Friday, September 02, 2005

(Not so) Greatest Hits
A couple of weeks ago USA Today ran an article called "'Best Of' albums not so great these days", which talked about how the scope of what a greatest hits collection means has changed. As the article mentions, it used to be a milestone, and not only did it it provide a retrospective of work, but often allowed new listeners to experience the artist at their very best. I think of many of the great albums of the 70's that I grew up with - the Eagles Greatest hits was mentioned in the article, but also Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks, the Beatles 62-66 and 67-70, even the Who's Kids Are Alright soundtrack - which did more than just bridge the years, they allowed a whole new generation to experience great music. Too many of the greatest hits now seem to be compensating for the fact that many current CD's only have one or two good songs. Put out a CD a year for a few years, and you are ready to have a 'greatest hits' CD ... which is really just a collection of the non-crap from your CD's.

So why does this matter? Well, after seeing 'The Kids Are Alright' when it came out in 1979, I was hooked - I was 13, had taken up the bass pretty seriously for a while, and was ready to rock. For several years, even as I evolved from rock through fusion to jazz and whatever the avant-garde stuff I listen to now is called, I always had a soft spot for the Who. They are one of the few rock groups represented amongst my 300+ CD collection. But I haven't bought anything of theirs in nearly 20 years. However, family and friends seem to forget that you grow up and change, so I have gotten various Who related items as gifts through the years. What I recently got was "Moonlighting: The Anthology - Roger Daltrey", a two-CD compilation of the singer's solo work.

Given that I brought up the USAToday article, can you see where this is going?

Roger Daltrey is one of the truly great rock frontmen, encompassing a vocal power and physical presence that have become a fundamental part of the rock music landscape. Singers from Robert Plant to David Lee Roth and beyond have emulated that style over the years. One thing Daltrey wasn't - was a songwriter. So when he ventured out into solo territory, he used other people's songs, with mixed results.

There is some good stuff in this collection - but not many surprises. Some of the stuff I already had - I had 'McVicar' and 'Under a Raging Moon' on album and had already digitized 'Free Me', 'Bitter and Twisted', 'My Time is Gonna Come', and 'Without Your Love' from McVicar, and 'After the Fire', and the title song from 'Under a Raging Moon'. I had also gotten 'Say it Ain't So, Joe' and 'Giving It All Away' from iTunes courtesy of my enthusiastic Diet Pepsi drinking, and knew of his version of 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me' from the Lost Boys, although I never had a copy.

So what does that leave? Not very much - most of his 70's stuff is throw-away, tending to be slow and melancholy songs I found boring and uninspired. I found McVicar to be his best album, even if the movie never even made it to the US. But everything of quality was well played when the album was new - which was also true for 'Under a Raging Moon'. I had checked out but ultimitely not gotten anything newer, and the selections featured here merely confirm this - mediocrity abounds. There are a number of live songs here, some of which are decent enough, but none that are worth buying - and none that I even bothered ripping to my iPod. There was a previously unreleased song that left little impression on me. The one truly new addition to my iPod was 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me', which was even more powerful than I remembered.

So, I had 8 of the 37 songs already, and I digitized and replaced those that had come from vinyl. Add to that the one new song, and it is still less than 25% of the collection that I found even worth recording from CD.

... and I thought that it was the low quality percentage that resulted in collections in the first place?

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