'Ere, there's something a bit pony about this deal.
Like, it's bad enough Stiff deleting their first 13 singles at a stroke — thus depriving an ungrateful world of such indispensable cultural niceties as Nick Lowe's "Heart Of The City / So It Goes" and Elvis Costello's "Less Than Zero" in single form, not to mention The Adverts' first single and Richard Hell's venerable "Blank Generation" if that's your cup of nightshade (it ain't mine) — but then to flash out an eleven track sampler of this early product and charge a super de luxe £3.99 for it ... well, it's hardly Marquis Of Queensberry Rules, is it? After all, if Chiswick can put out their "Best Of" album for £2.25...
Here comes the new record company, not quite the same as the old record company...
Because, by gosh, those Stiff blighters do have style. Why, on the inner sleeve of this biscuit, right where CBS and EMI albums display their stable's current droppings, Stiff have drolely laid out "some fine records on other labels you might enjoy." Good taste they show too — everything from Lee Dorsey to Trout Mask Replica.
The company have exhibited the same impressive style and taste with their own signings too, even though this album shows they weren't quite so, er, rigorous in their early days back in far-off '76 when most Stiff contracts were for one-off singles. Not only were these singles radical entertaining slices of contemporary rock (well, most of 'em), they undoubtedly helped the acts concerned to get signed up by other record companies on more long term bases. Fine stuff.
Still, "Stiff's Greatest Hits," like its predecessor "A Bunch of Stiffs," fails to display the company's product in its most impressive light. Though ten of the first eleven singles are represented here (one of which was never even released!), the overall effect isn't as stunning as might be expected.
This is in part because of the emphasis on B-sides and B-sides-not-on-albums rather than on the obvious blockbusters; in part because singles are meant to be singles not tracks on albums; and in part because in their selection from the Stiff great vault the corp have exhibited an unworthy miserliness — a couple more cuts would definitely have helped justify that four quid tag.
Enough of the overview, this is what you get:
1) Nick Lowe: "Heart Of The City." The first and possibly best Stiff single; tough, tuneful, rootsy rock confirming this man's status as one of London town's most creative rock talents this side of 1980 as well as the rock star with the most buttoned-up suit. Shoulda put the aforementioned B-side on too yer mangey lot. Roll on the album.
2) Pink Fairies: "Between The Lines." "An ill-fated attempt to keep the psychedelic pixies together" says the blurb. On this showing they're better bust up. Nice original cover from Edward though.
3) Roogalator: "Cincinnati Fatback." Danny Adler — about the only rock star left in town who smiles at his audience — is too warm and sensitive a human being, his playing too goddam classy, and his material too sassy for Roogalator to make it. Virgin Records (who signed 'em) and you punters out there please prove me wrong.
4) Sean Tyla: "Styrofoam / Texas Chainsaw Massacre Boogie." Two chunks of sub-Beefheart boogie from one of rock's highest foreheads. The first is predictable and contrived, the second predictable and pleasant. Expendable.
5) Lew Lewis: "Caravan Man." Raw, lean, menacing Canvey production from Feelgood house; sloppy Chicago harp from ex-Rod. Not as good as top side "Boogie On The Street," but still an excuse for me to advance a friend's theory that all the best bands start with a gob-iron in the sound; Beatles, Stones, Who, Zeppelin, Dylan, etc. Think about it.
6) The Damned: "Help." "New Rose" B-side-not-on-album, written by well-known New Wave songwriters Lennon/McCartney. One of these days John'll recut it like he promised. This? Bloody murder.
7) Richard Hell: "You Gotta Lose." Sounds like blitzed-out Creedence. Utterly weedy simpering vocals; foolish sentiments, what's the fuss about?
8) Plummet Airlines: "This Is The World." Pub rock league, second division. Interesting production, otherwise anonymous. Next.
10) Motorhead: "Leavin' Here." "Never issued due to long boring problems." Lemmy's one of the great mythological figures of our time, but this is still a clumsy heavy metal trampling of Eddie Holland's Motown obscurity-but-goody.
11) Elvis Costello: "Radio Sweetheart." B-side of the outstanding "Less Than Zero" (truly a song of the times) a fresh intriguing melody and long distance love lyric, with steely flashes of Elvis' Gram Parsons country leanings. Quietly brilliant.
12) Get Stiffed — if you can afford it!