Various Artists

The Famous Charisma Label

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A budget-priced compilation album showcasing a handful of the Charisma label's best-loved acts, The Famous Charisma Label also, more importantly, stands as a snapshot of the British art/prog underground as it prepared to repel the challenges of pop's latest mainstream convolution, glam rock -- which is not such a glib sentiment as it might sound.

Glam, after all, was all about costuming and theater -- areas that both Genesis and Van Der Graaf Generator, to name two of this collection's better-known inhabitants, had both been toying with for some time. Glam was about hit singles -- an arena which Newcastle folk-rockers Lindisfarne had just begun flirting with. And glam was about short, sharp, eternally memorable pop songs -- which is why, within five years, the Bay City Rollers would have chosen to cover the Incredible String Band's "It's a Game," and not make too much of a mess of it. Serious rock fans would have quaked at the thought, but there really wasn't that much distance between the two musical disciplines after all.

For modern collectors, of course, such considerations are academic -- The Famous Charisma Label is, instead, more notable for the wealth of super-rare music that it rounded up. Van Der Graaf Generator's "Theme One" and "W," Genesis' "Happy the Man" and "Twilight Alehouse," and Lindisfarne's "Scotch Mist" and "No Time to Lose" were all non-LP singles during the early '70s, and all made their long-playing debut on this compilation. You can then add such career-defining moments as Rare Bird's "Sympathy," Capability Brown's "Wake up Little Sister," and, returning to Lindisfarne, the ethereal "Lady Eleanor" -- all adding up to a collection that isn't simply worth its weight in gold, it also proves that you don't have to glitter to do so.

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