I was never a guy who watched the music charts. As a decidedly rock n roll guy and not a “pop” music fan I didn’t look to see who had the number 1 song in the world, or any place else for that matter. What was popular didn’t matter to me. What rocked absolutely mattered to me (and still does)! There was one true rock n roll station in Kansas City at the time, KY102 and they didn’t play “hits.” The hits were all to be found on the pop station, Q104. My brother was diverse enough he’d listen to both stations, but I was all rock n roll, all the time… once I eventually got into music. My parents would play the Casey Kasem show American Top 40 on Sunday mornings on the way to church in an attempt to mollify my anger at having to get out of bed, bathe and go to Mass. I had gotten into music and I guess they thought playing pop music would soothe the savage (and apparently heathen) beast. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. Listening to pop music on the way to and from church was as close as I got to knowing anything about the pop music charts and what was popular. And yes, for those of you who missed him, Casey Kasem was even cheesier than you might imagine.
That all being said, even as a vinyl guy, I find myself going out to buy music on different platforms. I have a room full of vinyl, CDs and hard drives full of MP3’s. Every now and again I’ll find myself going out to Apple Music to buy a stray song. I recently bought the song “Soulmates to Strangers” by Joan Jett because while I dig her, I just wanted that song. I’m not “that” into her that I considered the entire LP… but I’m getting off topic here. On those occasions I’m out on Apple buying a single song, I find myself glancing at the “TOP SONGS” and “TOP ALBUMS” on the “Rock” home page. I can’t help myself. I’m always curious to see what people are buying. “TOP SONGS” doesn’t really interest me, although occasionally I do find some stray tune on the list I like but my eyes almost always head to “TOP ALBUMS.” The list of top LPs usually includes a few heavy metal titles – like really heavy stuff (keep rawking people!) – but invariably the list is dominated by greatest hits albums. Whether it’s Journey, CCR or the Eagles, it’s always a who’s who of classic rock “best of” compilations. At first I was surprised, but when I think about my own early experience collecting music, I totally get it.
I had my “rock awakening” somewhere around 1977 or 1978. The first LP I ever purchased was the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls and after that there was no turning back, I was hooked. Rock n Roll as an art form was a good twenty to twenty-five years old by that point. Granted the famous rockers from the 50s had all “aged out” by the time I was into music. Listening to 50s rock n roll was like watching old, grainy, black and white footage of baseball in the 1920s… jerky movements and small hats with big gloves. Even Elvis was on his last legs and eventually passed away in awful fashion. I did have a connection to that 50s music. My father had a wire rack full of old singles from Elvis, Johnny Cash and Ray Charles. It was hard to listen to those early Elvis singles (that I loved) and being able to connect that visceral, powerful music that sounded like life itself with the Elvis who died at the end.
If I put aside the 50s and limit the life of rock to 1963, the year “Love Me Do” by the Beatles came out, that’s still a good 15 years of rock n roll I had to catch up on. There was soooo much great rock n roll already extant and it was all I could do to keep up with stuff that was being released currently. How was I ever going to catch up and build a decent record collection? And lets not forget, at the time I was in middle school (or as we called it, Junior High). It’s not like I had a “9 to 5” job down at the bank that paid me a whole bunch. I got a pittance for an allowance from my folks. Most of my spare change went toward buying LPs from the rock groups who were then current. Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door, The Who Face Dances and Springsteen’s The River were all early purchases. That last one, the Springsteen record, was particularly dear as it was a double LP which was always a huge investment. Obviously, each of those groups (and so many others) had a rich history and big back catalogs. What’s a (relatively) poor boy to do to build a record collection of the music he loved?
As a young collector who couldn’t afford to buy all of the Beatles LPs, I did what we all did back then, I turned to greatest hits collections. You must remember that this was long before the 2-CD, wonderfully curated greatest hits packages that I see listed on the Apple Music “TOP ALBUMS” list. There was no Depeche Mode Singles 86 – 98 or Scorpions Deadly Sting. Sure, there were some double LP greatest hits packages out there – the Stones Hot Rocks and Neil Young’s Decade (which was actually 3 LPs) spring to mind – but double LPs were more than my tiny budget could afford. Even after I started working mowing lawns or busing tables I was leery of buying double LPs, greatest hits or otherwise… Pink Floyd’s The Wall was certainly a rare exception. Cassettes helped – I taped my brothers’ Hot Rocks and my parents Beatles’ 1967-1970 aka The Blue Album but I really had limited access to other people’s collections. There was no file sharing unless you count passing cassettes around.
I turned, as most of us did, to buying single-LP greatest hits collections. They never really contained every song I wanted or liked from an artist – they were rarely a complete picture of the artist’s catalog – but those greatest hits albums were the foundation of my early record collection. If I liked the greatest hits album I’d slowly delve deeper into the artist’s catalog until the greatest hits package became, well superfluous. Over the years as my collection grew, I divested of many of the greatest hits packages from those early days. But I wish I hadn’t. I loved so many of those albums. If the album was sequenced right, with a healthy dose of great tunes, it was almost like an original… Sometimes there was a bonus track you couldn’t find anywhere else or a single that hadn’t been released on an album up to that point. Those were always great to have. I thought I’d share the 12 “best of” albums that were my favorites. I’m sure some of you out there owned a few of these?
- The Doors, Greatest Hits – This LP got my entire generation into the Doors. It’s iconic to folks of a certain age. There were longer (double-LP) and perhaps better greatest hits albums from the Doors but this was the one we all owned. It was short but it had all the highlights. The biography of Jim Morrison No One Here Gets Out Alive also came out around this time and we all wanted to be the poet rebel. If I was ever in trouble I gave my fake name as Ken Morrison as an homage.
- David Bowie, Changesonebowie – Bowie was intimidating. He’d gone through so many stylistic (yes) changes I didn’t know where to start. This was the perfect primer for me on Bowie. I actually still have this one on vinyl. From “Space Oddity” to “Changes” I realized I dug Bowie. I had already purchased Let’s Dance and this album made me realize I’d only scratched the surface.
- Paul McCartney, Wings Greatest – This had a bunch of non album tracks like “Mull of Kintyre” and “Junior’s Farm” and it came with a cool poster that I hung on my wall. It was only the tip of the iceberg of McCartney’s post Beatles 70s work but man I wore this thing out. At the time I only owned Band On The Run and the then current Tug Of War and I thought this rounded it out nicely… I had so far to go.
- The Eagles, Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 – This album had a ton of their best tracks from the pre-Hotel California Eagles. As a youngster Hotel California was really all I cared about from the Eagles, but they had so many great songs, this LP, one of the biggest sellers of all time was a must have.
- Aerosmith, Greatest Hits – I actually bought their Live Bootleg LP thinking that it had more of their big songs on it. I love live LPs, but Live Bootleg was pretty raw. I ended up going back for this LP to augment my Aerosmith collection. The songs were edited but this was the perfect cassette for the car. The Rock Chick had this on CD when I met her and I knew we were destined to be together.
- The Who, Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy – Sure, I had Face Dances and I even plunked down the cash for Who’s Next but I couldn’t afford to go back and chase all these great early Who tracks down. The critics hoped for more unreleased stuff but I loved this record. It’s a perfect collection of early singles. And “Pinball Wizard” was on this album and I couldn’t afford the double-LP Tommy.
- Elton John, Greatest Hits – We were all a little leery of Elton – was he a pop or did he rock? Yes, of course he rocked. This was the perfect introduction to his vast catalog. I don’t know anybody who didn’t own this record. It wasn’t until I was in college, after I’d seen him live that I delved deeper into his catalog.
- The Doobie Brothers, Best of the Doobies – I was a huge fan of the Tom Johnston era of the Doobies but I had no idea where to begin… this was the place. While I’m one of the few people I knew who were into the Doobies in the late 70s, I really liked this record. And it was better than Minute By Minute which everyone owned but no one admitted they owned.
- Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits – Believe it or not, my first Dylan album was Slow Train Coming, his first in the “Christian Trilogy.” I dug his lyrics (that really was poetry) and wanted more but didn’t know where to start. So I started here. It was the only LP with “Positively 4th Street” on it… a song I love. “Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes, You’d know what a drag it is to see you.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought that about someone.
- ZZ Top, The Best of ZZ Top – ZZ had emerged from a short hiatus with Deguello an album I still just love. This was a perfect sampling of all their stuff prior. It had everything from “La Grange” to “Tush” which was a perfect for me at the time. I finally ended up owning all of their early records (except Tejas) so I sadly parted ways with this one. It was a great introduction to everything that had come before Deguello.
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Smash Hits – I had no idea the Hendrix Experience only had 3 LPs… if I’d realized that I probably would have just bitten the bullet and bought them all in high school. But I did love this album. It had “Stone Free” which wasn’t on any of his actual albums. And as mentioned, I always loved a stray single finding a home on an LP.
- Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, So Far – I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know this was a greatest hits LP when I bought it. It was the only album I could find “Ohio” on at the time and therefore I thought it was just a studio LP albeit an amazing one. It was indeed a great sampler of their biggest tracks but again with only 1 or 2 LPs to buy I could have foregone it… but I’m glad I didn’t. It wasn’t until college when my roommate Drew turned me on to CSN (Y) that I started to collect their first few LPs including Deja Vu.
I’m sure all of you out there had that LP or cassette of a greatest hits package that you just loved. Nothing that was exhaustive or complete but just a great record you liked to listen to at full volume on the headphones in your bedroom when you got home from school or in your car with the windows down (or if you had money maybe with the T-tops off. What were your favorites from back in the day? Let us know in the comments section.
I hope you all enjoyed this little stroll down memory lane! There is nothing wrong with owning a greatest hits package. It’s a great way to build up your collection. And like me, if you find some gems you weren’t aware of perhaps it’ll lead you to an LP you’d only paged past. To me greatest hits packages serve two great purposes – 1) it builds your collection, especially if you’re not so into the artist you wanna buy all their LPs and 2) it serves and a good introduction or primer into an artist’s catalog. You can’t lose.