Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why I Hate Greatest Hits Compilations

List time!


1. They Make People Not Want To Look At An Entire Piece Of Work
I’ve always had a strong belief that an album is piece of artwork. You don’t take a look at Washington Crossing The Delaware and only look at the visage of our first president. You need to look at the whole thing to get the idea of these men working through the rough winter to cross the river. It gives you a sense of what the American colonists had to go through to gain independence. If you only look at Washington, it’s like only listening to “Band on the Run” and “Jet” from Wings’ Band On The Run and thinking you got the whole thing, just because those were the hit singles. You didn’t. You missed the beauty of “Bluebird”, the interwoven pieces of “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)” and the great piano-driven rocker “Nineteen-Hundred And Eighty-Five”. You missed the fact that those two singles were only a PART of the BOTR album.

2. They Almost Are Never Really An Artist’s Greatest Songs
You are stupid if you think for a second that The Beatles 1 is all you need. Stupid. I’m completely serious. 1 is a great example of a ‘hits’ compilation that misses nearly all of the artist’s best songs. Now, 1 does not claim to be a greatest hits set, but a compilation of The Beatles’ #1 singles. Still, there are people who walk this earth and think they can buy 1 and say the hell with it. “I’ve got 1, so now I know all of the Beatles’ best work.” Are you nuts? Insane? Look at what is missing! “Please Please Me” (which was a #1, but we won’t get into that argument now), “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Michelle”, “Here Comes The Sun”… just to name a few, are nowhere to be found. Then, there’s the fact that NOT A SINGLE SONG from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Rubber Soul, and The Beatles are on 1. Think about that for a second before believing that 1 is really all you need.

3. The Fact That One-Hit Wonders Think They Can Release A ‘Greatest Hits’.
That’s obvious…and silly.

4. ‘Greatest Hits’ That Lean On One Album.
By 1984, Meat Loaf had released three albums on Columbia/Cleveland/Epic/whatever. Of those three, the only one that had any success was, of course, the first one: Bat Out Of Hell. Still, the company figured they could put out a ‘Best Of…’ set (charmingly titled Hits Out Of Hell) with ten tracks on it. FIVE of those ten tracks came from Bat Out Of Hell. Obviously, this compilation leaned on five tracks from a SEVEN track album! That’s stupid. Another example of this (and there are many, but these are the ones off the top of my head) practice is The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Smash Hits. Considering that very little of Jimi’s songs could be considered hits (in the US, only “All Along The Watchtower” had any true success), his record companies at the time still felt the need for a compilation on both sides of the Atlantic. The UK album leans almost entirely on Are You Experienced and the US album, released after Electric Ladyland in 1969 leaned on both albums, completely glossing over the excellent (and brutally mind-blowing) Axis: Bold As Love. (Other Examples: Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1 &2 [leans strictly on The Stranger, with 7 of the 9 songs, despite only 2 being singles] and any Led Zeppelin compilation [the latest, Mothership, has 4 from LZI, IV, and Houses of the Holy and some contain as much as five from the 8-song LP IV.])

5. They Sell Better Than Albums
I hate this fact about the music business, but it’s true. People would rather buy a record chock full of songs they know by heart than an album with one song they might know and a bunch of others they have no clue about. This is a shame, but it’s human nature. We like familiarity and don’t like to leave a comfort zone. As I said in point #1, it means people don’t like to look at a whole piece, but rather what everyone else says is the best part. Half the time, the single isn’t even the best part of a record. “Desolation Row” is certainly the best part of Highway 61 Revisited, but was that the single? No. Look at the previously mentioned Sgt. Pepper's… None of those songs were single or hits. Does that mean it’s a bad record? No way! It’s one of the most influential pieces of music in the world.

6. People Buy Greatest Hits And Read The Essay And Think They Know All
No, you don’t. You don’t know anything about anyone until you LISTEN to the artist’s body of work as a WHOLE.

7. Artists Make Fans Buy Them
The record companies work with the artists to make a compilation that includes rarities so die-hard fans will gobble them up. I’ve fallen in the trap and boy, has it pissed me off many a time. Please, just put out a rarities set…we hate to buy the same song twice.

I could go on forever, but that’s what I’ve got now. So, just think of my points the next time you want to get a ‘hits’ compilation.

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