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4.7 out of 5 stars69
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 31 May 2008
When I saw Billy Bragg on tour recently he described himself as a 'Marmite artist', ie, you either love him or hate him. I don't know that is necessarily true. My husband somewhat reluctantly bought this for me for Christmas a few years ago after I'd requested it on the strength of the handful of Bragg songs that I knew from my teens (Sexuality, New England, Waiting for the Great Leap Forward).
Neither myself or my hubby really knew enough about BB from those few songs to understand what an amazing artist he really is. I reckon that there are a few people out there who are in that same position and this review, like the album, is for you. This is a great place to start on your Bragg conversion because it will give you a taste of the diversity of Billy's career. There can't be many artists who could compile an album containing elements of folk, pop, country, punk and even disco (When Will I See You Again!) OK, if you're not particularly political or left-leaning (like my hubby) then there might be some songs here that won't float your boat, but seriously, don't let that put you off. Some of these songs will break your heart (Tank Park Salute, Brickbat). Some will make you laugh (The Saturday Boy, A Lover Sings). Some will rouse you(The World Turned Upside Down, Between The Wars). Most will make you think and remember.
By his own admission, he ain't the greatest singer in the world, nor the greatest guitarist (although I think he's seriously underrated in that department.) Nevertheless, there is something about Billy and his songs which just makes you like and believe him. He's passionate, clever, honest, really funny and utterly without pretension.
Since buying this album we've both gone on to be massive BB converts. If you're still not sure whether you'll like BB, at this price you can surely afford the gamble. You never know, you too might end up wishing you'd done it years ago! For those who are already know you love Billy, this will become a much played favourite compilation. Before you know it, you'll be singing your heart out in a faux Cockney accent.
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on 6 October 2003
It must be hard work compiling a compilation album - finding that balance between the "hits" and the "best of" tracks that were never released as singles. By calling this set "The Essential Billy Bragg", we really do get the best of both worlds - the well known tracks: "A New England", "Between the Wars", "Sexuality", "Take Down the Union Jack", together with an inspired choice of fan favourites from the albums. Being a fan of Billy since the early days, I could list lots of songs I'd have liked to see included, but accept that the selection is must be limited. There are two strange ommissions though: nothing from the "Internationale" mini album (the title track or "The Marching Song of the Covert Battalions" would have sat there quite nicely), and we're missing Billy's No. 1 single (the double A-side of Wet Wet Wet's version of "A Little Help from my Friends" was Billy's version of "She's Leaving Home"). Still, great collection, nice new remastered sound, and an interesting collection of rare tracks on the bonus CD (shame we didn't get the extended version of "Must I Paint you a Picture" though). Recommended for the beginners - and then get the albums I recommend ALL of the them!!
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on 11 May 2004
50 tracks for nine quid - hard to argue with the sheer value of this set, and when the quality and scope are taken into account it's pretty much unmissable. Really does cover Bragg's ascent from wailing solo artist to accompolished, quirky popster - and shows that he never sold out his political principles on the way.
Each disc has its own atmosphere though, and it's best to consider them individually.
For me, Disc 1 is the star. It's the Billy Bragg I spent my late teens listening to - angry, ironic, lyrics, stripped-down music and an almost visceral reaction to the debris of the Thatcher years. This disc draws heavily on the first three albums and the 'Between The Wars' EP, adding a few welcome extras.
Disc 2 is the poppier, perhaps less confrontational Bragg of the nineties and beyond. Certainly a more accomplished artist, with a finer grasp of pop sensibilities and a wider appeal, but to me something of the raw edge was lost. This disc shows Bragg's mainstream acceptance as something of a pop oddity, and has some astonishingly good songs that the old-style Bragg fans who tuned out after "Talking With The Taxman About Poetry" may have missed first time round.
Disc 3 is really a typical bonus/rarities extra - a completist might buy the set for this, the rest of us will probably find it moderately interesting but the stunning "When will I See You Again" apart it isn't exactly essential.
Can't really give it five stars, because MY definitive Bragg set would essentially be the first three albums and the Between The Wars EP, but it's a very high four.
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on 8 October 2003
I will endeavour to be brief. When I slapped this on the CD player last night I was transported immediately back to the bedroom of my teenage years. Billy will not be pleased to learn that I wallowed in nostalgia. Now, I own all these songs already, but I confess I had not listened to some of the earliest albums - LIFES A RIOT... for instance - for some time. Hearing again the bittersweet beauty, the tangled tenderness, the raw romance...ah...I don't mind telling you it brought me to my knees with all the power of the day I first listened.
There is something very, very wonderful and very, very important about Billy Bragg. It is not his political commitment, although that is undeniable. It is something rather more recondite, something that you may wish to call humanity. Whatever it is it vibrates through every track on this wonderful retrospective. From the spine-tingling early love songs, through the Great Leap Forward, through Woody Guthrie, this is the record of one of the great singer-songwriters. Listen to the words and you'll wonder how you ever lived without a bit of Billy. And, while I may disagree with some of the things he says, I am mighty glad that he is there saying them anyway. So should you be. Very few people have the courage.
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on 22 October 2003
Although having enjoyed Billy's work over the years and admired his commitment to social justice I never really considered myself a "fan". This retrospective was bought as I thought it was time to have some of his work in my cd collection - and frankly it was a bargain. Why did I not buy his albums earlier! It was suprising how much I remembered. It's great to get a cd thinking your a beginner and finding out you're actually a fan. Even if you're only remotely interested buy it now.
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on 8 October 2003
This album is truly superb and a perfect summation of Billy's career to date.Maybe i'm a bit biased because i've been a fan since those heady days when his debut mini-album (Life's A Riot ....) came out and have bought most of his stuff since then , but i really can't recommend this wonderful collection any higher.Long term fans will love it of course (but probably have the traditional quibble over track-listing ,i.e. surely Honey I'm A Big Boy Now and Ideology are better than Help Save The Youth Of America, but that's just nit-picking!) and any newcomers will find that it's worth the money for The Saturday Boy alone.Just buy it if you've got an ounce of soul in yer body.Incidentally , the box set released in 2006 is good but i was very let - down by the booklet which has no essay or notes of any merit instead choosing to reprint the lyrics which have been on all previous CD issues . Bah !! What a wasted opportunity . Still , minor moan over , Billy still rules !
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on 6 February 2004
I am 25 and I had never listened to Billy before buying this album. His lyrics are truly moving and a real breathe of fresh air to my collection. 'Tank Park Salute' will, from now on, always figure in my evolving top 5 most beautiful songs. It will move anyone who has loved and lost someone. I wish I could thank Billy personally for producing such powerful music. This is a stunning collection and should figure in every household.
(other artists I like include: John Martyn, David Gray, James Taylor and De La Soul!)
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on 17 July 2011
Billy Bragg's politics can put people off his music,(not me - I'm with him, or at least nearby). Even if you are a Daily Mail reader you will enjoy tracks like 'Greeting To The new Brunette'. He's a poet in the Guthrie tradition. So get this anthology, please.
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on 22 October 2003
After a luke warm review of his last album I thought it only fair to redress the balance with a five star review of this excellent retrospective.
Bragg was, and still is, unique. Who do you compare him with? Well, you can't. Still seen as perhaps a political singer songwriter, I wonder whether it is his personal songs that outshine and will outlast his political ones. But I guess that really doesn't matter.
Certainly for me Billy Bragg helped me get through my difficult late teenage years and a little beyond, with the balance of pro-socialist and relationship songs: I was a sad, angry and confused young man. I guess he still helps me now.
Superb tunes and wonderfully witty and insightful lyrics (up there with Morrissey and David Gedge) mean that Billy Bragg will last a long long time.
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on 4 June 2012
I have friends who tell me politics and agit prop are so old fashioned. What have the billy bragg's achieved? Andrew Marr's A History of Modern Britain gives Billy a footnote in supporting new Labour. Then dishes it out to Scargill as some meglomaniac who took on Thatcher and lost. Loses sight of that we lost more than the mines, we lost a good bit of our soul. And this is what Billy Bragg has in abundance-soul. He burst into my awareness in some doco where he was in USA with his guitar and an amp busking and talking to people as well as singing stripped down protest songs. Pretty tasty in the land of Bob-and he hadn't done that kind of gig since Greenwich village in the sixties. Billy Bragg works on a number of levels. He is a street poet, a story teller, a catalyst for discussion and on top of that he is funny. All the first CD captures those early vinyl releases that just burned and tore at the edges of punk and agitprop. I still play them when I want to have a good sing a long. Bless you Billy cos my voice is crap but I love the sentiments, the acknowledgement of soul music in a generation of working class life. Billy Bragg should be rightfully proud of what he has achieved, we were all let down by the consumerism of New Labour and the middle of the road, coffee table socialism of social democrats. He took risks, was burned by some but he remains a truelly great singer/song writer who captured the spark of hope that many tried to turn into a fire of change. And in this time of casualisation of work, austerity for the poor but greed for the rich, his message still comes through.Crank up the volume put on CD one and let it rip and sing a long-there is till power in the union and in a good song.
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