A proper “Greatest Hits” package (or “Best Of” or “Very Best Of” or “Essential” or “Ultimate Collection,” etc. etc. etc.) is quite an art form. It’s not always as easy as taking 15 of an artist or band’s biggest hits and throwing them onto a disc in chronological order; tracklists need to be selective and arranged appropriately. Sometimes even choosing what to leave off is just as important as what to include. For example, that low-charting single might not have been a big-seller, but what if it’s a fan favorite or one of a group’s best tracks? If a group hasn’t really earned the right to jam-pack two discs full of material, it’s a serious debate. It even comes down to stressing over which versions of tracks to include. Is it worth putting in that shitty single edit just because of limited space? What about new songs? That’s a whole other can of worms! I could rant for an entire day about what makes the perfect collection, but it’s really that “x factor” …that “je ne sais quoi”… that makes one stand out above the rest. It’s about consistency, it’s about accuracy, it’s about pacing, it’s about sticking to a theme, and, mostly, it’s about great music. So for one reason or another, here are 50 compilations that are totally worth having for your collection. Some of them are down right essential.
ABBA THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION
This one features two discs spanning ABBA’s entire career, pretty much in chronological order (with appropriate exceptions.) There aren’t any glaring omissions, and despite the sheer volume of music, it never borders on over-saturation. This collection does justice to their legacy far more than the mega-selling Gold simply because of how complete it is.
TORI AMOS TALES OF A LIBRARIAN: A TORI AMOS COLLECTION
This Tori Amos collection is rather cleverly arranged in some musical dewey decimal way. From start to finish, the tracks are astonishing and the pacing is outrageously on point. Even the popular dance mix of “Professional Widow” tacked right in the middle of a set of piano ballads feels natural, and the new songs manage to fit in like old friends.
THE BEACH BOYS SOUNDS OF SUMMER: THE VERY BEST OF
The Beach Boys have more hits than they will ever know what to do with, but they managed to narrow it down to 30 for their Sounds Of Summer collection. On the surface, the tracklist is a little haphazardly organized (it’s more loosely grouped by era than chronologically,) but when you listen to it from start to finish, it makes perfect sense. These tracks are iconic and are presented in a way that give them their due.
THE BEATLES 1
Without a clear theme, it is virtually impossible to sum up the Beatles’ career in one disc. Luckily 1 makes all the right moves, collecting their number one hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Sure, even their b-sides are bonafide classics, but this really acknowledges the Fab Four as a pop act. From “Love Me Do” all the way through to “The Long And Winding Road,” the collection just really works.
THE BEATLES 1967-1970
Yes, it is completely worth highlighting two Beatles collections; they’re both very different. 1967-1970 compiles their material from the obvious span of years, and believe it or not, there isn’t too much overlap with 1. Including some of their most famous album tracks and b-sides, this 2-disc collection focuses on the group’s most artistic eras, and the selection of songs is as accurate as it’d ever get.
THE BEE GEES THEIR GREATEST HITS: THE RECORD
This Bee Gees collection is two discs, practically chronological, and pretty straight forward. The sheer volume of music they’ve created is astounding, but what makes this collection so incredible is the inclusion of songs such as “Guilty” (Barbara Streisand’s duet with Barry Gibb,) and their recordings of tracks they wrote for other artists (“Emotion,” “Islands In The Stream,” “Immortality.”) It’s an impeccable compilation.
BLUR THE BEST OF
The Best Of is a relatively obvious tracklist of Blur’s biggest hits presented in a way that draws more attention to their best tracks than to their most famous. The tracklist isn’t front-loaded with the big ones, but is mixed up in a way so as to exemplify just how many places they’ve managed to go without losing touch with themselves. The absence of “Popscene” is made up for by the inclusion of album track and live favorite “This Is A Low”.
DAVID BOWIE CHANGESONEBOWIE
What makes Changesonebowie so magical is how “bare bones” it is. David Bowie had enough material to fill a double-LP collection by this point, but instead chose to strip it down to the basics. Each track included is a classic that deserved to be showcased in such a manner. At the time, tracks like “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragette City” weren’t singles released to radio, but were ingeniously put up on the pedestal with his actual hits.
JAMES BROWN 20 ALL-TIME GREATEST HITS!
This James Brown collection has it all. Each song is so thoughtfully included and placed in a way that creates a collection whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When the parts are James Brown songs… that’s really saying something. 20 All-Time Greatest Hits! is a collection that never has a dull moment, and it never gets too repetitive or contrived. It’s as perfectly crafted as the songs it contains.
MARIAH CAREY GREATEST HITS
For better or worse, Mariah Carey has had one hell of a career. While her #1s disc was self-explanitorily compiled, this 2-disc collection covers more ground and doesn’t feel so pretentious. The tracks are presented chronologically, which demonstrates how she went from being pop’s next big voice to pop’s reigning chart queen and the ride is actually quite enjoyable.
JOHNNY CASH THE LEGEND OF JOHNNY CASH
It’s pretty difficult to sum up Johnny Cash’s career in a single disc, but Legend does a great job. The recordings span from “Cry, Cry, Cry” all the way through to his final masterpiece, “Hurt,” and the stops in between are all incredible. Between collaborations, demos, live recordings, and just straight up great songs, the collection does The Man In Black justice.
ELVIS COSTELLO THE BEST OF ELVIS COSTELLO: THE FIRST 10 YEARS
This one-disc collection carries the weight of a full box set. Each track was selected by Elvis Costello himself, which can be a risky move, but he outdid himself here. These tracks really live up to the “best of” title they’ve been classified as, with his more popular recordings simply reminding us why anybody paid attention to him in the first place. It’s a fantastic mix of material that spans only a decade.
CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL CHRONICLE: THE 20 GREATEST HITS
CCR’s Chronicle might as well be a masterclass in compilation-making. Each track, single or b-side, is such standout classic that when they’re all put together, it just seems too perfect. Nevermind the fact that it includes more than half of their Cosmo’s Factory album, it was a smart decision to include the songs that matter and leave out anything not worthy of their presence.
THE CURE STARING AT THE SEA: THE SINGLES
The CD-version update on the original Standing On A Beach collection, Staring At The Sea is just a little more than a standard singles collection. The disc also include popular album tracks, which actually makes the collection that much better. The songs focus on the Cure’s early career and come together to paint a picture of just how they were changing rock music.
DEPECHE MODE THE SINGLES 86>98
This collection highlights Depeche Mode’s most important era of music. After shedding the image of just another synthpop fad, these tracks (such as “Enjoy The Silence,” “Personal Jesus,” “I Feel You,” and “Never Let Me Down Again”) are the real meat of their legacy. Presented chronologically and with proper single versions, the only thing holding it back is the inferior single mix of “Behind The Wheel.”
DURAN DURAN GREATEST
Who can really argue with the awesomeness of Duran Duran? This collection is flawlessly executed. It’s all killer, no filler, and the sequencing is masterful. It isn’t done chronologically, yet it makes sense. Each track stands out as a pop gem, and every time you think all of their most famous songs have been covered, another one comes on. There isn’t one lackluster moment on Greatest.
THE EAGLES THEIR GREATEST HITS 1971-1975
Alongside Michael Jackson’s Thriller, it’s only the biggest selling album of all time in the US. Clearly they did something right with it. The Eagles’ Greatest Hits feels more like a studio album in its own right, just one that happens to be made up entirely of hit singles. It may be only 10 songs, and it may predate Hotel California, but it makes it clear that the band knew exactly what they were doing.
EARTH WIND & FIRE GREATEST HITS
Earth Wind & Fire are legends of soul, and their Greatest Hits manages to capture their genius in a way no one of their studio albums can. From the baby-making “That’s The Way Of The World” to their horn-tastic take on the Beatles’s “Got To Get You Into My Life” to the funky “Let’s Groove,” the collection shows off their range. Every song is incredible, but they are sequenced so perfectly that there’s never a reason to skip one.
EMINEM CURTAIN CALL: THE HITS
Eminem absolutely turned hip hop on its head upon his arrival, and between all of the controversy and drama, he actually snuck out an incredible amount of hits. Not to mention, they were all amazing. Curtain Call predates some of Slim’s biggest hits (“Not Afraid,” “Love The Way You Lie,”) but features so many that it feels like an entire career’s worth has been packed in.
MARVIN GAYE GOLD
There is no other Marvin Gaye compilation that truly exemplifies just how important he was to music. Spanning two discs, this collection sees his career go from a product of Motown’s assembly line to a socially-conscious game changer, with help from Tami Terrell in between. By including the full versions of “Got To Give It Up” and “Inner City Blues” (with that incredible coda,) Gold does Marvin justice.
GOLDFRAPP THE SINGLES
Goldfrapp is one of pop music greatest unsung heroes. The British duo have scored their fair share of hits, and they have the critical backing, but they’re almost too cool to appeal overwhelmingly to the masses. Their Singles collection is an incredible statement of just how incredible their output has been. It’s not complete, but its conciseness manages to leave out any room for error.
AL GREEN GREATEST HITS
Al Green’s Greatest Hits is really the grandaddy of the format. The original release contained a handpicked 10 tracks that were sequenced in the most perfect running order imaginable. The songs themselves are brilliant, but they are presented so perfectly that they actually sound better. This release (including any of its latter incarnations) is completely essential to any proper music collection.
JACKSON 5 THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION
The Ultimate Collection paints the perfect portrait of just how talented these 5 young boys from Indiana truly were. Including the best Motown-era solo hits from brothers Michael and Jermaine in addition to the masterfully crafted tunes from the J5, there is no better way to really sum up their career. Even the lesser-known songs stand out like proper classics.
JANET JACKSON NUMBER ONES
The title itself is a tad misleading, as some of the songs only reached number one on genre-specific or international charts, but Janet Jackson’s Number Ones is a masterpiece collection. Compiling almost all of her biggest hits, including duets with Luther Vandross, Herb Alpert, and brother Michael, there isn’t a single dud on here. It’s presented chronologically and the absolute best versions of each track are included, making it stunning from start to finish.
ELTON JOHN GREATEST HITS
Picking 10 songs to sum up the early part of a career like Elton John’s is not an easy thing to do, but his Greatest Hits does a fantastic job of keeping it short, sweet, and to the point. Every song is a classic in some form, and by the time the collection is done, there’s such an incredible sense of satisfaction and completeness. It’s Elton John without all the fluff, and it’s completely magical.
MADONNA THE IMMACULATE COLLECTION
Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection is a triumph for the ages. She had only been around a decade upon its release, and she already had enough hits to easily fill two discs. Instead, she handpicked 15, had them remixed, and tacked on 2 new tracks that ended up becoming enormous hits on their own (one of them was “Justify My Love,” for the record.) This is quite possibly the best “Greatest Hits” ever.
BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS LEGEND
When you have a catalog like Bob Marley’s, it’s important that you know what you’re doing when trying to compile it. Legend hits the nail right on the head. From the wise choice of including the live version of “No Woman, No Cry” right down to just how superbly sequenced the collection is, there’s a reason this compilation is held in the regard that it is.
GEORGE MICHAEL LADIES & GENTLEMEN: THE BEST OF
The way George Michael pulls off a jam-packed 2-disc “Best Of” is absolutely flawless. At this point in his career, he could have easily narrowed his discography down to a one-discer, but instead reached for the gold, and actually won out. How? Each disc is themed. The first is “For the heart” (ballads) and the second is “For the feet” (dance songs.) Not to mention, the songs themselves are brilliant.
JONI MITCHELL HITS
No compilation could ever compare to Joni Mitchell’s studio albums, but Hits is a success because of the proper overview it provides. This is a great starting point that I would feel comfortable giving to someone interested in experiencing her. There aren’t any album tracks or rarities included, which is a shame, but this is clearly about the hits, and the lack of fluff makes it astounding. Closing with “Both Sides Now” was a class move, too.
NEW ORDER SUBSTANCE 1987
New Order’s Substance 1987 is sheer genius. The first disc collects their 12″ singles in their 12″ versions and the second collects the b-sides and 7″ singles who never got the extended treatment. Every risky move here totally pays off. First, including newly recorded versions of “Temptation” and “Confusion” could’ve been a disaster, but they’re both incredible. And finally, tacking on a new track and it’s b-side wouldn’t have worked at all if they weren’t “True Faith” and “1963,” respectively.
Nirvana is another group who will never release a collection that will ever compare to their studio work, but there self-titled greatest hits does a fantastic job of paying respect to their career. Included are all of the hits and famous tracks in chronological order bookended by a previously unreleased track (“You Know You’re Right”) and two tunes from their legendary Unplugged album. It’s perfect.
NO DOUBT THE SINGLES 1992-2003
No Doubt had a seriously impressive run between 92-03. They’ve had mega-hits like “Don’t Speak” and “Hey Baby,” and not-so-mega-hits like “Bathwater” and “Sunday Morning,” but all of the songs are seriously awesome. This singles collection includes a cover of Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life,” which became a huge hit, and arranges the songs in an order that’s simply pleasant to listen to. It’s excellent.
OUTKAST BIG BOY AND DRE PRESENT…
In hindsight, it’s almost comical that Outkast released a Greatest Hits collection pre-Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, but in a way, that makes it so much cooler. The tracklist certainly includes hits, but the focus is on their best material (as it should be.) In a way, this compilation is an entirely new Outkast-experience, and it’s absolutely worth it.
PET SHOP BOYS POPART: THE HITS
This behemoth 2-disc collection of Pet Shop Boy singles is flawless. The first disc contains songs they deemed “Pop” and the second disc contains songs they deemed more “Art.” Every single track could easily fit into both categories, but the separation presents a unique listening experience that is flawlessly executed. There’s not a single misstep in sight, and with a discography like their’s, it’s easy to see why.
PINK FLOYD ECHOES: THE BEST OF
What makes Echoes so incredible is how it’s presented like a studio album. This isn’t just a selection of popular Pink Floyd songs in single edits thrown together haphazardly. The tracks are eloquently ordered and spread out over 2 discs and fade into each other to present a consistent listening experience. It’s a fantastic overview, but it’s more of a unique musical journey than anything else.
ELVIS PRESLEY ELV1S 30 #1 HITS
Much like the Beatles, narrowing down Elvis’ career is impossible sans-theme. Going along with the #1 hits idea, again, was a smart move. This collection includes 30 of the King’s chart toppers with a new remix added to the end for the kids (it’s actually a great track.) It’s not totally complete, but the songs really help paint a picture of just how larger than life this man was.
PRINCE THE HITS/THE B-SIDES
Just before Prince took on his record label and changed his name to a symbol, he released one hell of a “best of.” The Hits/The B-Sides is three discs of legendary music. The first two discs compile some of his best work, from his greatest hits to some of his best album tracks, while the third disc contains a selection of b-sides that are equally as good, and some of them equally as famous.
OTIS REDDING THE VERY BEST OF
This Otis Redding collection is absolutely amazing. It compiles what really can be considered his best work, and showcases him as a vocalist, performer, and songwriter. Included are his biggest hits, covers (“Satisfaction” is amazing,) a famous live rendition of “Shake” that will knock your socks off, and a friendly reminder that Aretha’s “Respect” was originally his creation.
Back in the 80s when R.E.M. were college radio heroes and alternative rock gods, they released a simple, 12-track collection that is almost better than any of their studio albums. Each song and its version included in Eponymous is out of this world, and with “The One I Love” and “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” providing incentive for the general public, there’s a proper platform to experience their greatest era.
ROLLING STONES HOT ROCKS 1964-1971
This 2-disc/4-sided Rolling Stones collection is pretty legendary. Collecting a majority of their most popular tunes from their most iconic era, each track is brilliantly placed to paint a picture and provide a unique listening experience. Between the stellar live version of “Midnight Rambler,” to the sheer fact that each song is more iconic now than it even was then, Hot Rocks is really a piece of history.
SADE THE BEST OF
This Sade compilation really lives up to its Best Of title. All of the major singles are included, but the addition of key album tracks makes it just perfect. The collection covers a great deal of ground in a relatively short period of time, but it manages to be really brilliant. From their most soulful to their most jazzy to their most groovy, all facets of Sade are appropriately highlighted.
SIMON & GARFUNKEL GREATEST HITS
This is another collection that is just completely essential to every collection. The tracks here are presented in a risky, but brilliant way. Alternating between live recordings and studio versions, it ends up being more about the overall arc of the record than the actual songs themselves. The most brilliant moment is how a live rendition of “Homeward Bound” fades right into the beginning of “Bridge Over Troubled Water;” it’s almost enough to induce tears.
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE GREATEST HITS
Sly & The Family Stone’s Greatest Hits is an example of a compilation that should be treated like a studio album. Just to put it in perspective, the three new tracks included are “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin,)” “Everybody Is A Star,” and “Hot Fun In The Summer Time.” This release just oozes “iconic” from start to finish. You need to own it.
SMASHING PUMPKINS ROTTEN APPLES
This collection is worth owning if you need a starting point for the Smashing Pumpkins. However, even if you are a die-hard fan, the flow of the disc is strikingly perfect. There aren’t really any bells or whistles involved here outside of a new track (“Untitled,”) but the music really just speaks for itself. It’s chronological, and really just pleasant.
THE SMITHS SINGLES
The Smiths are the kings of the compilation format. Their 3 inbetween-album collections are all held in the esteem of full-fledged studio albums to the point that they might as well just be. Post-breakup, Singles was released without their involvement, but it’s managed to be a masterpiece. There are absolutely no frills about it; it’s all of their singles in chronological order in their album versions. The tracks are fantastic, though, and the story they create is unparalleled.
DONNA SUMMER THE JOURNEY: THE VERY BEST OF
The Queen of Disco herself, Donna Summer, really takes us on her Journey with her Best Of collection. The disc (usually paired with a second of popular remixes in various territories) is comprised of all her major hits in order. The progression is absolutely magical and there isn’t a single skippable track on here. This is a collection of songs that changed dance music forever.
TALKING HEADS THE VERY BEST OF
It is absolutely breathtaking just how well The Very Best Of does the Talking Heads’ career justice. From rock to dance to funk to straight up insane, this collection exemplifies just how incredible this quartet was and why they are legends. Included are not only the group’s most famous material, but also important album tracks and live staples. There’s not a single song out of place here.
THE TEMPTATIONS ANTHOLOGY
The Temptations’ Anthology has seen several incarnations over the years. The original 6-sided LP release is the genius release, but the updated and expanded 2-CD version is the one worth investing in. For a group that has changed in so many ways, between different line-ups, lead vocalists, styles, etc., this collection walks us through their history with songs that still resonate strongly today.
TEXAS GREATEST HITS
Scottish group Texas might not be the most famous act the world over, but they are one definitely worth knowing. Their perfect blend of pop, rock, and soul is so far superior to their peers it’s almost laughable. Their Greatest Hits has all the tracks you need to both familiarize yourself with the group and celebrate their amazing career. Not to mention, the songs are organized perfectly for a well-rounded musical experience.
U2 THE BEST OF 1980-1990
I would always encourage going for U2’s studio albums over most of their compilations, except for this one. 10 years of music is hard to narrow down for a group like these Irish rockers, but they did a fantastic job here. Most of the songs included are singles, but each one stands out on its own as a total classic. Put together, it’s almost overwhelming. The follow up (…1990-2000) wasn’t nearly as successful.