Thursday, February 27, 2014

Discuss: Greatest Hits Albums That, Well... Weren't

Doug:  Does anyone besides me think it's difficult to buy a greatest hits album that is, at least in your opinion, a true greatest hits album?  Today name some you've purchased that you loved, and some you felt were lacking.  This of course precludes "do-it-yourselfers" that you've crafted from mp3s in the past several years.  We're talking hard plastic and celluloid today, kids!


Graham said...

Back in the day, Motown was notorious for releasing "Greatest Hits" compilations in various forms, but leaving off at least one or two key tracks, obviously in hopes that the buyer would end up with more than one set. I picked up two or three different Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and Four Tops albums because of this practice back in the late 70's/early 80's.
Of course, back then you also had a problem if an artists worked on multiple labels because licensing from these different labels was hard to impossible.

Today, because of advanced technology and the fact that CDs can hold more music, it's easier to get all the songs on the collection that you're looking for, but for the artists with lots of hits over a long period of time, it's still hard to do.

I was really disappointed with the Springsteen greatest hits collection that came out in the late 90's/early 00's. They stuck three or four "New" songs on there and left a few favorites off. That also seems to be a trend as well. Bob Seger's first Greatest Hits collection left off a couple of my favorites for a rehash of a Chuck Berry song. As mentioned above, both problems were basically solved when the "Essential" multiple disc collections were released later on.

Doug said...

Graham, to your point about the "Essential" compilations, I have been a bit mystified as to why "Feelin' That Way" was not included on The Essential Journey (easy, Karen...). Great track from the Greg Rollie years, and certainly earns its fair share of radio airplay.


Anonymous said...
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Doug said...

Concerning Van Halen's "Best of Both Worlds" 2-disc album, while the hits of both the David Lee Roth era as well as the Sammy Hagar era were included, I did not care for the inclusion of three new songs from Hagar as well as three live recordings of Hagar singing DLR songs. With those six songs, they certainly could have used that space for 2nd-tier hits like "Ice Cream Man" or "Feel Your Love Tonight".


Humanbelly said...

The most egregious abuse, of course, is when producers & record companies used to milk one-or-two-hit-wonders for every shred of profit they could muster. I'll use old Hurricane Smith as an example (monstrous big hit single w/ "Oh Babe, What Would You Say"-- which I totally loved in junior high). He has one hit, so his record company quickly throws together an album of deeply forgettable material around it, and the album is titled simply "Hurricane Smith" (every artist at one point or another had a self-titled album, it looks like). I dutifully purchased that album. What I didn't purchase a few years later was "Don't Let It Die: The Very Best of Hurricane Smith". And what you see there is the tricky semantic way of making something SEEM like a greatest hits album w/out actually SAYING it's a greatest hits album. Because, of course, there ARE no other greatest hits to present--! If you check out those old Columbia Record Club ads in comics and magazines, you'll see that they are EXTREMELY heavy with "Very Best Of. . . " fare. "Very Best of Fred & the Frogblenders"-- that sort of thing. What they don't mention is that the exact same material also represents the Very Worst, since the sample is so painfully small.

I think one of the greatest compilations ever, of course, are the two Beatles double-album collections: 1962-1966 & 1967-1970-- The "Red" and "Blue" albums. The second disc of the Blue tends to be a bit less than inspiring, w/ the inclusion of songs like "Old Brown Shoe" and "Ballad of John & Yoko"-- but those are more sins of inclusion rather than exclusion.

Carly Simon's Greatest Hits is also a fantastic collection. It always feels like a cohesive effort to me, rather than a pastiche of individual hits.

The Eagles (first?) greatest hits album, while just fine, w/ lots of great songs, made the unforseeable mistake of being released BEFORE "Hotel California"-- thus, the biggest hit of their career actually isn't on their most well-known greatest hits collection.

Oh! And Jethro Tull's first greatest hits album ("M.U.- Greatest Hits Volume I"-- is that what it was called?) is actually far, faaaaaaar more casually listen-able than some of the albums are from which those hits are culled. "Passion Play" (the album) always eventually makes me turn of the stereo in aural exhaustion. . . But LOVE that first hits volume!


Anonymous said...

What's wrong with Queen's Greatest Hits?

david_b said...

HB, you may not know this, but 'Hurricane Smith' got his start as the engineer on all of the EMI studio recordings by The Beatles up through 'Rubber Soul'. He moved on to produce the first couple of Pink Floyd albums before striking out on his own..

Hmm, I don't know too many greatest hits albums, most were.. alright. Contrary to HB, I found the Red/Blue Albums 'ok', with the wealth and quality of the original albums and 'purposeful' track placement by the boys and George Martin on those albums (talking about the non-US albums now), any 'greatest hits' notion would disappoint. I did like they used some more of the rare stereo versions of some tracks which weren't available on the US releases up to that time.

From the Fab perspective, I will say Macca's 'All The Best' was so-so, was hoping for better tracks like from 'Venus and Mars' or 'Ram' ('Dear Boy', anyone..?) rather than the obligatory 'hit trash' like 'Say Say Say'. Ringo's was basically the best off his self-titled album, then some singles and B-sides. I wish George's GH would have at least used the live 'Bangladesh' over the comparatively limp-studio track. Some of the '80s Lennon compilations were pretty good, better than 'Shaved Fish'.

Doc Savage said...

Graham stole my thunder vis-a-vis Motown deliberately spreading hits out over multiple volumes and jamming the rest of the albums with filler.

What I detest most is when they put a live version on in place of the actual hit recording, or add some new songs in space that could have allowed more actual hits you know and love.

Doug said...

Who said anything was wrong with Queen's Greatest Hits? It's just on the front page as an art sample. We do that around here. Thought stimulation, no hidden agenda.


Doc Savage said...

Best of Dark Horse, out of print of course, was pretty great. Even the obligatory new songs were good and blended seamlessly. I didn't even realize they were new; I figured they were just album tracks I'd never heard as my Harrison collection is exactly two albums big (ATMP & LITMW). I guess "Best of" is a way to include worthy songs that weren't hits.

Beatles Red & Blue aren't "hits" albums. Many or most of the songs weren't even singles as far as I remember. Old Brown Shoe and Ballad of John & Yoko are awesome. Certainly better than Come Together! First two albums I ever owned, got them at age 5 or 6.

Gotta love "Greatest Hits" compilations by various artists whose careers included one hit or maybe two. Honestly I could give a fig if the songs were hits as long as they're good. Do you really feel cheated if the songs didn't make the Top 40 and were included on a compilation anyway?

I don't buy Greatest Hits very often, I go for the actual albums. There are too many great songs you'll never hear on a hits album.

KevinFermoyle said...

It is interesting to look up performers discographys on Wikipedia where they categorize albums under "Studio" "Compilations" and "Live" recordings. There are cases where the artist has almost as many compilation albums as original studio recordings. The record labels certainly know how to get the most mileage out of what they have.

david_b said...

Matt, I essentially agree but frankly, whether you call Red/Blue 'compilations' or 'greatest hits', I find the intent is virtually the same. It was Klein milking his cash cow clients once again, much like his 'Hey Jude' album, this time to stomp on the unauthorized 'Alpha Omega' release. I don't feel tracks don't have to be singles to be on a 'hits collection'.

As for George to be specific, I was referring to 'Best of George Harrison' not 'Dark Horse'. Unlike Ringo and John, Capitol had to pull out some of his Beatle tracks to supposidly beef up the track listing.., which I found irritating.

I really should give the DH release you mentioned another serious listen soon. 'Let It Roll' was good.., but I would have passed on some of the 'Brainwashed' tracks in favor of a Wilburys track like 'Handle With Care' or 'Heading for the Light'.

Wow, it's actually harder to articulate GH releases that aren't good ~ I'm typically happy with most of them, special mention to both the Tom Petty/Heartbreakers and Cheap Trick hits releases.

Some more serious artists, like the Fabs, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello, etc, it's really hard to conceptualize a 'greatest hits' release that really gives a novice buyer the true girth of an artist ~ I'd just stick with the individual albums.

Anonymous said...

Great topic Doug! And some great comments by everyone.

But I'll bite on the "What's wrong with Queen's Geatest Hits?" question. (hidden agenda, indeed)

IIRC, there was initially a "Greatest Hits" and a "Classic" Queen CD. And the Classic one was the one with Bohemian Rhapsody (???).

As to the topic in general, trying to decide whether or not to buy certain "hits" or "Best of.." compilations has always been one of my hang-ups. What to do when you collected several studios "albums" (vinyl) of a particular group once we moved into the CD age. A lot of groups that I really liked had some great deep album cuts that didn't make the hits CDs. So do you buy all the original studio releases on CDs again? Sigh.



Edo Bosnar said...

I used to have the Beatles 'Red' and 'Blue' compilations as well - both gifts from my older siblings, and my first Beatles albums. Absolutely loved 'em.

Otherwise, off the top of my head I can't think of any greatest hits or best of albums that disappointed, but then again, I never had many of them. Two that I think are fantastic albums, however, are Chicago IX: Greatest Hits, and the Doobie Brothers' Best of the Doobies. Both really provide a selection of the best songs by the respective bands.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, wouldn't Journey's Greatest Hits just be "Any Way You Want It" and "Don't Stop Believin"? I kid, I kid :)

Anybody remember those K-Tel records they used to have every year with titles like "Hit Explosion" or "Chart Action"? They were supposed to represent the best music of a given year, but I always found them to be half great songs and half garbage.

Mike W.

Doc Savage said...

There's a pretty good 3-disc Queen set I have. I like them but unsure if I'd ever seek out the LPs.

Blue & Red Beatles are good starting places but that's about it. As someone said up above, the Beatles took to much care in sequencing and frankly have too many great tracks for any best-of to do them justice. It'd have to a 10-disc set, so might as well buy the actual LPs and non-album singles. Unlike the Stones, where a handful of LPs plus High Tide & Through the Glass are all I'll ever need.

Most of my best-ofs are for one-hit wonders from various eras where I feel no need to buy the LP just to get, say, 867-5309 or the like.

Garett said...

Hey Mike for the full story of K-Tel, check out this documentary:
As Seen On TV: The K-Tel Story
Entertaining, hosted by Dave Thomas of SCTV fame. It'll definitely bring back memories! 3 parts.

J.A. Morris said...

One thing that ticks me off is when the greatest hits comp features the "single" version of the song or some weird edit. For instance, 'The Story Of The Clash' has the single version of 'Magnificent Seven' rather than the album version.

In the 90s, there were 2 different Bowie hits packages that had weird edited versions of 'Space Oddity' and 'Fashion'.

At least the era of mp3s allows us to get the version of the song we're looking for.

Edo Bosnar said...

Garett, thanks for the link to that documentary. Very entertaining and absolutely fascinating. And yes, it did indeed bring back some memories.

Also, I never knew that K-tel even got into movie production in the early '70s. I'll bet those movies are hilariously bad.

Fred W. Hill said...

Some greatest hits collections I declined to purchase precisely because they didn't have a particular favorite song of mine, although I can't think of any examples just now. Or they were double lps or cds with too many songs I didn't care for or had in other releases. The Beatles, btw, were the one group I never bought a "greatest hits" collection of, mainly because I was so into them that I bought all of their Capital studio lps, including the various single hits & odds & sods collections, such as Hey Jude. Then, in the cd age, I wound up buying all the original British versions, as well as the Past Masters collections which including everything not released on the original British studio lps, and since that mainly meant singles, they were de facto greatest hits collections, minus whatever hits came off those origianl albums. Wings Greatest was actually the first greatest hits lp I ever bought, and I certainly enjoyed that enough. I also got both of the Stones' Hot Rocks collections -- loved them both, including all the relative obscurities on the 2nd collection. Of course, now i have most of the Stones original studio albums in cd version, as well as their 3 cd collection of singles. CCR Chronicles volumes I & 2 are also great, although the first set has most of the genuine essentials. One of my all time favorite double set collections, tho', is the Kinks Kronikles. I didn't care that most of the songs were never "big hits" -- they were still some of the best songs from 1966 through 1970 or so!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Garrett, that did jog a few memories!

Mike W.

Redartz said...

Mike W.- thanks for bringing up the K-Tel albums! As a teen those were cheap ways to pick up the hits; I had several, and several from Ronco (of Ron Popeil fame; he of the Kitchen Magician!). One disadvantage to those compilation LP's: frequently the cuts featured were trimmed in length; frustrating to a completist.

As for the Greatest Hits topic: my favorite was "This is the Moody Blues". Fabulous double LP featuring most of their singles, and loads of other fine cuts. I wore that set out on the old Sansui belt drive...

Anonymous said...

I remember buying those compilation albums. A few I have, Rock Fantasy for example, are the original artists. Whereas, Muskrat Love, the songs you loved by studio musicians.

Greatest Hits albums I have that I love listening to are ABBA's Gold Greatest Hits (can't stop dancing to those tunes), Seger's, Duran Duran. Some of the older stuff, Ventures, Al Green, Van Morrison are great listens as well. Best of Styx, Roots and The Alan Parsons Project all leave me going "eeeh".

Sade's Best of has some songs I've never heard but she can literally sing nutrition labels and I'd listen to it.

The Prowler (never been a Smooth Operator but then again, who has).

Doc Savage said...

Kinks Kronikles is a good 'un.

Graham said...

Doug, I'm not familiar with a lot of the pre-Steve Perry Journey catalog, but I did know that Greg Rollie was in the original group. To me, that's part of what makes a great "Greatest Hits" collection....the fact that you can go back to a group's beginnings to hear what you might have missed by coming on board late.

One cool thing about the Essentials compilations that I found a few years ago was that in some cases, they included a third CD that featured about thirty minutes worth of lesser known material. They called them the 3.0 versions. I picked up two of these when I saw them at Target for $5 each....a Stevie Ray Vaughan set and the Santana set.

One of my favorite record reviews from years ago appeared in Musician magazine in their "Short Takes" section, where critics would do a one or two-sentence review of a new release. There was a Greatest Hits set that had just come out (can't remember who is was though) and the critic wrote, "Why did I expect this to be blank on both sides?" That's what I thought of when I saw your post topic today. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm not proud of this, but in the bad old days, I picked up a used cassette copy of Olivia Newton John's Greatest Hits Part II, just because I like "Xanadu". Hey, it's Jeff Lynne. My brother had a ELO's greatest hits on CD that I stole that from him at one point. It's around here somewhere. Don't tell 'im.
I had a CD of Abba Gold that was stolen from me from me by two Russian ladies who were foreign exchange students when I was in grad school, in what I can only describe as a complicated situation.
I had Glen Campbell's greatest hits, and there were just four songs on it I liked. But it was on cassette, so I had keep rewinding and fast forwarding on my cheap little Walkman when I went out for a stroll.

Anonymous said...

The Beatles Red and Blue albums were issued in response to the unauthorized "Beatles Alpha-Omega" album being sold mostly thru TV mail order. "Ballad of John and Yoko" reached #8 in the US which certainly qualifies it as a hit.

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