Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!
October 7, 2019 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Why the Death of Greatest Hits Albums and Reissues Is Worth Mourning (Stephen Thomas Erlewine for Pitchfork, 2016)
posted by box (91 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Interesting article; I've newly signed up to Spotify and the playlist features are good, but sometimes feel limiting. This kind of curation -- especially digging up songs in microgenres more than weeding through a prolific artist's catalogue -- is valuable.

One remarkable resource is Fluxblog's survey mixes, each about 200 songs covering every single year since 1980. It's an interesting approach, since on one hand it only takes a single year and only one song per artist, but on the other hand, he does a good job of casting a fairly broad net (albeit US-based and focused on pop/rock/hip-hop), and the order provides interesting context and recontextualization. Like 1989 starts with Madonna's "Express Yourself", then fits in NIN's "Head Like A Hole", and it's amazing how good the two sound together. Or when The Replacements play back-to-back with Clint Black.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:12 AM on October 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


Not exactly on topic, but my favourite "greatest hits" album is Corb Lund's Counterfeit Blues. It doesn't include any new songs, but every track on the album is a new, previously unreleased version (it was actually recorded live, though it's not a "live record," so it's got the raw energy of a live show but the polish of a studio recording). It's nice because it doesn't feel derivative and the songs are different enough from the original recordings to be worth the money while still remaining familiar favourites.

Alas, my copy was in my car when it was stolen a few weeks back.
posted by asnider at 10:16 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Eh, there are a bunch of bands, especially "classic rock" ones, where I'm not a huge fan, I like the hits I've heard on the radio, but I dont really feel a need to investigate much further than that. The Doobie Brothers are the example I'm thinking of at the moment, but I'm sure I have others in my collection. The flip side is a band like the Violent Femmes, where their first album pretty much IS their greatest hits, and you could flesh it out to CD length with some stuff from later albums, but as is, their greatest hits as currently packaged misses the mark a bit.
posted by LionIndex at 10:16 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


There's a weird version of his point about the transience of how things are curated online nowadays in that both of the YouTube clips that were included to illustrate some of his examples are now unavailable, the Seinfeld clip I think because they got hit with copyright infringement for including a tiny snippet of Desperado, and the David Bowie one probably because it was on one of those fly-by-night unbranded YouTube music channels that get taken down with regularity.
posted by Copronymus at 10:22 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


but Best of/Greatest hits cash-ins have long been inessential.

I can counter this with three examples: Barry Manilow Greatest Hits, Billy Joel Greatest Hits Volume 1 and Volume 2, Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits.

These albums are entirely essential and while they do leave out a lot of the songs that make these artists more fully-rounded than the hits collections reveal, they are all pure gold and are all albums that anyone who wants to be conversant with music should own because the songs on them are so utterly necessary.
posted by hippybear at 10:26 AM on October 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


Every artist I look up on Wikipedia these days has a little "so-and-so's masters were lost in the Universal Studios fire" postscript, so we may as well lean into the idea that we're never getting any reissues or remasters better than the ones we already have, let digital decay reclaim the abundant creative produce of an exceptionally well-nurtured postwar generation, and wait for the ravages of time to make everything new again. Bury a six-string in your backyard so that the youth of the future might dig it up and stare upon it in wonder, puzzling out the curious purpose of the device and whether it might be used to bring down tyrants! Do it!
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:32 AM on October 7, 2019 [9 favorites]


For reasons unknown I picked up Iron Maiden's 'Edward the Great' Best-of. It was one of the more bizarre compilations ever to have been made - featuring about half of the songs that were on 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son'.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 10:34 AM on October 7, 2019


Bruce McCullough said it best: Greatest hits are for housewives and little girls.

It's not the 1990s, so stale record store clerk misogyny isn't needed.

I feel that music from the turn of the century is starting to disappear just as it should be getting the 20th anniversary treatment.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:36 AM on October 7, 2019 [23 favorites]


Oh god, don't get me started about the Universal fire. So much destruction, so much denial, so much just lost forever.

The thing to realize is, our ability to record has always been better than our ability to extract, so we've always had WAY better quality of what we've heard available than what we've heard. So future releases of old material always had a chance for better fidelity and reproduction than before. But now... it's all gone. So much gone.

Holy shit, now I'm crying.
posted by hippybear at 10:41 AM on October 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


It's the library of Alexandria only with American music from the second half of the 20th century. It's all gone, and 50 years from now we will only be guessing about what we've lost because we simply won't know what all it contained.
posted by hippybear at 10:43 AM on October 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


At a fundamental level—and this is coming from a streaming music naysayer—what is the difference between a Greatest Hits Album, and a curated playlist of an artist or band's greatest hits? There's always going to be a place for some sort of curated collection to introduce new fans to a discography or a genre, even on Spotify.

And, speaking as a completionist, I could definitely do without buying a dozen or so songs I already own just so I can get the one or two exclusive tracks that all-too-often get slapped on to greatest hits albums.

And let's not even get into the annoying re-recorded "Greatest Hits" albums that all-too-often pale to the original recordings.
posted by SansPoint at 10:49 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


~but Best of/Greatest hits cash-ins have long been inessential.
~I can counter this with three examples: Barry Manilow Greatest Hits, Billy Joel Greatest Hits Volume 1 and Volume 2, Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits.


The "greatest hits" album Smash Hits was always a great way to introduce someone to Jimi Hendrix, without having them sit through the deeper cuts that might be a bit too challenging to new ears.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:51 AM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


At a fundamental level—and this is coming from a streaming music naysayer—what is the difference between a Greatest Hits Album, and a curated playlist of an artist or band's greatest hits?

This is explained in the main linked article of the FPP -- rights for streaming of songs can be removed at any time for whatever reason and suddenly a streaming playlist is gutted of necessary tracks.
posted by hippybear at 10:53 AM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


because the songs on them are so utterly necessary

I have nothing against these artists and at one point or another have probably had the Joel and S&G in my home, but I do not understand the word "necessary" in this sentence. None of anyone's catalog is "necessary" for anything.
posted by dobbs at 10:58 AM on October 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


Well, none of anything is necessary, truly. But if you want to have an understanding of how things are today and the past they grew out of, then they are. It's possible to consume anything without any knowledge of its context, but context often offers riches beyond the mere consumption of the thing.
posted by hippybear at 11:03 AM on October 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


I do not understand the word "necessary" in this sentence

I think you could probably figure out what they were saying from context clues, but whatever
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:03 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


but context often offers riches beyond the mere consumption of the thing.

and that's why curated playlists compiled by internet randos volunteering their free time will never take the place of a mercenary record company squeezing a few more drops of blood out of an aging and increasingly irrelevant back catalog.

sorry, I don't know what my point is either
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:08 AM on October 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


but Best of/Greatest hits cash-ins have long been inessential.

george michael's ladies and gentlemen is amazing and vital, good day
posted by poffin boffin at 11:10 AM on October 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


If the internet randos were able to release their interesting playlists in a form that guaranteed that they wouldn't be deprecated by business dealings long soon or long after they were created (in explanation -- a physical product that was issued that couldn't have tracks deleted in the future), then there would be no difference.
posted by hippybear at 11:12 AM on October 7, 2019


Eh, there are a bunch of bands, especially "classic rock" ones, where I'm not a huge fan, I like the hits I've heard on the radio, but I dont really feel a need to investigate much further than that.

And there are even more bands who you enjoy a few songs of, but they can't really even fill a Best Of album, you're certainly not going to buy individual albums of theirs, and a single isn't going to do it. Half an hour of, oh, let's say Wang Chung*, and that's good enough to scratch the itch.

*Not Wang Chung-ist.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:13 AM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


I always admired the total fucking balls it took for a band to release a song that equated "having fun" with the name of their band. It was totally amazing they even did that.
posted by hippybear at 11:15 AM on October 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


There are certainly greatest hits albums that are classic albums in their own right - Queen's Greatest Hits, The Beatles Red and Blue compilations, Changesonebowie come to mind, perhaps Abba Gold. They provide a different context and narrative for the songs (Bohemian Rhapsody at the end of Night At the Opera has a completely different meaning from Bohemian Rhapsody at the beginning of Greatest Hits; songs that popular are familiar in a different way from other songs on the album, no matter how well you know the album, so an album made up of distilled hyperfamiliarity is distinct from an album where there are islands of hyperfamiliarity (tunes that literally everyone knows) in an ocean of personal familiarity (songs that only the extended family who bought the album know).

However for this to work the hits do need to be hyperfamiliar, and at the moment those songs are very rare. It might be thought that Taylor Swift or Ed Sheehan are popular, but an old like me would be hard pressed to remember what any of their songs sound like (beyond general characteristics like "perky" or "maudlin") as opposed to my counterpart from forty years ago who would easily recognise Money Money Money by Abba or All You Need Is Love by the Beatles. Despite being much older in the culture than I am - it's just that the culture was a lot more shared. It's that commonality of cultural touchstones that the Greatest Hits tapped into.

Apologies if I've just rewritten the OP and passed it off as my own work, Pierre Menard-style. End of the day, my reading comprehension is lagging far behind my typing capability.
posted by Grangousier at 11:32 AM on October 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


My regret is that FLAC wasn't around when I ripped all of the Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the 80's. I think many others like myself learned long ago that if you find something you like somewhere... capture that stream... disk space is cheap. Otherwise, you may never see or hear it again.

I think I pretty much agree with the article. Maybe it's a sign of age. All those Greatest Hits and Compilations were rather formative in my youth, especially on the 1 or 2 CDs vs dozens or more CDs.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:33 AM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


*Not Wang Chung-ist.

So, down the rabbit-hole I go, and...how the hell did I never see the original video for Everybody Have Fun Tonight before?!?! Hot damn, that's brilliant!
posted by notsnot at 11:33 AM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


how the hell did I never see the original video yt for Everybody Have Fun Tonight before?!?!

That's the only video for that song I remember, but there were lots of mumblings about it possibly triggering seizures in people with epilepsy.
posted by hanov3r at 11:38 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


The flip side is a band like the Violent Femmes, where their first album pretty much IS their greatest hits, and you could flesh it out to CD length with some stuff from later albums, but as is, their greatest hits as currently packaged misses the mark a bit.

but then you'd miss Waiting for the Bus... and the Country Death Song...
posted by kaibutsu at 11:41 AM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


I like Best Of albums. There's too much stuff out there (like 3 albums came out last week that I'm trying to give a good couple of listens to) and if you're able to give me one album to try to convince me if I want to hear more from you then I'll greatly appreciate it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:45 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is explained in the main linked article of the FPP -- rights for streaming of songs can be removed at any time for whatever reason and suddenly a streaming playlist is gutted of necessary tracks.

I don't think it's explained well. Streaming is a format. There was certainly a time in the past when maybe you could get The Greatest Hits album in tape, record, and CD format and maybe you couldn't. If you are making the point that I can't get the greatest hits from the freakin' Eagles or Queen or Billy Joel at all, then I don't think that point has been made because it is not true
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:46 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


When we lose this commonality, we start to lose the vernacular that makes pop music, in all its forms, a shared experience.
I think this is a drastically incorrect assumption to make. There is no truly universal pop music. Only extremely large groups with extremely varied definitions of experience. I think everyone knows who Michael Jackson was but how many of them listened to his music? How many people listened to a full album like Thriller? How many people listened to all the albums? Videos? The Thriller dance? Moonwalking for the first time on Motown 25? How many just dipped in because of USA for Africa and/or Heal the World? You have this artist who has as close to an almost universal human experience and yet the number of individual experiences people have had with this artist are probably the same as the number of people in the world.

How does an MJ Greatest Hits bind all these people together? How can you even think that just one concept can even bring all these disparate experiences and meanings together? It's almost a kind of arrogance to it. Which brings us back to what they actually are. Greatest Hits albums are just a way to try and view an artist through the best? most profitable? lens possible. You get rid of all the stuff that wasn't mass marketed appealing but you also get rid of esoteric experiences that bind groups together.

Take for instance, "Store" from Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion: Side B. It wasn't released as a single. It had no mass market appeal. But there was this buzz and meme culture that went along with the song that makes it a shared experience that a lot of people probably treasure. When you reduce an artist down to mass market appeal you miss out on these diamonds that are found among the rough and polished by the fans.

In this day and age of instant media gratification there's no reason to throw out filler. There's no reason to try and artificially bind groups of people together. Just put the art out there, the people seem to be doing the rest just fine.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:47 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I cannot wait for nightfall. I am going to Wang Chung tonight!

The article appears to be 3 years old, but the point the author is making is spot on. I too think the death of Greatest Hits compilations is a huge loss for music lovers. I still listen to a lot of my music on vinyl. I never gave away my collection from my teen years to now.

One of the great features of a Greatest Hits album is convenience. To have to go put on 4 or 5 different albums to get to the favorites/greatest hits, is a real pain. Before streaming, this was analog streaming. With a GH album, you own the music and they won't be removed from a stream or taken away in some other either legal or money making scheme. You paid for it and own the entire album to its death.
posted by AugustWest at 11:47 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you are making the point that I can't get the greatest hits from the freakin' Eagles or Queen or Billy Joel at all

That's not the point I'm making at all.

If an artist you like has music related by several different companies, and if any of those companies somehow fall into an argument with any of the streaming services you use, tracks in whatever Greatest Hits compilation playlist you might have could disappear and you would have no control over which tracks you have access to via your streaming service or when. They could disappear and reappear based on various business contracts. You have no ownership over the tracks because they are not yours, they are owned by the music services and licensed to the streaming services.

Streaming is great right up until UMG decides it's not getting enough money per song streamed and it pulls its entire catalog from your favorite service in contractural retaliation. Then you have nothing for your monthly money whereas before you had something.
posted by hippybear at 11:56 AM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


"One remarkable resource is Fluxblog's survey mixes, each about 200 songs covering every single year since 1980."

This is a pretty cool thing! Once a year I usually download a torrent or find a playlist of the top100-200 songs of the year, usually sourced from Pitchfork or something. Not because of their specific curation, just looking for a general host of popular music from the year. There's a lot of stuff I miss throughout the year, or jewels hidden in artists or genres I don't usually care for or seek out. I also often find myself really liking a specific song or artist and find out I somehow just missed that wave when they were fresh a couple years ago and it's like 90 million people clicked this damn video but it's all news to me!
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:01 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


hippybear: Streaming is great right up until UMG decides it's not getting enough money per song streamed and it pulls its entire catalog from your favorite service in contractural retaliation. Then you have nothing for your monthly money whereas before you had something.

This is one of many reasons why I don't stream. I buy music. I get to keep that music forever, even if the record goes out of print. The risk of losing something on a streaming service, however, has the same impact on regular albums as it does Greatest Hits.
posted by SansPoint at 12:02 PM on October 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


I'm currently struggling to find space for the CDs that continue to accumulate in my house. As well as vinyl which I also buy. But once it's in my house, it's mine forever.
posted by hippybear at 12:04 PM on October 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


When you reduce an artist down to mass market appeal you miss out on these diamonds that are found among the rough and polished by the fans.

Sure, but those diamonds are still there for anyone who wants to listen. Some people are never going to get past the Greatest Hits compilation, but others are going to be compelled to dip into the artist's discography and pick up those deep cuts. You know, sometimes I put on Al Green's Greatest Hits and sometimes I play The Belle Album. They serve different moods, and both collections mean something and trigger specific memories for me. And I didn't own a copy of The Belle Album until probably 20 years after I first bought Greatest Hits.
posted by Mothlight at 12:06 PM on October 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


And don't underestimate the magic of multiple-artist compilations, which can even be about identifying and highlighting those fan favorites for a new audience. I just got Bob Stanley's latest compilation for Ace Records, The Daisy Age. It's delightful, despite the fact that I already have some of the best tracks on it on the CDs they originally appeared on ... but they play a little different in this wider context. And it also includes tracks that I love but never would have stumbled across otherwise. Win win.
posted by Mothlight at 12:11 PM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


Never seen that original Wang Chung vid...super ugh

But my kids know that "everyone Wang Chung tonight" is completely sad...

See also Haircut 100, ABC, Spandau Ballet and Kajagoogoo...

The 80s...

That being said, my first Album was K-Tel's "20 Power Hits", so who am I to judge?
posted by Windopaene at 12:18 PM on October 7, 2019


Streaming is great right up until UMG decides it's not getting enough money per song streamed and it pulls its entire catalog from your favorite service in contractural retaliation.

It is because again, streaming is a format. It is not the only format. If you build your collection around a specific format you are at the mercy of that format. Polygram didn't send you a new cassette back in the old days when the tape player ate it and they also don't (still) regularly put out cassette tapes.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:20 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


those red and blue Beatles anthologies were the soundtrack of childhood for me

trying to remember the last greatest hits that meant something to me....probably "Genius", Warren Zevon
posted by thelonius at 12:21 PM on October 7, 2019


They still make multi-artist compilations. Cherry Red's been putting out a series of good ones with independent, electronic music from the mid-70s to mid-80s called Close to the Noise Floor. It's a pretty fascinating mix of stuff that's well known, lesser known cuts by well known artists, and some absolute obscurities.
posted by SansPoint at 12:23 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


That being said, my first Album was K-Tel's "20 Power Hits", so who am I to judge?

mine was Irwin the Disco Duck: In The Navy
posted by poffin boffin at 12:25 PM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


I still remember the albums I bought when I got my first stereo (over four decades ago) and they included three hits compilations: The Beatles Red Album, Slade's Sladest, and the Stones' Hot Rocks (1964-1971). They gave a kid who had neither the income or the patience to explore full discographies a glimpse into the catalog (at least for the Beatles and the Stones). There are some acts that a compilation is more than enough.

It is a pity that the art of the box set is lost now, replaced by "noteworthy classics blown up into $100 boxes, or entire catalogs getting shoved into a chintzy cardboard box." For example, the Faces box, Five Guys Walk Into a Bar, was a masterclass on how to mix favorites with rarities with precise segues. We'll never see the likes of this again.
posted by Ber at 12:33 PM on October 7, 2019


The physical object argument is weak as is the "collective history" bit. Albums as physical objects means that someone you know has to own them to make them listenable at all, which costs money and when they fall out of print they can become effectively lost to casual listeners just as readily as any streaming collection of songs.

The bigger problem though is the very idea that the constant repackaging of hits from a select few bands/singers of a small portion of their work is somehow better for listeners than having a wider array of music to listen to, some of which may come and go, but given the "catalog" is effectively inexhaustible to any given listener, any morsel that might be temporarily missing is more than made up for by the vast bulk of alternatives. Alternatives one might add, that aren't necessarily MOR white guys rockers, like so much of the radio air play songs that define those "greatest hits" albums were.

The artificial winnowing of the history of popular music down to "what sells" to the largest bulk of listeners is a lousy measure of music and one that rewards nostalgia over quality so much of the time for the songs being favored for association with some time in the older music listeners life, that then gets repeated as the next generation of listeners had to hear nostalgia rock all the time to keep the older listeners happy rather than allowing the same opportunity for "collective" enjoyment of music that might speak to the interests of some smaller group in the now. It isn't as if this is exactly a new problem to notice, as punk rock, for example, was in part a movement against the "greatest hits" of the generations that preceded them, but then some of those songs too got collected to make quick bucks for the label and "defined" a movement in the simplest possible way, which distorts the context instead of clarifying it.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:34 PM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


At a fundamental level—and this is coming from a streaming music naysayer—what is the difference between a Greatest Hits Album, and a curated playlist of an artist or band's greatest hits? There's always going to be a place for some sort of curated collection to introduce new fans to a discography or a genre, even on Spotify.

So let's say you're a music buff, you've been listening to Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. and like the track XXX. The second half has a downbeat piano section featuring this group? singer? called U2.* This guy has a cool voice, very old school, so you want to learn some more. Turns out U2 is a classic rock act with 40 years of output across 14 studio albums and 67 singles. In the early 2000s, they released two best-of discs covering their output to date (1980-1990 and 1990-2000). These were massive sellers back in the day; the kind of CDs that everybody had a copy of.

But it's 2019, so let's go to Spotify. U2's page has a most played songs link, which gives you 10 tracks; all from 2000 or earlier, and all on these compilations. But it doesn't have anything from since then, which is interesting -- not even songs like Vertigo that were massive hits. In the 10-song list, you get a decent set of big hits: the first three tracks from Joshua Tree, Pride and Sunday Bloody Sunday and One and Beautiful Day, but it's also very much the anthemic-jangly version of U2, especially the top set of the tracks. The quiet singer from XXX isn't really present until The Sweetest Thing, the 8th track. And after the 10 songs, there's not much more context. You might conclude that U2 hasn't really put out any new music in the last two decades. (Maybe that's a fair assessment.)

But good news, Spotify has put together a playlist, called This Is U2. It's got 50 tracks, so that's presumably a more useful in-depth look. It starts with basically the exact same 10 tracks as the top 10, just in a slightly different order, so it's not really adding much. It does go deeper; almost every song from the 1980-1990 compilation makes the playlist (except When Love Comes To Town). It does include their more recent hits. On the other hand, the last 10 songs of the 50 song playlist are just straight all the songs from their most recent album, the iTunes-invader Songs Of Experience. I suppose that the intern wanted to go out early for lunch or something, and just said "fuck it". You're getting what you pay for, I guess, but the impression is that U2's musical output is about 40 songs worth listening to and then a bunch of padding.

Something you would be hard-pressed from all of Spotify's playlists to learn is that in the 1990s U2 made three albums heavily influenced by contemporary trends in electronic music, including a great album called Achtung Baby. Only four tracks from Achtung Baby/Zooropa/Pop appear in the 50 song playlist, and they're the songs that sound the most like 80s U2: One, Stay, Staring at the Sun and slight outlier Mysterious Ways. You'd miss Even Better Than The Real Thing, Numb, Discotheque, The Fly and Lemon and even that weird one from the Batman soundtrack. Their 1990-2000 compilation covers most of these (as well as a few more), but only 6 of the 16 songs in the 1990-2000 compilation make the 50 song playlist cut.

So that's one take of the difference between a Greatest Hits and a Spotify playlist. The use case is for someone like me who isn't a massive current U2 fan. I stopped listening to them around 2000, and a third best-of covering 2000-2020 could quite likely put together a 15 or so song list of songs from their last four albums that might convince me to give them more attention; instead, Spotify - relying on the crowd - just reinforces the same classic tracks that I already know. Has U2 done anything good since Vertigo? I don't know, and I'm not going to bother to listen to four entire albums to find out; I just found out there's this guy Zacari who has a great guest spot on Kendrick Lamar's Love and I want to check him out.

* If you are my generation, ie the 1990s, and this scenario seems dumb or farfetched -- Mike Will Made It, the guy who produced XXX, had lunch with music exec Jimmy Iovine and some other guy who he didn't know, who in fact turned out to be Bono. Also, I'm sure I'm not the only person whose first knowledge of B.B. King was probably from Rattle and Hum.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:44 PM on October 7, 2019 [15 favorites]


I listened to Neil Young's "Decade" compilation so much in my youth that whenever I hear a song of his I still expect to hear the next one, in order, from that album.
posted by rocket88 at 12:53 PM on October 7, 2019 [11 favorites]


I agree that the lack of "Greatest Hits of Death" albums is unfortunate, but really, you should just own all the albums from Spiritual Healing forward.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:05 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Fun pub game for total wanker record store nerds like myself: naming bands whose debut album is better than their greatest hits album. There’s literally about a hundred of them.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:19 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Homeboy Trouble: Here's the Discogs entry for The Best Of 1980-2000, which is the closest thing to a proper Greatest Hits I can find for U2 on their Discogs page.

Of the three albums you listed, this Greatest Hits compilation has 3 from Achtung Baby, 3 from Zooropa (one of which is a "New Mix"), and 2 from Pop, most of which were the ones you listed. The deep cuts typically don't end up on Greatest Hits compilations by design—it's the hits. The weird, experimental stuff usually isn't a hit.
posted by SansPoint at 1:22 PM on October 7, 2019


Fun pub game for total wanker record store nerds like myself: naming bands whose debut album is better than their greatest hits album. There’s literally about a hundred of them.

First response is always "Boston", right?
posted by hanov3r at 1:27 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


I was going to ask how The Fly wasn't on the Best of 1990-2000 but then I saw that Bullet the Blue Sky wasn't on the Best of 1980-1990 and washed my hands of the whole project.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:30 PM on October 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


I feel the need to point out that Songs of Innocence is the I-Tunes invader and Songs of Experience is the more recent album, released conventionally. Songs of Innocence rules if you forget about the release strategy.
posted by kittensofthenight at 1:34 PM on October 7, 2019


Fun pub game for total wanker record store nerds like myself: naming bands whose debut album is better than their greatest hits album. There’s literally about a hundred of them.

First response is always "Boston", right?


Maybe not better than, but the first Cars album is like 98% radio hits.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 1:35 PM on October 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


Illmatic contributes four of its nine songs to Nas' Greatest Hits, but 'The World is Yours,' 'Represent,' and 'Half Time' are not included. Greatest Hits instead chooses to include features from Puffy Daddy and R. Kelly and a song that samples the Sopranos theme.
posted by box at 1:49 PM on October 7, 2019


but the first Cars album is like 98% radio hits.

Not quite....
Three singles were released from the album: "Just What I Needed" in [sic](#27 in America, #17 in Britain), "My Best Friend's Girl" (#35 in America, #3 in Britain), and "Good Times Roll" (#41 in America) all of which enjoyed heavy airplay on AOR radio stations.[7] Aside from the singles, album tracks "You're All I've Got Tonight", "Bye Bye Love", and "Moving in Stereo" all became radio favorites.[8]
6 outta 9 is, like, 66.667% radio hits.
posted by hanov3r at 1:57 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]




But it doesn't have anything from since then, which is interesting

I remember when people used to complain about greatest hits albums omitting the fourth and fifth big songs from the debut in favor of obligatory inclusions from the last album...

I think you are making the case, though, that the state of playlist curation is not very good. It should be a win for digital distribution, that the retrospective doesn't have to be limited to 74 (or even 74 x 2) minutes worth of songs.
posted by atoxyl at 1:58 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Two for the wanker game:

Enter the 36 Chambers, unless we're counting all the Wu solo albums produced by RZA as part of the same run (but there's not a greatest hits album that takes that approach, I think?)

Devo is right on the bubble
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:59 PM on October 7, 2019


I agree that the lack of "Greatest Hits of Death" albums is unfortunate, but really, you should just own all the albums from Spiritual Healing forward.

You should probably get the first two, also!

Or of course the other Death only really has one album.
posted by atoxyl at 2:03 PM on October 7, 2019


hanov3r: A lot of radio stations play "Moving in Stereo" with "All Mixed Up" as a two-fer, so it's seven out of nine tracks.
posted by SansPoint at 2:04 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Smash Hits by Hendrix and Eponymous by REM were perfect gateways to those artists, particularly the latter. It told a story about the band's changing sound that made me want to get all the albums. It even had a sticker on it that said, "the band you grew up with," which I've always taken to be both sincere and a parody of the marketing of such collections. It was by no means their "greatest hits," but it was a pitch-perfect sampler. I still have the CD in my car!
posted by Caxton1476 at 2:17 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


Enter the 36 Chambers has 12 songs, and 7 of them appear on the Legend of the Wu-Tang Clan compilation, which somehow doesn't include 'Tearz,' an omission on par with Joni Mitchell including 'A Case of You' on the b-sides and album-cuts Misses instead of the simultaneously-released Hits (she resisted a greatest-hits album for decades, only relenting when the label agreed to let her release the companion album (I think they softened her up when, a year earlier, they got her to agree to a 'Big Yellow Taxi' maxi-single with a bunch of dance remixes and something called the '"Friends" Album Version')).

Would I take 'Tearz,' 'Bring da Ruckus,' 'Clan in da Front,' and 'Wu-Tang 7th Chamber' (parts 1 and 2) over 'Triumph' and 'Gravel Pit' and that weird-ass 'Sucker MCs' cover? Awww yeah, again and again. 36 Chambers is much better than Legend of the Wu-Tang Clan. They should've stuck 'Shaolin Brew' on that joint.
posted by box at 2:36 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I can think of one case where a greatest hits album (double album, really) is my clear favorite from the band, even though I wouldn't want to do without the others: Gamma Ray, Blast from the Past. They benefit greatly from the selectivity as well as the consistent (very tight) ensemble.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:47 PM on October 7, 2019


The only truly essential greatest hits records are Substance and Standing on a Beach.
posted by snofoam at 2:56 PM on October 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


Fun pub game for total wanker record store nerds like myself: naming bands whose debut album is better than their greatest hits album. There’s literally about a hundred of them.

That's a trick question. Belle and Sebastian doesn't have a greatest hits album.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:23 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Steve Miller Band's Greatest Hits 1974–78 is a great compilation. (My brother and I bought it for each other one year for Christmas as our gifts.)

Steve Miller just released a massive box set, Welcome to the Vault. It includes a nice live jazz version of "Take the Money and Run."
posted by kirkaracha at 3:56 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Squeeze's Singles – 45's and Under was issued to all incoming freshmen when I was in college.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:09 PM on October 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


The Story of The Clash, vol. I is the standard by which all career retrospectives should aspire to. It's unfortunate, however, that it doesn't include all of Sandinista.
posted by j_curiouser at 5:04 PM on October 7, 2019


I don't really buy the argument that Greatest Hits are necessary to introduce people to artists. Biopics and their soundtracks have kicked up a bunch of that slack. But even beyond that, YouTube and tv/film/advertising licensing are huge for bringing bands to prominence.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:14 PM on October 7, 2019


The Jam's Snap! has been called "one of the greatest greatest-hits albums of all time."

The Story of The Clash, vol. I is the standard by which all career retrospectives should aspire to.

I prefer The Clash Hits Back.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:24 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


The problem with streaming is that it's unstable and also fragmented. Right now Spotify dominates the market, but—as we've seen Netflix's hold on video start to splinter—that could change. So there's no guarantee that a single streaming platform is going to have all the works you'd need to compile a "Best Of..." playlist, particularly if you're going by genre/decade and not just artist. (Although I can imagine situations where doing an artist-based one would be hard too, e.g. if someone switched labels or if the downstream rights to an artist's work were sold off piecemeal.)

Of course, I think there's a bit of doth-protest-too-much over traditional, packaged Greatest Hits albums; they had the same issues as well, they were just hidden from view. A Greatest Hits album wouldn't get made if the rights to all the songs couldn't be secured by a single label, so by definition you've never heard the compilations for which that was never possible.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:28 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


Kadin2048: Or the band would re-record the songs that they couldn't get the rights to. Example: "Lady '95" from Styx Greatest Hits.
posted by SansPoint at 7:40 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


The problem with streaming is that it's unstable and also fragmented. Right now Spotify dominates the market, but—as we've seen Netflix's hold on video start to splinter—that could change.

The biggest thing about a music service is that it's much more sensitive to content gaps. Listening to a song is an impulse decision that lasts anywhere from three to eight minutes. It's not like a movie where I'm making a two hour investment and I can do a cursory check to see where I can get it from. Consumers don't give a shit about labels or deals or who owns what. If someone can't type a song name and get the song, if consumers can't find the music they want in a fairly immediate period of time, the service is of no use at that point for that purpose. If you get too many of those misses, the consumer just leaves depriving everyone of revenue.

This may seem like it's a good idea to deprive independents of music and kill off a middleman but it cuts both ways. It makes it extraordinarily hard to balkanize music services. A service that only contains a third of the music you want is no good. The record labels tried to do it on their own in the early 2000s. Part of it was that they thought if they could hold the entire chain they could keep the digital ecosystem like Fort Knox which turned out to be a fool's errand. You have to be so good at so many different parts that aren't music or even media. You just make more money being a rentier in music. A billion tenths of a penny a month is simply much more than 500,000 lots of $5/month.

We're also witnessing that thinking coming back in paid content too. Look at the meteoric rise of Movies Anywhere, a digital movie locker service that is actually sticking. It has enough of the catalog and retailers to achieve critical mass and it's just one big giant billboard for buying digital movies. Consumers get that warm fuzzy there there's so many backstops to digital content and it won't disappear without a complete market collapse. You're licensing the movie itself and not a right to view a movie through a specific service.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:21 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm not terribly convinced by these arguments bemoaning the loss of the greatest hits album. For every "essential" greatest hits album there are a dozen schlocky moneygrab G.H. albums that have the same popular songs that were on the previous "greatest hits" release plus a bunch of unlistenable covers from the artist's twilight years. A curated playlist from a real connoisseur is going to always be more interesting to me than the kind of generic greatest common factor type album that gets issued by corporate suits. If you just know an artist with a truly substantial back catalog from their G.H. album and then, on a streaming service, you later find yourself doing a deep dive, you will almost always find yourself saying at some point, "How the fuck did they leave that off the Greatest Hits?" And everybody's going to have their own personal cut that elicits that reaction.

Yes, streaming rights can suddenly go away, but that's not an argument against a playlist per se, just against relying solely on streaming. Mp3 playlists existed before subscription services did -- you used to actually have the digital tracks on your "mp3 player" or your hard drive. Even today, just like you can buy a greatest hits CD, you can, if you wish, buy the individual mp3 tracks from a playlist off of iTunes, Amazon or Bandcamp, and still totally own them if the rights get pulled. And if that happens, you'll feel better for owning that obscure track, beloved to only you, that few others can get their hands on. There'll still be millions of people with those top ten radio friendly tracks that everybody else already bought on polycarbonate plastic.
posted by xigxag at 8:28 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Steve Miller Band's Greatest Hits 1974–78 is a great compilation.

I was legitimately surprised that an article about greatest hits compilations didn't mention what was perhaps the single most iconic compilations of the late 70s. It was everywhere, so much so that I can't conceive of my childhood in the 70s without it. The Eagles too, certainly, but Steve Miller is 70s era radio.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 8:39 PM on October 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


Everywhere is right. I was completely unable to escape Steve Miller Band's Greatest Hits 1974–78 and Bob Marley's Legend in the early 1990s.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:49 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


Regarding the ephemeral nature of streaming: I don't really see what it has to do with "greatest hits" albums. Yeah, I don't like the ephemeral nature of streaming; that's why I have 7,000 MP3s. You can have 7,000 MP3s too, if you want.

Regarding discovery: Sure, a "greatest hits" album is one way to discover stuff you didn't listen to before. Is it a particularly good way? There are no shortage of other ways. I trust recommendations from my friends to be better than the hand of whoever is compiling the "greatest hits" albums.
posted by value of information at 10:49 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Greatest hits albums, in their heyday, were often less about "discovery" and more about saving money by being able to get those three or four Seals and Crofts songs you like on one album instead of wasting money on several different ones. You buy the album to be able to hear Hummingbird and Diamond Girl and maybe listen to Summer Breeze once in a while and skip the rest. Greatest hits albums were particularly useful for groups like The Steve Miller Band, The Doobie Brothers, Chicago, or The Eagles with a number of decent singles strung out over a number of albums, getting the compilation of the hits saved money and made listening easier for not having to sit through as much mediocre stuff or change albums repeatedly.

The CD era started to make greatest hit albums more ridiculous as they kept growing and growing, like the 33 song Steely Dan set, which is their hits, but if you're at the point where you like the band that much, just having the albums made more sense, other than maybe financially, though the box set like stuff was seriously pricey. For a while it was more that the people who had the vinyl bought the box set for the fancy and to have the music on an alternative format. Streaming made all of that largely irrelevant.

And to go back to my earlier point, the importance of radio in defining what was or wasn't an "essential" hit and which bands had them can't be understated. That today's music is so much more open to vastly wider influence is a huge change that undermines much of the purpose of the Seals and Crofts like greatest hits albums. One only need note that as the radio industry's importance declined, the amount of women and minorities receiving attention and having the "biggest hits" grew exponentially. Beyonce and Taylor Swift will have greatest hits like compilations I'm sure, but the more important thing is that music isn't so controlled that having compilations of single bands has the same kind of importance. The stuff you like is mostly out there, can be captured or just streamed in whatever fashion you prefer and isn't limited to what others may think is most profitable to repackage for sales.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:08 AM on October 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


the box set like stuff was seriously pricey.

It filled a void in the "what do we get Dad for Christmas" space
posted by thelonius at 3:41 AM on October 8, 2019 [8 favorites]


My biggest complaint about best-ofs is when they include new songs (which are usually crappy), often at the expense of actual best-of songs.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:52 AM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


The bigger a fan I am of an artist, the more likely I am to prefer things like rarities/unreleased/etc. compilations (e.g. Bob Dylan's 'The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3,' or A Tribe Called Quest's 'Revised Quest for the Seasoned Traveler' and 'Hits, Rarities, & Remixes') versus straight best-ofs (like 'The Best of A Tribe Called Quest' and 'Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits.')
posted by box at 7:03 AM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


As a defense of Wang Chung, while "everybody Wang Chung tonight!" is pretty awful as a lyric I still lthink their soundtrack album for "To Live and Die in LA" is pretty good.

I'm not going to defend Greatest Hits Albums though. If their best point is that they can be considered a way to avoid the worst of copyright law, then they aren't all that great.
posted by jclarkin at 7:39 AM on October 8, 2019


Oh God, I just read The Hamms Bears comment on Bob Marley's Legend. I literally got a (scratched up) copy from some Frat Boys who scammed the record club for it. It should have been titled Inescapable.
posted by jclarkin at 7:41 AM on October 8, 2019


So, what is the worst "Greatest Hits" album? For my money, it's the DEVO 1998 "Greatest Hits" release from BMG, which drew all of its tracks from the three albums DEVO released for Enigma Records between 1988 and 1990... so 3 songs from Smooth Noodle Maps, two from Total Devo, and the only songs a non-hardcore fan would recognize being live recordings from Now It Can Be Told, except that three of those songs were performed live on that album in radically different forms.
posted by SansPoint at 7:42 AM on October 8, 2019


The 9 Most Unnecessary Greatest Hits Albums of All Time
Bruce Willis: Master Series
At the 2:03 mark of an up-to-that-point less-than-lively rendition of "Under the Boardwalk," Bruce unexpectedly shouts "Yipee-ki-yay mother fucker!" and launches into a searing blues rock guitar solo so goddamned awesome we gathered up all of our Hendrix CD's and torched them sons of bitches lest we be subjected to their inferior axe work ever again. Ok, we made that up, Bruce doesn't really do that. There are no good moments to be found anywhere on this CD. It's pretty damn terrible from front to back.
These are the Worst Ever Greatest Hits
Playlist: The Very Best of Bowling for Soup
It’s very hard to make a Best Of compilation when you only have one proper single that no will admit to liking, which is probably why Bowling For Soup never put this out themselves. Instead, without their permission, the label did. Yay for artistic control!
The Ten Worst Greatest-Hits Albums of All Time
Painting the Corners: The Best of Fastball
posted by kirkaracha at 9:14 AM on October 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


Right. As an old let me tell you something (kids, you can prolly ignore this, it's really for other olds). Greatest hits packages have always been bullshit ways for record companies to reap giant rewards for doing no more work. They have never been with my time and, IMHO, yours either. Ok, if you're a person who really doesn't give a shit about a particular artist, go crazy, buy the greatest hits album. Those of us who have a more thorough knowledge will sit around and talk about the other tracks, the ones you've never heard of really care about. genre mixes that give you an overview of a specific genre, those are awesome. They'll tell you that you can give this genre a more thorough review, or that maybe it just isn't your thing.
Now a quick story, many years ago when I was perhaps an even more evil Doug, I was sitting around with some friends discussing Bowie. My one friend, on hearing my complaint about how expensive it was proving to be to do a deep dive into his catalog said something similar to "Just buy the greatest hits, then you've got all the tracks that actually matter and none of the fluff." To which my reply was: "But then you'd never get to hear Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family, which would be criminal." Or something like.
posted by evilDoug at 9:28 AM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


It’s very hard to make a Best Of compilation when you only have one proper single that no will admit to liking
So nobody will admit to liking the theme song for Phineas and Ferb, The Girl all the Bad Guys Want, or 1985?
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:59 PM on October 8, 2019


Dire Straits' Money for Nothing compilation was presumably a cynical cash grab, to the extent that it has largely disappeared from their catalog. But among some atrociously butchered tracks there's a really fabulous cleaned-up version of Telegraph Road from Alchemy, and it drives me bonkers that this track has essentially disappeared everywhere except my own mp3 rip from the cd.
posted by bjrubble at 1:21 PM on October 8, 2019


Virgin Records released Get on with It: The Best of Cracker without the band's approval, so the band recorded a bunch of the same songs and released Greatest Hits Redux on the same day.

Aimee Mann's former label released a compilation without her involvement or approval, which she disavowed.
And the very title--"The Ultimate Collection"--implies at the very least a comprehensive collection, when it doesn't contain anything from Bachelor No. 2 and only one song from Magnolia (and not the Oscar-nominated song), and yet it DOES contain several things I personally consider to be absolute crap, including a rough mix of one song from just one of two reels of tracks, a song recorded live off the radio 10 years ago and never authorized by me to be recorded at all, much less released, a song I recorded for a movie as a favor to a producer friend that I didn't even write, etc. None of the great little B-sides or demos that I was actually proud of and thought would be perfect for this kind of collection.
It sounds like a pretty good album, though.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:16 PM on October 8, 2019


Hey, is that Freedom Rock, man?
posted by Chrysostom at 11:01 PM on October 14, 2019


Turn it up!
posted by SansPoint at 10:07 AM on October 15, 2019


"Everybody Wang Chung tonight" (Wang Chung, 1986) pales in comparison to some other relatively temporally close lyrics. Consider, for example, the worst simile in rock history, "As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti" (Toto, 1982). Or, the worst tautology in rock lyrics, "Only time will tell if we stand the test of time" (Van Halen, 1986).
posted by hanov3r at 1:04 PM on October 15, 2019


« Older One woman and five men enter...   |   Fried Queer Tomatoes Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments