According to me, there are three kinds of compilation albums, but if there are other thoughts on the issue, I’d love to hear them.
1) THE ‘GREATEST HITS/BEST OF’ ALBUM (PS – BORING)
This kind of album doesn’t have to consist of actual hits but it’s basically just a collection of widely available or especially popular recordings by a group. Good for casual fans, expanding horizons without diving too deeply, or historical purposes. I don’t have a whole lot of these but I did use them to explore artists that I ended up getting into like Prince and The Smiths.
2) THE B-SIDES ALBUM
I always love these and wish they were more common. I have a lot of these, including lame Japanese-market releases like Morrissey’s ‘Rare Tracks’ (which Morrissey certainly was unaware of). These albums basically just group together single b-sides, outtakes, non-album singles, and rare tracks. The best ones do so with some rhyme and/or reason. The Beatles Past Master releases are arranged in chronological order, for example.
3) THE RECENTLY-RELEASED SINGLES ALBUM
This isn’t especially common anymore but until the 1960s, as I’ve babbled about many times before, most full-length LPs were simply collections of the 5 or 6 most recently-released singles by an artist. These releases are often basically studio albums that happened to be serialized in the form of singles. A semi-recent example is Morrissey’s ‘Bona Drag’ album from 1990. He basically released singles every few months over a couple of years without any album to connect them and then BAM out came ‘Bona Drag’. But why the hell does it have a couple of tracks taken from his previous studio album?!
These are really annoying – the ‘let’s cover all of our bases’ type releases. The best example from my collection is the ‘Sounds of Science’ double CD by Beastie Boys. It’s a jolting, incongruous collection of hit singles, album tracks, b-sides, outtakes and even a brand new song or two – seemingly arranged completely randomly. LAME.
BONUS) BOX SETS
I might be dead wrong but there have been some really cool box sets released in the last 5-10 years. Some of these are complete works type things that just have EVERYTHING (album tracks, single tracks, outtakes) all in one place. I have releases like this for the Zombies, 1970s-era Black Sabbath, non-Island Records releases by Bob Marley & The Wailers and there are more I’m interested in. How about that awesome Nirvana box set from a few years ago? B-sides and outtakes galore! A lot of these box sets are really cheap compared to what they’d be if they were individually released singles. For example, I think my brother and mother found the Black Sabbath box set for me (for Christmas) for maybe $40 NEW. That’s only $5 per album! Even if it was actually $50 that’s only like $6+ per album.
Am I missing anything?