The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Order in the Court

with 6 comments

The artist-specific compilation almost seems like a useless gesture in the digital age. Now that anyone can buy a song for around a dollar, there’s seemingly no need to buy a CD full of singles for more than pocket change. That’s simply not true, though; such discs represent more than just songs everyone loves. It’s ideally the chronicle of hard-earned success within a lengthy body of work. It’s sometimes a chance to visit a catalogue unified by certain musical or lyrical themes. And for hardcore fans, it’s sometimes a chance to get that unique mix or edit of a track you may have been looking for over a long period of time.

The other day there was some discussion over on Twitter about such compilations. Are they better in a firm order (namely, a chronological one) or do they pack more of a punch as a mix. Of the responses, only one was in favor of the mix theory, but three supported the chronological perspective. It’s not hard to see why. Often times, such compilations represent phenomenal growth from Point A to Point B. Take The Beatles’ 1, for instance. All 26 of those chart-toppers are presented in the order in which they charted – nothing more, nothing less. Starting with, say, “Hello Goodbye” and ending with “She Loves You” would be silly. Where does the cohesion lie there?

That said, there are some pretty well-known or well-liked hits sets – the first disc of Michael Jackson’s HIStory, Garth Brooks’ The Hits, Tears for Fears Tears Roll Down – that have their songs shuffled about. This is an art that requires a lot of patience and dedication (just as any essential mixtape – see also High Fidelity). But, one wonders, are these sets more artistic than the simple “greatest hits in a row” format? As we approach another work week’s end, feel free to sound off on the topic below. Would you rather hear a group’s hits in a row? If not, how would you arrange them? What are most of the compilations in your collection like?

Written by Mike Duquette

March 5, 2010 at 16:58

6 Responses

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  1. There’s definitely an art to making a compilation. In some cases, I think chronological is better (I prefer Tears for Fears’ chronological “Shout” compilation to the non-chronological “Tears Roll Down.”) I think the Beatles’ “1” compilation works better chronologically, for the reasons you mentioned. And I think Madonna’s “Celebration” suffers for being non-chronological… it would make much more sense to put all those singles in release order.

    However, sometimes non-chronological is better. I LOVE Peter Gabriel’s “Shaking the Tree: 16 Golden Greats” compilation. It’s non-chronological, and the sequence and the mixing of the songs make for a great listening experience. (Strangely, Gabriel’s later compilation, “Hit,” is also non-chronological, but it doesn’t work nearly as well despite having twice as much music on it). I also like the non-chronological order of U2’s “Best of 80-90” and “Best of 90-00” compilations.


    March 5, 2010 at 17:39

  2. The reverse-chronological-order of The Best of Roxy Music (2001) works, since their music gets weirder the earlier one goes. In this way the casual fan, unaware of the bands art rock origins, gets led in unsuspecting.


    March 5, 2010 at 19:48

  3. Bob Dylan’s “Biograph”. The very first boxed set, and perhaps the greatest ever–and completely non-chronological.


    March 5, 2010 at 22:35

  4. Never really thought about the chronological order of greatest hits packages. I look at it this way- the chronological order doesn’t really bother me when I see an artist live, then why should it bother me on a compilation? The one pet peeve I have is when there is a live song stuck in the mix; use studio versions exclusively, or stick all of the live versions at the end of the disc. Then again, if enough live versions are available, why not make one disc the studio version, and add a second live disc to the package?

    Jeff Brace

    March 6, 2010 at 00:36

  5. I generally like chronological because it fits with my OCD/collector/reference librarian mentality. Artistically, though, mixing it up can produce inspiring results. Case in point: “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” is far more entertaining than any of the chronological Who comps.

    Hank’s example of “Biograph” is a good one, too.

    Ryan Spaight

    March 6, 2010 at 11:33

  6. If a non-chronological collection is well thought out I guess I’m okay with it, although I usually prefer chronological collections. What irks me is when they lead off with the artist’s biggest hit for no good reason other than to hook casual fans.

    Glenn S.

    March 6, 2010 at 17:25

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