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V/A - I Hate CDs: Norton Records 45 RPM Singles Collection Vol. 1

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Artist: V/A

Album: I Hate CDs: Norton Records 45 RPM Singles Collection Vol. 1

Label: Norton

Review date: Dec. 5, 2007

Understanding the degree to which the Norton Records aesthetic has permeated New York City’s local drinking water is a big part of being involved with fringey music of any stripe in this town. It doesn’t matter if you spent your formative years navigating the filthy bins of the old Midnight record shop, hurling your body into a sea of crusty vegans at ABC no RIO, or honkin’ and skronkin’ your nights away on an avant-jazz bill at Tonic, recognizing that the Norton record label is as authentically NYC as the ’86 Mets is something any local music kingpin, radio DJ, blogger, or zine editor has to reckon with on their way to the… middle. Begun in 1986 as an audio extension of Kicks magazine, Norton co-honchos Miriam Linna and Billy Miller have proudly allowed their passions for primitive soul, R&B and rock music in its wilder permutations to act as the accelerant for one of the most explosive and prolific independent labels of all time.

It is therefore expected then, that the tracklisting for Norton’s entry into the realm of strictly-digital releases (I Hate CDs is only available as a high-bitrate download. There is no physical element to the collection.) reads like an A-list of hollerin’ nobodies, never-weres, and who-woulda-thunks. Featured tracks from some of the label’s more recognizable re-issues (the Ramones, Big Star, the Sonics) are by no means necessary for full appreciation, nor are they necessarily the highlights for that matter. The real joys are delivered through the totally animalistic deepcuts from the likes of Roy Loney and the A Bones, Screaming Joe Neal, and Doug Sahm and the Pharaohs. Like the Cramps before them, Miller and Linna have established their own canon and sculpted a totally unique identity by cherrypicking their catalog from the detritus of rock & roll’s most hopeless talents.

As such, it’s difficult to pick out highlights from such an ace collection, but worthy of special attention are Andre Williams in an uncharacteristically presentable moment, the unique-in-a-sea-of-imitators 5-6-7-8s, the completely brutal guitar sound achieved by Jack Starr (summoning both Michael Yonkers and Metal Urbain in a song about eating chicken!), and Bunker Hill’s “The Girl Can’t Dance,” which in my more expository moments I have declared to be the most utterly psychotic R&B workout ever recorded. (Seriously. Bunker Hill could scare the Brainbombs all the way back to Sweden.)

Certainly, with 45 prophetic tracks in all (and with only one reaching beyond three minutes and change – most are barely north of two), there are bound to be a few less-than-stellar moments and for me they arrive in the form of the Dictators’ “Who Will Save Rock n’ Roll” (mostly for the overly-earnest postulating) and the extended version of “All Kindsa Girls” by The Real Kids, of whom a friend aptly remarked to me after a jointly-attended early ’90s reunion gig: “They’re like the Ramones – with Johnny on every instrument”.

Personal nitpicking aside, the only thing that feels absent from this otherwise thoughtfully assembled collection are the expected liner notes, through which the label owner’s irrepressible enthusiasm is typically conveyed. Billy and Miriam are as much a part of Norton’s releases as any of the artists they choose to celebrate, and I Hate CDs illuminates that it’s their sycophantic obsessions that help make their catalog such a joy to stumble through. Since this overview of the label’s output seems clearly aimed at newcomers to the party, I can’t help but worry that the coldness of the digital medium will only paint half the picture for those who download it and therefore won’t reap the joy of the six-point type liners and blurry black and white photos that the rest of us customarily associate with Norton product. I’m as big a fan of the right-clicking scene as anyone, but as I’m sure the label owners would agree, this would be even better were it released in a gatefold triple wax edition. But then again, maybe it's finally time for the iPod generation to get acquainted with the unique pleasures of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy.

By Mike Lupica

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