Various Artists

A Hard Day's Night: 45 Classic Singles. A History of Stiff Records

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It's one of life's great mysteries: why, whenever someone gains access to the Stiff Records archive for the purpose of building a new compilation, he/she always pick the same bunch of records? Unquestionably, Stiff rates among the most collectible labels of the past three decades, with its adherents happy to swear on their Japanese-language Lene Lovich promo single that the label's 300-or-so run of singles resulted in very few absolute stinkers. But time and again, news of another upcoming Stiff collection is hastily followed by a track listing that refuses to stray beyond the Costello/Lowe/Damned/Dury/Madness axis, as though some unwritten law in Record Company Land insists, to paraphrase Stiff's own best-loved logo, "if it ain't been overdone, it ain't worth a f*ck."

A Hard Day's Night is the proof of that particular pudding. Basically boiled down from the Stiff box set of the early '90s (which itself was something of a disappointment), the album spends two CDs reiterating everything that even the most casual label fan will already own, without even glancing toward the reasons why the label has fans in the first place. Or the kind of things those fans really want. Worthwhile if you really have managed to spend the last several decades resistant to the charms of "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll," "Watching the Detectives," "One Step Beyond," and Tracey Ullman, A Hard Day's Night is otherwise another disappointment in a field that's full of them.