Anthologies-good or bad?

When I leaped back into my vinyl-acquiring obsession almost exactly two years ago, I made myself a promise: buy no greatest hits collections.  Some dribbled into my hands as I found ’em dirt cheap at Goodwill or acquired some in big el cheapo collection. However,my belief was and remains that a mature listener does not require an artificially edited version of a performer’s work in order to gain an appreciation of their worth.  At least at this point in my life, I’ve avoided best of  . . . collections like the plague.

My belief is that a full length LP offers context for what an artist was doing at the time. i believe I can spare the 40 minutes it takes to listen to both sides of an album, try to get an idea of what an artist was thinking when it was released without resorting to what the label slapped together, imagining what they thought buyers wanted to hear.


If there was ever an example of a bad anthology, this is it. 

Let’s say, for example you wanted to listen to Elton John.  Would you really buy a copy of 1974’s Elton John’s Greatest Hits, thinking this was a definitive collection of his songs? First, it only has ten songs.  That’s terrible. It takes the listener all the way through Caribou, but has four songs from Good-Bye Yellow Brick Road. No songs from Empty Sky, Tumbleweed Connection, or Madman Across the Water. No “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” from Honky Chateau.  No “Harmony,” “Grey Seal,” or “Seen That Movie Too” from Yellow Brick Road. Just a ten song skeleton from five years and nine albums worth of prolific recording.  This case is pretty egregious, but I’m sure you get what I’m saying.

Ordered Gene Pitney.  Am considering the other because the records I want are spendy and/or hard to get.  Temptations record is the only one with the great “Ball of Confusion” on it. 

That said, I’m beginning to soften my view toward anthologies a bit.  There are lots of artists I’d like to have albums for, but are hard to get or really more than I can afford to spend. Sam and Dave, Martha and the Vandellas.  Usually before I commit to adding an artist to my collection, I do some research to determine which are the best LP’s, all someone else’s views, of course, to add, because with few exceptions I can’t have everything. While I continue to look for the records I want from the artists I want, I may resort to anthologies to fill in for the “hard to find.” Sigh. I recently ordered the 1984 Rhino anthology for Gene Pitney.

There are a two more types of anthologies I’ve always been open to.  Record companies often assembled collections by their house musicians to encourage buyers.  One of my favorites is a collection of Northwest bands published by Jerden Records.  I also have a multi-LP anthology by Motown. They provide snapshots to entire genres of music.  I also have a few of the Oldies But Goodies series.  These also fell into my lap during a big cheapie mass buy, but they are also kind of nostalgic.  I remember seeing these in the store when I was a kid.

The last anthology is kind of unique, and these really like, are the live albums promoting a cause.  The most famous might be George Harrison’s Concert for Banladesh. But the three record set also included Ravi Shankar, Leon Russell and Bob Dylan.  During the late 70’s and 80’s these became quite the done thing.  Pete Townsend and the Who were very involved in organizing The Concert for Kampuchea. The No Nukes album from 1979 featured a range of artists from The Doobie Brothers to Bonnie Raitt to Bruce Springsteen. Unfortunately the Live Aid and Farm Aid benefits don’t appear on vinyl.

So anthologies, good or bad?  Let’s just say I’ve moderated a bit, even on the greatest hits packages, but generally to be avoided.  But other forms of anthologies can definitely be worthwhile.


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