Three categories of compilations, as I see it

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

One response to “Three categories of compilations, as I see it

  1. Here are a few just off the top of my head:

    1) “Tribute” albums: popular or widely-sentimentalized tracks by an artist, as “re-envisioned”–or, more likely, NOT–by subsequent, less-good bands SUPPOSEDLY influenced musically by the artist being covered. See ANY band from the sixties bearing uninspired sires from the nineties for infinite examples of this instantly-constipating phenomenon.

    2) The Dreaded Re-Mix Album: How the fuck do you call yourself a hip hop fan, and not recall THIS shimmering turd of the music marketing cabal…? The ones in PARTICULAR that I speak-type of at such time, however, are the ROCK-oriented ones, in which electronic/ drum-&-bass/ techno-related et cetera artists cull together tracks “beated up” by a single rock artist–many times these new arrangements being compiled by a single artist. For fuck’s sake, BUSH has one of these under their belt. Need I say more…?

    (Some artists, such as Bad Brains, take this dubious task upon themselves, as in their dub reinterpretations of their own catalogue.)

    3) The “Reverse-Tribute Album”: wherein, as is alluded to by the ad hoc title, the artist creates an entire album of covers of myriad forebear-ing artists songs which influenced THEM, purportedly. These are generally more interesting, and there are FAR too many of these floating around in EVERY genre to be aptly sampled. The best part about these compilations is that, generally, the recording artist chooses influencing material from a wide berth of genric sites not usually associated with their own. Thrill to the sounds of Cocteau Twins covering Tim Buckley! Cream yourself to Deftones metalizing Depeche Mode! Etc.!

    4) The “Anniversary Collection”: Usually, this consists of a “classic” album, as is lovingly rejiggered by corporate fat-cats to coin up on the “this stuff NEVER gets old!” demographic of hipster enthusiast asshead who, unfortunately, DOES. Usually, there are some incentive tracks added to the remastered main album; B-sides or studio outtakes… Unless there is a widely differentiated mix going on–which means, generally, either there was little artist involvement, OR, the artist is one of those “I have no soul or real identity, so I substitute LACK of identity FOR it” types (e.g. Sting, Madonna, etc.)–these are mostly passable affairs. Rhino Records was basically founded ENTIRELY on this market premise.

    5) Live albums…?

    There are more, but I need cereal now.

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