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My 24 Greatest “Greatest Hits” CDs

Over the weekend my family and I drove to Denver and back to attend my friend Robb’s wedding (and did a few other things while we were in town, too). Many years ago prior to embarking on a cross-country road trip, picking out the CDs I was going to take with me was an important part of the trip-planning process. Today there is physical price to pay for cramming thousands of songs onto our phones, but back then, more CDs meant more space. Back in the 1990s, the solution to this problem was to purchase lots of “greatest hits” and “best of” compilations that packed lots of great songs onto a single CD.

The first CD wallet I ever owned for my car held a total of 24 discs. In honor of that wallet and my recent trip to Denver, I present to you (in no particular order) 24 of my favorite “greatest hits” CDs. My self-imposed rules for this list were that I had physically purchased the CD at some point in the past, and that each disc was a “greatest hits” album that contained songs from a single performer.

  1. Duran Duran – Decade: Fourteen tracks, twelve of which are classics (I skip “Skin Trade” and “All She Wants Is”). If you owned a radio in the 1980s (or watched MTV for more than ten minutes) then you remember “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Rio,” and “Is There Something I Should Know.” Like all of the discs on this list there aren’t a lot of deep cuts here, but everything on the disc is a classic.
  2. Beach Boys – 20 Good Vibrations: I had this album (or one similar to it) on vinyl when I was a kid. It’s hard to imagine anyone unfamiliar with most (if not all) of the songs on this album — everything from “California Girls” to “Surfin’ U.S.A.” make appearances. Rounding out 19 classic tracks is the more modern “Kokomo“, probably the newest Beach Boys song I know.
  3. The Cars – Greatest Hits: The Cars have released several greatest hits, best of, and anthology collections throughout the years, but Greatest Hits is just what it advertises. Everything from “Shake It Up” to “Just What I Needed” and “Let’s Go” make appearances. You’ll have to buy one of the larger compilations to get tracks like “Moving in Stereo,” “Candy-O,” and “Cruiser,” but there’s not a sour moment on the included thirteen tracks.
  4. Journey – Greatest Hits: With songs like like “Don’t Stop Believin’,”Any Way You Want It” and “Separate Ways,” this album contains an hour’s worth of road trip sing-along songs. The only danger with packing this one is there’s a good chance your passengers may hold their lighters up during “Faithfully” and “Open Arms” and burn your headliner. I can’t think of a single other Journey song I wish they had included.
  5. Billy Idol – Idolize Yourself: With cuts like “White Wedding” and “Mony Mony,” pretty much every Idol classic is included. Growing up, I owned Vital Idol, another Billy Idol compilation that lacked “Rebel Yell” and pre-dated “Cradle of Love,” both of which appear here. Non-fans may bail early when later tracks like “John Wayne” and “New Future Weapon” arrive, but the first 13-14 tracks will have you dancing with yourself.
  6. Blondie – The Best of Blondie: – I grew up listening to my dad’s copy of this album. Originally released in 1981, I don’t see a reason to buy anything newer. With hits like “Call Me,” “One Way or Another,” and “Heart of Glass,” This one has all the hits I need. Plus, it always impresses my kids when I know every word to the rap from “Rapture” and I get to explain to them that Fab Five Freddy was a real guy.
  7. Prince – The Very Best of Prince: – If this disc has any drawback it’s that it only contains four tracks from Purple Rain, which is practically a greatest hits offering in its own right. Along with “When Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain,” you get tracks before that like “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” and ones after like “Raspberry Beret,” “Kiss,” and “U Got the Look.” There are a few too many New Power Generation tracks toward the end for my taste, but that doesn’t detract from the dozen solid tracks that precede them. (PS: It’s pretty hard to find Prince tracks on YouTube.)
  8. Styx – Greatest Hits: – This album contains every Styx song I love including “Renegade“, “Sail Away,” and “Mr. Roboto,” and a couple that are just okay. This album surprises everyone with how many Styx songs they know.
  9. Huey Lewis and the News – Time Flies…: Released in ’96, Time Flies includes twelve solid Huey Lewis hits including “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” “Workin’ for a Livin’,” and “Heart and Soul,” and four previously unreleased tracks that I could mostly live without. Still, a dozen clean, fun tracks on the road makes for an hour of entertainment.
  10. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Chronicle: This is the only Creedence album I ever owned. Twenty great songs; not a bad one in the bunch. “Long As I Can See the Light” will break you down on a long, dark road, while “Travelin’ Band” will bounce you right back.
  11. The Police – Greatest Hits: There are other great songs from both Sting and the Police, but this is a great collection of their hits from the late 70s/early 80s. It’s got most of the classic radio singles like “Everything She Does is Magic” and “Message in a Bottle” without all the solo-Sting stuff that nobody (except Sting) wants to hear. The album’s one shortcoming is that the classic “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” has been replaced with an inferior and unnecessarily updated version, a downright baffling decision.
  12. Phil Collins – Greatest Hits: A quick scan on Amazon reveals that Phil Collins has released almost as many greatest hits packages as he’s had great hits, and that’s saying something. The CD I own contains sixteen tracks and pre-dates “I Can’t Dance,” which is just fine with me. “Take Me Home” and “I Wish It Would Rain” are just two of the album’s stand out tracks. To this day, I’ve yet to meet anyone actually name “Sussudio.”
  13. Billy Joel – Greatest Hits Vol. 1&2: Maybe it’s cheating to include a double-disc package, but let’s assume I would cram both discs into one sleeve. This compilation kicks off with “Piano Man” and never lets up. No matter what happens, “She’s Always a Woman to Me“. Two solid discs of classic road trip songs.
  14. Elton John – Greatest Hits Vol. 1: This is a CD you can find for 99 cents in every pawn shop (it’s the one with Elton in a white suit, hat and sunglasses sitting at his piano). It contains 11 classic classics from the man himself including “Daniel” and “Rocket Man“. The only glaring omission from this era is my favorite Elton John song, “Tiny Dancer.”
  15. Elvis – Elv1s: I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Elvis, but it’s tough to go wrong with 30 #1 hits from the King. My only complaint about this one is there are a lot of slow jams that may mess up your road-trip vibe. With 30 songs on a single disc to choose from, the slow ones are easy enough to skip — besides, what’s a road trip without “Jailhouse Rock” and “All Shook Up“?
  16. The Beatles – 1s: Another collection of number one hits, this time from our four friends from Liverpool. Today I keep a dozen Beatles albums on my phone at all times, but back when space was at a premium, this was a great way to keep 27 classic Beatles tracks on a single disc. Includes two of my favorites, “Day Tripper” and “Paperback Writer.”
  17. Hall and Oates – Greatest Hits–Rock ‘n’ Soul, Part 1: There are a couple of different greatest hits packages from this popular duo, but this is the one I grew up with. Here you get 11 solid tracks and a live version of “Wait for Me” that is just as good, if not better, than the original. If I were ever going to sing karaoke I would sing either “She’s Gone” or “Sara Smile,” but since I never will, the next best thing are my car performances.
  18. Heart – These Dreams: Seventeen classic Heart tracks, including tracks from the 70s (“Heartless” and 80s (“Alone“). Like the Police greatest hits, Heart opted to include an alternate version of one of their most popular tracks, this time a live version of the rocker “Barracuda.” This is easily fixable today, but back in the day it was pretty annoying not to have the original cut.
  19. Whitesnake – Whitesnake’s Greatest Hits: I almost didn’t list this one because, to be honest, I’d almost prefer to have the band’s 1987 self-titled album with me instead. Of course you get “Still of the Night” and “Here I Go Again” along with a few older tracks like “Slide it In” and “Slow an’ Easy,” but you lose tracks like “Bad Boys” and “Children of the Night,” two of my favorites.
  20. Rick Springfield – The Best of Rick Springfield: Yet another musician who has recorded a ton of songs that don’t appear on this compilation, but everything I want from Rick is here. Plenty of rock anthems to sing along to in the car here including “Love Somebody,” “I’ve Done Everything For You,” and of course, “Jesse’s Girl.” Unless you’re a fan of Springfield’s newer work, this CD is all you need.
  21. Men at Work – Contraband (The Best Of): Often written off as a one hit wonder by 80s revisionists, Men at Work had a long series of hits, all of which appear here. Sure, “Man Down Under” made the cut, but you also get “It’s a Mistake,” “Be Good Johnny,” and one of my favorite songs of all time, “Overkill.”
  22. Michael Jackson – Number Ones: The third artist on my list who can release an entire album full of number one hits. Occasionally I skip some of the tracks like “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” just because I’ve heard them a million times, but “Thriller,” “Smooth Criminal,” and “Dirty Diana” always get play.
  23. Joe Jackson – Steppin’ Out: Unrelated to Michael, I discovered Joe Jackson through his single (and one of my favorite songs of all time) “Steppin’ Out.” It wasn’t until I purchased this CD that I discovered “Sunday Papers,” the sentimental “Be My Number Two,” and early punk track “Look Sharp!
  24. Queen – Greatest Hits: Yes, we’ve all heard “We Are the Champions” and “Another One Bites the Dust” a zillion times, but so what? “You’re My Best Friend,” “Killer Queen,” and “Bicycle Race” are all road-trip classics. And just when you think your eyelid are drooping and you don’t think you can drive another mile, throw on “We Will Rock You,” pull out the air guitar, and nail that solo as you put the pedal to the metal and cruise off into the sunset.

Here are a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut. Like all the albums listed above, I own all of these on CD and have them on my phone as well.

  • Fat Boys – The Best of the Fat Boys: While technically there’s nothing wrong with this greatest hits package, it’s a little light on tracks from the first two albums and contains all the group’s novelty tracks including “The Twist,” “Wipeout,” and “Are You Ready For Freddy.” Plus, there’s just so much of the Human Beat Box my wife can handle on a road trip.
  • Weird Al – Greatest Hits: The problem with this disc isn’t what’s on it, it’s what’s not on it. Weird Al is one of two artists (along with the Beastie Boys) of which I have purchased every single studio release. I’ve converted them all to mp3 and have them all stored on my phone. Limiting Al to only ten tracks (even if they include classics like “Dare to Be Stupid” and “One More Minute“) isn’t just a crime… it’s WEIRD.
  • Def Leppard – Vault (Greatest Hits): The problem with Def Leppard is that I like the earlier stuff and not the later stuff. “Photograph,” “High and Dry,” “Foolin’” and even “Rock of Ages” are still classics, but by the time the band dips into “Animal” and pouring sugar on each other, they lose me. I’d rather just bring along the first two albums.
  • Rod Stewart – Greatest Hits: Nothing bad to say about this one. If my CD wallet held 25 discs, this one would have made the cut.
  • Public Enemy – The Best of Public Enemy: Another album with very little fat on the bone. In 11 tracks, PE takes listeners from “Welcome to the Terrordome” and ends with “Bring Tha Noize,” with all the band’s best classics in between. Like the Fat Boys, the only reason it’s not on in the virtual CD wallet is because my wife can’t take me shouting “Fight the Power” over and over on long stretches of highway. I have the first four or five PE albums on my phone at all times and will have played something from each of them by the time I get to Arizona.

    That’s the end of my list! What other greatest hits albums should have made the list, and which ones shouldn’t have?

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  • 3 comments to My 24 Greatest “Greatest Hits” CDs

    • Paul in AZ

      Since you have all their stuff, SOLID GOLD HITS by The Beastie Boys would be superfluous (but it’s a great CD). If it’s to your taste, you should find “Strictly Commercial” by Frank Zappa.

      Great list, but it’s tough when you try to fit long-tenured groups that have awesome talent (as in: how do you narrow down the Rolling Stones to 1 CD of their best stuff? Does it even exist? Same with Genesis, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, etc.)

    • Joshua Risner

      I have Journey’s Greatest Hits on both casette and CD and it is painfully missing “Stone In Love” unless they have updated it recently.

    • I’m completely with you on Men at Work’s Overkill and Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out. They’re two great, often overlooked songs from the early 1980s.

      Regarding Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86, I understand it came out of The Police’s final recording session. They weren’t getting along, or at least Andy and Stewart weren’t getting along with Sting, and all they managed to record was the revised version of that song and they argued about that. Andy and Stewart said it was too slow and Sting said it wasn’t slow enough. The original, of course, is a classic.

      Maybe the problem with so much of Sting’s solo work is that he doesn’t have Andy and Stewart there to speed the song up.

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