Stop making Compilation albums

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I have no doubt that you people know my love of music. I may not play an instrument, or sing (well, sing on a public stage), but I like to think I have an admiration of the medium. And I was looking back at some old posts, and re-read my Queen forever rant. While I shared my disgust, I realise I never really tapped into a crucial aspect of my disappointment, the fact it was a compilation.

Of course, looking back on it now, I had the wrong idea about the album. I was hoping it was going to be similar to ‘Made in Heaven’, with previously unreleased pre-recorded songs in a new album, a compilation of sorts. My disappointment, in retrospect, was probably unfair of me, but I look back on it now, and my mood has changed. Queen Forever, for all intents and purposes, is STILL a bad idea. It was a compilation album for die hard queen fans, who know the songs, and likely own all the studio albums (myself being in that camp, funnily enough). The fact that there is two versions with different selections of songs to grab more money, plus the 3 new songs. I should say at this point, I did buy ‘Love Kills’ as a standalone on Itunes, choosing to skip The Michael Jackson collaboration, and the other song, which is as memorable as a bad episode of Monday Night RAW.

My first problem with compilations is that, in a nutshell, they aren’t necessary for the majority of fans. You own the songs, why just have all the hits, because you have them, plus the album tracks, which can sometimes be BETTER than the singles that are released. Yeah, I said it. There are some songs by Queen I dare say are BETTER than Bohemian Rhapsody. I get that they’re singles and all, but like I stated, we have streaming services, we can listen to these songs on demand, with the music video if you’re on YouTube.

Now, don’t get me wrong, compilations serve a purpose, as they can get new fans interested in a group. That isn’t the case for everyone, but some people get into bands like Pink Floyd or The Doors through their compilation albums. At least that is how it was. Nowadays we have the internet, but we didn’t then. In the past, compilations were a way for people to listen to a band, kind of like a trial run, rather than buy an album they wouldn’t like because they heard one song on the radio, you would buy a compilation, listen to that song, and the other hits that band has had, and make a decision

There has been a slew of compilations over the years, some that spring to mind include NOW: That’s what I call music number 3,000,001, the aforementioned Queen Forever, and the David Bowie compilation, with one previously unreleased song. Now I understand why compilations are released. They are cash cows, which really serve no purpose but to make money off casual fans, and/or introduce a new audience to an artist or a band. For the latter purpose, Compilations are good, but the Compilation album is dying out. We have Vevo, YouTube and Spotify, we can make our own personal radio stations, we can stream songs, make playlists WITH our favourite songs, we can make our own compilation albums. And hardcore fans, forget it, they’re too clever. I assume that putting unreleased songs on compilations is the new tactic, similar to putting them on remastered albums.

Compilation albums are merely an outdated concept. They worked in the past, and they made lots of money for record labels, keen on cashing in on an identity. I just wish more of them decided that they modernise it. Having your hits on one album is good, but it is unoriginal and adds nothing to your collection. I have vowed never to buy a compilation album again, if I want to listen to a group, I will search them on google, listen to some stuff, and maybe buy an album. My only solution for the compilation is to get the artist involved. Below is a list of currently used/new suggestions which use the artists in the process of making compilations:

  1. Instead of having a groups biggest hits on one album, why not an individual’s/band’s favourite songs that they have made. By doing that, there could be a more diverse mixture of hits, ranging from the big hits, to the album tracks, and maybe some early rarities if you’re lucky. That get’s the artist involved, and it will likely give money to record labels, because it gives a reason for you to buy the album.
  2. Improve Live albums. They’re compilations, aren’t they? Not only are they the big hits, but they are often extended versions of the songs played during promotional concerts, and the crowd involvement makes concert albums really enjoyable to listen to. Mind you, the DVD’s often have the same songs, and then some. So instead, why not put some songs NOT on the DVD on the Live albums, and give fans a reason to buy.
  3. B Sides and rarities. B sides are not as common as common as they were in the days of the CD or the record, older bands have tons of B-sides in their catalogue, many are rarer, and not often heard, unless on a remastered album in a bonus track, so why not make more of them? See my idea for a final Queen album, and you’ll see my vision. Heck, make a series of compilations based around demos, rarities and B-sides recorded during the sessions for a particular album!
  4. Re-record your hits. Not common, but it has happened. Kraftwerk released ‘The Mix’ in 1991, re-recording their songs, Jeff Lynne did it with ELO, rerecording some of his band’s biggest hits. This is very rare, but more should do it, as it can fill the gap between studio albums, and tours etc.

Compilation albums are going to be  made until time itself ends, but I am hopeful that people are getting smarter, and realising that these Compilations add nothing to a collection, they do not bring you closer to the band, they repackage what you already have, and sell it with a sticker over the label. Compilations need to be more diverse, and give fans what they don’t have, or from a marketing perspective, give the fans something they don’t know they want. I feel that would make more money than putting 3 unreleased songs on an album of a band’s greatest hits.

FINALLY, some compilations to check out, because they take the formula, and add something new to it: The Mix, Hullabaloo Soundtrack, Minimum Maximum, Mr Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra, Pulp: The Peel Sessions, The Beatles Love. Karl Bartos Off the Record

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Ben

Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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