In defense of the lowly Greatest Hits/ Best of albums.
Updated: Sep 13
Before the arrival of streaming services such as Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, and Spotify, the Greatest Hits or Best of CDs were the most cost-effective and time-efficient way to discover an artist.
While there is no doubt that these downloading/streaming services do provide a convenient way of accessing an artist's musical library at any place at any time. In my opinion, there is and will always be something missing in that format.
Don't get me wrong, I am perfectly aware that most of these Greatest Hits/Best of CDs were a cash grab from the record label. To be fair, in my opinion, they did serve a purpose, regardless of the reasons behind them.
Here are but a few reasons as to why these compilations were so wonderful.
First, a Greatest Hits compilation was the easiest way to discover a new artist without spending a lot of time researching them. The CD booklet would let you know as to which album the hit single originated from. Whichever album produced the most hit singles, or the hit singles that you liked best would dictate the studio album that you start with.
Second, for someone who is new to an artist/group with a huge discography (i.e., Elton John), these complications can give a quick overview.
Third, when an artist changed record labels, to get their money’s worth; the label would throw together a handful of the best songs for the fans. If done correctly it was a way of celebrating the end of one phase of their career – before embarking on the next.
Fourth, these Greatest-Hits albums once stood as a watershed — a milestone chronicling an artist’s career or evolution through a collection of top-rated hits.
Fifth, some artists who are nearing the end of their career decide to release a best of as a sort of a "last hurrah" to their fans.
Regardless of the reason. I will always enjoy a Greatest Hits or Best of album over a playlist from Apple or Spotify. An official release, whether it arrives via vinyl, CD, or MP3,is something that can be passed along, and it will always exist as a common point of reference. Playlists, as wonderful as they are, are not a substitute for an official compilation. Playlists are subject to the quirks of its users and licenses; there is no guarantee that the playlist heard today will the same you hear next month. When we lose this commonality, we start to lose the basic and fundamental issue of how we all connect through music in all its forms, which is through a shared experience.