Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The worst of the Best Of

Too often, so many “Best Of” CDs contain what amounts to a collection of cuts from albums that, on their own terms, weren’t worth buying — a single cut and a dozen songs of absolute crap.

Or so we think.

As conscientious music buyers, we buy the “Best Of” CD in an attempt to avoid buying an entire collection, assuming we’re getting the “Best Of” as determined by the artist’s record company or some other dimwit who has decided they’ve decided what you’ll consider what’s best by the band, disregarding the gems by the band. Worse yet, some worthless weasel has decided that a band deserves a “Best Of” designation due to their years of assaulting our ears and our spare moments of avoiding that band’s crap.

As a service to my readers (or as a way to irritate a lot of people), I present you with the Worst Of the Best Of: Those collections of hits and knock-offs that should be avoided at all costs, to avoid embarrassment (and someone like me identifying the worthless cur in your collection, in an announcement as welcome as genital warts on a wedding night) or save you precious coinage when you could have purchased something worthwhile.

You’ll thank the IMS in the end, I assure you.

Strictly Commercial: The Best of Frank Zappa. Yes, commercial, but hardly the best and barely anything I’d want to hear as far as Zappa’s output. Indeed, a Zappa “Best Of” release is about as much as an oxymoron as “Pagosa night life,” Chimera, like the Black-Winged Snipe or the left-handed Skyhook. “Best Of” Zappa barely scratches the surface and the cuts on this disk, while “Strictly Commercial,” are hardly the songs that matter to anyone looking for an introduction to the man’s genius. Skip this and purchase a score of Zappa (and Mothers) disks.

The Best of Billy Joel: Really? Was there anything he did that resembles real Rock and Roll? If there was anything Joel produced that didn’t elicit at least a slight gag reflex, please alert me and we can listen to that cut over a slice of white bread slathered with Ragu. Until then, send this disk flying towards the back 40 and fill it full of buckshot; spare the clay pigeon.

Ultimate Yes: Ultimate migraine. Between Jon Anderson’s hideous screech, Rick Wakeman’s onanistic manipulation of the keyboards and the rest of the band’s plodding, prog-rock pretensions, a minute of this tripe is like an evening trapped between two stoners discussing theories of The Pyramids, aliens and Eleanor Roosevelt’s breasts. If you’re intent on playing this disk, do so with the engine running and the garage door closed; we’ll figure out why it was important to you at the inquiry.

Legend — The Best of Bob Marley and the Wailers. A disk for people who don’t really like reggae but believe they need a Marley disk to impress their friends. Sure, all the Marley songs you’ve ever heard are here, all overplayed and redundant in their own way, with the collection a complete disservice to arguably the most influential musician in the world (even more than Elvis or the Beatles). A true “Best Of” Marley collection would include at least a half dozen disks and even those would be impoverished and not worth owning with the availability of his individual albums.

Light & Heavy: Best of Iron Butterfly. Owning this disk is like framing and displaying that freshman year report card for the semester you pulled a .25 GPA. This disk is a testament to the fortitude of the sound engineer who, apparently, enough drugs in his system to tranquilize a herd of elephants, still managed to stay vertical at the mixing board. Including 21 cuts of some of the most pointless and moronic sludge ever recorded, the collection doesn’t even include the LP version of “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida” — as interminable as any Grateful Dead self-indulgent noodling — but the “single version” which, in its very existence, verifies that humans are not nearly as evolved as we’d assumed. Living Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida Loca translates into “A quart of tequila and a quaalude won’t get me through this garbage” without a power drill and several well-placed targets along the scalp.

Hold the Line: The Very Best of Toto. Fly to Africa, eat some monkey brains, catch a nice case of Ebola and then chart the progress of your decaying flesh with a cheap digital camera. Print your favorite photos from that process and glue them onto pieces of cardboard, all tied together with old shoestrings. Your “Best Of” photos, chronicling your lesions and oozing scabs will be immensely more entertaining and socially relevant than anything included in this collection. “I bless the rains down in Africa,” indeed; a nice dose of Ebola is preferred.

Tom Waits — Greatest Hits. Owning this is like buying a .44 Magnum and a box of Nerf bullets. I can only imagine that this exercise was the result of some meretricious contractual obligation that Waits was unprepared to argue away. Ill-conceived and essentially useless, this collection forsakes truly great songs (“Goin’ Out West,” “The Earth Died Screaming,” “Filipino Box-Spring Hog,” among dozens of others) for some truly baffling choices. It’s as if some record executive hired his idiot nephew to pick whatever he liked and the kid made hash marks on the back of Waits’ albums while playing “Metal Gear Solid 4.” Waits deserves much, much better.

Very Best of John Coltrane, is not just a lie but a damned lie: At best this collection is a Reader’s Digest sampler for a twisted rest-home version of musical chairs, at worst, a proud declaration of ignorance regarding Coltrane’s expansive and inestimable genius. There’s no excuse not to own dozens of Coltrane CDs and even less excuse to own this expression of absolute disrespect for an American treasure. Owning this disk makes one as about as cool as Tucker Carlson astride a plastic pink pony.

1 — The Beatles, is OK, I guess, if you’re 14 years old and your parents think an evening of Lawrence Welk is a nifty way to kill a couple of hours, but how realistic is that (and is Lawrence Welk even broadcast anymore?)? I remember this disk topping the charts about a decade ago and thinking that, in this age of easily digestible information, broken down into fruity and chewable Flintstones vitamins, “1” was a perfect example of how distracted our society had become. A race of shattered skulls, continuing to run face first into tree after tree while the forest remains obfuscated. Apparently millions of listeners bought this shameless attempt to continue to milk the Beatles cash cow but the only purpose for owning this disk is to hand it off to our alien overlords and saying, “Listen to this and get back to me when you can tell me what you think of these guys.”

Best of the Beast, Iron Maiden. No true metalhead would own this and the only purpose I can think of for releasing this collection was to give it space on countless jukeboxes in pool halls.

Made in the Shade, Rolling Stones, was a cynical attempt by the Rolling Stones to make a few more million dollars and skirt the fact that they had done far too many drugs in the early ’70s. Drawing cuts off of two great albums (Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street) and two mediocre albums (It’s Only Rock and Roll, Goat’s Head Soup), Made in the Shade was released as a way to mollify fans and make a few bucks while the Stones dragged themselves out of their most debauched and demoralizing period. Unfortunately, Jagger and Richards would not redeem themselves for a few more years, nearly going over the edge with the halfhearted Black and Blue, rising back to something of their former stature with the cocksure Some Girls. Skip Made in the Shade, buy Sticky Finger and Exile on Main Street (truly, two essential albums) and if you absolutely must own the rest of the cuts on this travesty, purchase them off iTunes.

Playlist: The Very Best of the Spin Doctors, is a groove-infused, hippy-dippy whippit fest of putrid mid-’90s jam-band excess. These guys didn’t do anything remotely memorable or notable and to there’s any “Best” here is like choosing between puking in the shower or in bed.

Every Breath You Take: Classics (the Police). I don’t know what is more amazing: that these guys managed to sell so many records or that they had so many people that they were a “new wave” band. If edgy haircuts and skinny ties make the “new wave” band then I guess you could include Huey Lewis and the News and Hootie and the Blowfish in that category (and you’d be dead wrong). The Police were, from start to finish, a band that produced some passable pop music and gave millions of teenagers an excuse to puff up their dos and dye them blue. I shouldn’t be so hard on the Police except for the fact that they gave us Sting, the most annoying, nauseating pap-producer to hit the carousels of middle-aged women attempting to stay hip and young, a Vegas lounge act for the geriatric Gen X set.

Enough. It was a good friend who led me down this path and, this far into it, I’m beginning to realize that the Worst of the Best of is an infinite road, a moebius strip of mediocre and mindless music that, not worth listening to when it was first released, is even less worthy on a Best Of compilation.

Either bands are far too great to require a Best Of compilation and their output should be recognized on the merits of individual works or bands are so inept and awful that a Best Of compilation is a painful reminder of a bad idea gone horribly wrong.

Perhaps the age of the MP3 player has made the era of the Best Of compilation as dead as cassette tapes. Unfortunately, I don’t have faith in that evolved state. While my music snobbery may be insufferable, my savvy regarding the recording industry’s infinite capacity for greed refuses to bury the dead an rotting cur. And, in the words of H.L. Mencken, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”

1 comment:

Eileen said...

I also love your take no prisoners critiques: words spat from a flaming Underwood high on everclear.