5 Classic Best Of Collections

I’ll be the first to admit that Best Of Collections are usually a terrible representation of an artist’s catalog. As a general rule, I usually try and stay away from them, preferring to check out the classic albums instead.  Have you ever checked out a collection from an artist you absolutely love, and been horrified at the song selection on their collection? In some instances, key songs are missing.  Or, in other cases a ban has several Hits Collections and you have to buy the separate packages to get everything you want.  (Of course, maybe this isn’t so much of a problem for those who use Itunes religiously.)

Too often, these collections tend to gloss over an artist’s evolution or focus on a singular period.  Van Morrison’s Greatest Hits, while containing some of his most well known songs, is actually a pretty poor depiction of his forays into what can be dubbed Celtic-Soul.  Occasionally though, there are some collections that are absolutely essential, that actually get the story of the artist right – as opposed to just compiling a bunch of songs together in a neat little package.

Sly & The Family Stone – Greatest Hits

Originally released in 1970 to fill the gap between Stand! and There’s a Riot Goin’ On, this set is mind-blowingly good containing the best of Sly & The Family Stone’s hits in the late 60s.  Every single track is a explosive fusion of funk, R&B, rock, and soul that tons of bands have tried to emulate, but none have perfected the way Sly & The Family Stone did.  Greatest Hits is a non-stop party that never lets up particularly on “Sing a Simple Song” and the absurdly titled “Thank You (Falentinme Be Mice Elf Agin”).  As a blend of party-music and socially consciousness anthems, it doesn’t get any better than this.

James Brown – 20 All-Time Greatest Hits

James Brown has a lot of hits collection, but this is the best singular compilation containing the early R&B hits (“Please Please Please”, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”).  There’s also the the cultural touchstones of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” – which almost single-handily invented funk.  More than just a collection though, All-Time Greatest Hits captures all of Brown’s energy and passion from the sex-induced singles  – “Get (I Feel Like Being) A Sex Machine Pt. 1” – to the African American empowerment anthem, “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”.

Talking Heads – Sand In the Vaseline (Popular Favorites)

If you ever needed to know anything about The Talking Heads, this is a great place to start.  It encompasses the big songs (“And She Was”) with fan favorites (“Heaven, “Psycho Killer”). If you listen to their early records, it can be hard to comprehend how the hell they got so big.    Without a doubt, Talking Heads remain of the oddest bands to ever chart a hit (and they had numerous hits).  But Sand in the Vaseline shows a natural progression of art inspired new-wave to pop oddities they would have in the early 80s.  It also doesn’t gloss over their strangest efforts either – the African music inspired “I Zimbra” with nonsense lyrics from Dada artist Hugo Ball is also included.

David Bowie – Changesonebowie/Changesbowie

Changesbowie was released in 1990 to replace Changesonebowie so it would include some songs from the late 70s and the early 80s.  This collection holds a special place for me, since it was my first introduction to Bowie.  My older brother used to play on his car cassette player while picking me up from school.  I was probably 12 or 13 at the time and mostly listened to R.E.M., U2 an whatever was on the radio.  Bowie seemed so far out and exhilarating.  Not one song sounded the same.  There was the neo-soul of “Young Americans” to the glam-rock of “Rebel Rebel”.  The lyrics were similarly mind-blowing.  Did he really just sing, “well hung with snow white-tan?” on “Ziggy Stardust”.  It’s a good place to start obsessing over Bowie.  I’ve always considered Bowie to be the gate-way artist to much weirder stuff, and this is a collection which leads you down that path.   The only complaint is the really awful remix of “Fame”.

Bob Marley – Legend

An absolute classic of a collection.  Bob Marley’s work is universal but also varied.  Legend does a great job of collecting the love songs (“Stir It Up”, “Waiting in Vain”) songs of protest and social injustice (“Buffalo Solider”, “Get Up, Stand Up”).  It truly captures the spirit of Bob Marley.  As for many I’m sure, this was my first introduction to Bob Marley (and also reggae) and left me wanting to know more about Jamaica, Marley, and reggae.  Kaya, Exodus, and Catch A Fire are great albums, but for some reason I find myself listening to Legend more.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “5 Classic Best Of Collections

  1. Great list. I love changesbowie and Sand in the Vaseline although I do prefer Marely’s Golden Hits- Volume 2 over Legend. Still, this is a great list!

    • Thanks! Changesbowie was a game-changer for me. I think it changed the way I looked at music and got me into music that is more out there.

      • I started off on Ziggy but I love changesbowie. I was pretty young when I started listening to Bowie; I am guessing maybe 12 or 13. It was the early 90’s. We would listen to it in my friend’s bedroom which was a converted attic. He had ziggy on vinyl and we would just put it on and chill. It was definitely my gateway into that different side of music that Bowie revolutionized. So glad it is on your list.

  2. I haven’t listened to Legend in quite a while. I grew to resent the record after going to college and meeting a handful of people who claimed to be reggae aficionados. Asked them who they liked, and they only ever said Bob Marley, and they only ever brought up songs on Legend. No Peter Tosh, no Toots and the Maytals, not even an actual Bob Marley record.

    If I had a favorite compilation, I’d say it’s Substance, the New Order singles collection from 1987. Their albums were good, but they put out such great singles that never made proper LPs, as well as great versions of songs that would only get released as 12-inches. Absolutely essential listening for anyone into dance/electronic music, and a great way to get into the genre if you’re unfamiliar.

    • I totally get what you’re saying about Legend. I know tons of similar people to the ones you described. It was a lot of “Legend” and Dave Matthews. I’ll have to check out The New Order collection – I’ve never really listened to them. I probably should, because I (unfairly I might add) I tend to view them as the band that started from Joy Division. Thanks for the recommendation, I will check it out and let you know what I think.

  3. Pingback: Five Top Fives and Friday Updates « thirtythreeandcounting

  4. thegeekswereright

    Totally agree with you about Bowie’s Changesonebowie/Changesbowie–a great album, and also my first intro to Bowie…well, besides the movie Labyrinth.

  5. I used to think the same thing about Greatest Hits collections until I discovered rap. Then they made sense. Pop artists too. If your medium is the single, then greatest hits are perfect.

    That said, no Mudhoney’s “March to Fuzz?” One of the few Greatest Hits who’s production is consistent. Listening to it, you won’t notice, “oh they must’ve been signed to Sub Pop here, and Reprise here.” Band came out of the sky fully formed!

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