Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top Five Greatest Hits

Hopefully this is the first of many new list style posts I am going to be sprinkling into the blog. The Top Five motif is a blatant rip-off of the lists from High Fidelity as well as a nod to A Little Night Music which frequently features really great mini-lists.

Greatest hits albums are usually blatant rip-offs of long-time fans while also being a cheap and dirty way to sell records to casual fans who don't want to plunk down a lot of money to buy the full catalog of an artist just to get the popular songs. But some greatest hits collections buck the trend and become worthwhile albums in their own right. So here are:

The Top 5 Greatest Greatest Hits

5Tori Amos Tales of a Librarian. Tori is an eclectic artist and a lot of her deep album cuts are kind of inaccessible. The most fantastic part of this album is that the songs aren't arranged chronologically or alphabetically, but by Dewey Decimal number. Now assigning these numbers is a bit arbitrary but I love the idea that someone went to the trouble. It's a clever idea studiously implemented. And the picture on the cover is just so hot.

4Madonna Immaculate Conception. A good greatest hits package gives you something that any individual album can't deliver. In this case, a career spanning overview provides a perspective on the chameleon-like Material Girl which is best seen from a distance. The songs are all truly hits, including the songs added just for the album. In one disc you really get why she dominated music in the 80s.

3Jimmy Buffett Songs You Know By Heart. The official subtitle for this album is "Jimmy Buffett's Greatest Hit(s)" with the parentheses being a great winking acknowledgment that Buffett is the world's most successful one-hit wonder. While he has put out over a dozen studio albums and several more compilations since that one, it is still the primary disc to have for potential Parrotheads. Got to any Buffett show and you are likely to hear nearly every song on this album, that is if you are sober enough to remember them.

2Eagles Their Greatest Hits. Arguably you only need three Eagles albums. Greatest Hits, Hotel California, and The Long Run. All the rest is filler. Early Eagles albums are a little sleepy and indulgent. Their Greatest Hits puts together a group of songs that set the stage for one of the most significant albums of the 70s. Worldwide, it has sold 42 million copies and is the only album to give Michael Jackson's Thriller a run for its money, saleswise. Conversely, Greatest Hits 2, put out after just two additional studio releases, is one of the most cynically money-grubbing releases of all time.

1ABBA Gold. Abba was a singles band. At best. They only had one number 1 hit in the United States but they were a huge success everywhere else in the world. I recently listened to the 33-1/3 book series (review here) on this album and the author explains the reasoning behind using a greatest hits album as career retrospective. The claims, probably correctly, that this album by collecting all of Abba's international hits it reclaimed the Swedish power pop band's reputation and triggered the decade long Abba-tastic nostalgia trip. If there is any one greatest hit album everyone should own, it is this one.


Foreigner Records. The worst greatest hits albums are those that include live re-recordings of the original songs instead of the album cuts or singles versions. And no violation of this rule is more egregious than the live version of 'Hot Blooded' on Foreigners first (of several) greatest hits albums. Not only is it live, it is terrible. After listening through the other nine tracks, the final song is just fingernails-on-a-blackboard off-key. I mean my version is better. The inclusion mars what would otherwise be a perfectly respectable collection. I have no idea what they were thinking except to give their fans some sort of sorry "Fuck you."

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Feel free to quibble.


TBG said...

Doug always says "The Monkees Greatest Hits? That's their best album!"

yellojkt said...

He's probably right.

Stella Dean said...

I have two of those greatest hits on CD. I'm not telling which. I'd lose part of my mystique.

DemetriosX said...

I'm not sure I totally agree with the Monkees, but it also depends on which greatest hits album you look at. The dirty secret is that they were actually pretty good. Especially after they assumed control over their output.

I'd suggest the Beatles' red and blue albums. They aren't billed as greatest hits, but they basically are. Plus they have the advantage that you can listen to what suits your mood and not have the roots-based stuff mixed in with the more psychedelic.

A Free Man said...

The Eagles would make my Top 5 and Jimmy Buffett would probably be in my Top 10. I think my favourite Greatest Hits would be Tom Petty's, Al Green's and Warren Zevon's 'Genius' among others.