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Greatest hits packages are the vests of the music world.
No-one would ever admit to owning too many but all of us own at least one and sometimes, they serve a very useful purpose.
Whether they’re called Best Of collections, Anthologies or simply Greatest Hits, nearly every band with a lifespan of more than five years has released such an album.
The most notable exception is AC/DC who steadfastly refuse to bow to record company demands.
The nearest the Aussie rockers have come to releasing such a record was when the Who Made Who soundtrack came out in the 90s followed by Iron Man 2 last year but apart from two live albums and five official DVD releases, fans have never had the chance to hear all their best recordings on one official package.
Malcolm Young once said ‘Our DNA is in our studio albums. If you want the AC/DC experience, buy one of them. If you like it, buy another. If you don’t, well goodbye and good night.’
An admirable stance? Well, perhaps but I’d maintain that Greatest Hits releases certainly have their uses and both my CD collection and my music knowledge have been enhanced by taking advantage of such albums.
Take the biggest bands of them all for example. I’ve got several Beatles’ albums from Sergeant Pepper onwards and most of the Rolling Stones’ albums from Exile In Main Street but for their early material, I rely on 1, the album which includes every number one single the Fab Four had and Forty Licks, which though it duplicates songs I already own, contains many of the Stones’ 60s classics.
Similarly, though I only own one Beach Boys studio album, the breathtaking Pet Sounds, by buying their Best Of package, it ensures I can listen to all their finest songs whenever I want.
Greatest Hits are hugely popular with the general public and sell in their millions, proving particularly attractive to those I would describe as casual music fans.
Queen, Abba and The Eagles boast the best selling Best Ofs in history and I’d guess at least 50 per cent of those who buy those records don’t own any other by the particular artist.
For me, these albums fall into two categories. I’ll either buy them because I like that band’s music but not quite enough to start buying everything they have ever released.
Glancing through my collection, I’ve got greatest hits packages by Black Sabbath (though I own all the albums from the Dio era), Styx, Reo Speedwagon, Cat Stevens, Blur, April Wine, Manic Street Preachers, the Boom Town Rats, Blondie. Uriah Heep, Elvis Costello, T Rex, Squeeze, Status Quo, The Doors, ELO, The Kinks, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, the Beautiful South and Simon And Garfunkel.
Quite an eclectic mix, I think you’ll agree. There are also Best of albums by Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, Eric Clapton, Whitesnake and Jimi Hendrix – though they were intitally bought because most of my material for those particular artists were in vinyl or cassette form.
Then there are other greatest hits which have proved even more valuable to me. It’s those which I have bought either to introduce or re-acquaint myself with a band.
Many years ago, I recall buying Neil Young’s Decade. I was familiar with songs such as Like A Hurricane, After The Goldrush and Harvest but wanted to hear more of his material.
These days, I never listen to Decade – but that’s only because I have 29 other Neil Young CDs in my collection.
That was a CD you could say did its job. And so too did REM’s In Time, which came out in 2003. Like Neil Young, this was a band I was fairly familiar with but with the exception of Automatic For People, had never been tempted to buy any of their studio albums.
In Time whetted my appetite for more REM and eight years on, I own every album they have ever released.
I’ve got a mate who bought Pink Floyd’s Echoes when it came out about the same time and buying that best of collection had the same effect on him as Decade and In Time did on me.
And a few years ago, when Led Zeppelin released Mothership which coincided with their one-off reunion gig at the O2, it proved a particular popular record with teenagers who became acquainted with the band for the first time.
I remember my son telling me that at least seven of his fellow sixth formers included the album on their Christmas list that year.
There is a third category of Best Of albums, which I hate, though occasionally, reluctantly buy.
It’s those which include additional new tracks. Or the bloody bonus tracks as I prefer to call them – a sinister trick by record companies to entice both the casual and ardent fan. And I plead guilty to being a sucker for such shams.
Aerosmith’s label are perhaps the biggest sinners in this respect, having issued at least five greatest hits records, the majority of which contain a couple of “previously unreleased” material to tempt you into buying something despite owning 90 per cent of its songs already.
Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Hits is another album which holds duel appeal. It’s perfect for those who want to dip into Springsteen but also essential for the completists who have to buy it, however, reluctantly, because it includes tracks they wouldn’t otherwise own.
When Van Halen’s Best Of Both Worlds came out, a compilation of the finest tracks from the Dave Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar eras, it included previously unreleased live tracks – another popular ploy by record companies in a bid to attract sales from both ends of the market.
Later this year, Pink Floyd release another greatest hits package, which will offer no new material and no live tracks.
Despite this, it will surely sell by the bucketload, hopefully attracting thousands of new fans.
Yet you can better your bottom dollar, there will be those who buy it, who own everything the band have ever released, simply because it contains new sleeve notes or because they’ve been sucked into buying it by the artwork or the promise of state of the art re-mastering.
For all my love of all things Floydian, I won’t be daft enough to fall for fancies. At least I hope not.