Tag Archives: Greatest Hits

Rocks In The Attic #797: The Cars – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1985)

RITA#797What does the rock band Queen and the new-wave band the Cars have in common? Both bands have great albums and great singles, of course, and both featured a fantastic central songwriter. But the answer is in the man who was an integral part of each band’s respective success: Roy Thomas Baker.

Much has been written about Cars frontman Ric Ocasek in recent weeks, following his death at the age of 75 – a fantastic songwriter, and a great producer in his own right – but an important element of the Cars’ success was the Englishman who produced their first four albums.

Baker never seems to get enough credit for producing the first batch of Queen albums (Queen, Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack and A Night At The Opera, before being called back for Jazz). Under his guidance, they turned from long-haired heavy rockers to pop superstars, and while it’s likely the genius of Freddie Mercury would have shone through under any producer, it’s hard to imagine those albums being helmed by anybody else.

After his success with Queen, Baker was snapped up by CBS Music and moved to America. There, he replicated his success with Queen by producing the Cars’ first batch of records on Elektra, eventually becoming the Senior Vice President of A&R at the label.

So with Baker producing both band’s first four albums, including a run of fantastic pop-rock singles, it’s not hard to see the Cars as America’s answer to Queen.  There’s obviously the Weezer connection to the ‘90s alternative-rock scene, but they seem like an important link between punk, rock and pop, that led to bands like the Foo Fighters, the Strokes, the Arctic Monkeys and the Killers dominating the early 21st century.

Plus, Drive is such a killer song, and there’s another comparison: both the Cars and Queen were such an integral part of Live Aid.

Hit: Drive

Hidden Gem: Tonight She Comes

Rocks In The Attic #719: Elton John- ‘Greatest Hits’ (1974)

RITA#719Another year, another Christmas, and another Christmas advert from John Lewis. This year it’s a journey back through the life of Elton John. The montage of performances of Your Song goes further and further back we until we discover the source of his tantrums and tiaras was a Christmas present of an upright piano back in the 1950s.

In any other year, I would have quite enjoyed this. It looks great, and the message is as wholesome as the likes of John Lewis ads in prior years. But with the timing so close to the upcoming Elton John biopic starring Taron Egerton, and Elton’s own farewell tour, I wonder if he has more to gain from this than the department store he’s shilling.

The Guardian offered an alternative version of the commercial. As amusing as this warts-and-all version sounds, I would have also thrown in that moment from when he fell off his chair at the tennis and writhed around on his back like a shell-suited tortoise.

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I can take or leave Elton. He’s put out far more lead than gold, but his golden moments are very, very good. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, in particular, is a masterpiece, and his early Americana-tinged records (Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across The Water and Honky Château) are interesting. I’ve even started to warm to his ‘80s output – something I thought I’d never hear myself saying. I’m Still Standing is a banger for the ages.

This first greatest hits collection was released in 1974, after that wave of success following Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, of which it takes three songs, and its follow-up, Caribou. I expect it will be available at John Lewis this Christmas, on a special display stand next to the Christmas jumpers and party crackers.

Hit: Your Song

Hidden Gem: Border Song

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Rocks In The Attic #663: Elton John – ‘Rock Of The Westies’ (1975)

RITA#663What is intended as an innocent bit of wordplay from Elton (the title is a play on the phrase ‘west of the Rockies’, referring to the strip of the United States between that mountain range the Pacific seaboard) means a totally different thing in Auckland, New Zealand.

Auckland is split into five areas – the urban central area, the predominantly lower socio-economic South Auckland, the suburban North Shore, the immigrant-populated East Auckland, and the more
rural West Auckland.

There are stereotypes and tropes of each area, but it is the West Auckland residents – or westies – who have the strongest image. Westies are usually defined as working-class, keen for a drink (usually bourbon and coke), and like the sound of loud rock music.

Of course, not all West Aucklanders fit this profile – it’s a stereotype after all, and one which most residents would baulk at the idea of – but this record always seems so apt. Elton has probably never set foot in West Auckland, but you could be forgiven for thinking that in 1975 he recorded a concept album about the people who live there, and their favourite kind of music.

Rock Of The Westies is Elton’s tenth studio record – and is far from his best work. It has the accolade of being only the second album (at that time) to debut at #1 on the US Billbord 200 chart. The first record to do this was its predecessor by five months, Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, also released in 1975. As weaker efforts, both records were presumably buoyed by the sales of Elton’s Greatest Hits record, the best-selling album in the USA in that year.

RITA#663aElton recently announced his retirement from touring – after the completion of a three year, 300-date farewell world tour (promoted by a poster image showing his slow transformation into a League Of Gentleman character). I’m debating whether I can muster the energy to catch him and his brilliant sausage fingers while I still have the chance.

Hit: Island Girl

Hidden Gem: Street Kids

Rocks In The Attic #648: Rod Stewart – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1979)

RITA#648A couple of weekends ago, my wife left the house to go the supermarket. She phoned me five minutes later, with a degree of urgency in her voice. On her way to the supermarket, she spotted a car-boot sale in a church car-park. She had found a man selling three boxes of records. Her call was to see if I wanted any of the classic rock LPs he was selling at the princely sum of a dollar each.

“Have you got Green River by Creedence Clearwater?”

“No, get it.”

“Rod Stewart – Greatest Hits?”

“No, get it”

“The Travelling Wilburys?”

“Yes, but get it anyway.”

And so on. She eventually brought back a box of forty six records, which the seller only took thirty dollars for. Result. I would have paid close to that for the Creedence record alone.

Nine of the records are Rod Stewart albums, and a further four are Faces albums with Rod singing on them. That’s a twenty-eight per cent Stewart penetration rate. Maximum Rod.

Hit: Maggie May

Hidden Gem: Hot Legs

Rocks In The Attic #632: Amen Corner – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1977)

RITA#632Greatest Hits can mean a lot of things. Some collections can cover decades, some much shorter. This disc represents the latter: twelve songs from a band that had a very short life, in that they only recorded across two years – 1968 and 1969.

Opening with the #1 single, (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice, things slip downhill quite suddenly with a cover of the Beatles’ Get Back. It’s not a bad cover – in fact, they re-imagine the song quite well from the original – but the prospect of a cover song as the second song on a Greatest Hits collection doesn’t bode well.

In fact, of the record’s twelve songs, another two are well-known covers – a more straightforward, yet sloppier, version of the Band’s The Weight that outstays its welcome, and a peaky version of the American Breed’s Bend Me, Shape Me – while the album’s final four songs are all live recordings. Surely this is the dictionary definition of scraping the barrel; but good on Immediate Records for trying.

Released in 1977 to benefit from frontman Andy Fairweather Low’s burgeoning solo career (and sideman to the likes of Eric Clapton and George Harrison), the album is a nice little nostalgia trip, and a snapshot of the band’s short life at the headier, and musically more interesting, end of the 1960s.

Hit: (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice

Hidden Gem: Get Back

Rocks In The Attic #524: Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1970)

rita524I’ll quite happily rescue a Herb Alpert record from the charity shop, especially if it’s in good condition and it’s a decent album. This is the first (of many) Alpert compilations, collecting the sharper moments from the group’s first five records.

The highlight of course is Spanish Flea, such an oddity and an earworm that can come into your head – to never leave – at any moment. Shopping for mince? In the middle of a job interview? Being questioned by Police over the disappearance of your ex-girlfriend? Here’s a slice of catchy trumpet jazz to take your mind off the pressure of concentrating.

Hit: Spanish Flea

Hidden Gem: America

Rocks In The Attic #507: Prince – ‘Prince’ (1979)

RITA#5072016 has been a terrible year for celebrity deaths, particularly those from music, films and television. The year started off tainted by the death of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister just a few days before New Year. Then things started to go crazy with David Bowie dying suddenly on the tenth of January. Following him, we’ve also seen the passing of Eagle Glenn Frey, Beatles producer George Martin, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore, and many, many more.

Losing Bowie was bad enough, but any year where we lose somebody as iconic as him, plus Prince, plus Muhammad Ali is just plain crazy. It’s like the icons of the late twentieth century are falling off the planet. I’m half expecting a plane carrying Madonna, Tom Cruise and Bruce Springsteen to crash into the Hollywood sign, while Los Angeles succumbs to a devastating earthquake.

Prince’s death seemed to hit a little closer to home, only because he had just played in Auckland a few weeks earlier as part of his Piano And Microphone tour. I would have loved to see Prince, backed by a full band but I didn’t really like the idea of seeing him play unaccompanied. There’s a part of me that regrets not chasing down a ticket, just because it was my last chance to see him perform, but with his passing I’m even more glad that I didn’t go – I like to think that my seat went to a more deserving fan.

I can take or leave Prince. His Batman soundtrack was the first album I ever owned, and I like a good deal of his big hits; I just don’t like all the Sexy Motherf*cker bullshit that he descended to in the early nineties. His contractual dispute with Warner Brothers around that time – leading to him changing his name to the symbol and writing ‘Slave’ on his cheek also turned me off him. All of a sudden, just as I was getting into music in a big way, he didn’t seem to be about the music anymore.

His Greatest Hits album is superb though, and the song off that record I’ve always liked the best is the opening number I Wanna Be Your Lover, taken from this, his self-titled second album. The recent repressing of his back catalogue on vinyl has given me the opportunity to buy the album (I’ve never seen an original pressing in the wild), and it’s a great record.

The album version of I Wanna Be Your Lover sounds even better, being a few minutes longer than the single edit available on his Greatest Hits, and the other singles from the record are all worthy additions to his canon. I can’t remember the last time I liked a record so much from start to finish.

What’s not to like? All the upbeat songs are of a similar quality to I Wanna Be Your Lover, and the slower ballads don’t grate as much as some of the soppier ballads from later in his career. I might put my toe further in the purple water, and try out some of his other records now that they’re widely available again.

Hit: I Wanna Be Your Lover

Hidden Gem: Bambi