Kiwi classicsz: Reviewing The Great New Zealand Songbook, Volume 2

It’s the left-of-centre stuff that makes The Great New Zealand Songbook, Volume 2 such a gem.

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The Great New Zealand Songbook Volume 2

(Thom Music, 2010) $30

When I last wrote about The Great New Zealand Songbook (Idealog #23), the collection had already reached triple platinum sales. Nine months later, that same compilation has just surpassed a staggering eight-times platinum (that’s over 120,000 copies).

Murray Thom, the brains behind Songbook, showed his marketing nous by defying the general downturn in music sales. Also impressive is that, in an environment where music retail prices are being driven further down, nearly 20 percent of Songbook’s sales came from the ‘premium’ $99 version.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Thom has his foot firmly on the accelerator by now releasing The Great New Zealand Songbook Volume 2. Releasing records has always been something of a gamble, but in this case, it’s a response to demand. Thom says that encouragement from retailers and fans to follow up Volume 1 (which has resided in the official charts for over year) provided the impetus to release its successor.

The new release doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Rather, it follows the successful style of Volume 1 by splitting tracks over two CDs—one for this century and one for last century—and in the process delivers another fantastic swag of Kiwi tunes. It’s fair to say there are so many great songs on Volume 2 you’ll wonder how they didn’t make the cut for the first one.

On Volume 2’s last-century CD are the tracks you’d expect (The Exponents’ “Victoria”, Th’Dudes’ “Be Mine Tonight”) but the upswing in Kiwi music in the 90s is well represented by artists such as Stellar, Greg Johnson, Shihad and others. Peking Man also makes an appearance, a nice touch from Thom. “I personally signed them 100 years ago when I was working for CBS,” he jokes.

The this-century CD continues the eclecticism. While there is a nod to some recent hits from the likes of Smashproof and Midnight Youth, it’s the left-of-centre stuff that makes this a gem. I’m particularly pleased that the chronically overlooked Veils has been included, alongside the angular pop of The Mint Chicks, Lawrence Arabia’s award-winning “Apple Pie Bed” and the upbeat “My House” by Kids of 88.

Dick Frizzell was again commissioned to create a new illustration of Charlie the Four Square man for the cover art. It’s a nice bookend for those who bought Volume 1—which was just about everybody.

“We did great business with the ex-pat community, with a good percentage of our sales being sent to the UK and Australia particularly,” says Thom. The guestbook on the album website confirms this, with comments from all over the world such as, “Made me miss home for the first time in years.”

“I reckon The Great New Zealand Songbook is one of the best ads for getting professional Kiwis back to New Zealand,” says Thom, and he might have a point. It certainly underscores how far we’ve come—local music as a cultural clarion call for the Kiwi diaspora? Sweet as.

Mark Roach is GM digital and new media for Phonographic Performances NZ

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