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The Riot Act, May 18, 2002
Guest_TSMAdmin_*
post Oct 2 2002, 09:01 AM
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Being bereft of original ideas and somewhat distracted by the verdict of a group of strangers as to whether I'm hot or not (www.hotornot.com), I decided to throw together a greatest hits column this week. My fans, assuming that such a misguided group of people exist, would no doubt be delighted to revisit some of their favorite "Riot Act" moments; the valley girl record review, Vince McMahon crooning "Missing," my eulogy for the Big Show's entrance music, and so on. "But Danny," my devoted readers cry out in unison, "you've only written two articles for this site. That hardly warrants a greatest hits compilation." In attempting to think of a witty, music-based retort I came up with an idea for my next article. It's easier than it looks, people.

My mistaken assumption that this meager body of work deserved repackaging is not a new one. The Backstreet Boys, beloved worldwide by girls without pubic hair, released their greatest hits compilation after a grand total of three albums. Three wildly successful albums, granted. But three albums nonetheless, and three that anyone who's interested in the Backstreet Boys probably already owns. The Smiths, who I love and adore, have FOUR singles and b-sides compilations to their name, the exact number of actual albums that they released. As great as The Smiths are, is there any need for "William, It Was Really Nothing" to grace four different albums? This reckless compiling demeans the singles or greatest hits album, which serve a very noble purpose when done responsibly. Personally, I find some bands infinitely more digestible in this form. I have some difficulty sitting through a whole Cure album, but "Staring at the Sea" has long held a very distinguished place in my heart and CD collection. Blur, whose albums tend to be too lengthy and absolutely rife with filler, released a fine singles compilation last year. They even threw a pretty lousy live album in the jewel case, too. God bless 'em. There is a real purpose to these albums, however, and it's generally overlooked in pursuit of the easy money they bring in. To guide the easily misled hits compiler in his journey, I present to you a few simple rules that should be followed without exception. Enjoy.

1. You must have released your debut album no less than ten years prior. Any band worthy of a greatest hits album should either have some degree of longevity or have broken up. The breakup or death of a key member are the only exceptions here. This is how I let The Smiths slide, as they're definitely worth a singles compilation despite not lasting the requisite ten years.

2. You must have no less than five albums to your name. Live albums and b-side compilations don't count. Five albums is the absolute MINIMUM here, too. So far as I can tell, the ultimate purpose of a greatest hits album is to introduce a new listener to an artist with a somewhat intimidating body of work. Example: In a career that's spanned five decades, Bob Dylan has released something like thirty albums. Where do you start? In picking up a greatest hits album, you have the opportunity to hear material from different periods of his career. This enables you to make a more informed decision and hopefully convinces you to buy as much Dylan as you can get your hands on. "Self Portrait" and The Wallflowers excluded, obviously. Conversely, there probably aren't a lot of people thinking "I want to get in to the Backstreet Boys, but I don't know where to start." Think necessity over demand for once, record industry.

3. Do not be afraid to sacrifice flow for quantity. Greatest hits albums generally have little flow, due to the fact that they're taken from a variety of different albums and time periods. Production quality usually varies, as does the level of musicianship. To make it up to the buying public, give us lots and lots of songs.

4. If the band isn't willing to compile it, have someone who's knowledgeable do it. If these things are just thrown together, people can tell. A good example of a properly done greatest hits collection is The Beatles' "Red" and "Blue" albums. There are no questionable inclusions or exclusions, no lackluster packaging, and the point of demarcation that separates the two double albums is perfect, in terms of the shift in the band's sound. Another good is example is "The Story of The Clash," which dedicates a disc to both the band's punk sound and their more experimental, at times poppier songs. That's more or less how it should be done.

It isn't hard to put together a proper greatest hits or singles album, but it also isn't hard to do it wrong. If my rules are followed without exception--unless otherwise noted--these albums, which have long been viewed as nothing more than an opportunity for a band to cash in on their past success when they're no longer commercially viable, can become a work of art in and of themselves. If not, they can remain the red-headed stepson in every successful musician's discography. There's no other way.

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