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Graduating From The ‘Greatest Hits’

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I am an “old.”

So my initial exposure to a lot of musical artists was either…

… through the radio…

Or: The Columbia Record Club:
(“Ten albums for $1 !”)

So, when I wanted to check out an artist, I would usually start with their ‘Greatest Hits’ album.

(I suppose the Kids Today use the “This is” Spotify lists.)

Dangerously so.

I discovered a bunch of great music this way. And a lot of artists have enough material for a killer Greatest Hits album. 

In some cases, (Elton John & Billy Joel come to mind), I ventured into deeper dives and discovered a lot of great songs outside of the GH record. In fact, two of my favorite songs from those two…

“Grey Seal” from Elton…

… And “Rosalinda’s Eyes” from Billy:

Are deep album cuts that I likely never would have heard otherwise.

But, for a lot of artists:

… I was either really happy with the 10-15 great songs I got on a ‘Greatest Hits’ record…

…or was afraid to venture deeper into a catalog and discover their GH songs were all they had going for them.

So, I come to you with a sampler of artists I’ve only (mostly) been exposed to via a Greatest Hits album:

Bill Withers

Bob Marley
(does anyone actually own an album of his other than “Legend”?)

Bob Seger

Carly Simon

Cat Stevens

Chicago

Devo
(I have two of their GH albums)

Donna Summer


Elvis

Eric Clapton

Flock Of Seagulls

Gerry Rafferty

James Brown

Jimi Hendrix
(via a box set)

Joe Jackson


Journey

Marvin Gaye

Missing Persons

Nick Lowe

Pixies

Rush

Sam Cooke

Sly & The Family Stone

Supertramp

The B-52s

The Cars

The Eagles

The Fixx

The Jam

The Motels

The Psychedelic Furs

The Who

Tom Petty

Who is worth a deeper dive?

And who are some of your “GH-only” artists?

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Edith G
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Edith G
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April 15, 2024 1:04 am

Wow that’s an impressive collection.

I can’t think of any example right now, but I remember that Madonna’s Immaculate Collection was a great album, even if she left out good songs from her catalog so far, and I never heard the part two, so I didn’t know if it was as good as the first.

rollerboogie
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April 15, 2024 6:46 am

Great debut, blu_cheez! Grey Seal is way up there on my list of favorite Elton songs, so I loved seeing that here. Rosalinda’s Eyes was also a fun mention, a great track off of Billy’s 52nd Street. I once heard it on a smooth jazz station, which was unexpected. My favorite deep cut from that album is Zanzibar. The bebop section in the middle with the Freddie Hubbard trumpet solo is just phenomenal.

My dad owned the Legend CD. We listened to it a lot on a road trip and it definitely got me more into Marley. My dad’s musical tastes would occasionally surprise like that.

Two “best of” albums that my brother lent me by The Grass Roots and CCR really exposed me to those artists way more than I had, Grass Roots in particular. I ended up really getting hooked on that band, and my wife and I actually went and saw them at The Taste of Joliet. It was just Rob Grill from the original days, but it was still great.

You have some great bands on that list, some of which I have explored. If there was one from that list I would recommend deep-diving to anyone that hasn’t done so, it would be James Brown, though I prefer the funkier stuff over his early hits.

Last edited 2 months ago by rollerboogie
lovethisconcept
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April 15, 2024 3:31 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

I had the Grass Roots greatest hits album as well. Never went much further, even though I loved it. Had the CCR greatest hits album, and it inspired me to buy every one of their original albums (although the last two could have been skipped).

JJ Live At Leeds
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April 15, 2024 8:32 am

Great stuff Blu Cheez, nice to have you along.

I’ve long since disposed of the majority of my CDs and all cassettes, just keeping hold of the vinyl. I had plenty of greatest hits but most of them were by acts for whom I already had many of their albums. The completist and fan in me would happily pay out for the same songs I already had but in a different order. I can’t think of many acts where I had a greatest hits and nothing else but there was The Lovin’ Spoonful, Sly & The Family Stone, James Brown – two of those crossing over with you. Generally they were acts from before my time that I bought on the spur of the moment if there was nothing new took my fancy that day.

I didn’t have Legend, I went for the luxury option of the Songs Of Freedom box set with 5 hours of Bob and barely an inessential track on there. So, Bob is definitely worth a deep dive in my opinion.

A GH act for me would be Guns N’ Roses. Which is unfair on Appetite For Destruction but I can’t be bothered wading through Use Your Illusion X 2 and definitely want to ignore The Spaghetti Incident and Chinese Democracy.

Virgindog
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April 15, 2024 9:58 am

Interesting topic, blu! The first Cars album is like a greatest hits record all by itself, so I’d recommend that and maybe Candy-O, too. Who’s Next by The Who should be required listening for any Rock fan, and digging into the catalogs of Nick Lowe, Marvin Gaye, and Rush can be pretty rewarding.

Pauly Steyreen
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April 15, 2024 10:46 am

1. Great to see you here cheez!!!
2. James Brown is best enjoyed LIVE. Find a live album or recording and feel the energy.
3. My favorite Marley song, Iron Lion Zion, is not on Legend. But yes Legend is an all timer for a reason.
4. You gotta experience The Pixies’ Doolittle in full album form.

Low4
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April 15, 2024 1:40 pm
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PeiNews
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April 15, 2024 3:31 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

The whole TAMI Show is worth watching*, but James Brown’s 17-minute set is particularly great: https://youtu.be/8pdZJ7TkJQU?t=4629

*Seriously, look how stacked the lineup is

JJ Live At Leeds
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April 15, 2024 4:19 pm
Reply to  PeiNews

And featuring everyone’s favourite; Mike Love, with his unique dancing style!

Pauly Steyreen
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April 15, 2024 5:04 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

This show was recorded in 1980 when he was approaching 50. Still has plenty of gas in the tank and goes bonkers on It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World!

https://youtu.be/JwhhCMdN1wM?si=NZQIQG3MBCxD5YOW

Pauly Steyreen
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April 15, 2024 6:02 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Correction… 1985 and he was north of 50 at this show…

cstolliver
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April 15, 2024 11:53 am

Welcome aboard, blu!

I’m not sure whether mt’s visuals synced perfectly with your artists (knowing him, they probably did), but Bob Seger’s set there is a volume 2. You really need Vol. 1. I’d also argue that Seger, Springsteen and John Mellencamp are much like Elton John and Billy Joel in that “greatest hits” sets don’t fully capture their best work.

Journey’s set works, but they also have lots of popular album tracks.

For Donna Summer, that greatest hits set is fine but it’s only the Casablanca/disco years. I’d recommend either the collections that span through the ‘90s or, at least, her self-titled Quincy Jones-produced Geffen album from 1982. It shows her in a much more diverse set of sounds than the GH set.

Last edited 2 months ago by Chuck Small
cappiethedog
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April 16, 2024 1:31 am
Reply to  cstolliver

I like “Between a Laugh and a Tear” so much. It might be my favorite JM song. I remember an old TNOCS’er liked “Minutes to Memories”. Both could have been singles. But the label went with “Rumbleseat”.

lovethisconcept
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April 16, 2024 2:21 pm
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I love “Minutes to Memories”, not least because my grandfather worked for many years in “the steel mills near Gary”.

cappiethedog
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April 18, 2024 4:00 pm

I can picture myself reading the review for Scarecrow in RS at Longs Drug Store(CVS). My grandmother is still alive. We walk to the music department, but the album’s not available ’til next week.

Virgindog
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April 15, 2024 1:23 pm
Reply to  blu_cheez

That’s probably a fair assessment. I think Lennon/Ono’s “Double Fantasy” is worth a listen, as is Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” but neither is crucial into understanding who they are as artists.

JJ Live At Leeds
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April 15, 2024 4:25 pm
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My take is that for George All Things Must Pass acts as an essential accompaniment to his greatest hits. Two thirds of it anyway, that last disc of instrumentals got very little play from me but the rest of it is amazing.

For the rest of his career, inconsistent is definitely the word so a compilation does a fine job of picking through it all.

Low4
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April 15, 2024 1:44 pm

For many late-stage Boomers (and others), the Beatles Red and Blue albums were important gateways into the Fab Four. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard those described as “greatest hits” albums, but it’s a fair description.

allybear
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April 15, 2024 2:01 pm

I’m glad you included Tom Petty there – when my ex and I broke up, the only things I wanted and he took were Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits and Squeeze Singles (and all my 1994 Stanley Cup stuff, but that’s another question).

cappiethedog
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April 16, 2024 1:26 am
Reply to  blu_cheez

I love Squeeze. But you’re right. They’re a singles band. The one album I can play from start to finish without the temptation of skipping ahead is Argybargy. Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti, in my opinion, is due for an reappraisal. Singles 45 and Under rescues “Take Me I’m Yours”.

PeiNews
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April 15, 2024 3:23 pm

The Legend cover in the article doesn’t show the real tracklist — it’s one of those low-quality YouTube greatest-hits videos. The actual tracklist is here.

I’m a bit reluctant to be That Guy who nitpicks like that, but I’m so sick and tired of those videos spamming my YouTube search results.

lovethisconcept
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April 15, 2024 3:36 pm

There are several on that list that I could recommend. I’ll limit it to three. Tom Petty would definitely reward a deeper look, as would Bob Seger. I would also include Springsteen in that category. Yes, the trifecta reveals my bias towards heartland rock.

cappiethedog
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April 16, 2024 1:17 am

I bought The Cars’ Greatest Hits. I remember playing the game: Is that Rik Ocasek?

The Best of Elvis Costello & The Attractions was an excellent starter album. As was Kate Bush’s The Whole Story.

Obligatory: “But they’re the greatest. What’s wrong with that?” -Saoirse Ronan

thegue
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April 16, 2024 10:48 am

Came to make sure you included The Fixx’s Greatest Hits…and was not disappointed.

Can confirm I owned about half of these, and that I wouldn’t have been exposed to a lot of these artists’ works without these CDs.

P.S. I imagine some are wondering how A Flock of Seagulls could possibly have a Greatest Hits collection (also – “I Ran” remix made in onto one is the least surprising thing to ever happen), but the first six songs on it were amazing.

I only owned 8 of your 32 above, but another that was incredible was Dramarama’s The Best of Dramarama: 18 Big Ones.

Phylum of Alexandria
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April 16, 2024 8:47 pm

I’m writing this from an airport, so I gotta keep it simple. Love the article!

Best of Comps I Still Love Despite Eventually Getting Into the Proper Albums:

Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady
The Cure: Staring at the Sea
Siouxsie and the Banshees: Once Upon a Time
Misfits: Collection 1
The Very Best of Elvis Costello
Bob Marley: Legend (a great one-shot, but it is lacking some killer stuff, including any tracks produced by Lee Scratch Perry!)

Best Of Comps I Prefer Over the Proper Albums

New Order: Substance
(The Best Of) New Order (#sorrynotsorry)
Queen: Greatest Hits
Generation X: Perfect Hits
Madonna: The Immaculate Collection
The Best of Blondie

As for the Pixies, ya gotta hear Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, Trompe le Monde, and the b-sides!

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