Well, my semester is over and I just finished moving into my new place so I have time again. Time to write about nothing. I discussed GREATEST HITS collections with Allison Paynez awhile ago and now I’d like to talk about it some more.
Allison’s position was that they’re basically useless and I probably would have shared that sentiment a year ago. TODAY, however, I definitely see their value for a variety of reasons.
1) Prior to the 1960s, the ALBUM as a fully-formed, cohesive body of work was NOT the norm. Most albums prior to the 1960s were simply greatest hits albums with some filler added in, especially in genres like rock ‘n’ roll and its close relative country. So if you’re listening to music that’s 50 years old or older, you’re pretty going to HAVE to rely on compilations.
This isn’t even really an issue of time, either. Most hip-hop and electronic recording artists of the 1970s and early 1980s ONLY recorded singles. Hip-hop pioneers the Cold Crush Brothers never released a proper album but they’re historically significant and their compilation-only status shouldn’t be held against them. Similarly, almost all of the GOOD early Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five recordings were singles-only.
2) Not all artists make great albums but some of them make a whole lot of great individual songs. Perhaps the strongest example of this, ACCORDING TO MY TASTES, is David Bowie. Between Greg Guts and Ben Baierz I’ve heard several David Bowie albums in their entirety and I have yet to hear one that I really embrace as a whole. In spite of that, there are always a few songs on each album that I really like. Bowie has been a very prolific recording artist in his career and songs that I like by him have really piled up. Given that, I would be glad to listen to a Greatest Hits album by him, even if I don’t typically want to listen to complete albums by him.
3) My final point is that gReatest hitZ albums provide a snapshot of a band or even an era. This is especially valid for those that consider themselves serious musicians or perhaps musical historians of sorts. For example, old country or jazz recordings. For an individual that is slightly interested in 1940s honky tonk recordings but not wild about them, a nice, tidy little Hank Williams (Sr.) compilation provides a snapshot of the era provided by one of the best performers of the style.
What actually got me thinking about this topic (again) wasn’t even music but actually some comics I came across as I was moving out of my apartment this week. Since I was 10, I’ve had some interest in Dick Tracy comics by Chester Gould. A few years ago I decided to buy some book collections of his strips but they were all basically ‘greatest hits’ collections so I bought them reluctantly. A couple of years ago, IDW started printing ALL of the Tracy strips in sequence and I couldn’t realy hold interest. The Tracy greatest hits books reminded me that I might as well concentrate on the best stuff an artist creates rather than discount him or her or them because some of the lesser work is not as interesting. The End.
These are some writings on the same topic from DK Presents blog:
I don’t necessarily agree with his lists but they’re well-reasoned.