It’s all about compilation with these ‘best of’ releases.
By Gregg Shapiro
Joy Division is one of those bands that never completely disappeared from our collective radar. That remains true nearly 30 years after the dissolution of the groundbreaking and still influential band from Manchester, England. The 2007 biopic Control probably played a roll in the increased interest in the band, and the single disc compilation, The Best of Joy Division (Rhino/London), should also have an impact. As you might have guessed, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is included here alongside fan faves such as “Digital,” “Disorder,” “Transmission,” “Dead Souls,” “She’s Lost Control,” “These Days,” and “Isolation,” among others, sung by the late Ian Curtis in his distinctive baritone, backed up by the band that would eventually morph into the equally significant New Order.
Emerging from the same fertile ground a few years after Curtis’ tragic death, The Smiths, led by charismatic vocalist (Steven) Morrissey, would go on to have an impact that equaled that of Joy Division’s. But there was trouble in paradise, and in 1987, after releasing only four studio albums, The Smiths called it quits, and the sexually ambiguous Morrissey embarked on a solo career that would equal, if not surpass, the contributions of his former band. For someone with only eight studio albums to his credit, Morrissey has more hits compilations than one might expect. Toss Greatest Hits (Decca) onto the pile. The major difference with this set is that, aside from the emphasis it puts on the UK charts, it mainly draws on his later Attack Records material, including “First of the Gang to Die,” “In the Future When All’s Well,” “I Just Want to See the Boy Happy,” “You Have Killed Me,” and “I Have Forgiven Jesus,” among others.
It’s hard to decide what’s stranger—that Morrissey and Billy Idol exist on the same planet or, during their heydays, that on some radio stations Billy Idol and Morrissey were in rotation together. Idol, another enigmatic onetime frontman of a UK band (although not one from Manchester), Generation X, left his bandmates behind in the early 1980s and went on to have an outrageously successful solo career. Idol, who was rocking his hot gym body at Lollapalooza a few years ago, is celebrated on The Very Best of Billy Idol (Capitol). The CD portion of the set contains all of the hits, ranging from “Dancing With Myself,” “Hot in the City,” “White Wedding (Pt. 1),” “Rebel Yell,” “Eyes Without a Face,” “Flesh for Fantasy,” “Cradle of Love,” and “To Be a Lover,” to name a few, in addition to a pair of newly recorded tracks. The 13-track DVD contains the photogenic Idol’s music videos for the aforementioned tunes and others.
Like Morrissey and Idol, Ian Hunter was the frontman for a UK band that also went on to have a successful solo career. As a member of the trendsetting glam rock outfit Mott The Hoople, performing songs such as Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes,” Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” and his own compositions “All the Way from Memphis,” “Honaloochie Boogie,” and “Roll Away the Stone,” Hunter established an identity for himself. On his own, he kept the momentum going with “Once Bitten Twice Shy,” “Just Another Night,” “When the Daylight Comes,” “Cleveland Rocks” (which went on to become the theme song for The Drew Carey Show ), and the stunning ballad “Ships” (a hit for Barry Manilow!). All of these songs, and many others, have been compiled on the double disc Old Records Never Die: The Mott The Hoople/Ian Hunter Anthology (Shout! Factory), which claims to be the only comp to “cover both phases of Ian Hunter’s legendary career.”
It’s almost unthinkable, but cute dance-pop heartthrob Rick Astley was washed up by 22. His debut album, released domestically when he was 21, established him as an inescapable force. You couldn’t go anywhere in 1987 without hearing his distinctive vocals paired up with the Stock/Aitken/Waterman electro hit machine on songs such as “Never Gonna Give You Up,” “Whenever You Need Somebody,” “Together Forever,” and “It Would Take a Strong, Strong Man,” coming at you from everywhere. Taking a cue from the “playlist” mentality, RCA/Legacy has released the single disc comp Playlist: The Very Best of Rick Astley , which contains the previously referenced hits along with assorted others.
The UK was also the birthplace to other rock-and-roll-related musical genres. Heavy metal is one such style. Hard-rocking UFO, whose mid-1970s album covers remain virtually unparalleled, maintained a strong following over the years, and the 20 tracks collected on The Best of UFO: 1974-1983 (Chrysalis) are intended to be an indication of why. Art or progressive (a.k.a. prog) rock was personified by the trio (Keith) Emerson, (Greg) Lake & (Carl) Palmer, via songs such as “Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression–Part 2,” “Lucky Man,” “From the Beginning,” “C’est La Vie,” “Still You Turn Me On,” and their famed arrangement of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” all of which can be experienced on the single disc set Come and See the Show: The Best of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Shout! Factory).
Gregg Shapiro is a past recipient of the annual OutMusic award that recognizes contributions by non-musicians in furthering the work of GLBT performers.