Anthologies or Greatest Hits?

When a recording artist wants “hits” only, they or their record company release a hits, or best of, collection. The intent is the most popular airplay, sales or charting songs.

The anthology is a whole different animal. This collection has some required hit songs, but the intent is to go beyond a greatest hits or only best of package. Deeper album tracks, longer versions, alternate versions, live versions, re-recorded songs, demos – the intent for an anthology is to show a broader view of that band or artist. The anthology is more of a career retrospective for fans who want the building blacks of the artist’s career.

Anthology or greatest hits? I’ve always struggled when looking to attain an artist’s prior music. Some greatest hit collections are in truth anthologies because they include lesser hits or non-hits to round-out or pad the collection. Buyer beware. Read what songs are included and the reviews. Nowadays, you can purchase individual tracks and download what you want, making your own collection. But for us old school music collectors, buying CDs is still the method to our madness. Mine anyway.

When I was collecting vinyl, I wanted only the hits, so albums like Chicago IX, their first greatest hits, or Eagles Their Greatest Hits, Rolling Stones’ Through the Past Darkly Big Hits Vol. 2, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – So Far, Steve Miller Band Greatest Hits, David Bowie’s Changesonebowie, John Lennon’s Shaved Fish or Roger Daltrey’s Best Bits.

Later, I discovered This is the Moody Blues, their anthology of their first seven albums. Many of their best and most endearing songs were never singles, and therefore not hits. The songs were not put in chronological order, but sequenced to create a wondrous flow, employing segues to blend from one song to the next. For me, it remains the greatest anthology of all time.

Here are a few other anthologies I would recommend.

Neil Young was one of the first to release an anthology instead of a greatest hits collection. Young has always been extremely prolific recording and releasing (or not releasing) new music. Decade covers the 1966-1976 period, even predating Buffalo Springfield. This period was Young’s most commercially creative period, although he’s had peaks and valleys since. Covering three LPs, there are the expected hits, unreleased songs and album tracks. I’ve always found this collection a strange one based on the selections. In recent years, Young has been emptying his vault with unreleased albums and multi-disc archive releases that go much deeper than Decade, but if you want a good sampling of Young’s decade, this set will do fine.

Spirit’s Time Circle has become one of my go-to albums. I bought a copy of Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus many years ago and picked up this 2-disc set, but never really listened to it – until recently. What I discovered on this set were the songs from a long forgotten film soundtrack and some of their early jazz-rock music.

Tom Petty’s Anthology: Through The Years. A two-disc greatest hits collection for the first 25 years. A lot of popular album tracks are included because the writing and performance are so good. Preferable to the very good single-disc Greatest Hits.

Beatles 1967-1970 (Blue Album). After the Beatles disbanded, EMI/Capitol wanted some product to sell, so two different anthologies, the Red Album covered the first half of their career and the Blue Album, the latter period. These sets not only pulled from previously released albums, but also from singles not appearing on any album, and some popular album tracks. These two album sets sold in the millions.

Paul McCartney, Wingspan: Hits and History. This set covers the 1970s, and includes Wings as well as solo album tacks and singles. Seventeen of the 40 tracks are solo McCartney, the remainder are Wings. It’s a great sampling, but overlooks a few gems.

Substance by New Order is a great collection of dance and beat tracks. A and B side singles, with a few remixes and a new song. New Order underwent a transition in their sound in the British post-punk environment from a raw, Clash-type band to synths and beats, more Ike Pet Shop Boys.

Jefferson Airplane’s 2400 Fillmore Street. Still, the best overall Airplane compilation. Thirty-eight songs on two-CDs, covering the familiar and less familiar recordings of the band. Anthologies usually include material not every fan likes and this is the case here.

Traffic’s Smiling Phases. A terrific collect of the band 1967-1974. As many Traffic followers know, the band consists of the psychedelic-pop of the Dave Mason years and the later Steve Winwood soulful rock. It’s a very complete collection.

Chronicle, Vol. 1′ by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I never bought any CCR albums because this set gave me everything I wanted from the band. It’s not just a collection of hits, although you get them all, plus some familiar album tracks over a two-LP set.

The Who, ‘Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy. This collection compiles their 1960s singles, including those that did not appear on albums. It’s a great collection. Odds & Sods is a compilation of unreleased and leftover tracks. Thirty Years of Maximum R&B is 4-disc set that has a bit of everything, lots of unreleased versions and songs left off of albums. I enjoy it, but ‘Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy is the one to buy.

Joe Walsh’s compilation of Look What I Did! This collection includes James’ Gang, Barnstorm, Eagles and solo material. A great compilation of hits, well-known album cuts and overlooked gems.

Sweet Dreams: The Anthology, Roy Buchanan. This guy could play the blues, jazz, rock or anything. A long career cut short, the collection gathers a great deal of his recording success. If you don’t know Roy Buchanan, take the time to do so.

Bob Dylan’s Biograph pulls together songs from 1962-1981, hits, alternate versions, live and unreleased tracks. I’m not a Dylan expert, but it’s an enticing overview of his career to that point.

The Essential Jimi Hendrix Vol. 1 & 2 are terrific albums. Together. A great overview of Hendrix’s career. This was how I got into Hendrix. These sets came out in the late 1970s before the obscene commercialization of the Hendrix catalog.

Eric Clapton at His Best. Out-of-print LP compilation of early Clapton solo, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominoes. My first compilation collection, good early stuff after Clapton left Cream.

Living in the Past was a Jethro Tull compilation of early non-album singles, remixes, unreleased songs and live tracks. It was an odd collection at the time, but a nice grouping of mostly unavailable songs.

The Hey Jude album. Beatles singles A and B sides that were not available on albums. It spanned six years of material, so they don’t really fit together well, but at the time the only way to enjoy them if you didn’t buy the singles.

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