Of course there are many aspects of music geekery/elitism that can be found in this sketch but I am going to focus on my favorite line: "Greatest Hits Albums are for Housewives and Little Girls!" To many a music geek, if you a true fan of the music of an artist, then you would buy the albums and listen to them as ‘originally intended.’ In theory this kind of makes sense and I, of course, own all the albums of my most favorite artists but a good greatest hits package can serve as an economic and convenient way to ‘test the waters’ so to speak. In fact, in the pre-iPod age, I would often purchase greatest hits packages from my favorite artist, even though I already owned all the albums, because it was a convenient way to have all the best songs on a single disc (and, fortunately, most of my favorite bands were also nice enough to release special editions that would usually include an entire disc of unreleased material so that I would get a little something new along with the old).
Despite the greatest hits package being seen as a sort of cheat, a musical cliff notes if you will, a well made collection is often just as good as any album. Rolling Stone even included a handful of these in its 500 greatest albums of all time.
And, when you think about it, Changesbowie does kind of work as an album in its own right. They can also be invaluable tools for collecting the music of an artist whose best tunes were made before the dominance of the album; Chuck Berry’s The Great Twenty-Eight and Elvis’s Sun Sessions are prime examples of this.
Here are few of my favorite examples of superior greatest hits albums:
The Clash- The Story Of The Clash
This serves as proof that not all greatest hits albums by the same artist are created equal. I have since upgraded to The Essential Clash (I generally find the Essential collections put out by Sony/Columbia to be pretty good career overviews) and, while Essential does have more songs, it is assembled (as most of these collections are) in chronological order. Story didn’t list the songs chronologically, I can’t recollect if there was any real rhyme or reason to the track listing but, what I do remember, is that it gave you a much greater variety in your listening experience when listening to the album straight through (As I’m typing this I’m realizing that I can assemble the very album that I am speaking of from The Essential collection and listen to it in that order if I so desire… digital music rocks!)
The Ramones- Hey Ho! Let’s Go! The Anthology
The Ramones are a band that are tailor made for the Greatest Hits package: they write short songs and, as a result, you can fit a LOT of their songs onto a couple of discs. This set, totaling nearly 60 songs in all, spans the bands entire career and, the first disc, contains at least 7 or 8 songs from the band’s all-important first three albums while the rest of the collection manages to do a pretty darned good job of hitting the highlights from the rest of their catalogue.
REM …And I Feel Fine: The Best of the IRS Years
This was the last hits package that I purchased from a favorite artist (a few months before I got my first iPod). First of all, I found this to be invaluable since REM’s back catalogue is in desperate need of re-mastering (or is it? Look for an upcoming post I’m working on about sound quality). Like Story of the Clash this album doesn’t place the tracks in chronological order but in a more fitting order that maximizes the variety and flow of the overall experience. Still, they chose to open the set with “Begin the Begin”; “Radio Free Europe”, while adhering to a chronological format, is a much better opening track (the deluxe version offers some even ‘deeper cuts’ of the band’s favorite songs as well as some great rarities and live tracks and the far superior ‘Hib-Tone Single Version’ of “Radio Free Europe”)
The Police- The Police
I consider the police to be pretty high up on my list of favorite artist yet this ‘best of’ collection is all I really need. Since the Police released only five albums, most of which are represented by several songs here (all but two tracks from Synchronicity are included), it manages to give pretty comprehensive overview of the band’s career. Also, the songs flow together and work quite well as a unified whole. This may have been released mainly to coincide with the band’s reunion tour, but it still works! (also, the sound quality is awesome and far superior to their previous hits package Every Breath You Take: The Classics, a classic ‘hits’ package in its own right.)
The Beatles- 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (aka The Red and Blue Albums)
These collections were my introduction to the Beatles; the former was owned on CD, the latter on cassette. Sure, a complete Beatles collection kind of renders them obsolete and songs like “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “A Day In The Life” are probably best heard as part of the original album but the combination of their biggest hits with the best album tracks makes for an invaluable introduction to the ‘Fab Four.’
It is pretty doubtful if collections like these will survive the digital music age but in their day they provided an invaluable service to the frugal music consumer.