A consumer's guide to 1980s compilations:
"Just Can't Get Enough" is the most exhaustive compilation in print. Rhino's 15-volume set features plenty of obscure gems (such as "Since Yesterday," by Strawberry Switchblade) and heavy-rotation staples ("Vacation" and "Our House," among others). The only drawback is the inclusion of artists such as Graham Parker and Nick Lowe, who sound like anomalies compared to the robotic wackiness of, say, Missing Persons.
"Sedated in the Eighties" makes a good choice for non-completists. This four-volume set on EMI/Capitol includes few chestnuts and many oddities. Reccommended.
"Living in Oblivion," another four-volume set, is out of print, though stray copies can still be found. They feature some lesser-known singles from well-known artists, such as "The Jam Was Moving" by Debbie Harry.
"Geffen Vintage '80s" is a work in progress, with only Volume 1 released. As a major label, Geffen signed only big sellers, which means there are no real surprises here. Volume 1 contains solo material from Ric Ocasek and Debbie Harry, along with tracks from Quarterflash and Lone Justice. Whose '80s were these?
"Just Say Yesterday" is a single-disc compilation of '80s acts from Sire Records, one of the most adventurous and influential labels of the decade. Stellar tracks from Blancmange, B-Movie, Specimen, The Normal and Tin Tin are here. Reccommended.
Five great bands everyone laughs at:
Heaven 17 had more to offer than "Let Me Go" and "Temptation." Glenn Gregory's voice was grand and expressive, and the band had a flair for mood and texture. Heaven 17's three members were strident communists. Hence, the political dance-funk of "Crushed by the Wheels of Industry" and "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang." Alas, their plans for a 24-hour homemade propaganda cable channel were never realized. But their eponymous debut is still required listening.
Yello gained fame primarily because director John Hughes put the electro-stomp number "Oh Yeah" on the soundtrack of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." But this Swiss band's early output displays a prescient use of synthesizers, drum machines, sound bites and scratching. Reccommended: the albums "Claro Que Si" and "You Gotta Say Yes to Another Excess." The origins of techno and electronica lie here as much as anywhere.
Gary Numan is synonymous with the one-finger ditty "Cars," but he's released close to 20 albums since. His masterpiece is "Dance," a chilly and powerful piece of New Romantic angst circa 1981. The melodies are wistful, the atmospherics heavy, the lyrics introverted to the point of implosion. Sometimes Numan just mutters inaudibly. His later identity crises involved everything from leather sex gear to martial arts costumes, but Numan was once the Nick Drake of new wave.
Spandau Ballet isn't here to kick around anymore, which makes the band much more likable. "The Singles Collection" contains all their grandiosity on one CD: "Gold," "True," "Lifeline" and other overblown ballads that can still set an impressionable heart a-swelling. Rolling Stone condemned the band's "air of vaguely fascist snobbery," but Spandau Ballet was the antidote to whiny bands such as the Smiths and the Cure. As Tony Hadley himself once sang, "I am beautiful and clean."
Haysi Fantayzee released only one album in its short career. "Battle Hymns for Children Singing" met with almost universal hostility in 1983. Music critic Ira Robbins has called it "one of the most willfully annoying records of all time." Jeremiah Healy and Kate Garner, both singers, dressed like Boy George and behaved like a pair of incestuous imps. Their best songs -- "Shiny Shiny," "Sister Friction," "John Wayne Is Big Leggy" -- are full of creepy lyrics, suggestive slang and hyperactive rhythms. Healy called the album "a party record for after the bomb has dropped." An unusual, unequaled and underappreciated work.