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The Greatest Hits (That Aren’t)

January 25, 2019

Record companies, why do you do it ?

If the record is called Greatest Hits why do you put on a track that was rejected as no good / issued as a B side / only available in Argentina ? Surely a Greatest Hit is a track that has been a Hit i.e. issued as single and made it into the charts ? I realise with some bands that means their Greatest Hits would actually be an EP or maybe even a double A-side single but surely that’s what the term means.

Let’s get specific. The Eagles Greatest Hits. Best selling record in the history of the Universe. Ten tracks, all released as singles. I can hum every song, and I loathe the Eagles. Target audience; people who don’t like music much, people who like songs that are in the charts  but don’t buy singles because they are too fiddly, hipsters who like the Eagles ironically, Joe Walsh so he could learn the songs.

Contrast this with the new Tom Petty 2CD compilation The Best Of Everything “featuring 38 of Tom Petty’s best and definitive hits culled from his career”. Amazingly one of these “best and definitive hits” turns out to be a song called For Real that no-one has ever heard before. Also included is a version of the (brilliant) ballad Southern Accents with new lyrics. This compilation was announced the week after American Treasure, another “definitive” compilation which had plenty of room for these two tracks. And there is a perfectly serviceable Tom Petty Greatest Hits still in the catalogue, 18 tracks released in 2008, all singles, all hits.

So who is the target audience for The Best Of Everything? It’s us. The collectors (ie suckers) who shell out for 36 tracks we have got just to buy the two that we have not. And it sucks.

I have been buying music for 43 years and in that time have repeatedly bought compilations that have just one or two unreleased tracks. My most recent example is the Guts compilation LP by John Cale, which contains the single B-side Mary Lou plus eight other tracks I already have on Cale’s three essential Island LP’s (recently praised and rightly so by Luke Haines in Record Collector mag).

Next time you figure the market can stand another compilation from one of your heritage artists don’t call it a Greatest Hits unless every tracks has been issued as a single. Ideally they would also have all featured in the upper echelons of the singles chart but in a world where ‘Another Girl Another Planet’ never charted this may not be possible.

If however you are going to issue a compilation of 95% previously released material with one or two rare tracks chucked in to tempt the collector then please have the honesty to title your release “Special Collectors Fleecing Edition”. And then we would all know where we stood.

 

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