The lengths some recording artists will go to to scrape together a greatest hits album, even if they were a one- or two-hit wonder, can be remarkable. The lengths some will go to in coming up with a “greatest hits, volume 2” are even more entertaining.
The other day I put on Chicago’s Greatest Hits, Volume II, and was struck by the contrast: a few of the songs were good, but most were just pure commercial schmaltz. There’s a good reason for that: they started by including all the hits that had come out in the six years since their first greatest hits album — the likes of “Baby What a Big Surprise,” “No Tell Lover,” and their half-hearted attempt at disco-jazz fusion (or something), “Alive Again” — and, since they didn’t have quite enough new songs to fill the album, stuck in a couple of the smaller, earlier hits that didn’t make the cut first time around. “Questions 67 and 68” stands out here because it’s Chicago from when Chicago was pretty great. That would be 1969, for those of you keeping score (though, interestingly, that song didn’t hit the top 40 until released a second time in late 1971).
Elton John did the same thing. His Greatest Hits, Volume II, contains the earlier, brilliant “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer” (also both from late 1971) alongside mediocre monster hits like “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Island Girl.” Enough said.
Then there are the artists who don’t even try to hide how much worse their second greatest hits album is compared to their first. Neil Diamond is a pretty dramatic example of this, though I have a soft spot for him since he’s a great songwriter, seems like a nice guy, and used to be pretty sexy. And I don’t think he ever got terrible, just old and less interesting.
I’d say Rod Stewart might qualify as well, but he even threw some crap into his Greatest Hits, Volume 1 (not to be confused with the earlier and much better Sing It Again, Rod, which could qualify as his first greatest hits album; he did so much repackaging of his material, it’s hard to even say what to compare in his case), so that makes the contrast less dramatic.
I think the prize has to go to Olivia Newton-John. As much as we all love “Xanadu” (and Electric Light Orchestra) for its camp value, I have to say it’s pretty damn hard to listen to her Greatest Hits, Volume 2, from start to finish. Really. Try it sometime. No, don’t. Trust me. Even the album cover is creepy!
Has there been a case where someone’s second greatest hits album is better than their first? Bob Dylan’s GHV2 is quite good, but so is his first one. I think Bob might take the prize for the best Greatest Hits, Volume 3, incidentally…but then, there isn’t a lot of competition in that category. (You know how I feel about Elton John’s GHV3.)
I like Madonna’s GHV2 a little better than her Immaculate Collection. She got better with time. Then worse. Then better, briefly. Then…you get the idea. ABBA’s Greatest Hits came out a little too early, leaving a lot of hits for their slightly better Greatest Hits, Volume 2.
At the risk of sounding too stereotypically homosexual-of-a-certain-age, I’ve gotta say, Barbra Streisand’s Greatest Hits, Volume 2, is — let’s just pull out all the stops and use the word — fabulous! That “Laura Mars” song rocks. Her original Greatest Hits collection? Meh.
Hmm, maybe I’m not so gay after all.