Compilation albums are always good bargains. A K-Tel package of hits or another label's anthology of obscurities offers a convenient way of preserving recordings that might be superfluous as singles.
And they can fight inflation, as two locally available collections show. Each contains 13 cuts, and each compensates for its lack of continuity and taste by giving consumers a fair shake.
"Declaration of Independents" (Ambition AMB1) is a strong argument for the American independent label. Purely democratic in principle, the album resurrects recordings from cities as remote as Des Moines, Iowa and Rock Springs, Wyo.
Some of the selected artists should have remained anonymous. The Rock Springs group called the News mimics sound of any faceless British Invasion group. And Bubba Lou and the Highballs, from San Francisco are only a weak-kneed version of Southside Johnny and the Ashbury Jukes.
But the collection is also replete with undiscovered American nuggets. Although it lacks Sky Saxon's arrogant and earthy vocals, Jim Wunderle's cover of the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard" is inspired attempt to recapture the defiance of mid-60's American punk. not unlike the Cyrkle's pop hit, "Turn Down Day Luxury's "Green Hearts" bounces from the heartland with the spirit of the Archies on pogo sticks. Boston's Robin Lane and the Chartbusters (at present, America's most alluring rock band) are represented by a minor tune, "Rather Be Blind," that's unavailable anywhere else. And from Athens, Ga. (home of the B-52's), Pylon heatedly cooks on "Cool," perhaps the best indie single of the year.
The collection -- originating from D.C. -- includes three local bands. Tex Rubinowitz's "Feelin' Right Tonight" was the B side of his first 45, "Bad Boy." Although it has the wallop of a cold six-pack, it's still a relatively silly pose from a rockabilly artist who knows better. Razz's "You Can Run (But You Can't Hide," the son that almost made them national contenders, streaks past the Cars, and Root Boy Slim's "The Meltdown," on which Archie Bell and the Drells are transported to Three Mile Island, is as dumb (and as funny) as Howard the Duck on "The Gong Show."
While "Declaration of Independents" tries for a national scope. "The Best of Limp" (Limp 1004) attempts a cohesive picture of the rock scene around the nation's capital. Unlike the first Limp anthology, "30 Over D.C.," this isn't strictly a sampler; the intent is clearly to boost the morale of struggling D.C. rockers.
As evidence by this collection, such a step may have been necessary psychologically: Half the bands seem uncertain, almost schizoid. Just when their songs threater to break loose, they fly apart, perhaps back to the basement of their dreams.
The toughest and rowdiest songs, are generally the covers. The Slickee Boys redo Balloon Farm's "Question of Temperature" with the adoration of a priest kissing a holy relic, while the Razz's version of Manfred Mann's Do Wah Diddy Diddy" (with vocalist Michael Reidy aiming for the heartthrob sensibility of Peter Noone) may be their most passionate moment. D. Ceats sperbly transforms Crabby Appleton's "Go Back" into a statement against sexual flippancy, and Tex Rubinowitz imbues Warren Smith's ultimate lonesome wail, "Red Cadillac and a Black Mustache," with the drunken daring of a man who has lost everything.
The album's remaining cuts are intentionally or unintentionally comical. On "Viola D'Amor," the Nurses quixotically bring romanticism to a Knights of Columbus beer blast. On "Don't Bother Me," Bad Brains burn in their own heavy-metal hell. In contrast, the Shirkers' "Drunk and disorderly" is guaranteed to crack a smile. Like the lovable Ramones, this band can successfully combine imbecilic humor with the primitive beat ("No there ain't nothing wrong with me/I'm just here, holding up this tree").
Unfortunately, most of these D.C. bands seem doomed by their own excessive turmoil: the confused belief that commitment and enthusiasm will magically produce content.