Various Artists

Gold & Platinum: The Ultimate Rock Collection, Vol. 6: 1989-1995

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Every rock fan has probably, at one time or another, considered the idea of creating an "ultimate" rock collection. But, while there have certainly been commercial attempts to do the same thing, they have generally been hobbled by record labels unwilling to license their hits to somebody else. That problem was solved by the RIAA, which got the cooperation of the then-six major labels -- BMG, EMI, Polygram, Sony, Universal and Warner, and all of the artists they approached -- for this six-CD, 7½-hour collection, on the grounds that a portion of its proceeds would be used to fight record piracy. That hurdle overcome, the compilers defined "rock" as something that started with the British Invasion in 1964, and proceeded to pick 101 songs to create a 31-year sampler. In most cases, it's one song per artist, though a few have two each. Part of the fun is quibbling with the selections; for example, some of the major omissions among major artists include the Rolling Stones, James Brown, the Supremes, the Jackson 5 and Prince. Aside from a few exceptions, rock is mostly defined as music by white people. Rock is also defined primarily as mainstream and pop-oriented, and that's reflected in the heavy metal, new wave, and alternative selections. Nevertheless, the main problem with the set is not who was left out as much as it is what was left off. Secondarily, what was included as part of an "ultimate rock collection" is sometimes questionable, whether artists or individual song choices. But you can't put three rock fans in the same room (much less three rock critics) and not have immediate disagreement. All of the material on Gold and Platinum is demonstrably popular, and all of it is, at least, in the rock tradition. Gold & Platinum is simultaneously a massive achievement (the key word being "massive") and an enormous triviality (the key word being "triviality"). This, in a sense, is the way the record industry views rock music: as a collection of unrelated hits. Juxtaposing so many of them on the same album implies some relationship, but, especially on the later discs covering the '80s and the first half of the '90s, none is really apparent. Still, there's a lot of great music here.