The Death Of The Greatest-Hits Album: Should We Be Sad?

There was a time when platinum albums didn't exist. An album might sell a million units, but there was no name for that accomplishment. It wasn't until 1976 that they gave that honor a label. The first album to be awarded platinum status? Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) by the Eagles.

That ended up being a wise choice by the RIAA. The album would go on to sell 29 times that and become, along with Thriller, one of the two highest-selling albums of all time in the United States.

But Eagles aren't the only band with a compilation album on the list. Greatest-hits and best-of collections from Elton John, Billy Joel, Journey and the Beatles (twice) all make appearances.

But in the post-iTunes era of digital music consumption, do greatest-hits collections even matter anymore?

Think about the last time you saw a greatest-hits collection in a store. It was probably cheaper than buying a regular album from the band's catalogue. It was probably near the front of the store, along with copies of other collections from other artists. It might not have been in a music store, but at a supermarket or pharmacy.

In the year 2012, the greatest-hits collection is the junk food of music retail.

And that logic makes a lot of sense. Gone are the days when a greatest-hits release was an event that record labels spent lots of money advertising. For most people they're impulse buys.

These buys can be triggered by any number of things: A band you hadn't thought about is suddenly in the news again for doing something dumb; you get that hint of nostalgia discussing music with your friends; the artist in question dies.

Since her death in February, Whitney Houston's Whitney: The Greatest Hits has been in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200. Other than Adele's 21 and NOW 41 it's been the only constant in the ever-fluctuating Top 10, peaking at No. 2. That's not bad considering that during its initial release in 2000 it peaked at No. 5.

It's easy to see the thought process there. A person finds out about her death on the television; they hear a couple of her songs on the radio the next day; they talk about her with their coworkers. They remember how great those songs are and when they see her best songs on one CD by the checkout aisle for only $8, making that leap to purchasing the album isn't difficult.

Houston's death, while sad, has been good for her estate and her record company. But most artists aren't megastars like she was at one time.

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Screw RIAA, the Eagles, & those who sue children for downloading.  Since I think MP3 sound like crap, with the exception of Neil Young's new MP3 format, I don't download.  I buy CD's.  


Breaking Benjamin Greatest hits = jumbo shrimp or military inteligence.


 They are an awful, awful band.

Craig Hlavaty
Craig Hlavaty

Good stuff. I think the case could be made for Thriller being MJ's greatest-hits record in itself. 


For serious? iTunes and downloads have killed the album as a format -- not just greatest hits records, but the whole shebang. I mean critics still review them, but who buys an album anymore except hard-core fans? You get a band like Alabama Shakes with one great song, which will be licensed to the highest bidder, and a label steps up with a contract to further cash in while the listener gets stuck with a couple alright songs and some junk. At least greatest-hits collections used to be a work-around so you didn't have to hear filler tracks (ironically, the pop/rock CD blooming up to 14 or more songs didn't help matters) but with the exception of a few bands (Green Day, anyone?), does anybody still build an album around a single concept?  


It's an interesting return to what is actually an old way of putting out music, albeit in a more modern format. The 45 single was the coin of the realm for rock and roll in the 1950's. I see iTunes as the music industry coming full circle.

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