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