I have a few ideas to get me started over the next few weeks (and some of them will take me a few weeks of hard thought just to narrow down to 5 choices), but feel free to leave a suggestion should you think of a list you'd like to start a fight with me about.
In the mean time, here is list number 1:
My Top 5 Greatest Hits Records.
(Before I get on with it, I'd just like to mention a few things that I took into consideration when compiling this list. I think the major purpose of a Greatest Hits album (besides being a way to make money off an artist without actually having to spend the money for them to make a new record, or to continue making money off of a dead/retired artist) is to usher in some new fans. Lets face facts here, an artist's hardcore fans already have all of their other records and will only be purchasing a Greatest Hits if it includes new songs or songs that were only available on a single or a soundtrack (à la "Live & Let Die" by Paul McCartney). So, you have to include all the good stuff to get the new and casual fans to start thinking about exploring the rest of your catalog. In other words, is this a good jumping-on point for someone that isn't very familiar with your work? Another consideration was whether or not this Greatest Hits works as a stand-alone record. Did you just throw all of your singles onto a record, or did you actually put some thought into it? I mean, you can't just take "Money" by Pink Floyd and toss it onto a Pink Floyd compilation without considering what you're putting before and after it. If you're taking it out of context by removing it from Dark Side Of The Moon, you better be considering how you're presenting it -- otherwise it'll feel clunky and out of place. A greatest hits should feel like a regular album. If you've never heard of the artist or didn't know this was a Greatest Hits then it should just feel like an album full of really great songs.)
Now that I've gotten the nerdy ramblings out of my system, lets get on with it.
As an introduction to Sir Elton John, this album serves its purpose almost perfectly. It includes nearly all of the songs from his early records that you'd expect to see. The only glaring omission I can think of is "Tiny Dancer" (this wouldn't be included on an Elton John Greatest Hits until 2003's Greatest Hits: 1970-2003). Putting that aside, you don't get much better than this if you've never listened to Elton John. The record runs a full gamut of emotions from the balladry of "Your Song" and "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" to the upbeat rocking of "Honky Cat" and "Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting". Let's not forget the centerpieces of "Rocket Man" and "Bennie & The Jets", two of Sir Elton's biggest and most enduring hits. It's a great record. It's a fast listen as well--the album only clocks in at 45ish minutes, and it doesn't feel overcrowded. There are a lot of hits albums that play like the artist waited too long to do a hits record and has to squeeze in too much. This one covers nearly all bases while giving you a solid foundation should you want to explore more from Sir Elton. I would say that if you own only one Elton John record it should be this (although, I might chastise you for not going the extra mile and getting Goodbye Yellow Brick Road).
4. Neil Young Greatest Hits (2004)
This is not the first compilation album that Neil Young has ever done. It is however, the most complete. It's 16 tracks spanning 23 years of Young's solo career. This one feels a little bit herky-jerky and I can honestly say it's probably because it's in chronological order. I can understand the idea behind putting the album in that running order, but I feel like it makes the album a little harder to listen to as an "album". On the plus side, this really does have all one needs to begin your journey into the, quite epic, Neil Young catalog. I bought this album because I heard "Ohio" and "The Needle And The Damage Done" and thought I'd very much like to know more about this guy. In my quest, I discovered that I loved every single song on this record. That's the point of a greatest hits, right? You know a few songs, you buy a greatest hits, you like even more songs, you buy other records by them, you buy tickets to a show, you become a fan. That's how it played out for me. Other than conveniently packaging Young's hits, this doesn't really offer anything to the fans that might already own most of his albums, but it's a good place to start.
The Rolling Stones have released almost 30 compilation albums over the course of the 50 years that they have been making records. As a matter of fact, this isn't even the first hits compilation that the Stones put out. What makes this such a great hits album is that it's a Stones hits album. The greatest hits of the Rolling Stones rank among the greatest hits in all of rock 'n roll. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", "You Can't Always Get What You Want", "Sympathy For The Devil", "Gimme Shelter", and "Midnight Rambler"!!! Come on. Even if you don't like the Stones as a whole, you can't deny that they are the very definition of rock 'n roll. If this record isn't in your collection somewhere, you're missing out. I will argue until I am blue in the face that Exile On Main St. is the best record that the Stones recorded because it it shows the band at their blues and R&B best. However, if you were to ask me to help you get started with the Stones, Hot Rocks would be the record I'd put in your hands. I'd tell you to go home, absorb this, come to terms with the greatness that is the Stones, return to me, and buy Exile.
2. The Beatles 1962-1966 & 1967-1970 (1973)
1. Bob Dylan Greatest Hits (1967)
There is a reason that Bob Dylan has been covered more than any other artist: it's because other songwriters know that they will never be better than he is/was. Bob Dylan is the standard by which all other songwriters are measured. What makes this set of songs so great is that not only is this is a wonderful place to wade into the vast ocean of Dylan, it's also killer as a stand-alone album. This was one of the first things I ever bought by Bob Dylan (behind Highway 61 Revisited--I have this weird thing about not having a Greatest Hits be the first thing I ever buy from a band). I understand that Dylan may not be your cup of tea, but you have to respect the guy. He changed the game and forced bands to become better songwriters. Happy songs about your lover, flowers, and candy weren't going to cut it anymore. That alone is reason enough for this record to be in your collection.
There you have it. The greatest of the greatest. Tune in next week when I'll be tackling another Top 5 of something. Until then, feel free to stop in and argue with me about this list. I'm always happy to hear someone else's opinion and defend my choices. That's the point of working in a record shop.