After establishing itself with early rap hits and oldies compilations in the mid Eighties, Priority Records struck it big with several releases from the California Raisins. And then they got even bigger sales from gangsta rap group N.W.A. and the solo joints from N.W.A. members Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre after the group's break-up. In 1990, Priority (which had been founded by three former K-Tel executives who knew a thing or two about compilations), went in a different direction and issued a rather generic looking CD titled Rock of the '80s (above). It features just 10 tracks that barely run 40 minutes but it stands as the earliest release into the soon-to-be burgeoning 80s music compilation industry, beating other labels to market by 2-3 years.
HERC had all the songs on other vinyl albums and compact discs so he took a pass on the CD. There are no rare or hard to find tracks on Rock of the '80s although it does include the album version of "I Ran (So Far Away)" by A Flock Of Seagulls with the full-length spacey intro. And technically, one of the tracks is from the Seventies: 1979's "My Sharona" from The Knack in its shorter, single edit. There was no indication it would be the first in a series of discs, either. Yet almost two years later, the next two discs showed up and just like that a series was born. HERC picked both of the new discs up in longboxes for $7.99 each near their release date in October 1992 at the Record Bar.
The appeal of Rock of the 80's Volume 2 for HERC was the first track, an extended version of "She Blinded Me With Science" that he didn't yet own on CD. An unnoticed at the time bonus was having the single version of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" although HERC prefers the long mix with "Where Did Our Love Go". Another thing he noticed about the new discs is the subtle change in punctuation, moving the apostrophe from in front of '80s as it had been printed on the first disc to 80's as it would appear for the remainder of the series.
The cover art of both Rock of the 80's Volume 3 and the preceding volume featured several different changes in packaging from the inaugural disc of the series:
- the artwork was modernized a bit and a new logo was used;
- whereas the first disc had all of the songs and their respective artists listed on the front cover, Vols. 2 and 3 only featured four title/artist pairings with the promising "And More!";
- the first disc had an even ten tracks while Vols. 2 and 3 set the tone for the rest of the series by having only nine tracks.
As he had done with Vol. 2, HERC bought Vol. 3 for one track: the single edit of "Weird Science" by Oingo Boingo. While HERC prefers album versions or extended/remixed versions of most songs to this day, back then he wanted to include as many songs as possible on the mixtapes he was still making for others so those radio friendly single edits fit the bill nicely.
In the Summer of 1993, the next three discs in the series were released. The covers of this wave featured a newly designed logo and cover-art layout that would be followed to the end of the series. Despite featuring full-length album versions of at least four or five tracks, Rock of the 80's Volume 4 did not end up on HERC's shelf either. Having just had his third child a few months earlier, discretionary income was nonexistent at the time. The years passed and HERC never felt compelled to complete the series; he never bought any other volumes of Rock of the 80's.
Rock of the 80's Volume 5 has "Cool Places" by Sparks featuring Jane Wiedlin (of the Go-Go's) which was kind of hard to find on disc at the time.
Vol. 5 also included the legendary Tom Jones and the 29th (and final) Top 100 single in a (at the time) almost 30 year career. He teamed up with Art Of Noise in 1988 to cover Prince's #1 song from 1986, "Kiss".
Adam Ant, 'Til Tuesday and The Fixx all made their second consecutive appearance in the series with songs on Rock of the 80's Volume 6. The Fixx would go on to make another five appearances - in addition to appearing on the first disc - on discs in the Rock of the 80's series while Adam Ant and 'Til Tuesday each appeared once more.
The third wave of releases appeared in time for the holiday shopping season of 1993. Rock of the '80's Volume 7 featured a more mellow, slow tempo track listing than other discs in the series. Vol. 7 also included the first live performance in the series: The Fixx's "Stand Or Fall".
Another live song from The Fixx appeared on Rock of the 80's Volume 8 as did "Lust To Love", an album cut the Go-Go's. Every artist on Vol. 8 was making an encore appearance in the series EXCEPT those same Go-Go's, whose first two singles ("Our Lips Are Sealed" and "We Got The Beat") seem strangely absent from a series calling itself Rock of the 80's.
One of the least licensed of Eighties tracks shows up on Rock of the 80's Volume 9: Concrete Blonde's "God Is A Bullet", the 1989 track squeaking in just under the wire. Like those Go-Go's tracks mentioned above, another conspicuous absentee from Rock of the 80's is one of HERC's favorite songs: "Kids In America" by Kim Wilde, although Vol. 9 does include her #1 remake of a #1 song "You Keep Me Hangin' On".
Wave four of Rock of the 80's crashed into stores in the Spring of 1994. Rock of the 80's Volume 10 featured two of the decade's sweetest sing-alongs and often over-looked tracks: Elvis Costello's "Veronica" and "Something About You" from Level 42. The title cut of Devo's 1980 album Freedom Of Choice saw some success on the Club chart and was the fourth single released from that album. It was a surprising choice for this volume - HERC would have gone with "Girl U Want", the first single.
HERC is not ashamed to admit that there is a song on Rock of the 80's Volume 11 that he never recalled hearing until he constructed the playlist. The song in question is pretty catchy with a kind of Bananarama vibe to it: "Cross My Heart" by Eighth Wonder. The band's lead singer was actress Patty Kensit who has a taste for boys in bands having been married to Don Donovan from Big Audio Dynamite, Jim Kerr from Simple Minds and Liam Gallagher from Oasis.
Rock of the 80's Volume 12 saw the second appearances in the series from The Alan Parsons Project, The Go-Go's, Wang Chung and Wall Of Voodoo.
The last three discs in the Rock of the 80's series followed the previous three by just a couple of months. By this time the Living In Oblivion and Richard Blade's Flashback Favorites had released three volumes apiece while Sedated In The Eighties had released their first volume. A week after this final wave of Rock of the 80's discs (which brought the total count up to 15), Rhino would launch its own Just Can't Get Enough series. Lucky for him, Herc's favorite Oingo Boingo song - "Just Another Day" - appears on Rock of the 80's Volume 13. There's also a new to HERC track on Vol. 13: "I Have The Skill" by The Sherbs. It's from 1980.
Another new-to-HERC track appears on Rock of the 80's Volume 14. It is by the German/Australian group The Other Ones led by the Klimek siblings. "Holiday" features a catchy beat and a well sung chorus - it reminds HERC of ABC's "15 Storey Halo" or a Howard Jones song.
"Good Girls Don't", The Knack's follow-up to "My Sharona", is one of the songs on Rock of the 80's Volume 15. Like "My Sharona" it is from 1979's album, Get The Knack, which HERC's blog buddy, Mark, reviewed on The CD Project back in 2012. Another notable inclusion on Vol. 15 is "Heart And Soul" by T'Pau, a long-time favorite of MRS. HERC.
While Rock of the 80's is often cited for being the first Eighties music collection and a bargain priced one at that it is also criticized for poor sound quality and only including nine tracks per disc. (Which is the reason it was bargain-priced.) All 15 volumes seem to be readily available at the usual secondary retail sites for reasonable prices whether your starting your collection or filling in the gaps.