“A Little Musing on Greatest-Hits Selection Ironies and Quirks”

There was definitely something frustrating about The Best of Blur they put out in 2000 or so, before Think Tank and this rocking new head-nodder The Magic Whip. Like the sugary pop interface of “There’s No Other Way” was hardly appropriate for times when you “feel heavy metal,” nor was it befitting of its album successor “The Universal,” an obstinately narcotic wade at the cheesy turn-of-the-century spa.

They were jumping around years here big time, in these three consecutive songs on The Best of: 1997, 1991, 1995. Typical of the ostensibly orphaned mind state of iconic rockers, they wielded disorientation as one of their objectives.
Or was it just the record company putting this out: did the band even have any say in it at all? Was there any reason to think Blur would even put out another album after 1999’s 13, which was excellent, contained a song called “No Distance Left to Run,” and spawned the temporary exit of guitarist Graham Coxon? I mean, now, its omissions of say “Out of Time,” “Gene by Gene,” “Thought I Was a Spaceman” and “I Broadcast,” each culled from albums after 2000, are anything but feathers in its cap.
And Blur just keep putting out albums, and greatest hits, doing one more of each since Think Tank, both of them good, and so one rendering the other one null, all over again.
But I have to say what is most tragic and heartbreaking about listening to a band’s “greatest hits,” when you’ve been tailored to think they’re some meathead bleeding-eardrums rockers at heart, at large, in the vein of “Song 2,” is that it then becomes impossible to critique the albums objectively. The fact that the “Best of” seems justified in positioning the seven-minute ballad “Tender” toward the end, and not as the opener as 13 did, makes the whole matter even more frustrating.
But, ultimately, and as is usually the case with Blur, the general consensus is head-nodding, and little mutterings of “this is good.” Indeed, I remember playing that immature “The Best of” straight through, marveling before the concise and inimitable nuggets of tension and anxiety that were “End of a Century” and “Coffee and TV,” and dizzying before all the different bands that had put out a song called “She’s So High” around the time.
Cream is another interesting best-of act, because, like Pearl Jam with the cosmos-lunging “Yellow Ledbetter,” they too yield a b-side-turned-greatest-hit “Anyone for Tennis.” It’s like when Kobe Bryant was the sixth man on the Los Angeles Lakers, but then started on the all-star team. The Very Best of Cream is a sonic joyride for stoned car excursions to rival all, 20 songs, from a band that put out a total of four studio albums, in a time when albums were limited to 40 minutes in length. So if you do the math, that’s roughly one-half of their total material qualifying as bona fide greatest hits. Juxtapose The Very Best of with Live Cream and Live Cream II and intuitively, you find less reason to actually fork over and get all the albums, but I’ll give you another great b-side of theirs: “The Coffee Song,” which doesn’t even surface on wikipedia’s documentations of the Fresh Cream issues. The question becomes, what does your mind have the energy for: concision, that is, a band’s whole identity melded into one singular spinning beacon, or depth — breadth of retrieval, that is, and the quantifiable power to ALWAYS find that perfect melody to get you through your dark moments, even if it is a song so buried as “The Coffee Song.” There’s something to be said for each, and, in addition, for avoiding Cream’s regrettable “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” Muddy Waters cover found on their studio album. But as long as it’s a stepping stone to their epic cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sitting on Top of the World,” which as this blog details I recently found out was an old whitey spiritual, courtesy specifically of one “Bill Monroe & The Bluegrass Boys,” then I say bully for it.
One thing I’ll take the audacity to pride myself on is that all the artists I included on my best-of of this year, I could see putting out viable greatest hits’, at least making for some more healthy, cerebral frustration, and some more discussion topics.

Leave a Reply