Whilst my street-cred mates would never have anything to do with compilation albums, I didn’t have the slightest problem with the idea. Right from as far back as I can remember I was pestering my Mom for K-Tel double albums and playing them repetitively until the record player needed a new stylus. Loads of massive, defining hits from the original artists, packed onto one album, was always exceptional value, which was why there was such a massive market for these cynically calculated but impossible-to-resist products. Why buy an album full of album tracks when you can, for virtually the same price, get an album bursting with the most popular singles in the world? That’s how I saw it, anyway.
So in 1991, when the now long-defunct Dino Entertainment served up these disco, soul and funk epics, it was another prompt trip to HMV and another twenty quid paid into the giant music business piggy bank. I was mainly buying audio cassettes as opposed to vinyl by then, so my immortal Yamaha K-340 cassette deck was taking the wear and tear rather than a stylus, but the two albums: Rhythm Divine, and Rhythm Divine 2, were played into the ground.
Both Rhythm Divine and Rhythm Divine 2 were huge compilations of legendary tracks based around the work of black American icons, mainly, but not exclusively from the 1970s. The Jacksons, Isaac Hayes, Labelle, Gloria Gaynor, Edwin Starr, Sly and the Family Stone, Donna Summer, Barry White, The Gap Band… The list of household names seems endless, and you’re getting their top hits every time. From the ‘80s, the likes of Kool and the Gang and Grandmaster Flash broaden the era a little, but it’s all vintage disco, soul and funk. You WILL be inadvertently singing the Theme From Shaft or Lady Marmalade at work the next day, but albums like these were instant mood-changers. Have a bad day, get home, put these on, and everything is once again Kool, with a capital K.
As to how compilation specialists like Dino Entertainment managed to provide thirty-odd monster hits for about a quid more than an ordinary album I really don’t know. But one area of cost-cutting is evident in the tapes themselves. By 1991, almost all commercial albums were recorded onto high quality chrome or compatible high bias cassettes, but these, conversely, are cheaper ferric tapes. They don’t sound bad at all though. In fact the ferric formulation with its more lo-fi rendition suits the music of the ‘70s very well. Most of the ‘70s recordings didn’t in any case have the kind of top end zing that chrome cassettes were so great at accentuating, and it could be argued that the ferric formulation’s better bass end is exactly what’s needed with some of these thumping old floor fillers.
The image shows the covers for Rhythm Divine (the yellow one on the left) and Rhythm Divine 2 (right), sitting atop the four cassettes (two double albums). Particularly evocative are the thumbnails of the artists on stage, which appear on each of the four inlays. If you look at the image at full size you can see more of the acts named on the front covers.
I could go into more detail, but I’m afraid I’ve whetted my own appetite, and I’m going to have to run off and play these ultimate good time belters with immediate effect…