The 10 Greatest "Greatest Hits" Albums of All Time

April 16, 2018

 

 

This kind of list is rarely attempted — with good reason. It requires an encyclopedic body of knowledge, a lot of time to waste, tremendous hubris, delusions of adequacy, cutting-edge data programming skills and, to be truly useful, an iron-clad list of esthetic rules and guidelines to protect the integrity of the rankings. This is why a Google search of this profoundly difficult subject yields barely a page-worth of relevant results.

 

Despite a “few slight  shortcomings” in the requirements department, I will attempt to summit this Mount Everest of music listicles, relying on the analytical support of my open-source-based A,I. program Genus Poppist Kickassiss, which I have come to think of as HAL Jr.

 

So everyone understands the extreme totally unbiased, purely scientific  logic behind these picks, the following parameters drive HAL Jr.’s rankings:.

  1. A Greatest Hits album must contain some combination of the following words in the title: Greatest Hits, Best of, Essential, Gold, Ultimate, Number One(s), Collection or Classics or Hot Rocks.

  2. The root of “Greatest” — “Great” — shall be the key evaluation metric in this list. If a song on an album under consideration is not, in fact, “great,” Genus Poppist Kickassiss (aka, HAL Jr.) ranking will reflect this reality.

  3. By definition and by the logic of #2, the highest ranked Greatest "Greatest Hits" albums will be filled with truly great songs. Ideally, all final picks on this list will have only great songs. Songs that are not great, or almost great will lower an album’s HAL Jr. ranking.

  4. These qualities and traits determine an album’s GQ — greatness quotient: Killer Grooves; Cowbells; Rampant Artistic Genius; Mind-Melding Guitar Solos; Vocal Melodies that Stick in Your Brain For Decades; Listenability;: Cool Backup Singing; Good Lyrics; Killer Hooks; Perfect Riffs; Fun; Outrageousness and Hit/Chart Position.

  5. No personal associations with any songs on any greatest hits album shall be reflected in an album’s score. For example, the fact that you may have slow danced to Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” in 8th Grade with the hottest girl or boy in your school shall not improve the dismally low score of Best of Dream Weaver.  

  6. Finally, if a greatest hits album is missing an artist’s true, unequivocal greatest hits, it will detract from the album’s score. These conspicuous absences are often due to song licensing issues. But too bad.

 

10. Chronicle: 20 Greatest Hits - Creedence Clearwater Revival 

 

20 gritty ditties, one after another, powered by John Fogerty’s Americana-imbued voice and a brand of super-charged rock ‘n’ soul.  Bayou baying CCR may have sounded like they came out of swamp that should never be drained, but they were from Northern California. The songs here prove CRR was arguably first Golden State band to perfect the sound of being from somewhere else — the Bayou? The Mississippi? Nashville? — long before the Eagles concocted their country-tinged, cool sound. As for how CRR beat out the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits — the top selling GH collection of all time? Well, HAL Jr. scored it in the Top 100, but questionable tracks like "Witchy Woman: (HAL Jr.  sent a  data query "Re: Backing Vocals ”Is this a joke?”) and the absence of the band’s epic “Hotel California” pounded that album’s greatness quotient.

 

 

9.  Complete Greatest Hits -The Cars 

Never in a million years, did I expect The Cars to make this list. Seriously! It might seem to be a totally odd choice at first, but HAL Jr. has spoken and I, upon re-examination, agree to let this controversial pick stand. The Boston New Wave act may have seemed absurd, thanks to frontman Ric Ocasek's weirdo vocals, and relied too much on synths, but they were brilliant and fun. HAL Jr. particularly liked the guitar and the outrageousness of Ocasek's nerdy delivery and quirky, ingenious pop songs. Those factors helped overcome demerits for the boring eighties rock production of “Drive” and the "ooh, I'll make more money on publishing" inclusion of some lamer songs at the end of the disc . How the hell do The Cars rank high above the new wave genius of Best of Talking Heads or the Buzzcocks Singles Going Steady? Simple: those bands may have had much better songs, but they didn’t have enough true HITS!  

 

 8, The Millennium Collection - The Best of Diana Ross & The Supremes

I can see some hipster head-scratching out their over this oldies pick. But c’mon! The songwriting of Motown’s supreme scriveners, the crystallization of girl-group pop and R&B, plus, ahem, Diana Ross, ensure the solid gold genius of this platter, which is far more consistent than most other Motown "Best Of" collections. At this point, I need to address the candy-coated Swedish elephant in the room. ABBA Gold is not on the list. HAL JR put it in the top 20, dragged down by “melodramatic and cartoonish arrangements” of a few songs. By limiting this album to 11 tracks, The Supreme's producers demonstrate an awareness of long forgotten musical idea: Less can be more.

 

 

7. Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix

Jimi spiked, as you can imagine, on Guitar Solos, Genius, Hooks, Riffs and Lyrics. So high, in fact, that despite no-to-low scores on Cowbell and Backing Vocals, he rules. The sheer number of songs on this collection, put Jimi at risk — it is much easier to release a 12-song best or than a 20-plus song effort. Listen to this these platters, and when you are confronted with a problem or decision, you will find yourself asking, WWJD? What would Jimi do? I found myself making that query at least three times a day, so enamored was I. Until HAL Jr. asked: "Why do you ask that? You could never emulate Jimi. Ever." Goddamn computers.

 

 

6.  Michael Jackson - The Essential Michael Jackson

I wasn’t sure the King of Pop would make the cut — his mix of genius and over-the-top dramatics has always confounded me. (True confession: I still find the single “Thriller” to be intensely boring.) But this 38-song project amasses his finest work with the Jackson Five, which are some of the greatest singles in history, plus much of his most inspired solo work. I could go on about the uneven later tracks, but I don’t wanna be starting something. 

 

 

5. Elvis 30 #1 Hits - Elvis Presley

Rare is the track that gets zeros on almost every metric with HAL JR., but Elvis’ treacly, polka-lite abomination “Wooden Hearts” did just that. Still, the 29 remaining hits made up the lost ground, as you’d expect, from The King, who had great songwriters at his beck and call, not mention a modicum of talent. 

 

 

4. 1 -  The Beatles  

Going into this project, I fully expected this to be the Greatest Greatest Hits Albums top-rated disc. But HAL Jr.  felt differently, despite this album featuring 27 exquisite, innovative chart-topping (in the U.K or U.S.) pop and rock tunes. Interestingly, the addition of a single non-#1 song, “Drive My Car” would have put this album over the top on our list. According to HAL Jr., "'DMC's' perfectly rendered cowbell and the brilliant “beep-beep ‘m beep-beep yeah!” backing vocals would have boosted the album, which was sorely lacking in the  important percussive category." Later in the readout HAL Jr. notes: “The dilution effect of having only one song out of 27 — the admittedly stellar 'Hard Day’s Night' — handling cowbell duties, puts the album at a slight disadvantage.” The other factor that lowers 1 scores, is that sometimes a number #2 or even a #23, which was the top Billboard position of the Beatles psychedelic masterpiece “Rain,” beats the crap out of a #1. Obviously, “Rain" does not appear on 1. But as HAL JR notes, “It’s a lot fornicatingly better than 'Get Back' or 'Lady Madonna' or 'The Long & Winding Road.'" The absence of the equally superior “Day Tripper,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Revolution” and “Got To Get You Into My Life” (“The horns and Paul’s vocal are transcendent,” says HAL JR,. “No matter what critic Bill Wyman thinks.”) also lower 1’s score.

 

 

3. Hot Rocks - The Rolling Stones  

To get a sense of the devastating power of this greatest hits collection, consider the songs missing in action (because they were released after Hot Rocks came out): “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Rocks Off,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’,” “Tumblin’ Dice,” “Miss You,” “Shattered,” "Start Me Up,” “Waiting on a Friend”  and a ton of other awesome cuts. And yet, this is an absolutely faultless greatest hits effort. While the album suffers the too-common dearth of cowbell, the rendering on “Honky Tonk Woman,” remains “one of rock’s greatest percussive hooks, which helped nip the Beatles,” explains HAL Jr. The early Stones openers “Time Is On My Side” and “Heart of Stone” may not pack the Stonesian wallop of missing-in-action tracks like “Knockin’” or” Rocks Off,” but HAL Jr. notes that “Greatness has many attributes. And the early stuff has plenty of them.”

 

 

2. Classics; The Early Years - Neil Diamond  

This is how it is done, folks. 12 songs — and every single one is a a singable gem. Almost everyone is a clap-along hit, too. The melodies are strong like Hercules. The deliveries — “Shiloh,” “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” — are filled with more conviction than a Federal Penitentiary. This choice, I think, proves HAL Jr.s remarkable artificial intelligence. So many of Diamond’s songs feature straight forward guitar work, the basic 1-4-5 chord structures, and a fine-tuned top-40 sensibility that never, ever sent critics gushing.  Yet the the algorithm was sensitive enough to detect and reflect sneaky genius of Tin Pan Alley veteran Diamond’s perfect songs.

 

 

1. Barry White’s Greatest Hits - Barry White

I am sure for many of you, this No. 1 pick is truly shocking. But “Baby, Oh, Baby, What Are We Gonna Do?” Based on all the data I fed into HAL Jr. — and clearly boosted by tremendous use of cowbell and violins (“one of the rarest instrumentations combinations in the 10,000 album sample” quoth HAL JR) — this is pound for pound the GREATEST "Greatest Hits" album of all time. The track list makes evident that this is a platter with a high hit-density. But put it on, and you will find yourself spellbound as Baritone Barry  kills it song after song. His huge, grizzly voice gets over some of the most ridiculous come-ons in history, and the fabulous grooves just enable all involved. HAL Jr’s clarification function flagged this line: “I don’t want to see no panties” and asked if the data was corrupted. It wasn’t, and HAL Jr., after further analysis, boosted the song’s Outrageousness score.

Amazingly, Barry White’s Greatest Hits’ album cover itself seems to anticipate its own greatness: It repeats the title TWICE — something no other greatest hits collection dares to do. “If that doesn’t cement its greatness for the listener” gushes HAL Jr., who is sometimes short on manners and proper vocabulary, “instruct them to go fornicate themselves.”

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