Founded by Jac Holzman in 1950, Elektra Records’ first decade and a half were dominated by folk and blues influenced performers. As musicians coming out of that scene electrified, Elektra’s range gradually expanded, eventually exploding with the phenomenon that was the Doors.
Two iTunes-only Samplers compiled by Holzman highlight the two sides of this evolution. Priced at $7.99 each, they offer pretty good value for the adventurous music downloader.
The seventeen track Acoustic Sampler touches on some of the label’s earliest folk, blues, and bluegrass recordings, visits more experimental mid-60’s styles, and culminates with a couple country flavored singer-songwriter tunes. I might have picked a different Tom Rush song, and could quibble about some other choices, but it could have been far worse. A rather obscure Harry Chapin song is included, for example, instead of one of his massively overplayed hit singles.
The tastes offered of the Dillards, Tom Paxton, Bob Gibson, Fred Neil, Incredible String Band, Judy Collins, David Ackles, and others, cohere as a listening experience, even if the listener explores no further. And, perhaps a few more people will discover Ian Matthews’ great Mike Nesmith produced Valley Hi album.
The Electric Sampler, appropriately enough, kicks off with the “uncensored” mix of “Break On Through (To The Other Side)”. (”She gets high” was rather too direct an observation for the lead track of a debut album in 1967!) Happily, the selections get a bit more obscure, if no less worthy from that point.
Critical favorites like Tim Buckley, Love, the Stooges and MC5 are represented alongside equally noncommercial but more obscure groups like Rhinoceros, Clear Light, the Wackers, and Crabby Appleton. The Bread selection is not one likely to trigger a reexamination of their soft-rock oeuvre, but it’s easily skipped. The single from the (proto-Blue Oyster Cult) Stalk-Forrest Group may be of interest to hard rock archaeologists, and the Zodiac Cosmic Sounds selection is worth a giggle, at least.
Listeners interested in actual physical media should consider picking up the November 2010 issue of Mojo magazine for the included 15 track sampler CD, Journey To Love: Rare & Early Elektra Classics, selected and sequenced by label founder Holzman. It contains many selections in common with the iTunes downloads, and a few alternate songs by the same artists (e.g. Judy Collins singing “Masters Of War” instead of “Since You Asked”).
Artifact collectors with bigger budgets might consider the 5-disc Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra (1963-1973) box set from a couple years ago, which covers the final decade of Holzman’s reign in rather more detail.