Top 10 Greatest Hits Albums
You wouldn’t think that something as simple as a greatest-hits album would be easy to screw up. You gather a dozen or so of an artist’s best and biggest songs, slap them on a record and there you have it. But they’re messed up all the time by overeager company suits who see a few extra dollars to be made by adding a new song or two, or by over-ambitious artists who believe that the 15-minute mini-opera they wrote about the guy who helped invent the circular saw deserves the space that should have gone to their only Top 10 hit.
The best greatest-hits albums deliver exactly what they promise: greatest hits. You won’t find too much filler on our list of the Top 10 Greatest Hits Albums. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that no classic-rock collection is complete without them.
More than a half-dozen Aerosmith compilations have been released over the past 30 years, but their first remains the best. For starters, it ends with the ’70s, so the album’s 10 tracks are prime Aerosmith — there’s no overproduced post-comeback pop hits getting in the way of the rock. Plus, there’s hardly a dud among them, unless you count their cover of ‘Come Together,’ which we do.
Let’s face it: Cream’s albums are sorta bloated. Between the general excesses of the period and the trio’s inflated egos, there’s plenty of filler on the band’s four LPs. This dozen-track survey from 1983 gathers the group’s singles — from ‘Anyone for Tennis?’ through ‘Badge’ — and makes a very strong argument for the band’s radio hits.
By the end of the ’60s, the Kinks’ power-chord days were behind them … at least for the time being. Frontman Ray Davies began exploring Victorian culture through both song structure and lyrical content. Some of the band’s best and most ambitious albums stem from this period. Unfortunately, not too many people heard them. This two-disc compilation pulls together singles, album tracks and unreleased cuts from this dynamic period.
This two-disc set was released two years after the plane crash that effectively put an end to the classic band. The 16 songs span their short career — from ‘Simple Man’ to ‘What’s Your Name.’ Plus, it includes the 14-minute live version of ‘Free Bird,’ which we all know is the best version of ‘Free Bird.’
The Eagles’ biggest studio album, ‘Hotel California,’ came out 10 months after this No. 1 compilation was released. But the 10-song ‘Their Greatest Hits’ (which resides at the top of the bestselling-albums chart) documents their first five years, before the drugs, cynicism and egos completely consumed them.
Like several of the artists on our list of the Top 10 Greatest Hits Albums, Bowie released LPs, often revolving around a unifying concept, designed to be listened to all at once, not picked apart for single consumption. But this smartly chosen 11-track compilation makes sense of an artist who often relied on his surroundings to put together the pieces.
We can make a case that Cream were a great singles band (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Greatest Hits Albums). But everyone knows that’s a fact about Creedence Clearwater Revival. Not that they didn’t make great albums (‘Green River,’ ‘Willy and the Poor Boys’ and ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ belong in everyone’s collection), but those albums were always built on their singles. Twenty of their best are on this set.
There’s something like a couple dozen Hendrix compilation albums available. Many include unreleased tracks; some just scatter the classic songs among studio-floor trash. The first one is still the best. Hendrix was still alive when ‘Smash Hits’ was released, but his band had dissolved. The 12 songs were supposed to sum up the first chapter of his career. Instead, they serve as his legacy.
Like the Eagles’ ‘Their Greatest Hits’ (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Greatest Hits Albums) the Who’s first compilation covers a period before their biggest and most defining work. ‘Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy’ gathers most of the essential early singles by a band that made some of rock’s heftiest albums, doubling as a flawless look at the first part of a monumental career.
The Stones may be the most anthologized group in the history of recorded music. There are tons of band best-of albums available, and every single one of them includes ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.’ But their first comprehensive set — a 21-song, double-record collection — is their leanest. Later compilations, like the great ‘Forty Licks’ (which features almost double the number of tracks), tell a bigger story. But on ‘Hot Rocks,’ ‘Ruby Tuesday,’ ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and other ’60s classics don’t have to share space with ’70s, ’80s and ’90s duds. There’s not a bad song here.