Compilations afford fans all of the meat with none of the filler
by Gregg Shapiro
Godmother of punk and National Book Award-winning memoirist Patti Smith is fêted with her first single-disc retrospective Outside Society (Arista/Columbia/Legacy). Consisting of 18 tracks from her 10 albums—from the groundbreaking Horses through the covers album Twelve—representing more than 30 years of music, Outside Society may not have the scale of 2002’s Land, but it does bring the listener up to date where Patti is concerned.
Capping off a year in which art-rock legends Pink Floyd saw their entire catalog reissued (in both a box set and as individual discs), A Foot in the Door: The Best of Pink Floyd (EMI) sums it all up on a single 16-track disc. Naturally, “Money,” “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2,” “See Emily Play,” “Comfortably Numb,” “Hey You,” “Have a Cigar,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Parts 1–5,” are here alongside other favorites.
Preceding Adele by a few years, blue-eyed soul diva Joss Stone burst onto the scene at the same time that the late Amy Winehouse released her first album. While it took Winehouse a couple more years to catch on with listeners, Stone experienced overnight-sensation status with her debut disc. Propelled by her cover of The White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Boy,” Stone rolled to stardom. The Best of Joss Stone: 2003–2009 (Virgin) draws from four albums, favoring 2007’s Introducing Joss Stone (her ironically titled third disc) with four tracks.
Hits from Yesterday & the Day Before (Warner Brothers/Rhino) is not the Barenaked Ladies’ first time at the compilation rodeo. Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits from 2001 gets that title. But it is the first post-Steven Page collection, as well as the first to include the “Big Bang Theory Theme” song. As for the hits, they’re all here, including “One Week,” “If I Had $1,000,000,” “One Week, “The Old Apartment,” and a live version of “Brian Wilson,” among others.
Thanks to Glee, arena rockers Journey have experienced a revival of interest in their music. But you might not have thought that Journey warranted a Greatest Hits 2 (Columbia/Legacy). Intended as a “companion” to the band’s multi-platinum 1988 Greatest Hits disc, and featuring the original members, functions as a catch-all for the other singles and such that didn’t make the cut on the first album.
Recording for the short-lived Improv Records label in the mid-1970s, Tony Bennett got the chance to make the kind of jazz vocal recordings that Mr. Bossy Pants Clive Davis wouldn’t allow him to record for Columbia at that time. The 16 songs are a wonderful fit for Bennett, who sounds completely at ease and isn’t trying to be something that he isn’t. A delight from start to finish and a reasonable alternative to his recent Duets II album.
A musical late-starter who has more than made up for lost time, Leonard Cohen, who is 77 at the time of this writing, is the true definition of a legendary singer/songwriter. Never a great singer, the Canadian poet/novelist nevertheless can be credited with creating some of the most beloved songs of the late 20th/early 21st century. Classic interpretations of his songs by Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley, Judy Collins, and Jennifer Warnes, among others, are all essential to every music library. At 17 discs, you’d think that The Complete Columbia Albums Collection (Columbia/Legacy), including studio and live recordings, would be a Cohen-lover’s dream. In many ways it is, reproducing original album artwork in miniature CD jacket form. But Cohen’s lyrics, for which he is as well known as he is for his music, are found on only four of the CDs. Other than that, this box is sure to delight Cohen-heads everywhere.
The Smiths’ eight-disc Complete (Rhino) box set is the alternative music generation’s equivalent of the Beatles box. The team of reluctant sex-symbol Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr set the bar high for all those who would follow. The box assortment is comprised of the four studio albums, complete with occasionally homoerotic cover art and usually homoerotic lyrics sung in Morrissey’s trademark queerly sexually ambiguous tone, as well as all three compilations and the live disc. Stunningly remastered, each miniature “album” version not only includes the original graphics, but also an inner-sleeve with lyrics and images (something from which the Cohen box would have benefited). It’s enough to make even the ever-moody Morrissey crack a smile.
The words “handpicked by Paul Simon himself” should give you an indication that the double disc Songwriter (Legacy) is not your average “hits” collection. Sure, some of them are here, such as “Mother and Child Reunion,” “Kodachrome,”“Late in the Evening,” and “Graceland.” But if you listen to the disc with that in mind, you won’t be disappointed that songs you might have expected be included here aren’t. In Simon’s hands, the selection process includes Aretha Franklin’s stunning rendition of “Bridge over Troubled Waters,” live solo Simon recordings of a couple of Simon & Garfunkel tunes, and far too many selections from “Rhythm of the Saints” and “Songs from the Capeman.”
Since they parted ways more than 40 years ago, Diana Ross & the Supremes have been the subject of a multitude of greatest-hits compilations. But theattractively packaged 50th Anniversary—The Singles Collection: 1961–1969 (Motown/Hip-O Select) is something else entirely. Spread out over three discs, the 72 tracks include A and B sides, as well as some alternate versions. Beginning with “I Want a Guy,” when the Supremes were a quartet, the first disc includes breakthrough hits such as “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” and “Come See About Me,” as well as some German-language versions. “I Hear a Symphony,” “Stop! in the Name of Love,” “Back in My Arms Again,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “The Happening,” as well as the B side “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine,” Italian versions of hits, and an interview round out disc two. Late-career hit singles such as “Reflections,” “Love Child,” “I’m Livin’ ‑in Shame,” and the all-time kiss-off “Someday We’ll Be Together” are among the tracks found on the third disc. The Temptations fans will be pleased to hear that the all-male Motown group gets a similar 50th-anniversary treatment.
Twenty years after his death, Miles Davis continues to be a nearly endless source of musical discoveries. Subtitled “The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1,” the (second) Miles Davis Quintet’s Live in Europe 1967 (Columbia/Legacy) is a three-CD/DVD concert recording featuring Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Tony Williams.
Deceased even longer than Davis, King of Rock Elvis Presley’s 1956 albums Elvis Presley and Elvis, have been reissued as the double disc Legacy edition Elvis Presley (RCA/Legacy). Each album is augmented by a series of hit singles, including “Heartbreak Hotel, “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and Love Me Tender,” to name a few.
Covering a period that ranges from 1979 to 2009, the double disc The Definitive Chick Corea on Stretch and Concord (Stretch/Concord) features 21 tracks by jazz-fusion pioneer Corea. Incorporating live and studio tracks, this collection features guest musicians such as openly gay vibes legend Gary Burton, as well as Bobby McFerrin, Stanley Clarke, Bela Fleck, Pat Metheny and the late Michael Brecker, among many others.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.