Dilemma: Compilations Or Original Albums?

Originally posted April 15, 2008

I’m of two minds when it comes to greatest hits compilations. For groups and artists who were mostly concerned with singles – the band that comes to mind first for some reason is the Grass Roots – compilations of hits are fine. I’ve listened enough to the Grass Roots to know that all I really want to hear are the hits; the non-hit material on the band’s albums is, to my ears, not very good. (Their singles – fourteen of which hit the Top 40 – were, on the other hand, great radio fare and are fun to listen to yet today.)

There are many bands and artists, however, whose hit work is better listened to in the context of the original album. The concept of a rock/pop album as a group of songs that have some relation to each other – rather than just singles separated by filler – can, I think, be dated to 1965 and the issuance that year of Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home and the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. (Albums tying together concepts or themes had been produced for some time before that, certainly, but those were albums aimed at adults and contained nothing so frivolous as rock ’n’ roll. Without digging too deeply into the non-rock music of the 1950s, it seems likely to me that the first real concept album on LP came in 1954 with Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours, which is still a powerful set of songs. Anyone else have a contender?)

So for music recorded from 1965 on, I often prefer to buy entire albums rather than compilations. A case in point – one of many I could cite – is Blood, Sweat & Tears’ Greatest Hits, released in 1972. It combines tracks from the group’s first three albums, hits and album tracks alike. But the group changed personnel and approaches almost entirely between the recording of its first album, Child Is Father To The Man, and its second, self-titled, album. Add that the group’s third album was decidedly mediocre, and the greatest hits album becomes unnecessary; even the hits from the self-titled 1969 release sound better when heard in their original setting.

One can’t buy everything, of course, and my collections – both vinyl and CD – have many greatest hits albums that I considered a starting place for a particular artist or band. My Dylan collection on vinyl, for example, began with his Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, which – with its album tracks, one non-album single and unreleased tracks – is actually more of an anthology than a hits package. That purchase, back in 1972, led to what I believe is a complete collection of every official Dylan release, much of it on vinyl and much of that vinyl duplicated on CD. I can’t do that for all artists, of course; resources and space are limited. As a result, many artists for whom I have full – or at least extensive – collections on vinyl will be represented on CD by compilations.

One of those is Jimi Hendrix, I think. I’ve got all the LPs released during his lifetime, as well as a few posthumous releases on vinyl. And I have some mp3s ripped from CDs I checked out of the local library. But until Saturday, I had no Hendrix CDs. I picked up the experience hendrix CD, a 1997 release, because it was on sale and also because some years ago, I’d found it on vinyl and knew it to be worthwhile. It’s got the hit singles, a good selection of albums tracks, an unreleased track or two, and a few things that were completed posthumously, after – I believe – Hendrix’ family regained control of his extensive archives. It’s a good compilation.

I won’t argue with anyone who says that, given Hendrix’ remarkable evolution during his brief career, it’s better to listen to the albums. It likely is. But, as I said, one can’t buy everything.

One of the selections on experience hendrix is Hendrix’ take on one of the more covered songs of the 1960s. Written by Billy Roberts, “Hey Joe” was recorded by artists as diverse as George Baker, Black Uhuru, Roy Buchanan, Buckwheat Zydeco and Cher, and that just gets us into the Cs in the alphabetical list; there are many more folks who covered the song. (Johnny Rivers’ 1968 version is likely my favorite.) The Leaves had a minor hit with it – No. 31 – in 1966, and that fall, Hendrix recorded it in England, where it was released as a single and went to No. 6 in February 1967. In the U.S., it was released on Reprise 0572 in May 1967 but failed to make the Top 40.

Jimi Hendrix – “Hey Joe” [1966]

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One Response to “Dilemma: Compilations Or Original Albums?”

  1. Saturday Single No. 70 « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] April 12: experience hendrix by Jimi Hendrix, 1997. I discussed this CD recently. […]

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