Sunday, May 20, 2007

Are Greatest Hits Evil?

My friend Dan and I have had this running debate for awhile now. Is buying the greatest hits of a band a cop out or a smart investment? On one hand true fans of a band should already have all the songs on the greatest hits so the purchase is somewhat redundant. On the other, if you never bought any of the bands records then the greatest hits might be a good bet to get all the necessary material in one place. Also, if you are a fan of said band wouldn't the greatest hits be a handy collection to have so you don't have to fill your Ipod with all the records? (come on people this is a profoundly important question that is begging for discussion...)

Take 21 SINGLES by THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN. This is a great example of the pros and cons of a greatest hits record. JAMC are no doubt a very influential band (one worthy of a much deeper post then this). But if you are trying to introduce someone to their particular brand of brilliance then wouldn't a career retrospective be a better way then say trying to identify the one record that would be a good start? (again, this is a philosophical argument, not a debate on whether PSYCOCANDY is better than HONEYS DEAD). On the other hand, are you robbing the new listener of the subtleties of the band by stripping away the album tracks and opting for the safer, more commerical material?

I tend to fall to the Greatest Hits are good side of the arguement (but I have changed my mind back and forth depending on the band and the realitve quality of the collection). The tipping point in reference to this album was because it made me revisit some material that I had not really given a fair shake, namely the last two JAMC records. I completely dismissed STONED AND DETHRONED when it came out because it was such a departure from the traditional Jesus and Mary Chain sound. Some might even call it their acoustic, grown up record (complete with a radio friendly duet with Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval). But reviewing the two songs on 21 SINGLES (the aforementioned "Sometimes Always" and the mellow, full on Beach Boys vibe of "Come On") made me realize that that record was pretty damn good. The last three songs are from their last album MUNKI. Which, although more in line with the older sound, was crucified by the press and sold very poorly (at least here in the States). Again, thanks to the greatest hits fomula, what we hear now is a band that is trying to recapture some of the original attitude but with the benefit of age. In this case it makes them seem almost defiant, as if to say that regardless of age we still kick ass over all those that try to sound like us. Would this be the case without the earlier material to compare so readily available?

Anyway, the debate will rage on with no clear answer to the question. I welcome any thoughts...


Dreamwave said...

I tend to agree that any completist is being redundant by purchasing a greatest hits package. Though, with that said, I was the tosser who went out and bought a vinyl copy of Blue Day by Slowdive for nearly $120, just to have it.. yes, I have all the EPs. I do think that starting out a new listener on a greatest hits package is sort of a cheat.. you're doing all the work for them, and perhaps they will just be content to be a fan based on that package. If you love a band, buy the damn albums, it's the only way to get to know the ups and downs of their career, and how their sound had varied. Generally, I will buy most 'greatest' packs IF they add bonus tracks and unavailable titles (vids ect) as perks, so you have to get them via that medium. Problem is, most bigger record companies are money grabbing swines, so you'll just get the same crap rereleased every five years, with new artwork, tracks shuffled and called something else.. and the funny thing, people will still buy them.

Matthew said...

Greatest Hits compilations are generally only any good for getting into a band you know nothing about - if you know the band well you have your own greatest hits anyway.

I guess they are also not bad for bands you're ambivalent about as well. Pink Floyd and David Bowie are two Best Ofs I have no intention of expanding on, for example.