It’s taken me pretty much a week to crank out five paragraphs about one of the most important record sets of my life. Maybe that’s a sign of the times we’re living in — as I write this, we’ve been in lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic for five weeks, and it may be another five before it eases. Not that this project ever seemed important, but it seemed in my head like maybe I was just sending a note to my kids, who may or may not ever read it – “Hey, here are some things that were meaningful to me. Maybe someday that will be meaningful to you.” There were moments early on in this pandemic when I thought we weren’t going to get out of this unscathed. Or, for that matter, alive. Now I’m feeling better about our chances, but only because of the extraordinary efforts it has taken to be isolated and safe. In the midst of that uncertainty, there was really no impetus to prioritize this, and I haven’t really been able to sit and reflect on what these records meant to me at another moment in my life when this moment is so volatile, so disturbed. But we go on, because what else can we do?
I’m not big on box sets. Just not my thing — I think I’m stuck in the mindset of wanting to experience the albums the way the artists wanted me to, for good or bad. And often the box sets just have a lot of stuff I already own, and only a few things I don’t. Sometimes the booklets are nice, but you really can’t tell ahead of time.
But I had just two Eddie Cochran records in 1980, both imports, both fantastic, and I never knew if I would see another. Then somewhere, and I think it was the student record store at Syracuse University, Spectrum Records, I found this incredible four-LP box set, the Eddie Cochran 20th Anniversary Album. (Twentieth anniversary of his death, that is.) It seemed like pretty much everything Eddie ever recorded (despite his short life, it is not), and it has a decently informative booklet that was about as much info as you could find at the time about this early rock star who died in a car crash a mere 20 years before — an eternity in rock history. In my history, too, since he had died before I was born.
A lot of this music is the inspiration for much of what followed. A lot of it seems like straightforward ‘50s ballads and nonsense. But there’s hardly a song on eight sides that isn’t good leaning toward great. And the incredible thing to me for the time is that the recording sounds is mostly crisp and clean, very modern sounding.
The last side of this set includes live performances from England, on some show hosted by Marty Wilde, with requisite screaming teenagers (The Beatles didn’t invent that) and a little bit of actual conversation with Eddie, so you can hear his voice, his attitude, and get a little sense of how he presented himself. I loved this side more than any of the others, and played it to death (why I didn’t just put it on tape and enjoy it that way, I’m not sure — I did that to plenty of other records I considered precious). Unfortunately the wear on that side is audible. But so it goes.
This box set has been one of my prize possessions for my god am I old 40 years now. Yes, I will go long periods without listening to Eddie Cochran, but I always come back to his music.