Sunday, July 25, 2010

March 30, 2009: 4 Groovy Compilations

Rock geeks have long harbored contempt for the “Greatest Hits” album, even though such compilations have served many of us well as gateway drugs into the discographies of our favorite bands. Contemporary career-spanning compilations with titles like “The Ultimate Collection” and “The Essential…” have made the "Greatest Hits" album a way-less funky entity than it once was. Some of the best “Greatest Hits” provide a brief snapshot of a specific phase of a group’s career rather than attempting to sum up the whole thing in boring, old chronological order. These records were released before the CD, when time constraints dictated that some essential tracks had to be left in the bin. Some cheated by going the double-album route. Here are a few of the coolest ones.

Through the Past Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2) – The Rolling Stones (1969)

Covering the most controversial period in the band’s career, Through the Past Darkly is an awe-inspiring encapsulation of the psychedelic Stones. While the U.K. edition disrupted its concept and flow with “You Better Move On”-- an R&B cover from way back in 1963-- every track on the U.S. edition is a brilliant reminder of what a great pop band the Stones were from 1966-1969. Only “Honky Tonky Women” betrays the psych/fey folk theme of the record. Otherwise, we get spooky demonic rockers like “Paint It, Black”, “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, and “2000 Light Years From Home”, and pastoral ballads like “Ruby Tuesday”, “She’s a Rainbow”, and “Dandelion”. Oh, and the octagonal, shocking-blue cover is a gas, gas, gas.

What’s Missing: “We Love You”, “Under My Thumb”, “Sympathy for the Devil”

Meaty, Beaty, Big, & Bouncy - The Who (1971)

Even if it isn’t actually the case, the Who certainly seem like the greatest singles band of the ‘60s. This may be because they put out so much incredible music during the decade even though their LP output was pretty sparse. While the Beatles released a whopping eleven albums in the ‘60s, and the Stones put out nine, the Who released a mere four, making their 45s that much more precious. Meaty, Beaty, Big, & Bouncy was a truly necessary collection, gathering all of those non-LP A-sides in one neat package. It was also released at the perfect time, appearing the same year as Who’s Next, an album that found the once breezily poppy Who reinvented as a much heavier, synth-embellished, hard rock group. Meaty, Beaty, Big, & Bouncy is also notable for including otherwise unreleased extended versions of “I’m a Boy” and “The Magic Bus” (the latter is only available on the original vinyl version). Both are superior to the more readily available versions.

What’s Missing: “Dogs”, “Call Me Lightning”

The Kink Kronikles - The Kinks (1972)

The years spanning 1966 through 1970 were bracketed by two of the Kinks biggest hits: “Sunny Afternoon” and “Lola”. Between these two singles, things were pretty lean commercially. Artistically, Ray Davies and the boys were making the finest music of their career. This period is beautifully captured on the double-record The Kink Kronikles, which gathers should-have-been-huge-hits like “Waterloo Sunset” and “Autumn Almanac”, essential album tracks like “Fancy” and “David Watts”, magnificent B-Sides like “Mindless Child of Motherhood” and “Berkley Mews”, and previously unreleased oddities like “Did You See His Name?”. There is much missing here, as this was such a rich period for the Kinks (only one track from Village Green Preservation Society?), but what’s here will no doubt inspire anyone who digs British pop to start digging into the Kinks’ incredible catalogue.

What’s Missing: “Plastic Man”, “Big Sky”, “Animal Farm”

Good Vibrations: Best of the Beach Boys – The Beach Boys (1975)

Endless Summer (1974) was one of the hottest selling records of the ‘70s, compiling all of the Beach Boys best-loved surfing and dragging hits. Good Vibrations: Best of the Beach Boys was an essential companion piece to Endless Summer, even though it didn’t sell nearly as well as its predecessor. This is no great shocker considering that the period covered by Good Vibrations was a commercial slump for the Beach Boys (aside from the mega-selling title track, of course). It was also a creative peak. This is the Beach Boys of Pet Sounds through Holland, and its thrilling to hear tracks like “Sail On Sailor”, “Heroes and Villains”, “Surf’s Up”, “God Only Knows”, and ‘Darlin’” gathered together without having the eerie mood spoiled by “Surfin’ U.S.A.” or “Fun, Fun, Fun”.

What’s Missing: “I Can Hear Music”, “Break Away”, “Wild Honey”

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