Saturday, 1 May 2010

News, Views and Music Issue 59: Compilation Special





Over the years many people have said to me ‘it’s all very well talking about complete albums, but if I want to know more about a particular artist I tend to buy a ‘greatest hits’ album, but worry that they’re not really representative of what I want to hear’. After asking them why they talk in such strange elongates sentences, I usually reply ‘well, it depends on the period it covers, whether its aimed for the general market or the fan’s market and how badly the artist and/or record company want the money’. So in case you’re into asking such curious questions too, here is your handy guide to the compilation albums that are compiled with care and the ones that are completely baffling...

...As you probably expected, there’s a load of Beach Boys comps on the market – though what’s unusual for this list is that loads came out in the 1960s (usually there’s one or two at most) and that loads came out in the 00s (again, there aren’t usually that many) with hardly anything in-between other than a few questionable Hallmark compilations

THE BEST: You’ve got quite a choice when it comes to the classic 60s material. ’20 Golden Greats’ (1976) gives you everything you probably need from the ‘Capitol’ years, with plus points for featuring the last (and classic if poor selling) singles from the run ‘I Can Hear Music’ and ‘Break Away’ and minus points for not including the first two singles ‘Surfin’ and ‘Surfin’ Safari’. 

As for the 70s output, there’s the excellent ‘Ten Years Of Harmony’ double album from 1979 which – boo hoo – has been booted off the CD catalogue to make way for the inferior ‘Brother Years’ CD (see below). Not only do you get a truly representative and genuinely classy choice of songs from all the Beach Boys albums from ‘Sunflower’ up to ‘LA Light Album’ (both of which made it onto our review list), you get a handful of unreleased songs and rarities that are every bit as good as the album tracks (the rocky ‘San Miguel’, Dennis at his cockiest in ‘Sea Cruise’ (oo-wee baby!) and the single-only ‘It’s A Beautiful Day’ from 1979 which might just be the best thing the Beach Boys did without a writing credit from a Wilson brother).  

Summer Dreams seems like same old, same old when you see the tacky surfer cover and skim your eyes over the contents until you bring it home – the packaging with a track-by-track analysis is pretty good and the songs from the 60s are not only present and correct but – shock horror – in the right order. There’s also a new recording, a pretty good stab at covering the Mamas and papas classic ‘California Dreamin’. Well, it’s better than Kokomo!

Best of all, though, might be the ‘Endless Summer’ compilation album – the best-selling album of album tracks from the early surfing Beach Boys which was a surprise #1 and helped bring the band out of retirement – and it’s under-rated follow-up album ‘Spirit Of America’. Hearing the band’s early catalogue spread across a double album makes more sense than hearing each LP by itself (especially given the boys’ penchant for adding weird filler interviews/mock arguments/spoofs on most of their early albums) – it’s just a shame that these albums are so hard to find on CD these days. And what’s with the truly awful cover on ‘Summer’ – bearded faces that look nothing like the Beach Boys and the band didn’t have until the 70s anyway in some tall grass. Odd.  

THE WORST: Those dreaded ‘Hallmark’ albums which, to be fair, are pretty cheap and used to pretty handy for finding rare tracks at one time before Capitol got their act together and issued all their albums properly. Nearly all of these albums are called ‘The Beach Boys’ and they nearly always have a truly random pick of the band’s back catalogue of A sides, B sides and album tracks, with live and ‘Beach Boys party’ fake live tracks in-between famous singles and obscure studio rarities.

‘Stack Of Tracks’ from 1969 looks like a compilation, but be warned – its just another excuse for Capitol to make money out of The Beach Boys’ output. Yes you will recognize most of the songs on the back cover – but they are only backing tracks with the vocals removed! A boon for the collector – there’s so much going on in Brian Wilson’s arrangements that some of the later 60s songs actually sound better without the vocals – but a real danger for the Beach Boys newcomer who just wants the hits.

‘The Best Of The Brother Years’ is a pretty torrid attempt to cut the excellent ’10 Years Of harmony’ down to size whilst adding a few tracks from later years which are by far the worst of the bunch. The rarities have all been pushed aside and the packaging is minimal too – not one of the band’s better ideas. 

Also, the three original ‘Best of the Beach Boys’ albums from the 60s did the job just fine back then but nowadays are a little on the skimpy side in the CD age (you’re better off with the albums above). And the ‘very best of the beach boys’ album from 2001 I keep seeing in discographies has rather passed me by I’m afraid.  

Finally, the latest CD compilation ‘Good Vibrations’ which takes the story up to three CDs could really have done with cutting out most of the third (none of the Beach Boys’ 80s recordings could in any way shape or form be called the band’s ‘best’ even if Kokomo did end up making #1). It’s also very expensive – if you are prepared to pay this much money look out for the 5/6 CD box set listed above – it’s far more representative and much better packaged at only a fraction higher price.

BOX SET: ‘Good Vibrations - 30 Years Of The Beach Boys’ is one of the best box sets in the business, with a generous helping of outtakes and rarities (most of which come from the ‘Smile sessions’ – mmmmm) and a pretty career defining track selection of the known and unknown which does a pretty good job at summing up what the band were about at all eras. The actual disc of rarities is comparatively uninteresting (its a collection of remixes, live recordings and backing tracks with only the superlative demo of ‘In My Room’ standing out much) and the inclusion – in some sets – of a ‘bonus’ sixth disc of five tracks that could have made it into the set if there’d been more space seems an odd idea, but generally speaking this is as good an introduction as any fan could hope for. HIGHLIGHT: The gorgeous ‘Baby Blue’ on CD 4, anything from the ‘Smile’ tapes on CD 2 and the unreleased track ‘HELP Is On The Way’ which is Brian Wilson at his funniest.  

From a later edition of News, Views and Music: "Made In California" (Beach Boys Box Set, 2013)
The Beach Boys already made one of the very best AAA markets with their superb '30 Years Of Good Vibrations' set in 1993. Twenty years on, their best bet should have been simply to re-issue that set (perhaps with a CD of extras attached), but this time around the band seem to be adamant that this set is going to be as different as it can be. As a result, a new selection of tracks from the Beach Boys' back archives are included, featuring several great choices not part of the 'old' set ('Lonely Sea' 'Busy Doin' Nothin' 'Baby Blue' 'Solar System' and 'Angel Come Home', classics all) but there's nothing here to rival the hits (which were included pretty much complete before and are only here in part) or the excitement of getting half an hour of unheard buts from 'Smile'. The 'new' material is a bit of an odd bunch too, most of which is kept for the 'bonus' sixth CD but strangely not featured in chronological order (so the set actually ends with 'Wendy', one of Brian Wilson's earliest songs). 'Goin' To The Beach' and 'It's a Mystery' are lost classics fully deserving of release and many of the demos heard here for the first time are fascinating too. But why didn't the band go the whole hog and include all the Beach Boys rarities out there and do the thing properly ('We Got Love' is still unavailable on CD after being unceremoniously booted off 'Holland' at the last minute and there's nothing from the unreleased 1977 Christmas album or the aborted get-togethers in the late 1970s and 1980s). The packaging too isn't quite as special as on 'Good Vibrations', even if it does include a nice Brian Wilson essay that's less scatterbrained than his album re-issue essays. Overall, our advice is if you own all the Beach Boys CDs already then you won't miss this - but if you loved the first box set and don't know anything else then this would make a fine companion set. Oh and the new music - from recording in 2012 - is horrible and doesn't deserve the same house space as the band's old classics.


...There aren’t all that many Beatles best-ofs out there, probably because there were so many bad ones in the space of a few years in the 70s and because the ‘red’ and ‘blue’ sets became pretty definitive readings of the band’s best material.

THE BEST: If it’s the best known tracks you’re after then the 2000 compilation ‘1’ does the job pretty nicely. It contains every #1 hit the Beatles ever had although, weirdly, that means #1 in the American market so there’s no ‘Please Please Me’ (which depends on which chart you ask if it made #1 in Britain) but you do get ‘Eight Days A Week’ (which was just an album track on ‘Beatles for Sale’ in Britain). Most of the tracks you’ll know are here, though if you’re a newcomer to the fab four it may surprise you just how many songs you know that aren’t on here and never were singles (Yesterday, Nowhere Man and With A Little Help From My Friends to name just a few).

The famous ‘Red ‘ and ‘Blue’ sets (officially named Beatles 1962-66 and Beatles 1967-70) were some of the best-selling albums of all in the 70s and are still fondly regarded by many a collector who got into the band through them. But today they’re looking a bit like old relics from the past – EMI still insist on making the red set a double CD and charging the equivalent price for it even though it runs to just 60 minutes (the blue set is a total of 85 minutes, just 5 over the maximum running time as well). And some of the track selection choices seem bizarre now – ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’? Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da? Across The Universe? Michelle? The best of the Beatles, really? And only two tracks from ‘Revolver? Still interesting if you find them cheap, though and want to see how the story pans out.

Also a quick word for the only Beatles compilation to come out in their lifetime: ‘A Collection Of Oldies But Goldies’ was released as a ‘filler’ when it became clear that Sgt Peppers wouldn’t be ready for the xmas market of 1966 (the first time The Beatles ever missed that festive deadline). It reached #3 in the charts, contained a fairly inviting Larry Williams rocker ‘Bad Boy’ from 1964 which had never come out in Britain and is pretty much forgotten today – the lack of a CD release probably hasn’t helped. You’ve got to love that cover though of a man lounging in a multi-coloured shirt– the single most psychedelic image in the band’s catalogue and surely the unsung inspiration for the similarly lurid ‘Yellow Submarine’ film.  

A quick mention too for the mop-up jobs ‘Past Masters One and Two’ which aren’t compilations in the classic set, more a mopping up job of all the A and B sides and EP tracks that didn’t appear on the 13 original Beatles albums when the first CD batches came out in 1987 (and now shine even brighter thanks to a 2009 re-mastering). Even though they’re made for collectors not newcomers, you could do worse than buy either set – personally I prefer them to the red and blue sets. 

THE WORST: By far the biggest wastes of space are EMIs awful ‘themed’ compilations of the 70s. We got ‘Rock and Roll Music’ ‘Love Songs’ ‘Beatle Ballads’ and strangest of all ‘Beatles at the Movies’, all with terrible hideous unsightly covers (John Lennon was so incensed by the former album he rang up EMI and offered to design the next cover for free – shockingly they turned him down!) and a seemingly random pick of tracks (is ‘In My Life’ really a love song? Or ‘Eight Days A Week’ a rock song?!) Thankfully none of these albums have ever been given a CD release, although surprisingly the first three albums made the British top 20.   

 ...Amazingly there have been no ‘greatest hits’ compilations for B and S yet – your best bet is still ‘Tigermilk’ if you want an entry to this band’s work.

... There’s almost as many Buffalo Springfield compilations around as there are albums – not that there’s that many of either!

THE BEST compilation depends on what you’re after. The best one-stop shop is the 12-track comp ‘Retrospective’ which is a bit stingy on its track choices from ‘Last Time Around’ but gets the choices from the first two albums spot-on. There aren’t any rarities, but for the curious Neil Young and Stephen Stills and maybe even Poco fans who want to hear what their idols’ ‘baby pic releases’ sounded like this is pretty good.

The first Springfield comp is a much stranger beast, however, A double set simply called ‘Buffalo Springfield’ it shares most of the same track listing as above, but one side of the vinyl album is taken up with an apparently storming 15-minute version of ‘Bluebird’. Alas, this album has yet to have a CD release so I’ve never actually heard it and surpringly it didn’t make it onto the otherwise comprehensive box set.

BOX SET: Talking of which, the box set is also, confusingly, titled ‘Buffalo Springfield’ and is a curious beast – it’s nearly all unreleased (and nearly all fabulous), but somewhere along the line the record company seemed to get a bit concerned and started adding released versions of songs seemingly at random among the box’s contents. So what we get is a box set that’s almost complete except for around eight tracks (mainly from the last album) and actually repeats a good dozen tracks on CD 4 which features a mono version of the first album and stereo mix of the second (even though about half of these tracks have already appeared in identical formats on CDs 1-3). Not really for newcomers but a boon for fans.

 ...There aren’t really that many Byrds comps around compared to their contemporaries, although the past 10 years has seen the amount nearly double in size. Alarmingly there still isn’t one definitive compilation carrying the best of all The Byrds’ many incarnations and species (in my opinion, anyway) but there are some good introductions out there...

THE BEST: Ahead by a nose is the Mojo compilation ‘The beginner’s guide to...’, part of a series that sadly seems to have ended now but offered 25 tracks from a series of cult bands from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Where this CD wins is the choice of album track to sit alongside the better known material – most of the Gene Clark songs and ‘Gunga Din’ from ‘Easy Rider’ are easily the highlights of the CD and outstrip the pretty comprehensive list of famous singles here as well.

The Best Of The Byrds is perhaps your other best bet, containing all the hit singles but not really much else – it’s running time was pretty generous in the early 70s when it came out but in the CD age could have done with a few bonus tracks.

If it’s a biot kmore depth you want you could also do worse than the double album ‘The History Of The Byrds’ (1973), although like many a double album the song choices are questionable at times – fun as it is, does ‘America’s Great National Pastimes’ really rate alongside ‘8 Miles High’ and ‘Turn Turn! Turn!’?!  

THE WORST: The Byrds Play Dylan – not only does this compilation commit the cardinal sin of reducing one of the 60s’ most original and inventive bands into a covers act, it doesn’t even feature a complete selection of the group’s Dylan songs. ‘Positively 4th Street’ is the most shocking omission (one of the highlights of the ‘Untitled’ album) and a bonus track in the form of McGuinn’s solo cover of ‘It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding’ would save me forking out £20 for the Easy Rider film soundtrack too. A mess.

BOX SET: Amazingly there’s two, albeit both very similar and both officially called ‘The Byrds’. The 1990 set has too many later-period tracks and reflects the troubled time it appeared in (Gene Clark and Michael Clarke, both fighting for control of the band’s name, get short changed in favour of Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman) , although the album choices and mix of rarities is pretty much spot-on. The 2005 box set is marginally better thanks to the re-instation of Gene Clark in the early years and the loss of the distressingly ordinary ‘reunion’ songs from McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman in 1990.

...Take your pick from a truly remarkable box set, a greatest hits comp released just two albums into an interrupted acareer or an OK-ish modern CD-length disc.

THE BEST: ‘Greatest Hits’ (2004) contains most of the songs you’d want from CSN/Y, although weirdly Stills’ ‘Love The One You’re With’ is the only solo material to make the cut and Crosby/Nash’s ‘Wind On the Water’ the only duo. Most of the tracks naturally come from the band’s first two albums, as a trio and quartet respectively – and both of which made this list, so that’s fair enough – but more tracks from the fine ‘Daylight Again’ and the superlative ‘CSN’ would have been nice too. No rarities though.

THE WORST: ‘So Far’ 91974) is the famous compilation, released just two years into the band’s run as a replacement for the aborted ‘Human Highway’ album and most heralded at the time for containing both sides of the hard-to-get single ‘Ohio/Find The Cost Of Freedom’. Both tracks are the compilation’s highlights, although as most collectors own these tracks several times over nowadays (the CSN box, Neil Young’s ‘Decade’, etc) this album has been rather robbed of its main selling power). The choice of tracks from ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’ and ‘Deja Vu’ are pretty questionable too – to be honest, you’re better off buying the first two albums than all of the CSN best-ofs out there. Nice cover by Joni Mitchell, though, whose caricatures get the essence of Crosby Stills and Young spot on and then messes up by making her ex-husband Nash look like Ringo.      

Replay (1980) is more of the same – released under record company pressure after David Crosby’s drug abuse scuppered yet another recording project and cash cow for Atlantic. The track listing does a good job at mopping up all the songs that hadn’t appeared on ‘So Far’ even though the band had only released three LPs up to that time. Highlights for collectors are Stills’ remixes on certain tracks – ‘Carry On’ is remixed to circumnavigate Neil Young’s guitar parts (contractually unable to appear, not that he’s on that many CSNY songs to begin with) and it sounds like a completely different song; ‘I Give You Give Blind’ is also turned into a raw rocker courtesy of losing the urgent string accompaniment. Still a bit of a money-making mess, though.

A mention too for the solo compilations. ‘Still Stills’ (1976) is an OK attempt to put just 10 Stephen Stills classics onto one album but for my taste leans rather too heavily on the first eponymous album and doesn’t have enough from the Manassas albums. Not bad though if you can find it. ‘The Best Of Crosby and Nash’, though, is nothing of the sort – the worst tracks from all three joint albums are there alongside only a handful of the best and the addition of one track each from the solo albums out at that time (If Only I Could Remember My name and Songs For Beginners respectively) seems either mean-spirited or a betrayal of trust in the duo. Give it a miss.

BOX SET: Simply superb. About half and half old friends and new unreleased classics and I defy any newcomers to tell which is which without looking at the glossy, informative booklet so strong are even the weakest songs on this set. A slightly lesser 2 CD distillation of this 4-disc box ‘Carry On’ is also available, but personally I’d plump for the full set which features more of the choice solo and duo material as well as the trio and quartet stuff.  

... A choice of two, neither of which hits the spot really.

THE BEST: ‘Money For Nothing’ (1988) sums up how I feel about some of the compilations on this list and while not the worst it’s not the best either. To be fair, most of the songs on this – for it’s day quite lengthy, but then a Dire Straits comp would have to be –CD comp were hits, but the Dire Straits’ management’s choice of singles doesn’t tally with my idea of their best moments. As a bonus for collectors there’s a live version of the majestic ‘Telegraph Road’ (still a poor substitute for the original, though) and the EP only ‘Twisting By The Pool’ (one of the worst things I have ever ever heard - even if it is rare this should never be heard again!), but many plus points for including ‘Portobello Belle’ (the only decent track on the band’s second album ‘Communique’ and saves me buying it again on CD!)

THE WORST: ‘Sultans Of Swing – The Best Of Dire Straits And Mark Knopfler’(1998) is a compilation too far. As if to please Mark Knopfler, many of his lesser and lesser selling singles and album tracks are included at the end of this single disc and they just show up how good and original the Dire Straits material is. This would all be fine on a double CD – but on a single CD there’s now even less space for the band’s magnum opuses and the listener ends up feeling short changed as a result.

   ...  Trying to fit the Grateful Dead’s multi-layered jam-filled mainly live output onto a single album best of was always going to be a headache. While neither of the official best-ofs are particularly good they’re arguably not as bad you’d expect them to be. Best stick with the classic albums though to really get into the group – ‘American Beauty’ is still the best if you’re not quite sure about the band with ‘Anthem Of the Sun’ the best bet for the adventurous listener.

THE BEST: The double-album set ‘What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been’ (1977) is about the best, even if its emphasis is decidedly on the more mainstrem three-minute long songs rather than the true best of the Dead’s output. Full marks for including some of the band’s more adventurous work though, like ‘St Stephen’ and ‘Born Cross-Eyed’, although more tracks from ‘American Beauty’ would have gone down well and do the rambling ‘Ramble on Rose’ and the slowed-down covers of ‘Brown-Eyed Woman’ and ‘Tennessee Jed’ really account for the best of the Dead’s career? I think not!

‘The Arista Years’ is even harder to find but worse persevering for if you don’t want to buy the band’s 1977-95 output separately (and its a decidedly mixed bag you’re getting if you do). While none of the tracks compare to the band’s 60s and early 70s heyday there’s still a lot of gems here for you to discover (such as Garcia’s gorgeous farewell ‘Standing On the Moon’ and the full 18-minute groove of ‘Terrapin Station’) – it’s just a shame about having so many live versions of earlier tracks which can’t compare to the originals.

THE WORST: ‘Skeletons From The Closet’ (1974) was the first pre-CD attempt at distilling the Dead’s career into a single disc – and it seems to have chosen all the band’s shortest songs, oblivious of quality, just to fit as many of the songs on as possible. Nice to see ‘St Stephen’ back again along with ‘Sugar Magnolia’ and ‘Friend Of the Devil’ but cutting ‘Turn Down Your Lovelight’ in half and missing out ‘Dark Star’ really wasn’t a good idea. 

 A word of warning – watch out for ‘History Of The Grateful Dead Vol 1- Bear’s Choice’ which isn’t a compilation despite the title – it’s a collection of murky live recordings released to commemorate recently deceased keyboardist and blues singer Pigpen and good as it is it really isn’t recommended as an introduction to the Dead.  

Oh and we’ve missed out the ‘box sets’ even though there are three of them because the first two between them contain the whole of the band’s original output 1965-95 and the third, ‘So Many Roads’ is all live and unreleased, full of fascinating stuff for the Dead collector but not really made for the casual listener after a best-of.

...Shockingly, there’ve only been three compilations. And neither of them is quite right.

THE BEST: By far my favourite is the rarest (sorry about that!) ‘Best Of The Dark Horse Years’ (1992) which features the best material from George’s ‘missing’ years 1976-87. Most of the track selection is spot-on and these great but patchy albums sound even better with the lesser tracks removed. As a bonus for the collector there are three film soundtrack-only songs although only ‘Cheer Down’ is of that much interest to be honest. The packaging could be better (George looks more like Prince on the blue-tinged cover), but the songs are more or less perfect.

A wider net is cast by the recent ‘Let It Roll’ (2009), which loses out by featuring live versions of two Beatles songs (see below for why this is so wrong) and not enough from the Dark Horse Years (see above). Full marks for including so many songs from ‘All Things Must Pass’ though, some rare ones too not just the hit singles, although three from ‘Cloud Nine’ is way too many for such an average and badly-dated album. Boy will that last sentence get me letters! The one new track for collectors ‘I Don’t Want To Do It’ isn’t one of George’s best though – perhaps his widow Olivia (the driving force behind the set) should have included the comparatively rare Jools Holland collaboration ‘Horse To water’ instead?

THE WORST: The Best Of George Harrison (1975) is a really cheeky collection from Apple. Only side two dates from George’s solo years – the first is all George’s Beatle tracks, a trick they didn’t even try with Ringo who got a full (if short) compilation to himself. That’s criminal – yes George’s hits dried up fairly quickly but there’s still four album’s worth of material to choose from (one of them a triple) and there’s easily a 40 minute compilation’s worth lurking in there. And to be honest I’d rather hear any of George’s album tracks than the irritating single ‘You’.     

There is a box set, ‘The Dark Horse Years’, but again its complete albums-with-the-odd-bonus-track-and-a-DVD rather than a proper compilation.



  ... Oh dear, I’d forgotten when I started this that I’d have to trawl my way through 60 (I’m not kidding!) Hollies compilations, all of them competent but all of them missing some very important songs (though not the same ones). Virtually all The Hollies output is special so why oh why do these compilations go so wrong? Usually by mixing eras together with no regard for chronological order (shame on you EMI!), splitting the set into two CDs when one would have done or mixing the raw, early album track Hollies with the polished singles-only 1980s. Two totally different bands, two totally different markets.

THE BEST: There isn’t really much to choose between the Hollies comps out there – not till EMI actually get round to putting out all the singles in the right order anyway – so the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ is a comparative judgement. ‘All The Hits And More’ (1988), released to cash-in on the sudden #1 re-issue of ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ is probably about the best – all the singles are on here and in chronological order, but the playing time of each disc is short and the short selection of album tracks and latter day singles seem really out of place after the continual one-two wow-I-know-all-of-these punch of the first disc. ‘The Air That I Breathe – The Very Best Of’ (1993) is almost identical but falls down for two very good reasons – the first is the inclusion of ‘latest’ single, the godawful ‘Woman I Love’ which is a strong candidate for the nadir of the band’s career and the tacky cover – if I want to stare at a tree I’ll go and visit a forest.  

‘Greatest Hits’ (2004-ish) is a pretty fair mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, with lots of raw early album tracks (yeah!) psychedelic Hollies (yay!) and some truly out of left-field choices (boo!) – all the worst songs from the 70s and too many Dylan and Buddy Holly covers.

The recent release ‘Midas Touch’ (2010) is kind of the same part two, with some new tracks (yuk) nestling with the usual suspects (hmm) and some less usual suspects (yeah! Full marks for including the excellent ‘Rain On My Window’ and ‘So Lonely’ and the rare ‘Soldier’s Song).  

The hard-to-find ‘70s A and B Sides’ is probably the best of the rarer stuff – classy singles and b sides famous (Air That I Breathe), infamous (the oddball ‘Son Of A Rotten Gambler’ which broke the 11 year run of top 20 singles) and the unknown (the gorgeous string-fests that are ‘Second-Hand Hang Ups’ and ‘Love Is The Thing’). 

For many, ‘Hollies Greatest’ is still the only compilation to own – classy cover, all the songs you’d want from the pre-1968 era (so no ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ or ‘Air That I Breathe’ I’m afraid), etc – but it’s not actually available on CD. Hmmmm.

If it’s a single CD you want, then, with just the singles and no album tracks ’20 Golden Greats’ (1978) is still about your best bet, even if the running order is chronologically all over the place –it’s just that The Hollies recorded rather more than 20 hits in their lifetime and only some of them are on here, and not the most obvious ones either.

THE WORST: Everything else – avoid especially the CDs that only have about 10 or so tracks (30 mins playing time at best) and the ones that have a ‘theme’. EMI seemed to like themes as we’ve seen with The Beatles and ‘Hollies Love Songs’ is every bit as bad.

The ‘At Abbey Road’ 3 CD series should also have been better, although to be fair they weren’t meant to be compilations in the traditional sense. Still the track selection seemed awfully wrong to me, missing out the best songs in favour of the worst A and B sides of the period, although there were plenty of rarities for fans so they weren’t a complete loss.

BOX SET: The Long Road Home (2004) – it seemed to take an awful long time to get a box set in this country given that in Germany (where the band are bigger than the Stones) there are about three of the things. It’s a mixed bag this one – the 60s track selection is too short, the 70s too long and the live selections on disc 6 don’t actually add that much. Then again, many of my favourite tracks are here – even the ones that haven’t made it to any of the compilations yet – and the packaging is nice. There are some rarities, too, although not all that many. A fair introduction but not as good as it might have been – and poor Eric Haydock seems to have been cut of history (his photo is missing from the main pic when you open the box up; I know he fell out with the others over using the band name to tour in the 80s but it does seem a bit cruel).



   ...There are way too many compilations out there for a band who only released seven ‘proper’ albums – and they’re nearly all the same anyway.

THE BEST: There’s not actually that much to choose between them, but the white-covered ‘Greatest Hits’ (1988) wins out over its later, black-covered version (1995) by a nose simply because it doesn’t knock off two of the earlier tracks to make way for some rather dodgy singles from ‘Romantic?’ and ‘Octopus’. A comprehensive look at the band’s album tracks might have been a better bet for a CD-length comp but actually the ‘white album’ version gets its track listing pretty spot on. Two of the best tracks, Mirror Man and (Keep Feeling) Fascination are also unique to these compilations, being single-only releases that never appeared on album.

THE WORST: The Very Best Of The Human League isn’t too bad but it’s not as good as the above sets, spending too much time on remixes and 12” versions when it should be concentrating on the content. All three League compilations are pretty cheap at the moment, though, so do at least offer value for money if you want to get into this band and give them a try.

Oh and ‘Love and Dancing’, which looks like a best-of, actually isn’t – it’s an instrumental re-creation of hit album ‘Dare!’ which is rewarding but a bit heavy going for the casual fan.

    ...I love the Jefferson titles! ‘Flight Log’ is the perfect name for a history of the band while ‘The Worst Of Jefferson Airplane’ is perhaps the best name for a compilation ever!

THE BEST: ‘2400 Fulton Street’ (1987) is the best by a nose, a 2CD set containing all the hit singles you’d expect and most of the best album tracks (although a few more from the classic ‘After Bathing At Baxters’ wouldn’t have gone amiss). Unlike most comps, this gets the balance just right – there’s lots from the band’s classic period but the later, patchy years aren’t ignored completely and tracks like ‘Third Week In Chelsea’ and ‘Trial By Fire’ are among the best on the set. Rather an ugly cover though.

‘Flight Log’ (1977) is harder to find – is it even available on CD? I’ve never seen it! – but this is another pretty good rummage through the Jefferson box of tricks, with extra bonus points for including some songs from the band’s spin-off projects (Hot Tuna, The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick’s early solo albums). There’s less space for the band’s classic early years but this is another pretty good purchase.

‘Gold’ (1978) is a short but pretty much spot-on compilation of the Jefferson Starship years – or the first four Marty Balin-led albums anyway. The right songs from all four albums are chosen (in fact, you really don’t need to buy 4th album ‘Earth’ because the only listenable songs are all on here), with a good mix of Balin, Slick and Kantner songs. The only bad point is the cover and a rather odd single-only bonus track ‘Light The Sky On Fire’ which should have stayed in the vaults. Still, it is only a bonus.

THE WORST: Suitably, ‘The Worst Of Jefferson Airplane’ – although for its day (1970) it wasn’t bad at all, it’s just that there have been longer, more thorough albums out since and ending the band’s story in 1970 misses out on some of their better tracks. If you can’t find any other compilation it’s still a good buy, but you’re probably better off with the above sets.

‘The Best Of’ (1988) is a cheap and not very cheerful attempt to re-package some of the Starship songs. It comes in a really ugly cover, features most but not all of the hits and too much 1980s filler. I’ve seen this set priced at £5 and lower, which isn’t bad considering how hard many of the band’s 1980s albums are to find, but it’s still a pretty horrible compilation all round.

‘Hits’ (2005) is the latest 2 CD set out and while not too shabby it seems a poor substitute for the above ‘2400 Fulton Street’ which it seems to have booted off catalogue. Another ugly cover and not many 70s Starship songs gives this one the thumbs down.

There is a Jefferson Airplane box set ‘Jefferson Airplane Loves You’ – but its made up of the band’s first four albums and isn’t really a box set proper.



        ... Considering Janis died so young there’s been lots of compilations over the years. With most of them you wonder why – it’s not as if Janis did that many albums (two with Big Brother and the Holding Company, two on her own – one unfinished and posthumous) but I’m pleased to say the good outnumber the bad.

THE BEST: The Ultimate Collection (1998) is by far the best, a double set that mixes all the best known material along with choice album cuts and some rare pre-fame live material that’s either extremely irritating or fascinating, depending how far you’ve fallen under Janis’ spell. There aren’t enough Big Brother songs and there’s way too many from ‘Pearl’ but this is still a pretty good introduction.

‘Janis’ is a single-disc version of the same idea, with most of the right choices and less of the pre-fame material. The packaging is minimal (at least it is on the copy I’ve seen) but it does it’s job.

THE WORST: 8 Essential Songs (1972) which isn’t bad, just short. Janis still hadn’t gained the recognition she deserved just after her death and the record label wasn’t yet ready for a double album so in the pre-CD age we get Janis’ sprawling catalogue reduced to its basics. If I had to choose just 8 songs to sum up Janis’ career, though, my selection wouldn’t be too far out from this (although the jaw-dropping ‘Work Me Lord’ would be on it like a shot).        

There is a box set – ‘The Complete Janis’ – but as its title implies, its a ‘complete’ high and lows set rather than a compilation per se.

...The Kinks, like The Hollies, are another band whose back catalogue of treasures has been badly served by their various record labels over the years. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that The Kinks pretty much fell out with every record label they worked with and you can’t help feeling that most of these cheap and cheerful comps have been released in revenge!

THE BEST: ‘The Singles Collection’ is certainly the most serious attempt by Pye to re-releases the band’s 60s output on one album – unfortunately it’s also the priciest! Thankfully the track selection is in chronological order and includes several important-but-flop singles like the band’s first two pre-You Really Got Me songs ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘You Still Want Me’ plus later well-loved chart failures such as ‘Wonderboy’ as well as the two best-selling Dave Davies solo singles ‘Death Of A Clown’ and ‘Susannah’s Still Alive’. Tracks like ‘See My Friends’ are the class of the field, but it’s a shame that there isn’t a decent Kinks Kompilation with album track included. Oh and if you’re one of the lucky few to buy the first issue of this disc you get a ‘Ray Davies Waterloo Sunset’ disc for free, a companion to Ray’s peculiar collection of short stories telling us the back stories of the characters in the songs (the Terry and Julie I had in my head from ‘Waterloo Sunset’ are nothing like his!) 

‘Celluloid Heroes – The Kinks’ Greatest’ (1977) was one of the first Kinks albums I got and so I’ve always been quite fond of it. Most of the band’s better tracks from the era are there – Sitting In My Hotel, (A) Face In The Crowd, Celluloid Heroes itself – although hearing the live tracks suddenly plonked in the middle of the studio stuff is a bit strange. Note for the collector – a rare , rather different mix of the classic angst single ‘20th Century Man’ and a live version of ‘Here Comes yet Another Day’ have lain quietly for years amongst the track listing, unheralded by collectors for far too long.

Backtrackin’ (1981), meanwhile, is a double set containing the best of both the 60s and 70s output and – although quite short and missing a few key tracks – is one of the best all-in-one compilation sets out there. There’s also the rare single version of ‘Supersonic Rocket Ship to enjoy, a vast improvement on the album version. Unfortunately, it’s still not out on CD. It’s also pretty interchangeable with 1983’s ‘Dead End Street’ – which sadly isn’t out on CD either.

 ‘Lost And Found 1987-96’ is a fair summation of the band’s London era. All of the (sadly, flop) singles are there, from the lovely title track to Do It Again, although again there are some questionable live choices which are obviously there simply so the record label can boast having ‘Lola’ and ‘You Really Got Me’ on the front sleeve.  

THE WORST: Any of The Hallmark/Marble Arch sets which are an awful lot cheaper but mess about with the order, have some of the lesser known tracks missing and are a bit more questionable in terms of sound quality.

Golden Hour Of The Kinks (1971) is an early attempt to sum the band up and while not bad it’s not that great either. The story naturally ends when the Kinks’ contract with Pye does but is still a fairly orderly rummage through the 60s catalogue. Still unavailable on CD.

The Ultimate Collection (2002) is the latest compilation at the time of writing and while the track listing looks OK it’s not up to the standard of ‘The Singles Collection’. 

‘Best of the Arista Years’ tackles the band’s 70s output and suffers because so many of them were concept albums which can’t be cut into bits so easily. Some of the choices are pretty bizarre too – all the preening concept-driven story songs from the two acts of Preservation rather than, say, ‘Sitting In The Midday Sun’ and ‘Nobody Gives’.   

BOX SET: Music Box (2008) had been in the works for so long we’d almost given up hope and was a mild anti-climax when it came out. There are a nice lot of unreleased tracks – though sadly most of them aren’t up to much – but the track selection of the ‘classic’ albums seem to have been chosen at random by a monkey and there’s far too much emphasis on the post-60s years.    

... It really depends on whether you want the pre or post-Double Fantasy years. There was, naturally, a plethora of Lennon comps after the great man died to choosde from but is it just me or are we still waiting for the truly definitive career-filled comp to come out?

THE BEST: Lennon Legend (1997) has a lot of faults – its almost linear till the last quarter track selection being the main one – but it contains about all the songs you’d want it to have plus a few brave choices (Mother, Cold Turkey, Working Class Hero) which tell us more about our hero than the hundredth appearance of ‘Imagine’. Shame ‘Woman Is the Nigger Of the World’ is missing from the earlier set though – you get the sense that had Lennon been alive he’d have insisted on it’s conclusion. It’s also weird to hear ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over) when it’s not actually xmas – perhaps this should have been first or last so it would have been easier to miss out?

THE WORST: The John Lennon Collection (1981) isn’t bad by any means, it’s just not as good as ‘Lennon Legend’ somehow and smacks a little too much of jumping on the bandwagon after Lennon died. It does feature most of the right songs in the right order this time but strangely ends with an out-of-place ‘Cold Turkey’, giving the album  a very jarring note indeed. The rare B-side ‘Move Over Ms L’ is a nice surprise – it’s no classic but it doesn’t deserve to be as ignored as it has been – but again, it really doesn’t fit in the middle of the comfy house-husband phase of Lennon’s career.

‘Shaved Fish’ (1975)is the only compilation in Lennon’s lifetime and for the period it’s a good one, even though it naturally only goes halfway through Lennon’s output and is missing an awful lot of tracks. There is more scope for rarer material – Woman Is The Nigger Of the World for instance, although sadly the ‘Give Peace A Chance’ used here is not the full length best-selling version (I’m not quite sure why not as all these songs were on Apple), but plus points for the very Lennon-ish offbeat album artwork illustrating all the songs.

Finally, ‘Imagine’ (1988) is a two-disc retrospective covering Lennon’s Beatle and solo work and while it’s not too bad is clearly there to publicise the tie-in biography film rather than shed any new light on Lennon’s oeuvre. There’s a rehearsal take of ‘Imagine’ which I must I prefer to the bombastic finished version and a sweet demo for Real Love’ which sounds all the better for not having the other Beatles overdubbed onto it, but there’s a real sense of going through the motions and putting the most obvious selling points on this album rather than anything that really sums Lennon up.

BOX SET: The Lennon Collection contains everything Lennon did (well, barring the weird Zapple albums and the Frank Zappa jams from ‘New York City’ it does anyway) but no rarities and the Lennon Anthology is a 4-disc set that’s all rarities. The best halfway house between the two is ‘Working Class hero’ a 2 CD compilation with all the usual suspects plus a few nice choices mainly from the under-rated ‘Walls and Bridges’.



... It’s a toss up between some cheap and nasty collections of the band’s classic but short 1970-72 period or some overlong missing-the-point hit sets of the band’s later ‘reunion’ years.

THE BEST: The Best Of Lindisfarne (early 1990s) is a strange little set – most of ‘Nicely Out Of Tune’ is there – no problems with that – but that doesn’t leave much space for ‘Fog On The Tyne’ (which outsold it) and Dingly Dell (which bombed). You might as well buy the ‘Nicely’ album – and you really don’t want it for the cover which features a load of old fogeys smoking and drinking in a pub. So, no connection with the band then.  Oh and they mis-spell Simon Cowe’s name ‘Lowe’ throughout, even in the writing credits. Even then it’s probably the best single Lindisfarntastic disc best-of around at the moment.   

THE WORST: ‘Lindisfarne On Tap’ – what is it with Lindisfarne and drinking? The only drinking songs the band ever did were by the Mark II band (who often erroneously feature on these compilation covers by the way) – and none of their songs ever made it onto a compilation album, worst luck. This compilation album is even worse – less generous with the playing time and the packaging.

‘Their Finest Hour’ (1975) was pretty generous in it’s day with it’s 50 minute running time, but its impossible to find on CD and has been pretty comprehensively replaced nowadays anyway.   

‘Meet Me On The Corner’ (2000-ish) is the band’s grand attempt at condensing the band’s 1978-96 output, complete with a third disc containing live versions of the band’s more famous material from the 1970-72 years. So far so good, but some of the track selection is a bit wobbly (why so much from ‘Dance Your Life Away’ and not the excellent ‘Sleepless Nights’ album?) and the packaging isn’t all that great either. 

There never has been a Lindisfarne box-set to date, which is an awful shame.

...Nils has released his material on such a vast array of labels that I despair of ever seeing a definitive career overview anytime soon. Some labels have had a go and come pretty close though...

THE BEST: A and M’s ‘Best Of the Grin Years’ is a pretty good collection of the best of the four albums by Nils’ first band. There’s a lot of tracks from the classic ‘1+1’ album which is nice to see, but only one from the rare ‘Gone Crazy’ – something which is probably due to record company politics despite its reputation as a lesser album.

There are two solo Lofgren compilations that I know of. ‘Don’t Walk...Rock’ is the first, a fairly comprehensive summary of Nils’ 70s output which takes in many of his classic early songs (Cry Tough, I Came To Dance) but was sadly too early for his vintage year of 1979 (no Shine Silently or No Mercy for instance). ‘Rhythm Romance’ (1982) restores both but doesn’t have a lot more to add, given that Nils didn’t release many albums in the inter-im period. Both are hard to track down – as are practically everything Nils Lofgren did, although that Grin set is hanging on a long time – but well worth the effort when you do.

There is no Nils Lofgren box set at the time of writing – I’m first in the queue if there ever is one!

...Lulu is another of those artists who have probably released more compilations than they have albums of original material and like Nils above, most of her albums have been released on a range of labels from Decca to EMI to Atco (and that’s just the 1960s!) There have been some attempts to unite the catalogue, but not enough in my opinion – most of the Lulu comps around at the moment are decidedly top heavy with the newer (and in most cases lesser) material. If you are anew collector, your best bet is to decide whether you like the raw early Lulu (Decca), the polished performer Lulu (EMI) or the soulful Lulu (Atco) and plump for the three double discs that are out containing the complete output from all three eras (Shout, To Sir With Love and The Atco Sessions respectively).

THE BEST: I’m A Tiger (1988?) is already chosen as one of the key 101 review on this website so I’d better start there. Interested as I am in other Lulu eras the Mickie Most EMI one is by far my favourite, showing off all of Lulu’s astonishing versatile range in turn and the hits just keep on coming (the silly but sweet title track, the powerful protest of The Boat That I Row, the jangly psychedelic Love Loves To Love Love, the yearning Morning Dew, the passionate ballad To Sir With Love, the gormless Boom-Bang-A-Bang etc). There’s plenty of B-sides and tracks from the Love To Love Lulu album too, most of which could have been singles in their own right (they’d have been a better bet than Boom Bang-A-Bang!) What’s not to like?

The Most Of Lulu (1971) was the first attempt at a best-of and while I don’t own it or know much about it they seem to have got it about right judging from the track listings I’ve seen. ‘Tiger’ is better I think but this is another fair summation of the middle section of Lulu’s career.

I can’t say I’ve ever seen a best-of of Lulu’s Decca years barring the comprehensive one listed above (and out under a series of names but ‘Shout!’ is the longest and best) but there must be one, so keep your eyes peeled and let me know.

THE WORST: the current set out on the market ‘Greatest Hits’ (2003) is all over the place. ‘Shout’ and ‘To Sir With Love’ are present and correct but that’s about all of the singer’s classic 60s fare, withthe above classic songs passed over in favour of dull duets with Bobby Womack, some pretty poor modern songs (with the exception of Independence and Take Me Where The Poor Boys Dance which are both pretty spiffing) and that awful Take That ‘Relight My Fire’ collaboration. Yuk.

Even worse is the 90s compilation ‘I’m Back For More’ (1996) which is just the not-terribly-interesting Independence album from 1992 with a few wonky remixes added in to spin it out to a double-disc. A cash in and nothing more. 

There is no Lulu box-set at the time of writing but there should be. Come on guys from the different record companies, sort it out!

... There’s one of these every decade, more or less, but thankfully they’re getting bigger each time as McCartney’s catalogue gets bigger too. There still hasn’t been a set looking at Macca’s album tracks as opposed to singles though to date – and goodness knows there’s enough gems for a comp or two there – and the last full career span was in 1987 so we’re overdue another one sometime soon.

THE BEST: ‘All the Best’ (1987) is how Macca used to sign his autographs in the 60s and ‘all the best’ are allegedly here, although perhaps this set should have been named ‘all the biggest’. Thankfully common sense prevails and the album track ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is in its rightful place (on the longer CD version anyway – shockingly its missing from the vinyl and cassette along with the non-album ‘Junior’s Farm’) alongside all the usual suspects but watch out for whether you have a UK or US version (the former has ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, the latter has ‘Girl’s School’). The illustrations for each song are nice too although some sleeve-notes would have been nice.

‘Wingspan’ (2001) is another curious beast – released to coincide with a DVD/TV documentary about Wings you’d expect from that and the title that Macca was sticking to the ‘Wingspan’ of 1972-79. Nope, there’s songs from 1970’s solo ‘McCartney’ and 1971’s ‘Ram’ as well as 1980’s ‘Waterfalls’ and ‘Coming Up’ present along with 1982’s ‘Take It Away’ from ‘Tug Of War and 1984’s ‘No More Lonely Nights’ from ‘Broad Street’ because – and I quote – ‘it seemed a shame to leave them out just because they didn’t fit the right time span’. The best disc of this double-album comp is definitely the ‘history’ not the ‘hits’ – despite their singles disc I’ve always considered Wings an ‘album’ band and the run of delights just keeps going, from obscure songs from the under-rated ‘London Town’ to classic B-sides like ‘Daytime Nighttime Suffering’.

THE WORST: ‘Wings Greatest’ seemed a shoddy badly-thought out set even given the fact it came out in 1978 when Macca hadn’t released some of his biggest songs yet. It’s short playing time seems stingy given that it’s still missing key tracks from the pre-78 years such as ‘C Moon’, ‘Helen Wheels’ and even the major hit ‘Listen To What The Man Said’.
Perhaps surprisingly, given how much he liked his deluxe packaging and special editions, there is no solo McCartney box-set as yet. I’m sure it’ll come though.

...There are lots of Monkees sets out without any real distinguishing features between them at all. All that really changes is the release dates – you can mark every Monkees reunion by the release date of the best-ofs ha ha! Basically the longer the CD is (or the amount there are) determines how good the set will be – more really is better with this under-rated and consistent band.

THE BEST: The Definitive Monkees (2000-ish) is the best by a whisker I think, presenting a full 80 minutes’ worth of singles, B sides and album tracks sensibly and in the right order. Whilst I quibble with the amount of choices from the first two albums over choices from ‘Headquarters’ and ‘Head’, it is a pretty fair bet that most people coming to this set have either just seen or have hazy memories of the TV series and on that level they won’t be disappointed – most of the classic early songs that aired every other week in 1966/67 are here. The choice of the later material, while restricted, is also spot-on (Nesmith’s Listen To The Band especially) and the two best reunion singles (That Was Then, This Is Now from 1983 and Heart And Soul from 1986) are as many as you’ll ever realistically need. The limited edition bizarrely contains a CD featuring the best tracks from the band’s unreleased and rare series ‘Missing Links’ which, as we’ve often said on this site, are as good as the released stuff anyway, even if a best-of and a rarities set aren’t natural homebodies.   

THE WORST: The following four compilations aren’t that bad – not if you ignore the tacky  covers anyway. They just had the misfortune to come out before the CD age properly took off and even though I have seen two of them on CD they haven’t extended the running times from the days of vinyl. ‘The Best Of The Monkees’ isn’t one of them though – it came out in 1969 in an attempt to milk the Monkees bandwagon just as it was fading and is relatively rare nowadays even though there’s nothing rare actually on it. ‘That Was Then, This Is Now’ (1983) is the first re-appraisal of The Monkees phenomenon inspired by the strong showing of The Monkees TV series repeats on their natural home of MTV and is a better but still short selection of tracks from all Monkees eras. It also features one exclusive recording – a 1983 recording of Paul Revere and The Raiders’ ‘Kicks’. ‘Hey Hey It’s The Monkees’ (1989) and ‘Here We Come – The Monkees’ (1997) are more of the same without the exclusive tracks and aren’t that good without being truly bad. There are also two really really cheap compilations out recently (Greatest Hits 1 and 2, 2006 and 2007), which are good value for money if short and featuring a truly bizarre range of early, middle and late period tracks crammed together.

BOX SET: Listen To The Band (1991) and it’s replacement Music Box (2001) are both pretty much the same, featuring a handful of unreleased tracks (though nothing too amazing) along with choice cuts from the band’s 10 albums, a small handful from the reunion albums and the best tracks from the three ‘Missing Links’ unreleased series. Although I’ve not seen the latter except for the front and back covers, the packaging in the former is excellent, full of rare photos and a track-by-track synopsis. Not a bad introduction at all, even if the uneven running length of CDs 2 and 3 (75 mins) makes a mockery of CDs 1 and 4 (45 mins).

...The Moodies release just as many compilations as their compatriots on this list. Their section is so short mainly because they keep re-releasing the same flipping one! The Best Of The Moody Blues has hit the charts four times now – on it’s own, with a Christmas album, with the 1999 album ‘Strange Times’ and, most bizarrely, with the compilation album ‘Ballads’, at least half of which is on the album anyway so you’re in effect buying half the same album twice.

THE BEST: It’s quite old now but ‘This Is The Moody Blues’ (1976), released during the band’s six year recording hiatus, is still the best overview of what the band are all about and Decca actually took the trouble to remix the album, taking all the band’s old segues out and merging new tracks together to give this compilation a unified feel that the other more straightforward ones just don’t have. There are some odd tracks – why is Ray Thomas’ ghastly ‘Floating’ on there? – and some odd exclusions (no ‘Eyes Of A Child’?!) but by and large this is a pretty good guide to all things Moody and Blue. It’s also one of the few pre-CD compilations to actually make it to a CD release!

The poor selling ‘Blue’ (1993) is also worth looking out for – it doesn’t have many of the hits outside the ever present ‘Nights In White Satin’ and ‘Question’, but it’s lopsided look at the rest of Moodies history (one or two tracks from each of the first 8 Moodies albums plus some of the rare early singles and two outtakes) is a pretty enjoyable introduction to the sheer range of The Moodies’ releases.

THE WORST: ‘Out Of This World’ (1981) is a tacky compilation from K-Tel that sold well and was even advertised on TV but just looks nasty. All the usual suspects are here along with – God help us – ‘Floating’ once again, but there’s nothing rare here and only this track seems unexpected and out of place. Not so much out of this world as ordinary.

Greatest Hits (1990) and The Very Best Of The Moody Blues (first released 1996, but see above) are more of the same – the later the date the more singles are included and the less space there is for album tracks, all of which dilutes the band’s feeling and character even further (they were very much an album band not a singles one after all). The latter album has even had its track listing changed over the years but I can’t say it’s much of an improvement.

BOX SET: Time Traveller (1993) is a bit of a disappointment, without the remixing that made ‘It’s The Moody Blues’ so fun or the rarities that made the recent deluxe CD re-issues so involving. Four CDs is probably more than the average newcomer can manage of this stuff anyway – and there are so many faults with the track listing (7th Sojourn and Blue Jays are near complete, which is good, but To Our Children’s and EGBDF are severely under-represented, which isn’t).        

From two later editions of News, Views and Music:) "Timeless Flight" (Moody Blues Box Set, 2013)
(Review One) The Moody Blues “Timeless Flight” (Box Set, 2013)

It wasn’t all that long ago that you could buy a house for the kind of money this box set is selling for – and the jury’s still out as to whether or not I’d rather have a house or just this box to keep me warm at nights. First up, the good news. If you’re new to the Moodies (but know enough about them to want to get into them feet first) then this is a great way of finding out about them. In fact, there’s not very much at all this 17 CD/DVD set is missing (although, personally, I’d have liked to have gone the whole hog and added in what’s missing on another two or three bonus CDs and made this set ‘complete’). As ever with the Moodies the packaging is excellent (especially the ‘bonus’ cassette with early copies of this set, which is a replica of the ‘greatest hits/Days Of Future Passed’ home-made copy taken up into space by Apollo astronauts in 1972) and the hard-back book finally makes good on the stingy amount of literature we Moodies fans have been given to read over the years (somebody write a book on this band – it’s long overdue!) But – and it’s a big but – if you own even a few of the already pretty pricey CD re-issues from five or so years back then you really don’t need to bother. The wealth of bonus tracks dug out from the archives (even though a lot simply turned out to be full edits of songs segued on albums in the 1960s and 70s) was impressive, but all that’s been dug out of the archives now are a sweet but ropey Blue Jays gig from 1976 and a pretty awful 1980s set by the band at their synthesiser peak. The DVDs are better, rounding up most of the rare TV appearances and promos from around the world, but even this should be better and more complete (why no ‘Legend Of A Band’, for instance, the increasingly rare interview video from 1986?) Whilst given that the Moodies cared more for their sound and technology than most, is it also really necessary to feature ‘extra’ DVD audios of CDs already included separately in the same box set? And do we really need a ‘Timeless Flight fabric patch’ to complete the set? (Admittedly this set will cost the shirt off your back, but will it really wear out your trousers as well?) Yet again, as with their last CD re-issues, the Moodies come close to getting it right, but include either way too much or not quite enough to make this the ‘complete’ experience it should be. And frankly charging £160 for perhaps three hours of live audio and a few interesting clips during the time of a credit crunch is insulting to fans who’ve followed this band through thick and thin – and paid for this stuff several times over (some AAA bands don’t treat their bands very well, but the Moodies have nearly always been very giving to their fans over the years). Make this set a hundred pounds cheaper and add in the missing 1980s, 90s and 00s songs (some of them, like ‘Keys To The Kingdom’, pretty rare these days) and this old fan would have been very happy; sadly in its current state this is a rip-off with interesting bits.


(Review Two) I write this review just after the news has broken that this expensive box set has just won a 're-issue of the year' award at some big music do. All I can say is - the judges got their copy for free or are millionaires because this surely is another case of the Moodies abusing the patience of fans after 30 years of being one of the most caring bands on the planet. The set retails for nearly £200 and while it would be the perfect way of getting hold of a complete set of Moody Blues albums if you didn't know any, surely the newcomer fan isn't going to be interested in a bunch of pretty gormless live recordings exclusive to this set. As for longterm fans, yes the new concert from the Blue Jays at the Royal Albert Hall is a great show that surprisingly escaped the bootlegger's clutches (featuring an especially gorgeous 'Who Are You Now?' and the best live version of 'Question' yet) and the 1983 shows promoting 'The Present' are quite interesting (we've not had the chance to hear many songs from that under-rated album done live before - and they sound pretty good!) But these are collection-filler curios at best and the talk of 'rare' outtakes and BBC radio sessions heard before the set come out turn out to be simply the (admittedly generally excellent) bonus tracks from the set of deluxe re-issues of Moody albums that came out a mere five years ago (and cost a fortune to buy at the time). I also resent the fact that the Moodies put out two separate versions of most of the albums in both CD and super CD format: surely whichever format you own you're only going to need one or the other - and I can't say I noticed any life-0changing improvement in the sound on the better equipment anyway. What a shame, what a waste, what a slap in the face for fans. The best thing about this set was the limited edition 'cassette' that came with it, replicating the copies of the Moodies' 'Greatest Hits' and 'Seventh Sojourn' taken up into space by the astronauts of apollo 15 - although sadly that was only available as a 'limited edition' and made the box set cost even more! Hmm, two expensive box sets now and the band still haven't got things right yet...



...There’s only been one Oasis compilation to date and it took till 2005 to get that one. So no ‘best’ or ‘worst’ this time – you’re stuck with the only...The double disc ‘Stop All The Clocks’ was one of the first albums I ever reviewed (for the Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News, which is every bit as fun as it sounds) and my views haven’t really changed that much. It’s a lot better than I expected, with several much-loved B-sides (Acquiesce, Talk Tonite, The Masterplan) there in place of multi-million selling #1 singles that only true fans can actually remember today (D’yer know What I Mean? – that’s the one with all the helicopters on the promo). Black marks come from the bizarre choice of post-2000 material (why plump for ‘Songbird’ and ‘Hindu Times’ over the superlative ‘Little By Little’ and ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out?!’) and the missing chance to finally put the single-only ‘Whatever’ onto a mainstream Oasis album but by and large the Gallaghers got this spot-on. Even the track listing from ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘Morning Glory’ is spot-on, mixing the better known tracks like Live Forever and Wonderwall with even stronger album material like Slide Away and Cast No Shadow. Unexpectedly excellent.   

...Again, there’s only one compilation to choose from – and again, Yoko gets it largely right.

‘Walking On Thin Ice’, named after the track the Lennons were working on the day John died and unexpectedly hit #1 in the dance charts five years back, has its hands tied somewhat with the Apple material but manages to make the best of the hole by selecting the very best tracks from her early albums. Fly’s ‘Midsummer New York’ and Approximately Infinite Universe’s ‘Death Of Samantha’ are the best things here, although some of Yoko’s immediate post-Lennon album (1981’s ‘Season Of Glass’) are pretty good too: ‘Mindweaver’ and ‘Only When You’re Far Away’ are clearly about John whose presence hangs like a ghost over the set. Take out the awful synth-heavy noises from ‘It’s Alright’ (1983) and ‘Starpeace’ (1985) and replace them with the career-high ‘Kite Song’ and you’d have a pretty much perfect comp. Thankfully the screaming – which is impressive, once, when heard on Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band as a 40 minute listening experience  - is all but absent on this set.

There is a box-set out called ‘OnoBox’ (1993) which is very good but it’s less of a summary and more an attempt to collect together everything Yoko ever made (it’s missed out a few tracks along ther way bu the stunning unreleased material makes up for it).

...I must admit I came to Gilbert’s recordings quite late so there’s probably a few comps I’m missing from my list. This is what I’ve seen around, though:

THE BEST: Nothing But The Best (1991) may not be the longest or best-looking compilation out there but it does it’s job pretty well – every hit is here, in the right order for once, and there’s a sprinkling of ‘nearly’ songs from Gilbert’s troubled period in the late 70s when management difficulties meant he did little publicity and almost everything he released flopped. There’s a nice lot of tracks from our AAA classic album ‘Off Centre’ too which is good – it’s becoming ridiculously expensive trying to track down any of the post 1976 albums down so this is the cheapest way to hear some of the tracks we’ve written about in our main review section (Off Centre is no 79).

THE WORST: The Berry Vest Of (Gilbert’s joke not mine!1998) has a much more interesting title and a slightly longer running time, but falls down on its predecessor by chucking out some of the rarer late 70s songs in favour of what was then Gilbert’s latest crop of songs. Now, I like the vast majority of ‘Sounds Of The Loop’ (1993) but there are a few tracks I couldn’t stomach at all – and guess what, they’re all here!

There are at least two more compilations – ‘The Greatest Hits (1976) and ‘20 Golden Greats’ (1978), but I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything more about them. There has been no Gilbert O’Sullivan compilation to date. 

...There’s two compilations this time around, one from the 70s and one from the 00s so it really depends on which era you can get hold of more easily and how much Pentangling you want to do.

THE BEST: Light Flight – The Anthology is a pretty good 2 disc summation of what the band were all about. It’s understandably skimpy on the reunion albums (most fans don’t rate them highly but some of them are quite good, especially 1992’s Thin k Of Tomorrow) and for my taste a little too heavy on the first album ‘Pentangle’ which is too jazzy and dull for me. The selection from ‘Basket Of Light’ (ie most of it!) is spot on, though, and the later, rarer albums like ‘Reflections’ and ‘Solomon’s Seal’ are fairly well catered for too. Not far behind is the 1970s double disc vinyl set ‘Pentangling’, which is shorter than ‘Light Flight’ but still has most of the important selections intact.  

Oh by the way – what the heck is ‘The Pentangle Family’? I’ve seen it listed in discographies and even seen what it looks like in the advert included in the current crop of re-issues but I’ve never seen a track-listing for it. 

...Three real bizarre curios for you – one from the 60s (which mops up some of the early years), one from the 90s (which mops up every era) and one from the 80s (which was intended as some sort of a joke). No prizes for guessing which two we like best...

THE BEST: Relics (1970), which came with the wonderful subtitle ‘a bizarre collection of antiques, rarities and curios’, is a firm fan favourite dealing firmly with the early Floyd years of 1967-69 (‘Piper’ to ‘More’ in other words). Syd Barrett is very much the driving force in this period and his influence is firmly felt even on the tracks he wasn’t on (‘Cirrus Minor’ is very Syd-ish while ‘Julia Dream’ with its spooky haunted house creaking doors, ends with the pained cry ‘Syd....Save me!....Syd!’). As a sort of requiem for their fallen founder, released by coincidence at a time when Syd was getting things vaguely back together and releasing his only two solo albums in the same year, it takes some beating. Best of all are the non-album singles that kicked off the Floyd’s career – Arnold Layne, the debut single about a cross-dressing weirdo who stole clothes from washing lines (no other band would have gotten away with this...) and the psychedelic splendour of ‘See Emily Play’. Later, rarer singles like ‘Paintbox’ are pretty good too as is Rick Wright’s gorgeous ‘Remember A Day’ from ‘Saucerful Of Secrets’. But what stops this compilation being perfect is what’s missing – several singles from the period aren’t here and are fabulous (Point Me At The Sky, Candy And A Currant Bun, Syd’s forgotten and under-rated ‘farewell’ song ‘Apples and Oranges’) and really should have been added to the CD (to date, they’re only available as part of a £100-plus box set – see below).

‘Echoes – The Best Of Pink Floyd’ (2001) is a good and surprisingly fair 2-disc set that takes all of Pink Floyd’s songs out of context and tries to put them together in a different order to create something new. For the most part it’s successful – far more than it has a right to be – and Gilmour and Waters are meant to have fought long and hard over the contents. Hats off to them both, though – the Waters led era of ‘The Wall’ and ‘The Final Cut’ are represented by the best tracks of the era and ditto the Gilmour led ‘Momentary Lapse’ and ‘Division Bell’ (though ‘Wearing The Inside Out’ is sadly missing). Neither era overshadows the ‘classic’ Floyd though – Syd Barrett is well represented (his royalties from this project successfully staved away his money problems for the last five years of his life) and the ‘Dark Side’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’ eras are well catered for. The only thing missing is the ‘dark ages’ from 1969-73: only ‘One Of These Days’ and the title track ‘Echoes’ comes from this era, although it’s by far and away the best thing on the set, all 23 minutes’ worth. Full marks too for including the rare ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’ single from The Wall film soundtrack, which is nice to see on a ‘proper’ album at last. Overall, a pretty good go at a pretty hard job, uniting all the very different eras of one band.

THE WORST: ‘A Collection Of Great Dance Songs’ (1981) – the cover and title says it all. As if the Floyd knew anything about dance songs! And even tongue in cheek Hipgnosis really mis-judge the cover: a ballroom dancing couple with holes in them and water coming out of them – David Gilmour is alleged to have said of the packaging ‘it was so bad I thought we’d get it cheap’. The song listing is pretty awful too – the band were at war with each other in 1981 and trouble with the record companies responsible (although on EMI for their whole life-span in Britain, the band were on two or three in America, all at war with each other as well) meant we got a very weird track listing indeed. And watch out for two rogue recordings – ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ isn’t quite the well known track from ‘Wish You Were Here’ which was cut into two for the album and runs to a total of 12 ‘parts’; this version cobbles together 1, 2,3, 5 and 7 and misses the others out. ‘Money’, probably the best known Floyd track after ‘Another Brick In The Wall’, is a re-recording by Gilmour forced on the band because of the record company politics and is pretty awful, lacking the soul and toughness of the original (and the re-recorded sound effects sound slapdash). A poor attempt at some money making with the wrong songs, wrong packaging, wrong band.

And finally, a couple of notes for you. There used to be a compilation CD called ‘Works’ back in the 1980s, specifically in America but available in Europe by import, but it’s impossible to get hold of now. It’s most famous for including the unreleased 1970 song ‘Embryo’ – a live favourite that year that was always a little too free-form to adjust to life in a recording studio. The other tracks are pretty weird too – no Floyd fan in their right mind would include Roger Waters’ comedy tape loop song ‘Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict’ on a best-of (great title though!), although it’s nice to see under-rated tracks like ‘Free Four’ and ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ get another hearing.

There is a Pink Floyd box, the mammoth ‘Shine On’ (1992), was badly flawed and badly received (it almost contains the complete Floyd output on CD at a greater expense than buying all the albums originally – only ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’, ‘More’, ‘Obscured By Clouds’ and ‘The Final Cut’ are all missing, not to mention the ‘Zabriskie Point’ and ‘Let’s Make Love In London’ soundtracks). So they did it again in 2005 with ‘All There Is’ which did put all the albums together, complete with a bonus CD containing some of the remaining singles from the early years that hadn’t been released. To be honest, though, you’re still better off buying the albums individually as there’s been a lot of messing round with the packaging and there’s nothing in the way of rarities.

   ...The Stones are surprisingly well catered for when it comes to compilation CDs. The only trouble is trying to get the 60s Decca years, the 70s ‘Rolling Stones Records’, the CBS 80s and the ‘Virgin’ 90s together on the same disc. Still, if you’re happy to buy the different eras individually I have to say I’m quite impressed with what’s on offer, from flawed but well loved 60s compilations to multi-CD sets containing As and B sides...

THE BEST: Forty Licks (2002) is the only compilation to date that offers choice tracks from all eras of Stones history. Just to be really helpful, they’re divided up into a ‘60s’ CD and a ‘beyond’ CD and the balance is about right between the two. However, there are some very dodgy choices here – the greatest Stones song of all in my opinion is the 1967 freak-out ‘We Love You’ and at #7 in the charts it’s one of the band’s bigger hits of the decade – but where is it?! Instead we get album cuts like ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and the detested by a lot of fans single ‘Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In the Shadow?’ which while both under-rated are hardly in the same league. The choice gets even more questionable on the second CD – no ‘Sister Morphine’or ‘Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)’ but plenty of weak modern songs and four new recordings, all of which are nice but none of which belong on a best-of. And after doing so well separating the pre-and post-1970 years into two CDs the makers then mess the whole thing up by randomising the running order so that the first disc ends with 1965’s ‘It’s All Over Now’ and 1967’s ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’. It’s still the best one-stop guide to all things Stones but it’s horribly flawed this set.

The best single Stones set around in my opinion is the 3-disc ‘The Singles Collection – The London Years’ (1989). It only includes the band’s A and B sides from the 1960s – nothing later than 1969 and no album tracks unless they were singles too – but if you’re just starting out on a Stones journey then that’s all you need. The A sides really are complete and sound better than ever on this re-mastered set, while the B sides deliver a treasure trove of riches, especially ‘Dandelion’ and ‘Child Of The Moon’ which are every bit as good as the better known songs here. Some better packaging wouldn’t have gone amiss (the print is so small it hurts my eyes and doesn’t offer more than a sentence or two in the way of background info for each song and the collage cover of lots of Stones single sleeves in black-and-white is ghastly) but by and large this is the best Stones set you can own. Oh and as a bonus for collectors you get the rare solo Jagger single ‘Memo From Turner’ (as used in the film ‘Performance’) and the demo for Lulu ‘Surprise Surprise’ which only came out on the rare Decca outtakes set ‘Metamorphosis’ (when is that coming out on CD?!)

Hot Rocks (and to some extent it’s follow-up More Hot Rocks) and the similar ‘Rolling Stones Story’ are similar attempts to dissect the band’s 60s releases, with more in the way of album tracks but less B-sides. All three are pretty top heavy when it comes to late 60s material (good as it is, having so many tracks from 1970’s Let It Bleed’ seems like overkill) and I could quibble with some of the choices (only ‘Story’ has We Love You for instance) but if you find them cheap all three are pretty fine introductions to the Stones universe.

THE WORST: Back in the 60s the band released the fondly regarded ‘Big Hits, High Tide and Green Grass’ (1966) and ‘Through The Past, Darkly’ (1968). Both were pretty good for their day at summing up the band’s story while it was still very much on-going and so well regarded are these sets that they’re two of the few 60s compilations to actually make it to a re-release in the CD age. Both seem decidedly short to modern ears though with many of the key tracks missing, so if you’re a newcomer rather than a grizzled old timer re-acquainting yourself with an old friend it’s probably best to stay clear.

‘Jump Back’ (1991) is a rather lacklustre attempt to feature the best of the band’s post 1970 output up to 1989’s ‘Steel Wheels’  on one CD. It falls apart both because it insists on making the band’s singles the most important songs of the era, even though many of them are awful (‘It’s Only Rock and Roll’ must be the single worst song they’ve ever done) and because it insists on changing the order around (we end with 1971’s ‘Bitch’ and 1984’s ‘Undercover Of The Night’ for instance). Still, if you can’t get hold of ’40 Licks’ and want to know what the 70s and 80s Stones sounded like you could do worse than this – it is at least quite a long CD.   

Surprisingly there is no Rolling Stones box set from any era as yet – unless you count the expensive ‘singles collection’ which replicates all of the singles released by the band in the 60s (and in some cases runs to less than 5 minutes a disc!)

From a later edition of News, Views and Music: "Grrrrr!" (Rolling Stones compilation, 2013)
Grrrr indeed! The Rolling Stones finally get round to doing the sensible thing and putting all of their hits (and a couple of choice album cuts) into a three CD set for their 50th birthday - less than a decade after most of us bought the comparatively shoddy '40 Licks'. While this set still doesn't match the brilliant As and B sides comp 'The London Collection', it is one of the better compilations on the market, giving the casual fan everything they probably expect to find on CD - and full marks both for putting them in strict chronological order this time and for finally giving room to both 'We Love You' and 'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?' (possibly the two greatest Stones singles of the 60s, obscure as both of them are). As for the two new songs 'Doom and Gloom' and 'One More Shot' they continue the good work of last Stones album 'A Bigger Bang' without coming close to matching anything released on this set from before 1979. But why oh why did it take 50 years (or 25 years since the coming of the CD if you prefer) to get this set right? And why oh why oh goodness why is there a cover of an inane grinning ape with teeth on the cover instead of a picture of the band?!? Grrrr!


    ...Like The Hollies and fellow Pye labelmates The Kinks there’ve been billions of these compilations over the years on a vast array of cheap labels and with a decidedly wild choice of track-listing. There’s way too many to list here – and I bet there’s another load I’ve never seen anyway – so we’re just looking at a few here. Basically our advice is to count the number of tracks – Searchers tracks are so short that unless you get at least 12 you’ll have a very short playing time – and the more the merrier anyway in The Searchers’ case!

THE BEST: By far and away the best is the career spanning double CD ‘40th anniversary Collection’ (2003) which has a full disc of 1960s material, ending when The Searchers’ albums do with ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’ in 1965 and a second disc of rarer material – classic and mainly flop non-album A and B sides, together with choice cuts (though perhaps a few too many) from the band’s late 70s and 80s reunion albums. Pretty  much all The Searchers tracks you’ll ever need are here (although their five albums are all vastly under-rated in their own way), although I could have done without two of the weirdest songs I’ve ever heard by anybody (‘Kinky Kathy Abernathy’ is much as its title suggests while ‘Who Shot The Lollipop Man?’ is even odder than its name!) and the truly dreadful 25th anniversary re-recording of ‘Needles and Pins’. Full marks for the excellent rare single ‘Vahevala’, though, and regular readers will know by now that the almost-as-rare single ‘He’s Got No Love’ is one of the unheralded psychedelic masterpieces of the era. There’s a nice sprinkling of then-unreleased material too, from some atmospheric pre-fame romps at The Iron Door Club in Liverpool (the demo tape that won the band their contract with Pye in the first place; these recordings and more came out as a set in their own right five years later), some rather dodgy live recordings and a few unreleased studio tracks of which a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’ is about the best. Oh and everything is in strict chronological order too m- why can’t every set be like this? A 9/10 comp among the best on this list.

The other classic compilation is ‘The Searchers Play The System’ (1988) which is a mopping up of all the Searchers tracks that don’t normally appear on compilations (flop singles, mid-period B sides and film soundtrack refugees) which is so good we’ve already covered it fully in our reviews section (it’s review no 89) and desperately deserves a re-issue.

Failing the above two compilations (both of which are quite rare these days) you could do worse than the most recent version of ‘Greatest Hits’ (2008 ie the one with 25 tracks not 12) which is a fair one-disc summary of the band’s many moods although it concentrates a little too much on the early, poppy material rather than the more adult mid-60s stuff. ‘The File Series’ is the 70s equivalent – a double-vinyl version with a 90 minute running time that does more or less the same job. Again there’s too much emphasis on the early records but its pretty fine if you’re the kind of person who prefers collecting vinyl to CDs (it still hasn’t had a CD re-issue as yet).

THE WORST: Everything else not issued on Pye or Rhino – I’ve seen so many variations on ‘The Searchers’ ‘The Searchers’ Finest’ ‘The Greatest Hits’ ‘The Singles’ ‘Best Known Songs’ etc and they nearly always interchange the obvious – ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ ‘Sugar and Spice’ ‘Needles and Pins’ – with the bizarre – usually some truly awful album track like ‘Farmer John’ or ‘I Just Can’t Go On Without You’ which represent The Searchers at their most bland and bored. I know they’re a bit more money but trust me, get the albums listed above and you’ll get so much more value for your pennies.

As yet there has never been a Searchers box set, but then they only recorded a total of three hours’ worth of material in the 60s and only two hours or so the whole of the post-1970 period.


    ...Back in 1972 the compilation ‘Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits’ became one of the all-time highest selling records, even though the duo had only five short albums to choose from when compiling it. Three decades later yet another Paul Simon album released hot on the heels of another two less than five years old couldn’t even limp into the charts. It’s been a bumpy ride for the duo, both together and apart, but if you navigate your way around the catalogue you should be able to do pretty well for yourself whatever your needs.

THE BEST: There isn’t really much to choose between the various Simon and Garfunkel albums out there. After all, the only new track compilation compilers have had to juggle with since the split in 1970 is ‘My Little Town’, a single from 1975. The latest attempt, ‘The Essential Simon and Garfunkel’ (2003) is the best by a small nose, with a full CD length running time and a relatively fair spread across the duo’s five albums (too many S and G comps concentrate on ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ missing the point that, the two hit singles aside, it’s probably the weakest and least memorable of all their records).

Of the older compilations, ‘The Definitive Simon and Garfunkel’ (1991) is the most, well, definitive. It has most (if not all – where is ‘He Was My Brother’ and ‘Sparrow’ from the 1st LP?) of the tracks you’d expect and actually puts them in the right order for once. The playing time is also pretty generous and there’s a boon for collectors with the appearance of exclusive live versions of ‘For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her’ and ‘Homeward Bound’ – although newcomers would probably prefer to have the original studio versions on there.

As for Paul Simon solo, it really depends on whether you want a compilation that includes the ‘Graceland’ and ‘Rhythm’ albums. Unlike most fans I reckon you’ll want the latter but not the former so I’m tempted to plump for ‘Shining Like A National Guitar’ (2000). It’s not perfect, and there’s too many songs missing from Paul’s halcyon 1972-73 years for my taste (I’d prefer anything off either ‘Paul Simon’ or ‘Rhymin’ Simon’ to the horrible ‘Trailways Bus’ off ‘The Capeman’ musical soundtrack) but it’s the best career overview out at the moment.

A word too for the other ‘key’ Paul Simon collection which is also flawed but has it’s interesting points. Going on a song by song basis ‘Negotiations and Love Songs’ (1988) is about the best – it’s quite long, which gives more space for Paul’s wide musical palette to wash over you and for you to get more of an identity of each album. There are two or three tracks from each album up to ‘Graceland’ (although ‘One-Trick Pony’ gets short shrift as ever – why isn’t this under-rated gem heralded as a classic?), with every hit present and correct along with a handful of the best album tracks. You also get the single-only ‘Slip Slidin’ Away’ which is nice to have on an LP, although sadly the story ends prematurely with ‘Graceland’

As for Art Garfunkel, it depends whether its just the hits or a true career overview you’re after. ‘The Art Garfunkel Album’ (1984) may be quite an old album but it does feature all the hits you’ll need, from the yearning ‘All I Know’ to the searing ‘Bright Eyes’. There’s a good sprinkling of lesser known fan favourites too. However, I still prefer the cheap Hallmark label’s ‘Bright Eyes’ compilation (yes, something good from hallmark at last!) – most of the hits are there (****) but there’s also lots of album tracks which give a better understanding of what Arty’s albums are like. There’s lots of tracks from ‘Breakaway’ and ‘Watermark’, which is no bad thing, plus a rarity in a cover of Dire Straits’ ‘Why Worry?’ which is lovely and I’ve not come across anywhere else (am I missing an album after 1988’s ‘Lefty’? I can’t find it on discographies!)

THE WORST: ‘Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits’ may have been a big seller but it’s been outpaced and outdated by all the CD compilations around nowadays. A 40 minute compilation is never going to stand up to a 75 minute one, but even with that I have to confess I’m not that impressed by the track selection (where’s ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’ or the Bookends theme?!) or the confused running order (penultimate single ‘The Boxer’ is track three!)  ‘The Simon and Garfunkel Collection’ (1981) is even worse, despite being longer and in the right order. The front cover – featuring two models posing as silhouettes of Paul and Art – is horribly tacky and surely there must be hundreds of shots of the genuine duo that would have been better?

Paul Simon’s solo ‘Greatest Hits Etc’ (1977) is a candidate for the worst titled compilation on this list – why buy a compilation called ‘etc’, we just want the best! This set also suffers from the fact that it came out after just three solo LPs and there’s comparatively little material to choose from, although on the plus side this set did get an exclusive track – ‘Stranded In A Limousine’, a surprisingly hard-edged B-side to ‘Slip Slidin’ Away’ which has yet to appear on any other compilation or album.

As for Art, there isn’t really a bad compilation out there (to be honest, there aren’t that many solo Garfunkel collections out there at all) but do watch out for ‘The Very Best Of Art Garfunkel – Across America’ (1996). It looks and sounds like a best-of compilation but it’s actually a rather ropey live recording featuring the ‘best’ performances from Arty’s American tour! Some tracks are worth owning to be fair, but hearing a duet with 10-year-old son James might well be the longest five minutes of your life.

Personally if I was looking for a compilation to sum up all the S and G and solo years I’d plump for Paul’s solo ‘Concert In the Park’ (1991). It is live album and it’s dominated by the ‘Rhythm Of The Saints’ album but all the key songs from all eras of Paul’s career are there, backed by a cooking band and Paul is in fine form. 

There is a Simon and Garfunkel 3CD set named ‘Old Friends’ (1993) but as its only a few songs short of being complete – and you can buy the complete ‘Collection’ for half the price nowadays – its not recommended as an entry point to the duo (even with some juicy unreleased tracks, most of them live). The Paul Simon Anthology 1964-93 is equally confusing – both because they could have waited a year and made it a 30th anniversary set and because its so skimpy on Paul’s early solo period (the hits are on there but little else). The 2 CD version is even worse, dropping pretty much everything from 1972-83 in favour of the abhorrent ‘Graceland’. The unreleased material is also pretty few and far between although there is a sweet little demo for ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and the sprightly ‘Rhythm’outtake ‘Thelma’. 



   ...The Small faces are another band badly catered for by compilation-makers despite the fact that there are dozens of the things out there. To be honest I got so sick of seeing them I gave up looking once I’d bought all five of the ‘proper’ Small Faces albums so there may well be some I’m missing.

THE BEST: The Ultimate Collection (2003) is the best one-stop shop for all things Small and Facey, although thanks to yet more record company politics it (***) only features material from the Immediate years and not the Decca years. So no ‘All Or Nothing’ or ‘Whatcha Gonna Do ‘Bout It?’ but there is ‘here Comes The Nice’ ‘Itchycoo Park’ and ‘Lazy Sunday’. But the order is a mess.

However, if you want to get a bit more involed, all you need to do is find the fairly interesting ‘Decca Anthology 1965-67’ and the deeply impressive ‘Immediate Anthology – The Dralings Of Whapping Wharf Launderette’ and you’ll own the complete Small Faces output anyway. And The Small Faces are another of those bands whose whole catalogue is so good that the lesser known stuff is as good as the hit singles anyway (better, in some cases).

THE WORST: Everything else – especially the non-Decca/Immediate releases that have some variation on ‘The Best Of’ ‘Greatest Hits’ ‘Small Faces’ etc. The one that I know of, called ‘Act Naturally’ for reasons best known to the compiler, mixes a tried and trusted range of material from all three Immediate albums (including some unfinished posthumous backing tracks) along with three unreleased alternate mixes –a slightly different ‘(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me?’  a backing track for ‘The Hungry Intruder’ and an amalgam of outtakes, backing tracks and the finished master for the superlative ‘Tin Soldier’.  

BOX SET: There is a Small Faces box set, an eponymously titled compilation which is the only time to date that the Decca and the Immediate material have been released in the same packaging. All the tracks you’d want are here, along with lots of alternate mixes, unreleased live recordings and some true oddities. It is hard to get hold of nowadays, though, and sold poorly at the time.

...I have word that there are two ‘Very Best Of’s doing the rounds, each with a different track listing, but I only know the later 2003 version so that’s the one I’ll be discussing. Actually I’m surprised there aren’t more Cat compilations, especially given that record company Island have had 30 years of non-involvement from the now Yusuf Islam in which to release them, and all of them do have merits of one sort or another.

THE BEST: Again, it really depends on what you want. The Very Best Of Cat Stevens (the 2003 version) is just the hit singles with a minor sprinkling of album tracks and no rarities, but on the plus side the packaging is pretty good and the tracks are presented in the right order. There isn’t much from the Decca early years, but then there aren’t many on any of the Cat compilations out, but you do get the hit singles ‘I Love My Dog’ ‘Matthew and Son’ and the album track-but-hit-for-other-people ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’.

‘Remember Cat Stevens’ (1999) is similar but subtly different, with a bigger dusting of songs from cat’s under-rated post-Teaser And The Firecat run of albums (songs like ‘Oh Very Young’ ‘Land O’Free Love And Goodbye’ and the extract from the ‘Foreigner’ Suite are among the best things on the disc, although I still rate other album tracks from the period like ‘Sun/C79’ ‘Majik Of Majiks’ and ‘100 I dream’ higher). Both of these compilations include the single-only minor hit ‘Another Saturday Night’, but it’s not one of Cat’s greatest moments.

THE WORST: ‘Greatest Hits’ (1976) is another of those pre-CD compilations that suffers merely because it’s so much shorter and has been rather superseded nowadays. It is out on CD though, apparently, in which case if you get the choice I’d still go with one of the above sets. On the plus side, if I had to squeeze Cat’s pre-1976 catalogue into half an hour I couldn’t do much better than this and there is an exclusive track, the rare single ‘Two Fine People’ for collectors. It’s no Cat’s best but at least sounds like his style, unlike ‘Saturday Night’, and is clearly ‘inspired’ by his earlier song ‘Hard Headed Woman’.

‘Early Songs’ is a Decca compilation taken from the early teenybopper Cat before he grew morose and grew a beard. Most of these songs have been unfairly overshadowed by his later work – they may be more throwaway than the later songs about life, the universe and everything but for a 17 year old they’re staggeringly good and have a definitive charm. Alas most of the songs you’re looking for, apart from ‘Dog’ and ‘Matthew’ will be missing and Decca only have two (admittedly quite impressive) LPs and a handful of singles to choose from. 

BOX SET: I still haven’t got ‘Majikat’ (late 1990s), the box set which at long last unites the Decca and Island years, but by the looks of it it’s pretty special. There’s quite a lot of unreleased material, especially from the earlier ‘classic’ years which isn’t always the case on box sets, and the track selection from all eras is pretty darn good too.    

...Like many an artist on our list you’ve only really got a choice between the old and the new, but unlike many an artist on our list the modern track listings leave a lot to be desired – the youngest comps really are about the best.

THE BEST: ‘Greatest Hits’ (1979) is the epitome of a perfectly timed compilation. At the time it was just a filler, released to capitalise on the recent #1 of ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ and to fill a gap between the ‘Bloody Tourists’ and ‘Look, Hear, Are You Normal?’ LPs. But as it happened, ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ was the last hit the band had anyway and so you get pretty much the perfect summary of the band at a time when the record company hadn’t yet written them off and was still giving them proper attention (the cover of this album is excellent and very 10cc – they feature a series of ‘greatest hits’ ranging from the iceberg hitting the Titanic to the cricket ball that killed a passing sparrow at Lords cricket ground) but wasn’t released too early to miss out on some of the bigger hits. If only this album had come out on CD we might have been spared the horrors of the more recent cvompilations.

For the CD fanatic, ‘Changing Faces – The Very Best Of 10cc and Godley and Creme’ (1987) is your best bet. I do disagree with having so many songs by Godley and Creme, whose songs are every bit as brilliant as their parent band but aren’t made for easy listening and their subtle sarcasm often sticks in the throat amongst the multi-layered beauty of ‘I’m Not In Love’ and ‘Rubber Bullets’ (they deserve their own best-of – ‘Images’, despite being a budget compilation, is a pretty good summary of their more off-the-wall work. But why isn’t the excellent ‘Golden Boy’ and ‘5 O’Clock in the Morning’ on either set?!) There’s only space to fit in the top 10 10cc songs  so lesser hits like ‘Silly Love’ sadly get short shrift. Oh and for collectors you get the only album appearance of Godley and Creme’s single version of ‘Snack Attack’ – it’s all bright and poppy compared to the eerie horror film version on the ‘Ismism’ album. Personally I prefer the tie-in video/DVD of the ‘Changing Faces’ project which contains many (but sadly not all) of 10cc’s promos over the years (including some like the excellent ‘Oomachasooma (Feel The Love) that flopped and so aren’t on the record) and Godley and Creme’s pioneering joint promos, when the addition of these songs to the project suddenly makes a lot more sense.

THE WORST: ‘Greatest Hits of 10cc’ (1975) seemed a bit premature when it came out to fill the quite lengthy gap between ‘The Original Soundtrack’ and ‘How Dare You’, but although you miss out on some of the bigger, later hits (‘Art For Art’s Sake’ ‘I’m Mandy, Fly Me’, ‘The Things We Do For Love’ ‘Good Morning Judge’ and ‘Dreadlock Holiday’) you do get some of the smaller, earlier, lesser hits which really do deserve attention (‘Silly Love’ especially, ‘The Dean And I’ ‘The Wall Street Shuffle’). It still wouldn’t be my first choice for a career overview though.

‘100cc: Greatest Hits Of 10cc’ has it’s hand restricted even further – its a compilation of the material originally released on Jonathan King’s UK Label and as such is reduced to tracks from the band’s first two albums. Hits wise it’s a set that features ‘Donna’ ‘Rubber Bullets’ ‘The Dean and I’ ‘Silly Love’ and ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ and that’s about it, padded out by instrumental B-sides exclusive to this set (but not up to much it has to be said) like ‘Gizmo My Way’ which are peculiar indeed.

‘The Very Best Of’ (1997) is an odd attempt to distil the essence of 10cc’s madcap humour onto a single disc and it badly fails. Again we get Godley and Creme songs that don’t really fit (though only the biggest – and in my view lesser – songs like ‘Wedding Bells’ and ‘Under My Thumb’), a reduction of 1occ’s smaller but still significant hits and the album-only years are represented by a grand total of ‘One Night In Paris’. Good as it is, filling up a full 12 minutes of the compilation with this track when we could have had, say, ‘Waterfalls’ ‘Ships Don’t Disappear In The Night’ ‘The Worst Band In The World’ ‘Blackmail’ or the forgotten latter-day classic ‘Memories’ makes me want to scream.

The latest compilation (*****) just defies all sense. This time the Godley and Creme tracks have gone, but rather than add in album tracks and B sides we get pre-10cc recordings by band members (Graham Gouldmann’s string of hits for other people such as The Hollies’ Bus Stop and Herman’s Hermits ‘Pamela Pamela’ and ‘No Milk Today’ sound awful in his hands and Eric Stewart’s Mindbenders’ ‘Groovy Kind Of Love’ sounds horribly out of place) and new recordings by Gouldmann and Kevin Godley from their GG/06 album (2006, unsurprisingly) which can’t hold a candle to even the worst 10cc songs. The only bright spot is the long awaited inclusion of ‘Neanderthal Man’, the #2 hit by the trio Hotlegs which is the first incarnation of the band before Gouldmann officially joined. Yuk.

From a later edition of News, Views and Music: "Tenology" (10cc Box Set, 2012)
10cc always get over-looked and their box set was long overdue after so many years of the same tired old tracks doing the rounds. As one of Hipgnosis' last commissions before the death of founder Storm Thorgerson, this set looks every bit as scrumptious as the band deserves and the special 'free' postcards that come with the set are a lot more 'special' than the coasters given away with Punk Floyd sets. The set also sensibly divides the band's career into 'singles' (both hit and flop), comparatively rare 'B sides' and a disc of 'album tracks', giving a much broader sense of what 10cc were than any other set to date. The album tracks feature a pretty spot-on selection of the 'Godley and Creme' years, while the pair of 'singles' CDs feature several songs available on CD for the first time (including the delightful 'Runaway' and the superb '24 Hours' which may well be my favourite 10cc song of all. However, the B-sides are a pretty sorry bunch (none of them are as rare as the box makes out either, as they've all been bonus tracks on one 10cc CD re-issue or another) and the set is terrible at even acknowledging 10cc's career post Godley and Creme. As far as I'm concerned the trio of albums 10cc made later ('Bloody Tourists' 'Ten Out Of Ten' and 'Windows In The Jungle') are the best the band ever made and the not-that-exciting liner notes add insult to injury by claiming the band should have given up in 1976, sticking the rest of 10cc's career into a single sentence (what about Eric Stewart's life-changing car-crash or even a mention of 10cc's biggest hit 'Dreadlock Holiday'?) A bit of a curate's egg of a box set this: parts of it are spot-on, others get things completely wrong; as it is this is an expensive way of getting a handful of rare songs and some gorgeous packaging when, surely, there will be a definitive box set dedicated to this most worthy of bands some day?


There has yet to be a 10cc box-set.

  ...Considering their long history it’s amazing there haven’t been more Who compilations over the years, despite a sudden flurry of activity over the past few years. Perhaps that’s because they got it right the first time – ‘Meaty, Beaty Big and Bouncy’ was one of the biggest and best loved compilations of the early 70s and still remains close to being definitive. Not for the first time on this list there’s a certain amount of record company politics involved – one of the conditions of escaping Shel Talmy as a producer in the courts was that he retained control of their early songs including the Who classics ‘I Can’t Explain’ and ‘My Generation’. And as any fan knows, you can’t have a Who best-of without ‘My Generation’.

THE BEST: The Ultimate Collection (2002) is about the best single set you can buy, a double-disc collection which is the only compilation to contain every hit single you need (see below for what’s missing), although it’s decidedly top heavy with too many songs from the band’s final album ‘It’s Hard’ in 1982 (good as some of it is, it’s no ‘Who’s Next’ or ‘Quadrophenia’) and I’m still waiting for a truly ultimate collection, one with all the hits and not much filler. Still, though, the packaging is good and all the songs are in thew right order.

‘Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy’ (1971) is the best of the post-Talmy Who and was a very successful introduction to the band’s early non-album singles for all the fans the band made after ‘Tommy’ ‘Live At Leeds’ and Who’s Next’. The cover is also one of the best on this whole list – a group of four children who really do like younger members of The Who hang around some stone steps while the real, older Who gaze on their past from a nearby window (the lad at the bottom really does look like John Entwistle). The track listing doesn’t seem quite so iconic these days – an alternate take of ‘I’m A Boy’ crept onto the album which is a plus for collectors but doesn’t really fit the old idea of using a compilation to replace your worn-out singles. Full marks for including the ‘lost’ classic ‘The Seeker’ (now re-instated to it’s proper place in The Who’s canon after being used in the Rock Band game), but it’s a shame the songs couldn’t be programmed in their proper order.

THE WORST: ‘Who’s Better, Who’s Best (1988), ‘My Generation – The Best Of The Who’ (1996), ‘Then and Now’ (2003) are both flawed single-disc sets. ‘My Generation’, as the title implies, was the first real time the Shelmy singles had been negotiated to go on a Who album and things look up at the beginning of the disc when all of the band’s famous singles are there and in the right order. Bonus points for adding the relatively flop 1972 Who single ‘Let’s See Action’ which deserves to be better known. But missing are such later integral tracks as ‘See Me, Feel Me’, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ which any self-respecting newcomer will want to own. ‘Then and Now’, on the other hand, adds two new tracks in the form of the excellent ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ and the slightly dodgy ‘Old Red Wine, two new recordings from the 00s which are far better than the awful ‘Endless Wire’ (2005) without being up to past glories. Unfortunately the addition of these songs mean that more classic tracks get turfed out – we do get the above mentioned missing songs as well but only in place of ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ ‘Boris The Spider’ ‘Pictures Of Lily’ and ‘Baba O’Riley’. To be fair you really can’t fit a Who best-of all one disc – and it’s a shame the record companies involved even tried to fit it into a single disc. ‘Who’s Better’, meanwhile, commits the cardinal sin of sticking the songs on out of sequence and missing out ‘Boris The Spider’ ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ ‘5: 15’ and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’,  although on the plus side it does have ‘I’m Free’ and another good flop Who single from 1972 ‘Join Together’. The sound quality is also pretty ropey at times.   

BOX SET: lots of fans love it but I was disappointed in ’30 Years Of Maximum R and B’ when it came out (in 1994, a year too early for the title). There are lots of unreleased tracks, but most of them are speech – Keith Moon’s radio shows, Pete Townshend interviews and one-off key events in The Who’s life like Abbie Hoffman invading the band’s set at Woodstock to preach to the masses only to be unceremoniously booted off by a wind-milling Pete. These are all nice to have but speech sits badly with sound, especially when the two are all mis-mashed together, and this isn’t a set made for regular listening. The track listing makes a fair stab at including all the band’s album favourites but really skimps on ‘Tommy’, surprisingly, ‘Quadophenia’ and ‘The Who By Numbers’ (though thankfully the last two albums are pared back to just the basics). There are a few classic 60s and 70s unreleased Who tracks that were great to hear at the time – but most of these are on the parent albums as bonus tracks nowadays so you really don’t need to go out of your way to get this set.  

...Despite releasing near enough 50 albums there have only ever been three compilations on the market for one of the most skewed, sprawling, up-and-down catalogues of them all.

THE BEST: Decade (1977) might only feature Neil’s first batch of songs but what a wonderful batch they are. Pretty much all the songs you’ll expect to find on a Neil Young best-of are here (see ‘Greatest Hits’ below for what’s missing) and as this is a double –disc set there’s also time for key album tracks that cover all ground from the first Buffalo Springfield album right up to 1977’s ‘American Stars ‘n’ Bars. Luckily, Neil just had time to fit ‘Like A Hurricane’ in before compiling the set and it remains one of the highlights of the second CD. However, ‘Decade’ is also known for its many unreleased songs, all restored to their proper place throughout the two CDs as a kind of parallel world view of what these albums might have been like had Neil not changed his mind during the making of each album. Songs like the Buffalo Springfield’s ‘Down To The Wire’ (which actually opens the set – how daring to kick off a best-of with an unreleased song!) ‘Winterlong’ ‘Deep Forbidden Lake’ ‘Love Is A Rose’ and ‘Campaigner, Neil’s troubled song after seeing Richard Nixon break down in tears at the death of a relative and wondering whether his own smearing campaign in the CSNY classic ‘Ohio’ was justified, are among the best songs in the set. Neil’s witty, if hard-to-read handwritten scrawls beside each song are also pretty illuminating, although you have to question some of the photo choices – this is actually one of the ugliest compilations around even if the music is beautiful.

‘Greatest Hits’ (2005) is the modern equivalent, cutting out the album tracks to a single disc and adding the later hits (though not that many – 1979’s ‘Hey Hey, My My’, 1989’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ and 1992’s ‘Harvest Moon’ are all you’re missing if you buy ‘Decade’). For what it is it’s pretty good and even if Neil was seemingly reluctant to have it released at all in interviews of the day, at least this set is done with care unlike some I could name (Neil actually got fans to vote on what they thought ought to be on the set and asked people who didn’t know his music that well what they’d expect to hear). Again, where this set falls down is the packaging, although Neil’s releases really aren’t about the covers anyway – for fans who do fall in love with this man’s art (and hopefully many buying this introduction set will) it’s probably for the best that they get used to that idea quickly.

THE WORST: I feel a bit mean adding ‘Lucky 13’ (1993) to this ‘worst’ list because it’s actually a pretty darn good set representing what must be the worst albums of Neil’s career. It’s an attempt to overview Neil’s troubled Geffen days and as such has access to absolutely no hits and some of the most extreme genre-hopping made by anybody. Reducing each Geffen album to songs each makes a lot more sense of each album than you’d think, although its a shame that only the two most ‘typical’ songs got chosen (so no ‘Misfits’ but there is ‘Get Back To The Country’ representing ‘Old Ways’ for instance) and ‘Trans’, by far the best album of the bunch, gets just one song and one outtake. The unreleased songs aren’t up to ‘Decade’ standards by any means but are all pretty good for outtakes and the unreleased live songs from the ‘Everybody’s Rockin’ tour are so much better than the songs that made the album in every way you have to question what on earth was going through Neil’s mind in 1983. The highlight is that alternate take from ‘Trans’ of ‘Sample and Hold’ though, which is so powerful Geffen replaced the original version with it on their last two issues of ‘Trans’.

BOX SET: Neil Young’s long-awaited ‘Archives’ (2009) took the opposite step of the above best-ofs – the packaging is exceptional, lots of glossy booklets and downloadable photos and things, but the music is disappointing. The set only covers the same time-span as ‘Decade’ and personally I’d rather hear a few choice off-cuts than full concerts where Neil sings the same songs over and over again with only slight differences. The unreleased songs are a mixed bunch too – Neil’s earliest records from Canada at the age of 18 when he was with The Sultans are fascinating to hear, being very Shadows-based but still very clearly Neil, while the long awaited tracks from ‘Goldrush’ and ‘Harvest’ are mainly disappointing. Considering how expensive this set is (£130-plus) and how many years we’ve waited for it (Neil started talking about it two decades ago) we expected better, despite the many good things about this set.  

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