Why Greatest-Hits Albums Matter, and 10 Greatest-Hits Haikus
A solid album, to me, is what I have dubbed a "Front-to-Back." I have two definitions for Front-to-Backs: 1) albums that are structured to listen to as an entire piece of artwork (like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, or Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea); and 2) albums that are full of amazing work, allowing you to not have to, or want to, skip songs (some that come to mind are Weezer's "Blue Album" and Pinkerton and the Stones' Let it Bleed).
Photo by Creative Commons Wikipedia Damn it!! They are always sold out of Hall and Oates!!
Under those definitions, I do not believe that many bands make solid albums anymore. However, of those that do, even these albums are often not heard beyond their most popular tracks.
Right now, the vast majority of music that reaches the general public in full-length format is structured around two or three (or worse, just one) songs that are manufactured to be radio singles. When these singles are extracted, what remains is often forgettable filler and garbage.
This is not a shock to anyone; YouTube and iTunes are how the mass public receives music today. We are living in a single-scoop music culture. Due to this, some of the best pieces of art go unnoticed, since the songs are never purchased in the first place, and the singles get completely played out.
This is also a big reason why many people (fans and artists alike) vehemently hate Greatest Hits albums. These records inevitably get filled with all the songs that were singles, plus two more tracks that the artists threw on in order to feign current relevance. These new songs are almost always terrible.
B-sides, rarities, and fan favorites are overlooked in favor of songs that cracked the Top 40. This makes greatest hits albums sounds pretty abysmal, but in reality, greatest hits albums serve a very important role in the acquisition of new music.
Greatest-hits albums are the equivalent to a 101 course in college. They don't allow for a lot of depth, but they sure can teach you the breadth. A person can get a feel for what a band or genre is like, and see if they want to dig deeper... without accidentally buying a group's worst record, getting turned off, and missing all the delightful nuggets found buried on better works.
This should not be considered a "Greatest Hits."
It would be like buying Queen's Hot Space and then missing out on A Night at the Opera. Buying Queen's Greatest Hits would have told you if you were more of a "You're My Best Friend" person rather than a "Body Language" person.
Greatest-hits albums have the ability to expose people to music they didn't know they loved. The result is that the original albums are once again purchased and the B-sides and rarities once again played. As a result of the "springboard" effect greatest-hits records can give an artist's catalog, their Front-to-Back albums in turn live on.
Here is a list (in no particular order or ranking) of ten really fantastic Greatest Hits albums. These were selected based on three possible criteria: to serve as an excellent introduction to a particular genre of music; to serve as an excellent introduction to a group or artist's various eras; or as simply a rock-solid collection of music.
Clearly there are many more that could be on this list. I'd love to know what you would recommend to someone else who doesn't know what you know, or love what you love: What Greatest Hits do you think is an amazing springboard to new sound? Please leave some in the comments. And, oh yeah, just for fun... these will all be in the form of haiku. So get all 5,7,5 with it and leave some ideas.
Spanning Their Career
Get a Taste for Everything
Decide What You Like
Pre and Post-Duane Songs
The Beauty of Slide Guitar
Evolve with the Queen
Every Song's a Winner