IT'S PARTY TIME

Will your party swing or slump? It could be down to the music. Our panel tries a selection of seasonal mixes
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The Independent Culture
THE CUBES of cheese are on the cocktail sticks, the lights are dimmed and your living-room floor is cleared for the party of the decade. To your horror you realise that the last time you bought an album, Lionel Richie was still a Commodore and the Bay City Rollers were still Rolling. You race to the music megastore, only to be faced with a bewildering array of compilations, party mixes and classic anthologies. With social credibility at stake (and only five minutes to assure its survival), what can you do but grab a CD and hope for the best?

Despite the wide range of compilations, most are similar in concept. They all offer the definitive anthems from a particular period or musical style. Some, like the "Now" series, represent only recent pop hits; others stick to a strict theme, from disco to rap. Purpose-made party compilations, by contrast, draw on the last 30 years of wide-ranging musical output.

A handful of staples feature repeatedly, however: "YMCA" by the Village People, KC & The Sunshine Band's "That's the Way (I Like It)" and Isaac Hayes's "Theme from Shaft". The Seventies certainly appear to be the party decade.

For the anxious host, a compilation has clear benefits: it helps avoid those uncomfortable silences while someone fumbles with stacks of CDs, eventually selecting an album with just one recognisable hit. Most people are bound to know most of the songs, a vital ingredient of any party.

Our panel tried to gauge the common requirements of any party compilation. They compared six double albums (16 hours of playing time) to find which was most likely to make a party revolve happily around the dance floor, not slump in the kitchen.

THE PANEL

Jacob Pearson, Christian Kikiovitch (in their thirties); Rachel Homer, Bec Waterman, Sarah Burgess, , Johanna Pickering and IOS rock critic, Nick Barber (all in their twenties).

THE TEST

Marks were given for the variety of tracks on each album, how well paced they were, their danceability, cringe-worthiness and singalongability. Finally, the panellists decided which album would work best at a party.

***THE GREATEST PARTY ALBUM UNDER THE SUN!

CD pounds 15.99, cassette pounds 10.49; EMI

The panel was divided over this album. Some thought the familiarity of the songs made it the ideal party album; others found the cringe factor simply too high to bear. The selection varied widely from Nineties tracks (Shaggy's "Oh Carolina" and Whigfield's "Saturday Night") on one disc to Fifties tunes (Eddie Cochran with "C'mon Everybody" and "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley and The Comets) on the other. Rachel Homer said: "This album hovers on the edge of being really crass, but achieves brilliance. It's got a bit of everything." Nick Barber agreed: "It does everything it sets out to do - an inspired, extremely well chosen selection, cunningly 'lowest-common-denominator'. You'll sing and jump along to it, even while you hate yourself for doing so."

Sarah Burgess disagreed: "I could not dance to any of these; it would remind me too much of the sort of dancing I'd rather forget I ever did." Johanna Pickering agreed. "Boring. I've heard these so many times before. All they elicit is a big cringe."

**THAT'S THE 70'S

CD pounds 15.99, cassette pounds 10.99; EMI

Though the most popular sounds on the other CDs were mainly Seventies- based, the panel was disappointed in this album. "A peculiar mix of glam, disco, mod, soul and pop," said Nick Barber, "designed to help sad people get nostalgic about their youth. After a few lagers, everyone will be swaying along to Slade, but for me the joke wears off pretty quickly." Sarah Burgess said: "It's full of anticipation, but never seems to deliver - a bit like a pub juke-box." Bec Waterman hated this one. "Zero danceability," she said, "and not even that good for entertainment value."

Rachel Homer and Christian Kikiovitch were more positive. "It's got some fun songs," said Rachel, "and it's quite nice to hear a Seventies album that's not all soul." Christian described it as "standard, quality retro". The mix was successful, he said, but relied too heavily on American tracks. Jacob Pearson, who knew every word to every song, stood alone in choosing this album as his favourite. "There's just no way you could help but enjoy Seventies music, and this album includes a lot of the very best tracks of the decade."

***THE BEST SIXTIES ALBUM IN THE WORLD . . . EVER!

CD pounds 15.99, cassette pounds 10.49; Virgin

"Instead of compiling all the number ones of the decade, this album features songs that are in the hearts of people today," said Christian Kikiovitch. "Ideal for a theme party, but one Sixties song after another might be a bit much for anything else." Nick Barber agreed: "This is good for nostalgia, but not really a party album. There are too many slowies for that."

Jacob Pearson, the oldest of our panellists, said: "It's a great album but the high BPM [beats per minute] of today's music makes the tracks sound slow for dancing to." Everyone mourned the conspicuous absence of legendary Sixties groups. Though it features The Byrds, Marvin Gaye and Dusty Springfield, as Nick Barber said: "The trouble with all these Sixties albums is that they never have the best Sixties groups. Where are the Beatles, the Doors, the Velvet Underground, Hendrix, Dylan?"

***THE BEST OF DANCE MANIA 95

CD pounds 15.99, cassette pounds 9.99; Pure Music (Telstar Records)

Compiled only from this year's releases, this is not for anyone with an aversion to dance music (though everyone rated it highest of all the albums for danceability). "A great compilation," said Rachel Homer. "It's very bumpy and grindy." However, she thought it needed a few trashy clubby tracks to really get it going: "The second CD is a little disappointing. Maybe they only really had enough material for one disc."

Nick Barber said: "There are hundreds of these dance compilations; it's hard to tell the difference. But if you like this sort of thing - I don't - it will make your lounge sound like the local meat-market club." The main criticism of Dance Mania 95 was that it was a bit samey - perfect for a dance club, but not for a front room

****NIGHT FEVER

CD pounds 13.49, cassette pounds 9.49; Global Television

As soon as this album began, everyone started dancing. The tracks are almost exclusively Seventies, and Bec Waterman described this as undoubtedly the funkiest of them all. "How can you lose with tracks like The Gap Band's 'Oops Up Side Your Head' or Rolls Royce's 'Car Wash'," she enthused. Rachel Homer said: "I think you'd be exhausted after dancing to 40 of these! It sounds like an exercise tape, but would be great for a party." Sarah Burgess agreed: "Excellent: all the dance favourites even if it is a bit samey after a while."

Nick Barber commented: "Yet more Seventies nostalgia, but these songs were specifically designed to facilitate the shaking of one's groovy thang, so who's complaining? Not much use for a singalong, though. Maybe you could put this one on first, and once everyone was tired out and drunk, you could replace it with the other Seventies album."

**NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL MUSIC 32

pounds 16.99, pounds 10.49 tape; EMI/ Polygram/Virgin

Christian Kikiovitch pronounced this "a democratic album". It offers the mainstream chart hits likely to appeal at most parties, but "it is very slow and won't get people on to the floor". Nick Barber agreed: "Nicely contemporary, so if you watch Top of the Pops every couple of weeks, you'll know most of the songs. Probably a bit too varied, but with some judicious programming of your CD player, it should suit most people." Rachel Homer thought this would be fine for the quiet room of a party, but she did not think there were enough hits this year to fill two discs with songs familiar enough for a real party album.

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