Greatest Hits Albums Not So Great These Days

Nekesa Mumbi Moody laments the sad state of Greatest Hits albums being put out lately, which do not stand up to the great ones of yesteryear.

‘Best Of’ Albums Not So Great These Days (AP)

A greatest-hits album once stood as a watershed — a milestone chronicling a collection of top-rated hits, culturally significant songs or the end of a stellar career. But in recent years, a flood of “best of” titles from acts with only few years in the business — and performers with even fewer hits — have called into question how great a greatest-hits collection really is these days.

Last fall, Britney Spears released “Greatest Hits: My Prerogative,” a retrospective of her chart-topping, multiplatinum recording career — all six years of it. The Backstreet Boys put out “The Hits: Chapter One” in 2001 — just four years after releasing their first album.

“I don’t know what you’d put on a record if you’ve only been making records for five years. I don’t know what those greatest hits would be,” said veteran rocker John Mellencamp.

At least Spears and the Boys had a steady collection of hits — or can say they have more than just one. Among the more questionable greatest-hits collections that have popped up in recent years: “Toy Soldiers: The Best of Martika” (with one hit from the 1980s); “The Best of Mandy Moore,” from an entertainer who had more success as an actress than she ever did as a singer; and “The Best of O.D.B.,” from the late rapper who will best be remembered for his wild behavior and legal troubles than his chart-topping hits (or lack thereof).

And while teen queen Hilary Duff has sold millions of albums, she’s only released two discs — the first one in 2003 — and neither spawned a top 10 hit. Her “best of” collection, “Most Wanted,” hit record stores Tuesday.

“I guess with music becoming so disposable, things just happen so much faster now,” said Collective Soul singer Dean Roland, whose band put out a greatest-hits album of its own in 2001. “The short answer to the whole thing is it comes out to a money issue. The labels can put a greatest-hits album out and it’s going to sell.”

They can be wildly popular. The Eagles’ “Greatest Hits” is the best-selling album in U.S. history, selling more than 28 million copies. They’re also cheap to produce and promote. Sheryl Crow, whose “The Very Best of Sheryl Crow,” was a multiplatinum hit in 2003, agrees that in some cases, thoughts of profits weigh heavily. “Part of that is record labels continually try to work their catalog so they always have money coming in,” Crow said.

But Kevin Gore, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Rhino Entertainment, which puts out various greatest-hits packages, compilations and boxed sets, says a “Best of Sugar Ray” — which they recently released — is valid, even if some may sneer. “At the end of the day, there’s a larger audience that will buy a greatest-hits collection than might buy the individual albums just because they’ve chosen not to buy the original albums,” Gore said.

A more critical issue, record companies say, is the decreasing shelf space to carry an artist’s catalog. With the advent of Wal-Mart and Target as major record stores, there are fewer outlets where you might find several different albums from one artist. “If an artist has five or six or seven albums in his or her catalog, a lot of times many retailers are only carrying two or three. Perhaps songs that were included on albums one, three and five might no longer get the kind of visibility or shelf space that a hits record will provide those particular songs,” said Jeff Jones, executive vice president of Sony BMG’s catalog division Legacy Recordings (whose catalog releases this year range from Miles Davis to Bob Dylan to … Martika).

The bottom line is that people buy them. For many years now, too, compilation albums have tended to come with one or two new songs.

I’m not rushing out to buy the ones listed above, however.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. With the rise of digital downloads people can build their own “greatest hits” collection. This trend, like all before, will pass.

  2. bryan says:

    I can say that I’ve purchased a couple of “best of” tapes that featured enough of the group’s good songs. I wouldn’t have bought the original albums because, quite frankly, why would I buy 10 songs of crap for 2 songs that are great?

  3. Josh Cohen says:

    I am far more amused by the fact that the first two big albums by the band Alien Ant Farm (“Movies”, “Smooth Criminal” cover) were parody/satire of this trend: they were called “Greatest Hits” and “ANThology”.