#364: Greatest Hits

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#364: Greatest Hits

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, greatest hits records have been around for as long as rock and roll has.  Elvis’ Golden Records, one of the most famous early greatest hits albums from 1958, has sold over 6 million copies.  Some believe it to be the  very first greatest hits album, ever.  Elvis only had four albums out at that point, one of them a Christmas record.  It was a selection of Elvis’ single A’s and B’s, and its success meant that it would be followed by many sequels.  (Interestingly, five hits on it were composed by the duo of Lieber and Stoller!)

A couple decades later, the Eagles released their best selling album of all time.  Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) has sold over 42 million copies to date, and is the third highest selling album in history.  Not long after, Aerosmith released their first Greatest Hits, a collection of single edits and radio versions of their best songs, and one non-album track (“Come Together”, from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack).  It has sold over 11 million copies.

These releases, and many more, have made greatest hits discs a lucrative cash cow for record labels.  On it on it goes; you’re not a success until you’ve released your first greatest hits disc.  Some bands have always resisted releasing collections of pre-existing music, others have not put such value in their integrity.  Hits albums are usually looked at with disdain by the die-hards and “purists”, but make an easy gateway purchase for people not (yet) interested in the discography.

DLRGRHITS_0001

Why do die-hard fans look down on hits albums so much?

1. A more recent practice from the 1980’s and 1990’s was to include two or three new songs, forcing fans to buy old songs over again just to get the new ones.  It’s such a common practice now that it’s expected, but we still resent it.

2. Live versions. Even if we choose to buy or listen to a greatest hits album, a lot of the time the familiar original versions are replaced with inferior live ones.  Casual music listeners don’t usually seek live versions, and die hard fans usually already have the live albums.  It just serves to make the listening experience less than it should be.

3. While it is certainly not a rule, for the kind of music we listen to, a studio album is often a self contained work, not just a collection of songs.  There is usually a direction and purpose for the songs.  Listening to songs out of their intended context doesn’t always work, but nine times out of ten, they are best appreciated on the original album.

4. Who else but a die-hard fan would be a better self-proclaimed expert to criticize the song selections on a “greatest hits”?

5. Artistic non-involvement. Few hits albums have any input from the artists themselves.  Without the artist contributing, a greatest hits becomes just another product assembled by record company suits, most of the time.

6. Cash grab. Many greatest hits album stink of the whiff of “record company cash-grab”, usually at opportune times.

7. Snob attitude. “Don’t buy the greatest hits!  Just buy all the albums!”

What do you like about greatest hits albums?

lebrainsgreatest

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60 comments

  1. Excellent post, Mike. As you know from my “Compilation Or Catalog?” posts, including the ones that highlighted “My Gateway Compilations,” I am a supporter of a well-selected best-of as an introduction for newcomers to that artist’s music. The most important part of that sentence is “well-selected,” and that’s where artists & record labels inevitably lose the plot. When artists compile their own greatest hits (which does happen), they’re usually in direct opposition to what the majority of fans would choose. Artists tend to be the worst judges of their own songs’ merits. Record labels, of course, only care about profits, so their approach is to include “most” of the hits but leave off a few (occasionally replacing them with inferior live or demo versions). That way fans will be required to buy certain individual albums or wait for a subsequent multi-disc anthology to get everything they want/need. I say this as someone who has worked for four different record labels (majors & independents), so even though most people already suspect that this is the case, I can tell you from an insider’s perspective that it’s true.

    One pet peeve about compilations that just popped into my head is the desire to represent every album in an artist’s discography. As all of us obsessive collectors know, most artists release a few clunkers during their careers, and I hate when a deserving song from a great album (that’s already well-represented) is omitted in favor of a lesser track from a terrible album, just for the sake of covering all the bases.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Another great point Rich, about the less-deserving records.

      To know (from an insider) that they deliberately put on inferior tracks and not make a great set (when they easily could) oughta rot any caring music fan’s socks.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Thanks for the inside scoop Rich! I guess that falls under the “cash grab” category but it’s even more devious than I suspected.

      And yes that’s true about including songs from “every” album. WHere space warrants it, that can work well. Otherwise it can really handycap the CD.

      Like

  2. 1. …include two or three new songs, forcing fans to buy old songs over again just to get the new ones.

    – Yup. But if anyone is surprised in this day and age that the record companies wanna soak people, those people cannot be helped.

    2. Live versions. Even if we choose to buy or listen to a greatest hits album, a lot of the time the familiar original versions are replaced with inferior live ones.

    – MY BIGGEST BEEF WITH HITS SETS. If you wanna make a Hits Live set, great. Otherwise, studio tracks only.

    3. While it is certainly not a rule, for the kind of music we listen to, a studio album is often a self contained work, not just a collection of songs.

    – Yeah, sometimes there’s actually a theme. And sure, the band will TELL you there was a big long involved process and theme involved, but honestly? A lot of times, they’re trying to write hits, throwing it all at the wall and seeing what sticks. Cohesion is not the primary goal.

    4. Who else but a die-hard fan would be a better self-proclaimed expert to criticize the song selections on a “greatest hits”?

    – Well if they’d just ask ME, then all those hits sets would be perfect.

    5. Artistic non-involvement. Few hits albums have any input from the artists themselves.

    – Sold our souls for rock n roll…

    6. Cash grab. Many greatest hits album stink of the whiff of “record company cash-grab”, usually at opportune times.

    – Same as #5. Artist has little or no say, make the fat cats fatter.

    7. Snob attitude. “Don’t buy the greatest hits! Just buy all the albums!”

    – Some bands, I would agree. Others, a hits set is all I need. I wonder if Rich has a segment on his awesome site about that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Nice to know we’re on the same wavelength. A great way to start the week. Glad I’m not the only one who hates the inclusion of live versions in place of the original hit studio recordings. That has ruined several compilations for me. If they want to add a live version at the end that’s fine, but the original should be included too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yeah man, I have ranted loudly and at length about live tracks on Hits sets. Most recently, I refused to buy the Slipknot set because of this issue.

        I remember Mike saying there was a KISS live version that was better than the studio version (from Alive? Something like that). That it was the definitive version. But I’d say that this wouldn’t happen very often. At least, not often enough to warrant inclusion of live tracks on Hits sets.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I think Greatest Hits are an effective preview (The Billy Joel vol. 1 & 2 were so good they inspired me to check out more of the catalogue) – but I don’t usually feel compelled to buy the compilations from an artist that I already have the cds (like the hip’s yer favourites)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, Billy Joel same as Elton John. Those three Hits sets are GREAT, but there’s also so much more on the records.

      The Yer Favourites is a tough one to ignore, though. There’s two songs on there you can’t get anywhere else!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. “Least Worsts Of”… like Quiet Riot?

      “Greatest Hit”… I have a Dream Theater 2CD comp named Greatest Hit (And 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs).

      Hey, alsom don’t forget Packed To The Tits With Hits (TM). Anyone ever names their hits comp that, they owe me all royalties for the name and idea! Time and date stamp on the comment, it’s all mine baby YEAH! \m/ \m/

      Liked by 1 person

        1. HAHAHAHAAHHAHAH!

          I’ll have do the artwork for LeBrain’s Greatest Shits next!! You can imagine that I’d be able to use the artwork for a variety of posts, considering my high shit-to-music ration here.

          Like

  4. I have to say all of the above here. In one corner, greatest hits albums have gotten me to check out some bands’ albums. Saying that, those bands who I own a good number of their albums, I don’t buy their greatest hits album because I have all those songs anyway. On a completely different note, the greatest hits album thing got cheapened for me when T’Pau, who only made two album and a few hit singles, put out a greatest hits album.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was gonna write SUMTHIN this am but I would have been late to work!
    Greatest Hits in the early 80s like Aerosmiths 73-80 were good served a purpose but now there Aerowhores in the regard of all the comps that they have out..
    Kiss I had Double Platinum yeah they hooked me as a 11 yr old with Strutter 78!!! But when Smashes Thrashes And Cash Ins came out I bought that which too me must have been one of the first comps I bought that had two new tracks tacked to it!
    VH when they put there’s out two new tracks to plug I bought that and of course the Roth/ Hagar comp with Up For Breakfast!!?
    I’m not a big Billy Joel fan but I love Glass Houses that to me is my greatest hits in other words full album..not just the singles…..
    I perfer the full deal of original albums but I see the record comp marketing angle…
    $$$$$$……

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha Aerowhores. I think they hung out backstage, Dude…

      Yup, it’s all about the Benjamins in the music biz, man. At least, it is for the companies putting things out. The bands may care about the art of it, but it’s still a music Business through and through.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. You can still write something Deke! This is not a comprehensive post in any way and you can expect to see one called Greatest Hits 2 later this year.

      VH have never done the greatest hits thing well. Maybe because they didn’t want to really do them.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love hits collections. Mainly for the reason that I don’t care enough about most bands to buy a complete discography.
    For those bands I do have a lot of albums from I definitely agree with your gripes.
    I think Alice in Chains took the bonus/ live extras with their first hits album.
    And how many Bowie hits albums are there?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alice in Chains did a couple new songs on their first greatest hits, and included a couple remixes, but they really cleaned the vaults out of rarities when they did their box set. That box set is really comprehensive for rarities!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. When I was 13 I heard someone in a record shop say, always go for a classic album rather than a greatest hits. Being the sheep I am I followed that advice and it’s good I think.

    Queen Greatest Hits is/was one of the most important LPs in my life though.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. I agree on the Jam but I don’t know if I will get stoned to death for saying so.

          The Police, I have 2 of them, both are more recent. Now a few friends of ours such as Uncle Meat and (I think?) Rich have said that the Police require studio albums in the collection, so I’m willing to try. (The Jam I already had all the albums and sold them all.)

          Liked by 1 person

  8. There was a Type O Negative greatest hits called “The Best of The Worst” which was, you guessed, done purely by the label and loathed by the band. Peter Steele went to the label’s office in NY with a baseball bat…as the story goes I think.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah man. I saw him live in 1995. I’ll never forget when he said from the stage, “I hope when I die, I can make use of myself, by throwing my body off a tall building onto someome I hate.” LOL! Rest in peace Peter.

          Like

  9. What annoyed me about Greatest Hits comps was when I would pick up my favourite artist’s GH and discover “my favourite song ever” wasn’t on the GH comp, but it would be a top ten single! Why would that song be missing?! Of course this was probably due to record company agreements and licensing / disputes / who owns the song. I just found it annoying I couldn’t get ALL their hits. The mixed tape fixed that, for sure! ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well lemme tell you something Mrs. Sarca: Yesterday I finished the chapter entitled “Greatest Hits 2” and we will get into some more of the issues that have come up in discussion here.

      The beauty of the mix tape is the ability to include songs that artist/label won’t. So when I made a Lep Zep greatest hits for myself on a 90 minute tape, I could include the songs I wanted! So: Travelling Riverside Blues, Kashmir, all the songs that meant something to me personally!

      Unfortunately the only real lesson I learned from the Zep tape experiment was that 90 minutes was not enough room for all my Zep desert island favourite songs.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Plus they always strategically leave off 1-3 of the truly greatest hits so you still have to go buy the albums anyway. Also in the vinyl days the inner sleeve was that cheap white liner…no artwork or anything new.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Umm…liner notes
    I don’t really mind them that much. I just don’t buy them much.

    I noticed that, as far as I know, Metallica have no Greatest Hits albums despite being the biggest metal band. Props to them for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same with AC/DC. They have two soundtracks with their songs, and two box sets, but ZERO greatest hits. And they could have cashed in on that over 10 times over by now, like other groups from Sabbath to Kiss to Ozzy do regularly. They have not!

      Like

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