Whatever became of “greatest hits” compilation albums? Record companies used to reissue already successful singles on an album – easy money for the company and artist, and a good way for new fans to catch up on an established act.
It’s how people of my vintage learned about the Beatles – the red/blue album compilations issued after they split. I worked backwards from there.
Some acts resisted record company pressure to do “best of” compilations, especially in the album era, arguing that hit songs would be stripped of their “album” context and be presented in ways their creators did not intend.
But the money? “Greatest hits” records are cheap to make – no new material or expensive studio time. Nice little earner for act and label.
“Best ofs” began in the early part of the “album era” – 1958’s Johnny Mathis greatest hits is thought to be the first. Streaming killed them off, but for a time, they were a lucrative thing. So much so that the best-selling record ever in the USA is a greatest hits, by The Eagles – it sold 38 million copies.
And then labels like K-tel started doing amazing compilations of eras and styles, and Rhino Records began to issue compilations that taught us all about artists, styles and musical eras.
Listen to my ABC Radio story about greatest hits albums.
Richard is a writer, podcaster, radio and TV broadcaster, an editor, and a lover of music. He tells the stories of how great songs are made, and of the people who make them.