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Reissues, like strawberry shortcake, can be sweet. The deluxe edition of the Monkees’ Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. that Dave Nuttycombe just dropped off at my desk, no doubt an abashed peace offering for his cretinous bashing of the band last month? Sweet!
But let’s get real. I don’t see myself making it through the recent Genesis 1976-1982 box set again. I’ll let Leitko fritter away his nights on deep cuts from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway—I want to hear “Abacab,” “No Reply at All,” “Invisible Touch,” and “Misunderstanding” (ooh-we-ooo).
Lately I’ve been thinking about the greatest-hits sweet spot—artists whose best-known songs tell, if not their entire story, enough of it for almost everyone. I’m sure I’m not the only rock critic who got into music via greatest-hits records (mine were The Kids Are Alright, the red and blue Beatles collections, and, uh, Urgh: A Music War). All of those spidered out into further explorations, but that’s not something I could see happening with, say, Journey, whose best-of I will totally download from iTunes next time I have too many beers and my wife has gone to bed.
There’s an argument to be had about how many songs you have to be able to recognize before popping for an artist’s greatest hits—our arts editor says eight, though I bought Status Quo’s Twelve Gold Bars on the theory that since I liked “Rocking All Over the World” the other 11 songs stood a better-than-even chance of ruling, too—but I especially have to tip my hat to groups like Poison, who not only have more songs you remember than you realize (seriously, check it out) but who also have thrown in a bonus cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band,” a fact that is beyond argument.
Bonus songs are typically the achilles hill of best-ofs, rarely living up to titles like Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be). Usually you get stuck with some crappy open letter to the next generation by Bob Seger. So here’s to the artists who not only recognize that their careers be summed up neatly in a mid-priced package but throw in a bonus track or two turns a simple survey into a one-disc box set. I’m starting a list of greatest-hits albums to buy right here.
- Motley Crue
- Boyz II Men
- Pet Shop Boys
- Kool & the Gang
- Nearly anything with “20th Century Masters—the Millennium Collection” in the subtitle, except the Joe Walsh one, which doesn’t have “Life’s Been Good” for some unimaginable reason