Various Artists

The Tommy Boy Story, Vol. 1

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Tommy Boy's Greatest Beats, a four-volume series, was released in 1998. You could buy the volumes in one shot, albeit for a few extra bucks, because they came in a little plastic milk crate with a fifth disc of remixes. Three years later, you could get all five discs in a less elaborate package. These discs covered the label's first 16 years, from 1981 through 1996. Tommy Boy's Greatest Hits, a three-disc compilation, was released in 2003 and naturally contained a lot of the material on Tommy Boy's Greatest Beats, though it did expand its reach to include some late-'90s and early-2000s tracks. And now there's The Tommy Boy Story, Vol. 1, a two-disc set that resembles a slightly worn double-vinyl pack, with die-cut circles exposing CD sleeves that are made to look like the inner sleeves of a 12". Sequenced chronologically, the set begins with Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force's monumental "Planet Rock" (1982) and ends with K7's decidedly less seismic "Come Baby Come" (1993). If you have any of the other Tommy Boy anthologies, or an extensive collection of compilations covering electro and early hip-hop and house music, you'll be duplicating many of the 22 tracks found here. (It is worth pointing out, however, that many of the versions here are slightly different from the ones on the preceding Tommy Boy sets; for instance, this has the 12" version of "Planet Rock," whereas The Greatest Beats has the four-minute edit, and Tommy Boy's Greatest Hits contains a five-minute version. It can be very confusing.) Almost half of the contents, including "Planet Rock," Planet Patrol's "Play at Your Own Risk," Jonzun Crew's "Pack Jam," and Information Society's freestyle cult-classic "Running," are essential. A few tracks on the second disc haven't aged so well, but relatively obscure tracks like Special Request's "Salsa Smurph" (electro at its slowest, deepest, and dubbiest, with "Trans-Europe Express" as the basis) and Planet Patrol's "I Didn't Know I Loved You" (which should thrill anyone who has grown tired of "Play at Your Own Risk") are entirely necessary. The liner notes from Blues & Soul's Lewis Dene are indispensable, full of historical anecdotes and revelations for non-scholars.

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