Thursday, October 9, 2008

Greatest Hits? Phooey!

What’re your thoughts on “Greatest Hits” albums?

*Editors Note: Before reading my rant below please understand that I own a good deal of "Greatest Hits" albums and understand (kind of) their place in one's music library. I rarely listen more than once, however. If I like the band I'll buy the proper albums. If not, I file it.

They can be great starting points for the uninitiated, inspiring one to delve deeper into the artists full albums and back catalogue, but is there any point for the already converted? One thing that has always bothered me about the “best of’s” is that they’re rarely so. They usually contain the most mainstream tracks and rarely offer anything new or interesting. The deep album cuts, to me anyway, are usually the most satisfying and contain a sort of staying power that the hits don’t. Hits are hits for a reason: instantly catchy songs with choruses that stick in your head for days, satisfying for a finite number of days then a quick descent into annoyance. And any long time fan of a band will usually have everything offered in these packages, but the record company (greedy buggers that they are) will usually try to entice you with updated packaging or throw you a bone by way of one “previously unreleased” track that’s usually sub-par. One other thing that really bugs me about these albums is the song sequencing. If it’s not in chronological order, which most of them are not, it can be extremely frustrating. I like to listen to a bands evolution throughout the years and a disc being sequenced this way is the only way it’s possible.
There are exceptions of course. Rhino Records always does a damn fine job. Usually if the artist themselves has a hand in choosing the tracks and order it turns out ok. But mostly it’s flogging a dead horse time, yeah?
So why are comps so damn popular? Is it that the majority of the music buying public are simply “casual” fans with no desire to go any deeper? Am I (and probably you) and other music addicts who appreciate the album as an entire artistic statement a dwindling minority?

Of course we are. But that’s part of the fun of it. Being part of an exclusive club that recognizes that there is a lot more to a band’s discography that simply the “hits”.

With all that being said, I still own a lot of greatest hits comps. Oh, the shame of it!


Nik said...

HUGE fan of Greatest Hits compilations. In fact I'd be about 1/4 to 1/3 of my CDs are nothing but. I agree album flows are the best but in the interest of keeping my CD collection under a zillion, I find a good hits collection the best way to sample an artist and be familiar with their work. Often I'll get a hits collection -- Scott Walker springs to mind recently -- and be so captivated I will go back and buy all the albums though.

Nik said...

Oh, I do much prefer them chronological myself, I need to add.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you in general on GH packages, they are an usually unsatisfying. I have a few in my collection, mostly of artists I don't care for much but feel obligated to have represented in my collection (Queen, ELO, Yes, etc.) But, the overriding reason for buying these comps is budgetary. When I first started converting vinyl to CD I would resort to a GH package to hold me over until I could fill in the catalog (notice the American spelling of the word, "catalog" - what's with you Canadians and the useless vowels?)
I'm trying to think of a "Best Of" comp that works as an album...a couple I listen to regularly are Little Feat's "As Time Goes By" (nice addition of a Lowell George solo track as a bonus), Hank Williams' 2-disc anthology and the Elvis 2-disc #1's. There might be a couple of others but I can't think of them right now.
Good rant, Unc. Nice topic. Now, how about addressing Benda's pet peeve, the live album?

Any major dude with half a heart said...

Of course, the Greatest Hits album is useful as an introduction and as the representative of an artist whose full catalogue (note the vowels; they belong there) would be a space/harddrive thief.

As far as great comps go, I think the Beatles' Red and Blue albums are quite excellent, whereas the 1s album was a money-grubbing disgrace.

Anyway, I prefer to make my own greatest hits comps. Some are chronological, others are a journey in mood.

Uncle E said...

The Beatles Blue and Red albums are excellent examples of greatest hits cops done right, you are totally correct. Chronological is the only way to fly, nik, and Phil it has taken this ex-pat a long time to get rid of the vowels. You'll have to aquiesce sometime, Phil. The metric system is a comin' and before long you'll be forced to refer to Z as Zed!