The Greatest Hits

Ah, the ‘Greatest Hits’ album. We’re all familiar with it in some capacity, usually the ploy of the record label. It used to be that greatest hits albums signalled the end of a band, as though they were saying, “Right, this is as good as we’ll ever get.” Now, they seem to occur intermittently. Remember the odd Biffy Clyro singles release a few months ago? I’m just cautiously waiting for there to be a ‘Best Of’ album for Elbow.

There are very few ‘Best Of’ or ‘Greatest Hits’ albums that I like, and I’m certain this is the same for almost every other music fan.  I thought The Cure’s Greatest Hits was pretty good. While naturally it was filled with their most commercially successful songs you could tell the songs weren’t just thrown together, that some thought was put into the track listing and it worked out perfectly. I mean, of course I’ll bemoan them for not including ‘Fascination Street’, ‘Catch’ or ‘Prayers for Rain’, but whatever song selection is picked for these albums I always have some sort of issue with the tracks that either are, or aren’t, on it.

While in some instances the Greatest Hits album is merely an introduction to the band for some people, sometimes a band has so much excellent material that it’s incredibly hard to narrow it down into one album. The Smiths’ Very Best Of is a prime example of this, with no less than 23 songs on the album. And prior to that album release there were two volumes of ‘The Best Of The Smiths’. Some bands, it seems, should just remain untouched. If you were to go out and pick up any one of The Smiths’ albums it would be filled with consistently enthralling material. There was never really any need for a ‘Very Best Of’.

On several occasions some bands are unaware that their label is compiling a ‘Best Of’ album, let alone going to release one. Free from any consultation from the band, it proves an irritating and sometimes embarrassing addition to their discography.  This happened to AFI in 2004, when they left their then-label Nitro, the label released a collection of songs from their previous albums that they saw as being the best. It’s still something the band rarely talk about, but when they do the disdain is always evident.

So, are greatest hits albums really so heinous? The Best of R.E.M captures the band at various different stages in their career, and no doubt provides an excellent introduction to the band. Similarly, the Best of Depeche Mode is a stunning collection of their songs. Maybe without those albums, very few bands would be appreciated as much as they are now. In some instances, it can shine a light on a band that had previously been only vaguely known by people. Here’s hoping that Doves’ Best Of garners them all of the attention they’ve so long deserved. The verdict? The Greatest Hits album: a necessary evil.

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