Killing Joke, Laugh? I Nearly Bought One
This is about as old a comp as I’ll consider for this venture, but I don’t believe this 1992 disc has the subcultural cachet of something like Standing On The Beach or Once Upon A Time - The Singles, so I’ll give it a shout-out. While I wish it had something from Fire Dances, it has the crucial B-side “Pssyche” (albeit live), doesn’t overload on the debut, and there’s only one (closing) track warning us they boogied less in the nineties. Recommended if you don’t know you want to buy 5+ albums of monolithic death disco yet.
Flaming Lips, VOID [Music]
While I innocently adored the Big Bold Beauty of The Soft Bulletin in college, I’ve recoiled from the squirmy ’70s pomp that followed enough to now consider 1990’s In A Priest Driven Ambulance their peak. An mp3 collection matching their video comp, VOID starts with the group at their most Supertramp and works backwards through the first decade or so of their time at Warner. I’d prefer the inverse, letting me shut the fucker off when I’m tired of meandering ballads rather than making me skip ahead to the acid-rock bubblegum, but there’s only one late ballad (“What Is The Light?”) and a few early ’90s cuts that I actively miss. Recommended if you’re a casual fan who doesn’t not yet realize that bands are best when they ROCK OUT.
Galaxie 500, The Portable Galaxie 500
Like the English Beat comp, this mixes a bunch of songs from the two everyone loves with a few from the other one. But where that mix is at least a good party, this isn’t much of a daydream. Opening atypically with sax, it jams longest on track 4 and puts their first single at the end, after a token live track. Ivo Watts-Russell would never let that happen. Recommended if you refuse to buy more than one Galaxie 500 album and the one you buy has to have “4th Of July” on it.
Drive-By Truckers, Greatest Hits 1998-2009
Since these kings of modern roots-rock consistently release 2LPs (if not 2CDs) that would be classic 1LPs, they’re pretty deserving of a 1 disc sampler even if you could fill 2 with gems. This one starts chronologically but gets fuzzier as they enter the Isbell years, not that you’d notice if you didn’t know. This may be their most consistent 16-tracks-in-a-row, but you can’t achieve the definitiveness of Lynyrd’s Gold & Platinum you didn’t really make singles. Recommended if you’re afraid of picking the wrong 2LP to start with.
The Dandy Warhols, The Capitol Years: 1995-2007
Taking just three songs from their best album and the four best tracks from each of the albums that bracket it makes for one listenable sampler of ad-friendly alt-psychedelia. Shame two or three songs from the indie that got them a major deal weren’t included to offset the three negligible ones from the album that understandably ended it. Recommended if you didn’t know they had an indie debut album, and don’t still have one of the others in a binder from school somewhere.
English Beat, Beat This! Best Of The English Beat
Totally listenable, totally fun, but totally unnecessary. If you love “Mirror In The Bathroom,” start with I Just Can’t Stop It and then get Special Beat Service. If you love “Save It For Later,” start with Special Beat Service and then get I Just Can’t Stop It. If you love something from Wha’ppen? you already know you don’t need this. Recommended if you would rather die than own two English Beat albums.
Bauhaus, Crackle - The Best Of Bauhaus
Birthday Party, Hits
Red House Painters, Retrospective
I found it worth digging through the full discographies of these moody young men for my own mixes, but 4AD/Beggars done an exceptional job of making listenable, satisfying highlight reels. I used to own two of these. In a CD-R less world, I’d own them all. Recommended if you think you’d like these bands (or know you do), but can’t immediately name the classics left off the tracklistings.
Elvis Costello, The Best Of The First Ten Years
Iirc, this is almost identical to the Rykodisc’s Very Best Of Elvis Costello & The Attractions I had in middle school, with “Watch Your Step” replaced by “New Laced Sleeves.” That “Watch Your Step” is my favorite song on Trust probably has something to do with it being the only one I really know, so I won’t begrudge this nuttiness. I’m a real “first-two-albums then some hits” kinda guy with EC, but I must be softening on his less rockin’ moments - I didn’t even think to skip the Costello Show tracks and “Shipbuilding” I like used to. Extreme Honey is not on Spotify, so I still don’t know if I’ve softened on the second ten years. Recommend if you’re shopping for a casual fan or an angry young poet in need of a role model/crush object.
Guided By Voices, The Best Of Guided By Voices: Human Amusements At Hourly Rates
Did I really buy so many of these songs in 10-30 minute long packages for $5-15 once? And wind up keeping about 1 in 4? Did I dream that time in my life? Is it the internet’s fault we can’t live like that today? Why did it stop being cool to be middle-aged in the midwest? When did that change? Why am I in New York again? That this album isn’t chronological is only making me more confused! Recommended if you’re at a point where you say “MUSIC INDUSTRY, MAKE ME A GBV MIXTAPE” rather than do it yourself or ask a friend to.
Blur, The Best Of Blur
I like their “we’ll take it from here, Pavement” period more than their “we’ll take it from here, Ray Davies” period; personally, I don’t think Albarn even has much to say about himself. But they had tunes throughout, which the lack of chronology makes clear. There’s more of the poncey stuff than the fuzzy stuff than I’d like (no “MOR”?), especially on the second half, but I hear their native country went mad for these jaunty cultural critiques. Recommended if you like the hits but have yet to form a strong opinion about the word “Brit-pop.”
Cocteau Twins, Stars And Topsoil A Collection 1982-1990
A rare exception to the 4AD/Beggars comp rule, in part because they already made a nice highlight reel, The Pink Opaque, in the mid-’80s. While this covers a longer period of time, it doesn’t include anything from their last two albums. The 4 disc complete singles comp Lullabies To Violane, is also available in 2 disc halves. With all those options, not to mention full-lengths, this feels like having 1.5 discs. Plus they skipped “Bingle Bongle” and “Supple Dish Hollow” while finding time for TWO tracks from the Moo Cow Fantasia EP. Wtf. Recommended if you have too many late ‘80-early ’90s 120 Minutes memories to be satisfied with The Pink Opaque, but not enough affection or curiosity to buy a double-disc.
More notes on the alternative hit comps I’ve perused via stream while studying for my finals, just to prove I can still listicle. And while I may make more personal “best of”s as I grow old and square, you may still be dependent on the industry to do it for you. In descending order of recommendation.
Minutemen, Introducing The Minutemen
That it does! Shares plenty with my “all the songs not on Double Nickles I need” CD-R, and cherrypicks Doubles well, too. It’s a shame about 3-Way, but kids have to learn about the follies of Mersh sooner or later, and zippy rarities follow to fudge the narrative. Anyone not filled with nostalgia for when they bought the original albums in the ’80s (or the Post-Mersh CD reissues in the ’90s), would either be cool with this much political chill-punk in their life or at least know where to go next. That Greg Ginn, always doing a band right. Recommended if you’ve never owned a Minutemen album or just want to own one. Also a great stocking stuffer for Sublime fans with potential.
Matthew Sweet, Time Capsule: The Best of Matthew Sweet 1990-2000
I love that the guy’s fraudulently titled Platinum & Gold Collection disc has so many deep cuts, but they’re not even good ones, so I recommend this earlier, longer comp, which somehow only finds time for 2 tracks from 100% Fun. But hey, at least it’s the two hits! And “Someone To Pull The Trigger” is on board, representing for his weeper side. I’m guessing the reason this lacks any of his countless ’90s soundtrack contributions is depressingly legal. Recommended if you have no particular interest in which Matthew Sweet album you own/hear as long as “Girlfriend” and “Sick Of Myself” are on it.
Massive Attack, Collected
I own Mezzanine and a CD-R of my favorite earlier tracks. If I lost those later in life, I might just get this comp, especially if I forget how much I dislike the 100th Window material (though not “Live With Me”). That’s if I buy anything - MA is one of those acts I have make sure I play loud enough to get some bass, or I feel like I’m hearing an erotic thriller in the next room. Recommended if your trip-hop needs are small, but not satisfied by some Portishead and the Romeo & Juliet OST (you’re probably also American, where this was strictly hipster/advertising, not top 20).
Bjork, Greatest Hits
This resembles my “most of Homogenic, singles from the earlier two” CD-R enough that I might purchase it instead of Homogenic (if people still purchase music) when I’m too old for CD-R binders. Still, I wish it was chronological like Kate Bush’s even more hilariously titled The Whole Story. And where’s “Alarm Call,” “It’s Oh So Quiet” or the Thom Yorke duet? Finicky dilettantes like myself deserve better. Recommended if you’re a less finicky dilettante, or shopping for one.
Replacements, Don’t You Know Who I Think I Was?: The Best Of The Replacements
All For Nothing/Nothing For All was kind of perfect; it gave die-hards a sloppy rarities disc and a tolerable Mersh-era comp, while giving less forgiving punkers no reason to even consider it. Don’t You Know offers a complete history lesson, but at a pace that you really can’t appreciate the rise or dignify the fall (two “reunion” tracks make the latter especially hard). Recommended if you’re some contrarian, unromantic soul who thinks the Mats were a pop-rock band of consistent, but marginal quality.
Screaming Trees, Ocean of Confusion: Songs Of Screaming Trees 1989-1996
I haven’t been able to enjoy “All I Know” since my sister noted its similarity to a Phish push track of the same vintage, so I don’t begrudge its peculiar absence here. That said, 19 tracks from a three-disc major label career is rather much - folks with a CD player and a hankering for grunge psychedelia are better off just (re)purchasing used copies of Sweet Oblivion or Dust. Recommended if you’re a Lanegan solo fan too young to remember the Singles OST but who still buys new CDs for some weird reason.
Though I’m currently abstaining from a hallowed career in entertainment writing to acquire an MBA, my brain is demanding I write a listicle (a LISTICLE!) while I study for finals. Last semester, I tweeted my immediate thoughts on Pitchfork’s Best Albums of 2011 (and wrote this alienated, whimsical broadside) from a study carrel in the library. This time, I’ll be dumping my thoughts on hit comps by album-oriented college rockers here as I grind through the books. The hack inside, he won’t be denied.
Each list will posted in descending order of plausible value to the average college rocker, with a cumulative list posted after finals are over.
Stereolab, Serene Velocity - A Stereolab Anthology
Opens with the highlights from the one full-length I still have, barely touches the one Switched On comp I still have. While the selections could be quibbled - why would you ever leave a song that aired on 120 Minutes off one of these comps? - I only remember the title of one quibble anyway (“The Noise Of Carpet”). Recommended if you’re still in a Stereolab mood after listening to the one full-length and the one Switched On comp you still have.
Radiohead, Best Of
Disc 1, available separately, does Radiohead As Heard On The Radio ok, but bizarrely closes with “Everything In Its Right Place” as if to say, “now go put on a full-length like the band would like you to, because shit’s about to get seriously hodgepodge on Disc 2.” Disc 1 recommended if you like Radiohead a little, or one of your parents likes Radiohead a little. The songs on Disc 2 aren’t bad, but said parent will rarely play it and you’ll just get OK Computer already, so save a buck.
Sonic Youth, Hits Are For Squares
Some glaring omissions, but that’s commercially astute. If it was puffed up to 2 discs, all Sonic Youth albums except for your favorite (mine’s Sister) would have been rendered skippable. Successfully scratches the SY itch, though; I didn’t think about the glaring omissions while it was playing. Recommended if you magically find a surviving copy at a midwestern Starbucks during a roadtrip (the celebrity-written liners should be amusing). If I knew this could easily be found in chain stores for cheap, I’d bump it up a notch or two.
Pavement, Quarantine The Past
A solid “intro” to the band, but no clear value to the already converted. Would love a disc of all the a-sides followed by a disc of quality b’s, but this wastes time with deep cuts from albums I’m taking to the grave anyway. Recommended if you’re taking a younger relative to indie school and the store only has those 2CD reissues and this.
You’re looking out a window on the third floor, when you notice that a double-parked car begins to slowly, so sloooowwwly, roll forward on the traffic-free street. The road’s decline is very slight, so the car is not really picking up speed. You keep it waiting for it to bump against something and stop, but instead it just scrapes its driver-side window against parked cars and slightly veers away. It’d be futile for you to try and do anything about the car, and it’s hard to imagine a conclusion more dramatic than a dent or going over a curb. All the same, you cannot turn away from this eerily calm shitshow until it finally reaches its anti-climax. Or gets retooled into something less baffling next season.
Also, my wife loves it.
And when you’re taking your fourth…