Various Artists

The Entire History of Punk

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The Entire History of Punk is not one of those meticulously compiled and annotated box sets that comprehensively survey a portion of musical history. Instead, it is a randomly organized collection of tracks with virtually no annotations beyond song titles, group names, and a brief introduction by former Vice Squad singer Beki Bondage. That may seem appropriate to punk music, a style that incorporated the suggestion of a rip-off as part of its essence, but the result is scattershot. Dressed to Kill has not licensed tracks from any of the major labels, so whenever an important song by a prominent artist turns up, a hit by the Sex Pistols or the Stranglers, for instance, it's a live performance or outtake, not the original recording. And although by this method some of the major names in British punk are included, along with legendary progenitors like Iggy Pop and the MC5, many others are missing. There is nothing here by the Clash or the Ramones, except for remakes of their songs by lesser known performers. So, the set does not live up to its ambitious title. But it does contain fifteen-and-a-half hours of punk music (which could have fit onto 13 CDs instead of being spread across 20), 314 tracks by 127 different artists, three dozen of them successful enough to make the U.K. charts. Most of those performers are second- or third-division punk acts, and many are second or third generation as well, with the recordings stretching from the mid-'70s until well into the 1980s. The real stars of the box are raucous, political British groups like the Angelic Upstarts (who have 12 cuts), the Adicts (nine), and Sham 69 (seven). As long as the listener doesn't expect a complete portrait of punk, there are many discoveries to be made.