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.