Your Take: Why Haven’t Greatest Hits Albums Become Obsolete?

Brody Vercher | February 20th, 2007

If an artist was successful enough to be able to release a greatest hits album, then said artist has probably amassed a pretty big group of fans, who have undoubtedly bought one or more of the artist’s albums. The greatest hits album most likely pulls some songs from those previous albums, so if a fan (who owned previous albums) were to buy the greatest hits they’d essentially be paying for the same song twice. In my opinion it would be more cost effective and logical to rip the CDs you already have to iTunes, download the other songs on the hits album, and burn your own CD. Yet, for some reason artists keep releasing their greatest hits and other albums containing a different mix of previously recorded songs. I can understand releasing complete anthologies and special edition collector’s sets for the die hard fans, but otherwise a simple greatest hits album seems like a lazy way for labels to make a few extra bucks to me.

So my question to you guys is, do you still purchase greatest hits albums, and with downloading services like iTunes becoming so prevalent in today’s society why haven’t greatest hits albums become obsolete?

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  2. [...] a great debate going on over at The 9513 regarding the uselesness of hits collections with new tracks, and I think it’s just as [...]
  3. [...] and they're an affordable way to obtain the best tracks from artists who do not make good albums. We've discussed this at The 9513 and it appears that our readers value these collections for a variety of reasons, but [...]
  4. [...] Rather than make a quick buck by slapping on some new tracks to old album cuts, an annoyance that The 9513 called labels on a few weeks ago, Rounder has taken the novel approach of collecting Krauss’ [...]
  1. Linda Banks
    February 20, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    I can understand why the record companies keep putting out the greatest hits, but who’s still buying them, that’s a good question. I know I used to buy greatest hits of artists I like, but don’t want buy whole cids; just wanted the favorites. Now I download them to my ipod. I think there will always be people who just want those greatest hits, and won’t buy all the albums an artist releases for those deeper cuts.

    I still love vinyl, for the liner notes, the album art, having to get up and flip the album over to hear the other side, the whole thing, but that’s me. I wonder if record stores really will be driven out of business by digital music? I love wandering into a record store, picking up the cds, sampling different songs. I hope the stores don’t disappear too soon.

    And there are still some folks who don’t have an i-pod or burn cds (yet). When I got mine a couple years ago I couldn’t figure it out and had to go and had to go to the Apple store complaining that it wasn’t working right, because I couldn’t “click” to the next song. So the 12-year-old guy working there kindly told me I had to move the dial “around”, no clicking involved.) I’m hooked on my ipod now. Even Willie has released a couple songs only available on i-tunes.

    Of course, I will continue to buy every album Willie puts out, including the greatest hits. :)

  2. Matt C.
    February 20, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Well, iTunes etc. will continue to cut into the sales of every album. Two things fuel Greatest Hits projects: 1. New/recut songs and 2. New or casual fans.

    Many artists record new songs and/or recut old favorites for their greatest hits albums. I think this is silly, but it certainly helps sell albums. With regards to number two, I have a unique perspective. I am not a lifetime country music fan. When I “discovered” country music in my junior year of high school, when I heard a good artist on the radio for the first time the first thing I’d do was buy or listen to that artist’s greatest hits album (if he/she had one). Greatest hits albums opened the door to many other recordings and if not for them my knowledge of country music would restricted to the new music produced during the short time that I’ve been a country music fan. Likewise, the most successful greatest hits albums always come from artists with cross-genre appeal. Many casual music fans have not purchased every release of Shania, Tim McGraw, etc. but have come to know and appreciate the artists and their music and the greatest hits album is an easy and affordable way to purchase a collection of their best songs. I think that perhaps you overestimate the percentage of an artist’s fans that own all of most of that artist’s hits before a greatest hits project is released. Of course, with the advent of single song downloads, that number will increase.

    Are greatest hits albums a lazy way to make a buck? Yes. So are Christmas albums and a number of other things. But as long as they continue to sell, there’s nothing wrong with successful commercial artists who continue making them.

  3. Brody Vercher
    February 20, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Linda – Brady just recently got a record player, so I haven’t ever been big on buying vinyl’s, but I got two of them last month at Waterloo just because they were extremely cheap and because I liked the artists :P

    Matt – You bring up a point I didn’t think about, the people who dabble in one genre and don’t know very much about an artist in another, but know they like a few of the songs. I guess there really is a point to Greatest Hits, albeit a small one. I’m sure there’s all sorts of studies and such on the benefits, or else they wouldn’t keep putting them out.

  4. HelloCaitlinT
    February 20, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    I buy “Greatest Hits” albums when I want to hear more of an artist that I don’t know a lot about. I don’t buy all the individual songs because I may only be able to name three or four. I don’t buy things from iTunes in general because I like having the hard copy, without restrictions about how many times computers I can play it on, etc.

    Nevertheless, I think you have a point. “Greatest Hits” albums (along with the rest of the record industry) will have to out more effort to keep the public’s attention.

  5. Brody Vercher
    February 20, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    So basically Greatest Hits albums aren’t focused on pleasing the fans, but on helping convert occasional to non-listeners into fans. I can buy that. You guys have put a perspective on it that I wasn’t seeing before.

  6. Linda Banks
    February 20, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    It’s the record labels who put out, benefit most from the greatest hits, isn’t it? A coupld months ago I asked James, who runs Billy Joe Shaver’s fan site, what was going to be on Billy Joe’s upcoming “Greatest Hits” release. James said he asked Billy Joe, and he said he didn’t know, it was the record company’s idea.

  7. Taylor Trask
    February 20, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Greatest Hit Albums DO work when the artist/label does one or all of the following:

    1 – Compelling packaging with a big booklet retrospective, lots of older concert photos, etc

    2 – Re-mastered or re-recorded audio

    3 – Companion DVD or bonus product

    John Mellencamp recently released his Words & Music hits compilation with all re-mastered tracks. The difference in sound quality from the previous albums was tremendous and no digital store sold those songs in that quality furthering the need to get the actual disc.

    Unfortunately the majority of hits packages released don’t adhere to any of the above, thus rendering them a pretty pointless product.

  8. Kevin
    February 20, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    I think that hits compilations seem a bit gratuitous these days, at least the ones of the “three new tracks” variety. I downloaded the “new tracks” off of Tim McGraw’s last year and I will do the same for Gary Allan next month, since I have his entire catalog.

    Even more ridiculous to me is the reissuing of albums from the 80′s and earlier with “two bonus tracks”, when the label could squeeze two albums onto a CD and give the consumer a bit of bang for the buck. I’m very frustrated with the upcoming Dolly Parton reissues of albums that already exist on CD, while the bulk of her catalog gets ignored. Sony did the same thing w/Rosanne Cash and Rhino did it with Emmylou Harris: reissue albums already in print and continue to leave others out-of-print.

    The “digital age” should result in entire artist catalogs existing online, but it hasn’t happened yet.

  9. Paul W Dennis
    February 20, 2007 at 9:35 pm

    There are artists who have recorded some songs that I like but who aren’t such stellar performers that I usually purchase their albums (or fill their albums with a lot of lesser fodder). For such artists I wait for the Greatest Hits collections before making a purchase

    For me this would include artists such as Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Olivia Newton John, Roy Drusky, Johnny Lee, Brooks & Dunn, Reba McEntire, Ernie Ashworth and many others.

    On the other hand I race out to purchase every George Jones, Tracy Lawrence or Merle Haggard album; consequently, I usually don’t purchase hit collections for these artists unless I find them used or in cut-out bins

  10. Doug
    March 1, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    The collection of greatest hits is like your favorite dessert. It puts a smile on your face.
    See a list of the greatest country hits on youtube.com

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxB7Eq4CVcs

  11. Tim
    July 3, 2008 at 5:20 am

    When I look at the video Country Music Greatest Hits on youtube.com – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxB7Eq4CVcs

    I can instantly recognize hundreds of greatest hits that I can hum. That is what greatest hits outstanding.

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