Once again, Christmas is coming, and the music section is buried under an annual deluge. In a period of high consumer spending, how does the music industry once again wring the udder of the festive cash cow dry? Greatest Hits albums and re-issues.
Greatest Hits records strike me as an insult to artist and consumer alike. To the consumer it says “We’ve been feeding you sub-standard albums packed with filler material for years, and you’ve bought them like suckers!” and to the artist it conveys “A large part of your work is unnecessary, redundant, the consumer only wants the singles, damn the coherence of an album as a body of work.”
The growing trend that annoys me most is the addition of two new tracks, (usually reject B-Sides that didn’t previously make it to the demo stage) which mean that if you’re a huge fan who already has the album, they’ll get your money anyway just so your collection remains complete, and of course, that way there can be a single, too. Just so that when you finally give in and buy the Greatest Hits record you only get one new track for your crisp tenner.
This festive period, we’ll see hits albums from No Doubt, REM, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Michael Jackson, Suede and Sheryl Crow (to name just a few), all neatly adhering to the one or two new tracks formula outlined above. Why just screw the casual fan when you can screw the hardcore fan too? The only honourable exception I can find is the recent Tori Amos compilation “Tales Of A Librarian” which did, in the time honoured manner, include two new tracks, but also found almost all of the other tracks reconditioned in a way that makes the record interesting to hardcore fans who get to hear familiar tracks in a new light. Hopefully this is the start of a wider trend.
Looking at the catalogue of Hits albums at a local record store, I spied such wonders as an Ant ‘n’ Dec Greatest Hits (one of the shortest albums in history, one would have thought, but alas, no) and Steps Gold. A Greatest Hits after three records or less should probably be outlawed by law.
This season, do yourself or friends a favour, and don’t buy a Greatest Hits record, they’re cynical, exploitative and generally a waste of money, and most importantly if you like them, you’ll only end up buying the other albums anyway and then be disappointed because you’ve already got your favourite tracks from them… so get two mid-price back catalogue albums instead and discover the music in the context it was meant to be heard by the artist, not some marketing manager.
Then there’s the re-issues. That album that didn’t do quite well enough in the charts, lovingly re-packaged in a flimsy cardboard slipcase with the addition of a bonus disc – the B-Sides that were on the singles anyway, or some specially concocted remixes (which always sound to my untrained ear like someone playing the CD in their house while someone parks outside with a boombox and recording the result) and maybe, if you’re ultra lucky, a few CD-Rom videos. All of which was likely available at the time of the original release, but were presumably kept back for just such an eventuality, along with one track that wasn’t on any previous release (got to keep the hardcore fans spending!). If you’re really lucky, you’ll get a bonus DVD. This Christmas, look forward to double CD re-issues from the likes of Celine Dion, Train, and Destiny’s Child, to name just a few, featuring… you guessed it – remixes, live tracks and of course those essential promo videos.