Artist-specific “greatest hits” compilations serve two primary purposes: to sell records to people who don’t want to shell out for entire discographies but are happy with just the hit singles, and to entice curious consumers to buy the albums that those singles were pulled from. If you have the tendencies to have complete collections, like I do, you tend to fall into the latter category. Yet sometimes you’ll find that the collections were really all you needed and you wasted your money. I don’t intend to take away from anybody’s artistic integrity, but not every album has to be great.
For today’s list, I present my top five “greatest hits” collections that are all you really need instead of buying each artist’s complete discography. That’s not to say that anything else that appears on each album is crap, but they tend not to live up to the standards presented by the hits collections. I’m excluding various artist compilations as that would be too much of a headache. Besides, often times the record company putting those out don’t even expect you to like everything on there.
At the end of each item on the list I’m going to include an “exceptions include” section. These would be individual songs or sometimes full albums that you still may want to buy at some point. For simplicity’s sake this section would only include work that was released during the time period that each compilation has covered. I’ll leave it up to you to explore anything after that.
- Antics in the Forbidden Zone by Adam Ant/Adam and the Ants. I was a huge fan of this collection in high school. I would listen to my sister’s vinyl copy of Kings of the Wild Frontier repeatedly but I wanted something to call my own, so I picked up a copy of this first. It covers all three Adam and the Ants albums plus the first three Adam Ant solo albums, plus one b-side. (Manners & Physique was released around the same time as this collection but by a different record label, which I assume was the reason it wasn’t included.)
This inevitably led me to pick up most of the albums over the years only to discover I already had the best collection of his songs. I didn’t even bother buying a copy of Dirk Wears White Socks after having the chance of listening to it all the way through. But that’s not to say that this compilation isn’t worth getting based on its own merit. I didn’t really need all of those singles from Friend or Foe but I’ll take them.Exceptions include: The entire Kings of the Wild Frontier album, the entire Strip album but only if the mood takes you, and Miss Thing from Vive Le Rock.
- Every Breath You Take: The Singles by The Police. The Police only released five albums, which were later re-released in an affordable complete box set. Therefore, it’s not too hard to add their entire discography to your collection. But once you listen to the entire thing all the way through, you’ll probably go back to listening to just the singles again. There’s not a whole lot of variation of the band’s sound throughout each album so if you like the singles, you’ll like the whole thing. However, there’s not much of a point. All you really need are those thirteen songs in this collection. Although getting more than just the singles and looking at the songwriting credits does remind the listener that the band isn’t just Sting.
Exceptions include: I honestly can’t think of any. There’s one about a blow-up doll but once it looses its novelty value it’s not really worth listening to again.
- Carry On up the Charts: The Best of The Beautiful South. As an American it’s not much of a surprise that I’m the only one of my friends that have listened to The Beautiful South, much less enjoy them. It’s all thanks to taking a chance on picking up this disc in a local music store. What enticed me was the sticker on the front proclaiming the commercial success of this compilation in the U.K. It covers the first four albums, plus one non-album single.
It seems that the band’s sound and themes can be only taken so far, however. There are a few gems that aren’t included here, but the melancholy that the band works best gets hard to take after a while. Like I said, this band isn’t for everybody so I recommend sampling even this collection before buying it. There is a limited edition with a second disc containing b-sides. I haven’t heard this one, however, so I can’t recommend it right now.
Exceptions include: Woman in the Wall and Oh Blackpool from Welcome to the Beautiful South, You Play Glockenspiel, I’ll Play Drums from 0898 Beautiful South. There are probably others but it’s been a long time since I’ve listened to any of the albums.
- Smashes, Thrashes & Hits by KISS. When I was in high school in the nineties I became obsessed with KISS. I was taken in by the spectacle but it turns out that they have some merit as musicians and songwriters. However, over the years my love for the band has waned. This has allowed me to step back and come to terms with the fact that I don’t like every song on every album.
It’s hard for me to recommend any particular collection. There’s quite a few out there and I wouldn’t consider any of them as the “definitive” set. I decided to recommend Smashes, Thrashes & Hits really just because it’s the only one I own, due to the fact that it has a couple of previously unreleased songs. I do like how it tries to cover every album up to that point (although a good deal of the songs were remixed), which means it has more of the eighties singles than some of the other compilations.
Exceptions include: God of Thunder from the Destroyer album, Save Your Love from Dynasty and Is That You? and Shandi from Unmasked (which, oddly, wasn’t covered at all in this set).
- Gold and More Gold by ABBA. Let’s face it: with ABBA all you really want are the hits, anyway. Sure, each of their albums work as a dance party by themselves, but once the group called it quits there’s no reason to play anything other than what people are familiar with. I had to include both collections the band has had so many hit singles it feels wrong leaving either one out.
Exceptions include: I don’t really have any to include here. However, I am going to make a note that I love the cover version of “Summer Night City” by symphonic metal band Therion. I highly recommend that you check out the music video for it.
Go ahead and buy the full albums if you want to. Like I said, none of them are bad. But if you’re a casual listener and/or on a budget, sometimes the “best of” collections will work as a fix.