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Arts

November 20, 2007

When Greatest Hits Aren't

The Greatest Hits album has long been a cash cow for the record industry. With the holiday season fast approaching, every band seems to be repackaging their singles and chart-not-quite-toppers into a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have them all on one CD! With decreasing profits from lackluster artists and—as they never cease to remind us—internet piracy, the labels are getting pretty desperate. Here are some recent examples of attempts to cash in with very little effort.

Libertines
The Libertines
Time for Heroes: The Best of the Libertines
Rough Trade Records
December 4, 2007

The Libertines exploded onto the UK music scene in 2002, and, after releasing two popular albums, they collapsed under the weight of expectation and Pete Doherty's crippling drug habit. But their short lifespan and tiny catalog didn't stop the band from releasing a collection of their greatest hits. I believe it was Neil Young who once said, "It's better to burn out than to fade away, but it's even better to burn out, sell out, and then quickly fade from the public consciousness outside of a few pubs in East London."

Clapton
Eric Clapton
Complete Clapton
Polydor
October 9, 2007

Billed as "36 of Eric's greatest songs from 1968 to 2006 in one collection for the first time ever!" Whoever is doing the marketing for this album either has a great sense of humor or a huge set of balls. While it may be true that this is the first collection of Eric Clapton's hits to feature 36 songs, or anything from 2006, it's remarkable how standard this collection of hits is. By my count, all but the last four songs have already been featured on collections of his in the past. The most interesting thing about the subgenre of Eric Clapton greatest-hits collections is the number of names they've come up with for essentially the same product. In addition to Complete Clapton, there is Clapton Chronicles: The Best of Eric Clapton (1999), The Cream of Clapton (1995), Crossroads (1988), Time Pieces: The Best of Eric Clapton (1982), Eric Clapton at His Best (1972), The History of Eric Clapton (1972), and The Very Best of Cream (1995). Look for The Best of Eric Clapton's Greatest Hits some time next year.

Dylan
Bob Dylan
Dylan
Sony
October 2, 2007

The only rival to Clapton in superfluous compilations is Bob Dylan. According to Wikipedia, Dylan has released no fewer than 10 greatest hits albums, including Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volumes 1, 2, and 3, two albums titled The Best of Bob Dylan (one was UK only), and The Essential Bob Dylan. This total does not even include the seven titles in the Bootleg Series, not to mention the numerous tribute albums such as the recent I'm Not There soundtrack album, full of covers of Dylan songs. So what does Bob think of this abundance of redundancy? Hard to say, but perhaps he alludes to it on the old Traveling Wilbury's song "Handle With Care":

Been stuck in airports, terrorized
Sent to meetings, hypnotized
Overexposed, commercialized
Handle me with care

(Thanks to Mike—lawyer, concert promoter, and Dylan fanatic—for finding the quote)

Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin
Mothership
Atlantic
November 13, 2007

Clearly the aging boomer population is the target market for a lot of these collections, and boy, do they love their classic rock. Led Zeppelin is perhaps the patron saint of classic-rock radio, and "Stairway to Heaven" is the standard pinnacle of the holiday weekend countdown of the top 1043 (or whatever number the station's frequency happens to be) songs of all time. With a long-awaited reunion on the way, Zeppelin—or more likely, Atlantic—decided now would be a good time to capitalize on any buzz the group is generating. Mothership features 24 of Zep's most killer tunes and does an excellent job distilling a career's worth of material into one double disc set. In fact, I would almost recommend it—if the band hadn't previously released Early Days and Latter Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin, with all but four of the same songs already on it.

Spice Girls
Spice Girls
Greatest Hits
Virgin
November 12, 2007

Reunion tours and greatest-hits collections go together like chavvy self-promoters and world-class footballers. Everyone's favorite girl-power-wielding slags are once again trying to "spice up your life," as they embark on a worldwide reunion tour that sold out in seconds. Despite releasing only three albums (and the worst movie of all time) in their memorable career, the Spice Girls saw fit to release a greatest hits album featuring two new songs to support the tour. Blimey!

Nas
Nas
Greatest Hits
Columbia
November 6, 2007

Indulgent greatest-hits albums aren't solely the terrain of classic rockers and over-hyped Brits (though they certainly dominate the field). Hip-hop artists can do it just as well. The interesting thing about this greatest-hits collection from New York hip-hop pioneer Nas isn't so much the content as the timing. Nas is releasing a Greatest Hits album in November to fulfill his obligation to Columbia, which will include none of the tracks from the album he is releasing a month later under (his former nemesis Jay-Z's Def Jam record label. Spanning the spectrum of title originality, the November album features perhaps the most common title of any record release, while his December release, named Nigger, seems to be designed to make people feel uncomfortable.







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- Arts
- posted on Nov 28, 07
Iowa Bumpkin

There used to be a progression for artist retrospectives: The original Greatest Hits CD that was re-mastered from the Greatest Hits album released some time before 1978 and missing the more interesting songs. Finally comes the 4-CD box set. Next Christmas comes the 2-CD Greatest Hits. Then the 1-CD "Very Best Of." Wait two years, then issue all the original albums newly remastered.


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