Given that I do this blog to share cool music you can buy, why in the world would I review a release that is literally not for sale? The answer is simple: we're talking about the great Holly Beth Vincent -- an icon of power pop rock and roll and a massive influence on a great many bands and artists I write about today. Holly: An unauthorized seven disc career retrospective was assembled by the mysterious Albanian bootlegger and new wave enthusiast Merkush Murat. It compiles tracks from out-of-print releases covering the years 1982 to 2009. By design, it omits Holly and the Italians' classic LP The Right To Be Italian -- which is still in print on compact disc. In a way, this is fitting. Anyone interested in Holly Beth Vincent should start with The Right To Be Italian -- one of the greatest power pop albums ever made. But if you're a longtime fan or merely want to take a deeper dive into the work of some true rock royalty, Holly is an invaluable collection. I am blown away by the amount of love and work that went into this extensive curation. Clearly this is the work of the biggest Holly fan alive. And although this set cannot technically be purchased, I hope a few copies wind up in the hands of other Holly super-fans.
For those who are unfamiliar with Holly Beth Vincent's musical output post-1981, Holly fills in the gaps nicely. Disc one, Cool Love, features select tracks from Holly's 1982 solo album (which was confusingly titled Holly and the Italians). Disc two, Here Comes Another Day, includes demos recorded in 1988 plus one track from 1987. Discs 3 and 4, Crush and Sound of My Soul, contain tracks from Holly's brilliant 1993 album America, released under the band name The Oblivious. Disc 5, Carousel, predominantly features songs from 2007 to 2009. Disc 6, Rita Hayworth, includes album tracks from a rare CD-R release called Minnesota-California. Disc 7, Live NYC 1988, is an audience recording of a live performance. To say that every song on every disc is essential would be ludicrous. But that's not the point. What Holly demonstrates is that even if The Right To Be Italian had never existed, Holly Beth Vincent's discography would still be highly impressive.
One of my favorite things about Holly is that it casts her 1982 solo album in a favorable light. Upon its original release, Holly and the Italians was largely rejected by both fans and critics. Recorded with session musicians to fulfill a contractual obligation, this artsy new wave record was a dramatic departure from the punk-influenced power pop of The Right To Be Italian (Ira Robbins, one of the album's most notable fans, described it as "If Joni Mitchell and Ronnie Spector mated with Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen"). The album quickly vanished from the face of the Earth. Cool Love, Merkush's personal edit of the album, finds the best songs from this release holding up quite well in 2022. I remember being obsessed with owning this album circa 2000 and then not knowing what quite to make of it when I finally got my hands on a copy. Now I listen to these songs and can't believe how musically closed-minded I was in my 20s. This is brilliant stuff. Once you get past the whole "This isn't power pop at all" thing, you'll discover some of Holly's finest songs such as "Cool Love," "Honalu," and "We Danced." And rather than omitting Holly's wonderfully strange cover of "For What It's Worth," Merkush subs in a nearly seven-minute extended version and makes it track one!
If there's an obvious highlight to Holly, it would be discs 3 and 4. America (released on Amy Ray's Daemon Records) was one of the most underrated alternative rock/power pop albums of the early '90s. It stands next to The Right To Be Italian as a crown jewel of the Holly catalog. Merkush doesn't fool around here: he includes 12 of the album's 15 tracks over two discs. The music video for "Crush" is embedded below. Some of you may recall that The Dents recently and brilliantly covered "Homeless."
Holly is a magnificent and lovingly-created package. Each disc is hand-made and numbered and comes with cover art and a track list. Extensive liner notes cover the life and career of Holly Beth Vincent and reflect on the importance of her music. This set is not intended to be the definitive Holly retrospective, but it would be a great thing if its existence inspired the powers-that-be to produce one. If you're a Holly fan and would love to own this not-for-sale set, it appears that Merkush has handed over copies to Mutant Pop Records to give away. You can most likely score a free copy (while supplies last!) if you purchase something from the Mutant Pop mail order catalog (like, say, that amazing new Trevor Blendour album!). Email Timbo at MutantPop@aol.com for more information!