This is the first installment of “Ees and Wizz,” the name I am giving to non-label-related topics, including rock and roll music, U.S. history, baseball cards, and canned beer. Anything else is completely out of bounds.
Last night I was thinking about the “Greatest Hits,” “Best of,” “Anthology,” etc., release. Many are good. Some are great. When I was younger I scoffed at most “Greatest Hits” collections, feeling that they were not “authentic” records, something along the lines of “True music fans listen to albums.” In the words of Col. Potter, that’s a bunch of horse hockey. The LP as we know it (35’00” to 48’00”) is less the ideal length for rock and roll artists to express their musical statements and more so the result of the limitations of the original vinyl long-player record, and the marketing associated it with that format. For a brief time in the late 1960s, the record business (at least in the U.K.) thought that EPs would be the wave of the future; maybe then we would cue up “Dark Side of the Moon” to the first 20 or so minutes of Wizard of Oz, though I prefer cueing up “Foreigner 4” to the first 45 minutes of the pilot episode of Little House on the Prairie. That Charles Ingalls was quite the family man, despite his deeply rooted Christian faith.
Anyhoo, I digress. The point is, I like albums. I like EPs. I like singles. And some bands were great single bands, even those considered to be great album bands (ex.: The Doors; though Shouting and Pointing lead vocalist Michael K. would disagree. He even loves The Soft Parade), so what better format than the well-selected “Greatest Hits” record?
Tom Petty, though I’m sure his albums contain songs I might enjoy and admire, is also such an artist, and that’s one reason his 1993 Greatest Hits record was such a big seller and even popular with the college-age kids. Which brings us, finally, to the topic: new songs augmenting the hits collected on the Greatest Hits record. From what I have read, often these extra songs are added to fulfill arcane record company contract stipulations. But I am more interested in the fact that such new songs are almost always lame. I mean so lame. And it just raises the question with so many artists: When did they lose it? How? Why? I mean, at a certain point, are you just not capable of writing a decent song? Are you just tapped out? Or are you relying on terrible 1980s producers (Arthur Baker, Danny Kortchmar, Bill Smycysksksyk [sic], Don Was, and at his echoey-drum worst, Jeff Lynne) who are telling you what the “hot” sound is and then over-produce your ditty to the point of man-this-sucks? It perplexes me, and worries me. When is it over for me? In seven minutes? It would be nice to write and record a good song before it is no longer possible to write and record a good song because of my age or rust or suckitude or whatever it is.
Anyway, Tom Petty is appropriate here, because he’s the only artist/band I can think of (but I haven’t thought very hard or done the appropriate research, which is why this is a blog post) that has released a quality new song on a hits collection. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” in fact, reached #14 on the Billboard charts in 1993. And his cover of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” wasn’t bad.
Now, on the other hand, we have the Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86” from their 1986 best-of, which I guess was some attempt to modernize the original (which of course means it doesn’t really count as a “new” song, but who cares). In the end, the band managed to take out everything that was appealing about the original and then add some claustrophobic textures from what I imagine was some cutting-edge $23,500 synthesizer that my current $350 Casio could handle, and a whole lot of drum echo. (In fact, upon listening to it on YouTube, it reminds me of a few of my less-than-successful echo- and reverb-laden Shouting and Pointing production jobs.) I remember listening to the radio in the late 80s and early 90s and the stations would play this awful version (which is a post in and of itself: inferior versions [often live] of original songs by the original artist that get played on the radio instead of the superior original. Ooh, that’s rich. Songs by Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, and more. We’ll save that for later).
So, I now throw it out to the reader: any candidates for quality new songs on Greatest Hits records? Respond and discuss. Also feel free to nominate particularly bad new songs or remakes. And/or, tell us about your favorite greatest hits records. Keep in mind: The Eagles and Steve Miller have never released a greatest hits or best-of.
Hmm. Ohh. I guess I need readers to make this work.