Greatest hits album

A greatest hits album, sometimes called a "best of" album or a catalog album, is a compilation of songs by a particular artist or band. Most often the track list contains previously released recordings with a high degree of notability. However, to increase the appeal, especially to people who already own the original releases, it is common to include remixes or alternate takes of popular songs; sometimes even new material (previously unreleased) will function as bonus tracks. At times, a greatest hits compilation is the original album release for songs that have been released as singles and charted successfully.

Many of these albums surface despite the unwillingness of original artists to support them. The songwriters being embroiled in fighting record company decisions. For instance, despite The Rolling Stones' conflicts over the control of their tracks, the band-opposed Hot Rocks 1964–1971 surfaced in December 1971, and the contentious legal issues failed to clip the wings of the record's commercial success.[1] Nonetheless, many other of these albums actually receive detailed co-operation from the musicians involved, which can mean trying to present a specific 'goal' in the work, by means of the sonic or thematic arrangement of tracks (roughly akin to that in original albums or even concept albums), which in this case does not reflect the chronology of original releases.

Notable compilations

The Eagles' Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) (1976) is the best selling greatest hits compilation by a group and also one of the ten best selling albums in history. Madonna's The Immaculate Collection (1990) is the best selling greatest hits compilation by a solo artist; all of the songs on it are presented in different versions than the original hit versions.[2] Greatest hits albums are typically produced after an artist has had enough successful songs to fill out an album release. Some artists, such as Selena, David Bowie, Cliff Richard, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Kenny Rogers, Aerosmith, Scorpions, Kiss, TLC, Dolly Parton, Journey, Los Tigres del Norte, Queen, Take That, Kylie Minogue and Billy Joel, have had multiple greatest hits albums released through their long careers. Some greatest hits albums are released only at the end of the artist or group's career. For example, My Chemical Romance released a greatest hits album May Death Never Stop You: The Greatest Hits 2001–2013 in 2014 after they disbanded. Other artists have released hits albums in the middle of their careers, sometimes concluding a particular cycle, or a decade, or following the departure of a band's member, or following a change of record company. Carrie Underwood released her greatest hits album, Decade #1, in 2014 after ten years of recording music since winning American Idol, which proceeded her RIAA-certified platinum album Storyteller in 2015, and her 2018 album Cry Pretty.

Some bands refuse to release a greatest hits album, notably AC/DC, Tool and Metallica (AC/DC, however, has released two movie soundtracks which can be considered as compilation albums: Who Made Who in 1986 and Iron Man 2 in 2010). Manic Street Preachers initially refused to do a greatest hits, but eventually in 2002 they released the aptly named Forever Delayed; a later release, National Treasures – The Complete Singles (2011), was selected and endorsed by the band. Radiohead also refused to do such a compilation, but upon their departure from Parlophone Records, Radiohead: The Best Of was released in 2008 without their cooperation.[3] This was initially to be the case with Oasis, but realizing that the release was inevitable, the band took direct involvement with the album, titled Stop the Clocks (2006), and selected the track listing, track order, artwork and title. Oasis later endorsed a second collection, Time Flies... 1994–2009 (2010), although, as a singles collection, they had less control over its contents. The country music star Garth Brooks long opposed the release of a greatest hits collection; he eventually agreed to it in 1994[4] but only for a limited time[5] (the resulting record, The Hits was quickly removed from the market, but still sold well over ten million copies). Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, known for her eclectic interest in different musical styles, also resisted releasing a greatest hits album for many years, reportedly fearing that the availability of a greatest hits compilation would lead her record label to take her actual studio albums out of print. In 1996 she agreed to release Hits along with a second album titled Misses, which came out that same year; the latter compiled non-hit songs that Mitchell personally selected as being representative of her work. Mitchell's assumptions proved correct as both releases earned mixed to positive critical reviews.

One of the most notorious examples of a greatest hits compilation released against the artists' intentions is U.K. rock group The Rolling Stones' compilation Hot Rocks 1964–1971 (1971). The music magazine Rolling Stone remarked that the album served as a "beautifully packaged... purely mercenary item put together by the Stones' former record company to cash in on the Christmas season and wring some more bucks out in the name of the Mod Princes they once owned."[1] After their manager tricked the band into signing over the copyrights to their 1963-1970 song catalog, the band did succeed in changing management and record labels. However, they could neither prevent the release of Hot Rocks nor its successor, which was titled More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies) (1972). A testament to the selling power of greatest hits albums, Hot Rocks remains the best selling album of the Rolling Stones' career. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards continue to collect significant songwriting royalties from the Hot Rocks sales, but not the ownership royalties.

Greatest hits collections can also boost a flailing music career. The Beautiful South's first greatest hits album, Carry On up the Charts (1994), was originally strongly opposed by the band. However, upon release, it became one of the fastest selling albums in chart history.[6]

Often, a greatest hits collection is released as a video media (VHS, DVD, BRD), which features the music videos to the hits. This has been a staple mainly during the 1980s and 1990s, before video streaming websites like YouTube existed. These video compilations are often released concurrently with a greatest hits audio album (for example Time Flies... 1994–2009 by Oasis), with the same track list or with a few differences. However, a greatest hits video can be released as a solo release without a companion audio album. A good example is the Guns N' Roses VHS/DVD Welcome to the Videos, released in 1998, when the band hadn't released an audio compilation album yet (Guns N' Roses would eventually release a greatest hits album in 2004). Another example is Positive Mental Octopus by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, released in 1990, likewise, when the band hadn't yet released an audio compilation album; however, in 1992, the band released another video compilation called What Hits!?, which contained all the videos from Positive Mental Octopus and was this time accompanied by an audio album of the same name. Occasionally, a DVD release will feature music videos for singles that were not included on the greatest hits album. Whilst the greatest hits album might only contain a small number of singles, a DVD release will often contain all the band's music videos up until that point. Two examples of this are Blur's The Best Of DVD (2000) and Jamiroquai's High Times: Singles 1992–2006 (2006). Queen have released Greatest Video Hits 1 (2002) and Greatest Video Hits 2 (2003).

Several bands that have experienced highly uneven chart success (thus being labeled 'one hit wonders' or 'two hit wonders') have released compilation albums using comedic titles (including puns for instance) in reference to that fact. Two examples are Men Without Hats, a Canadian new wave group, who released Greatest Hats (1996), and the Michael Stanley Band, a U.S. rock and roll group, who released Greatest Hints (1979). The U.S. progressive rock band Dream Theater directly poked fun at itself with the release Greatest Hit (...And 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) (2008); their single "Pull Me Under" is much better known than the rest of the band's discography.[7]

Some radio stations are emerging that play only greatest hits albums as their source material.[8]

Criticism and popularity

One criticism has targeted the trend of including one or two new songs with a package of hits, which started in the early 1980s, and made it necessary for collectors to purchase the "greatest hits" album if they wished to have the complete catalog of an artist's songs, even if those collectors owned all the albums containing the pre-existing hits. By contract, another solution to acquire only the songs, via an online music store, may also be restricted to purchase of the album only, even online. For example, in 2002, The Paperboys released Tenure, which out of its eighteen tracks, contains six new songs.

The quality of a greatest hits package released early in an artist's career depends upon the artist. In 1958 Elvis Presley released Elvis' Golden Records, which only covers the period 1956–1958, but this album still sells nowadays, remaining in print on CD, despite the many Presley hits collections issued since. The Bee Gees released Best of Bee Gees in 1969, only two years after their international debut, yet nine of the twelve tracks were hit singles in the USA. Sly and the Family Stone released their Greatest Hits album in 1970, after only three years of recording activity. Ringo Starr's Blast from Your Past and John Lennon's Shaved Fish came out in 1975, after five-year solo careers (both had been members of The Beatles, though none of the band's material was featured on either album). ZZ Top's The Best of ZZ Top was released in 1978, as a contractual obligation, with no new tracks, but since then its CD release has been popular because of its use of the original mixes of songs (the CD releases of their parent albums have overdubs made in the 1980s). All of these compilations were well received and continue to garner critical kudos.[9][10][11][12] Bob Marley's Legend (1984) remains his best selling album, even though he had many more posthumous hits since, and more thorough compilations being released later on.

Greatest hits albums in the digital and streaming era

In the late 2000s and 2010s, digital downloads and music streaming increased in popularity, in some markets becoming the main source of music consumption. Through this, listeners can cherry-pick individual tracks by download or stream. In 2016 Pitchfork noted that “in the digital era, once a catalog enters a streaming service or an MP3 store, there's no need for a reissue and, therefore, there's no reason for a label to mine the vaults, searching for old music to make new again. Users can assemble their own personalized greatest hits playlists or just scan through an act's most accessed songs", which has led to greatest hits collections becoming redundant.[13]

Television and video games

In television, it is fairly common for shows to release compilations of their most well-regarded and highest-rated episodes to drive new viewers to watch a program. Two examples of this are Family Guy's Freakin' Sweet Collection and South Park: The Hits.

Several video game companies have game re-released after they have sold a certain number; Sony's PlayStation has a Greatest Hits banner, Nintendo has the Nintendo Selects label (formerly Player's Choice), and Microsoft has the Xbox Platinum Hits label. The European title (and original North American title) for Guitar Hero Smash Hits was Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits.

See also


  1. The Rolling Stones - Hot Rocks, 1964-1971 (1972) album review at
  2. Madonna - The Immaculate Collection (1990) at AllMusic
  3. Radiohead - Best Of (2008) album review at
  4. Google Music. Garth Brooks - The Hits (1994). Accessed 31 December 2007.
  5. Patterson, Jim (17 February 1995). "Garth Brooks knows how to take 'The Hits'". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 12 August 2008. Retrieved 29 July 2009. I hate the idea of the greatest hits being out there," Brooks says. EMI won him over with a solution that made sense to his adman side. EMI agreed to sell "The Hits" for only four to six months, meaning that fans better pick it up by this summer or they're out of luck.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) (Archived by WebCite at )
  6. The Beautiful South: Full Biography Retrieved on 2007-06-17
  7. "Dream Theater - Greatest Hit (& 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) Details Revealed". 11 January 2008. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  8. About Page Retrieved on 2011-06-11
  9. Elvis Presley - Elvis' Golden Records (1958)
  10. Sly and the Family Stone - Greatest Hits (1970) album review at
  11. Ringo Starr - Blast from Your Past (1970) at AllMusic
  12. John Lennon - Shaved Fish (1975) at AllMusic
  13. "Why the Death of Greatest Hits Albums and Reissues Is Worth Mourning". Pitchfork. 2 May 2016. Retrieved 30 October 2019.

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