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Alternative Tunings

The Greatest Hits

Mar 22

Written by:
3/22/2010 6:24 PM  RssIcon

The ‘Greatest Hits’ album. We’re all familiar with it in some capacity, usually the ploy of the record label. It used to be that greatest hits albums signalled the end of a band, as though they were saying, “Right, this is as good as we’ll ever get.” Now, they seem to occur intermittently. Remember the odd Biffy Clyro singles release a few months ago? I’m just cautiously waiting for there to be a ‘Best Of’ album for Elbow.

There are very few ‘Best Of’ or ‘Greatest Hits’ albums that I like, and I’m certain this is the same for almost every other music fan.  I thought The Cure’s Greatest Hits was pretty good. While naturally it was filled with their most commercially successful songs you could tell the songs weren’t just thrown together, that some thought was put into the track listing and it worked out perfectly. I mean, of course I’ll bemoan them for not including ‘Fascination Street’, ‘Catch’ or ‘Prayers for Rain’, but whatever song selection is picked for these albums I always have some sort of issue with the tracks that either are, or aren’t, on it.

While in some instances the Greatest Hits album is merely an introduction to the band for some people, sometimes a band has so much excellent material that it’s incredibly hard to narrow it down into one album. The Smiths’ Very Best Of is a prime example of this, with no less than 23 songs on the album. And prior to that album release there were two volumes of ‘The Best Of The Smiths’. Some bands, it seems, should just remain untouched. If you were to go out and pick up any one of The Smiths’ albums it would be filled with consistently enthralling material. There was never really any need for a ‘Very Best Of’.

On several occasions some bands are unaware that their label is compiling a ‘Best Of’ album, let alone going to release one. Free from any consultation from the band, it proves an irritating and sometimes embarrassing addition to their discography.  This happened to AFI in 2004, when they left their then-label Nitro, the label released a collection of songs from their previous albums that they saw as being the best. It’s still something the band rarely talk about, but when they do the disdain is always evident.

So, are greatest hits album really so heinous? The Best of R.E.M captures the band at various different stages in their career, and no doubt provides an excellent introduction to the band. Similarly, the Best of Depeche Mode is a stunning collection of their songs. Maybe without those albums, very few bands would be appreciated as much as they are now. In some instances, it can shine a light on a band that had previously been only vaguely known by people. Here’s hoping that Doves’ Best Of garners them all of the attention they’ve so long deserved. The verdict? The Greatest Hits album: a necessary evil.


3 comment(s) so far...


A necessary evil? I'd agree with you up to a point. There are a few greatest hits albums that work as a cohesive piece, but when they do it is brilliant and I would even move from being 'necessary' to 'essential'.

Neil Young's 'Decade' springs to mind. It is a compelling document of his first 10 years as an artist. I'd also add in The Stone Roses 'Best of'. It weaves beautiful across their releases, while removing any need to trudge through the weaker stuff on Second Coming.

At the other end of the scale? I remember as a teenager hear Eurythmics' best of being played quite often at home. It was all over the shop and hugely irritating.

By Eoghan on   3/24/2010 9:31 PM

It reminds me of that brilliant Alan Partridge gag: "My favourite Beatles album would have to be... 'The Best Of The Beatles'". I imagine most people know their Beatles from the red and blue compilations, not from 'Rubber Soul' or 'Revolver'.

Most best-ofs are ridiculously hasty (acts with only two albums) and cynical (released in time for Christmas, and in the case of The Smiths re-hased and re-released every second Christmas). The best best-ofs have a sense of an ending or of an era - any acts still alive and operating really shouldn't be releasing them.

By aidan on   3/24/2010 10:19 PM

That Alan Partridge gag is legendary, along with the "100 sheep, 110 friends" gag. True, I agree that music by The Beatles is now-a-days known from the compilations, which is a shame because there's a chance they'll miss out on hearing the progression and experimentation in their albums in it's full glory.

Eoghan, I agree with you about The Stone Roses' Best Of, or even if people just bought their debut I think they'd hear almost everything they'd need to hear from The Stone Roses. I actually quite like Eurythmics, but I've not heard their Best Of. You do have my sympathy, though!

Thanks for the comments.

By Rest_Energy on   3/25/2010 7:23 PM

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