Greatest Hits albums. A point of contention for many, or few, depending on who you talk to. In my world, there are few benefits, and in the end I firmly believe that they do more harm than good. First a few things in support, to be fair:
-They serve as a good introduction to a band that you are unfamiliar with; it is not uncommon for someone to buy a greatest hits album, and then become interested in the original sources after the fact.
-They generate extra recognition for musicians; the implication of a retrospective is that there has been a meaningful career worth celebrating.
-It's a good way to get a few new songs, or re-tooled, re-mixed versions.
but, here are all the things that are disturbing:
First, the cons of the above pros.
-The converted fans can often only like the "popular" songs, and are conspiciously missing the context in which they originally came from. This is in my opinion a less satisfying experience, and somewhat ignorant. I've seen many people eventually end up buying, say, Turnstiles, b/c they like Billy Joel's Greatest Hits, and not being able to get into it at all. The music that makes it onto the radiowaves is frequently of a certain type of character (upbeat, or rhythym-heavy, or some other such "poppy" sound), and the beauty of an album like Turnstiles, or Blood Sugar Sex Magik, or Tragic Kingdom, lies in the structure of the album. No question about it.
-Record labels abuse the format. Have musicians like Hillary Duff or Britney Spears really displayed the kind of longevity, not to mention talent, that justifies a greatest hits release? I think not.
-With the ditigal marketplace becoming so prevalent, there is no need to produce an entire CD in order to introduce a single to the fans. Exclusive downloads work just fine.
-I get the distinct feeling that record labels re-releasing content in most cases has very, very little to do with the content, and very much to do with the bottom line. This in itself bothers me, and appears to exploit a loving audience. How many times should someone be expected to buy the same sound recording? It's a blatant scam.
-As a proponent of the album format, merely for artistic purposes, I think greatest hits are a waste of space. They are uninteresting in their construction, and often there is no flow, no connection between the different songs. If it is a band I already love, there is not a lot of interest for me, because there is no cohesive narrative.
-People often argue that an album sometimes only has a few good songs, so an aggregate compilation of them is much more pleasurable that owning 6 albums and skipping around the tracks. I say, if an artist makes an album with only a few good songs, it's not worth buying anyways, that they're probably not very good anyhow.
Well, if anything, I encourage you to give more attention to the primary source. From the perspective of a musician, this is the intended expression of their art. This week's (is it last's, already? Seattle is so behind) New Yorker had an article about Camille Pisarro's preferences for specific kinds of picture frames, and explained how it is a matter of respect to preserve the original content in the frame that the artist meant for it.