A greatest hits album, sometimes called a "best of" album or catalog album, is a type of compilation album that collects popular and commercially successful songs by a particular artist or band. While greatest hits albums are typically supported by the artist, they can also be created by record companies without express approval from the original artist as a means to generate sales. They are typically regarded as a good starting point for new fans of an artist, but are sometimes criticized by long-time fans as not inclusive enough or necessary at all.
It is also common for greatest hits albums to include remixes or alternate takes of popular songs as bonus tracks to increase appeal for long-time fans (who might otherwise already own the songs included). At times, a greatest hits compilation marks the first album appearance of a successful single that was never attached to a previous studio album.
The first example of a greatest hits album can be seen with Johnny Mathis's Johnny's Greatest Hits, released in 1958. The album collected eight of Mathis's charting singles, as well as three non-charting B-sides and an altogether new track. The album spent three weeks at the number one spot on Billboard's Best Selling Pop LP's chart. The greatest hits album format then gained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s among American and British rock and pop artists. Some artists were popular enough to release multiple greatest hits albums during and after their career.
By the 1990s, greatest hits albums were common for popular artists, with some artists even releasing the greatest hits album as a music video collection concurrently with the album. It also became a commercially viable option to boost popularity for artists with dwindling careers. Some bands refuse to release a greatest hits album; notably rock groups AC/DC, Tool, and Metallica have all adamantly refused to release them. Garth Brooks had initially refused releasing one, but he eventually agreed to it in 1994 for a limited release (the resulting record, The Hits sold over ten million copies).
In 2000, Sony Music Entertainment launched their The Essential series, which collects singles and other career-defining tracks of artists licensed to Sony. The Essential Bob Dylan was the first in the series, and the company has since released dozens of albums in the series with other artists under their label. In addition to artist-specific collections, the series has also released genre-specific and themed albums, such as The Essential Christmas (collecting pop and rock covers of Christmas songs) or The Essential Australian Rock (collecting a specific regional output). In 2005, Universal Music Group launched a similar line, Gold, which collects artists' greatest hits onto two discs.
In the late 2000s and 2010s, digital downloads and music streaming services increased in popularity, which allow users to listen to their favorite tracks without the need of a greatest hits package. In 2016, Pitchfork noted that "in the digital era, once a catalog enters a streaming service or an MP3 store, there's no need for a reissue and, therefore, there's no reason for a label to mine the vaults, searching for old music to make new again. Users can assemble their own personalized greatest hits playlists or just scan through an act's most accessed songs", which has led to greatest hits collections becoming redundant.
Eagles' Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) is the best selling album ever in the United States according to Billboard, which has sold over 38 million copies. Elton John's Greatest Hits is the best-selling greatest hits album by a solo artist according to the same chart.
Artists such as Selena, David Bowie, Cliff Richard, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Kenny Rogers, Aerosmith, Scorpions, Kiss, TLC, Dolly Parton, Journey, Los Tigres del Norte, Queen, Take That, Kylie Minogue and Billy Joel, have had multiple greatest hits albums released through their long careers.
One of the best examples of a greatest hits compilation released against the artists' intentions is U.K. rock group The Rolling Stones' compilation Hot Rocks 1964–1971 (1971). The music magazine Rolling Stone remarked that the album served as a "beautifully packaged... purely mercenary item put together by the Stones' former record company to cash in on the Christmas season and wring some more bucks out in the name of the Mod Princes they once owned." After their manager tricked the band into signing over the copyrights to their 1963–1970 song catalog, the band did succeed in changing management and record labels. However, they could neither prevent the release of Hot Rocks nor its successor, which was titled More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies). A testament to the selling power of greatest hits albums, Hot Rocks remains the best selling album of the Rolling Stones' career. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards continue to collect significant songwriting royalties from the Hot Rocks sales, but not the ownership royalties.
In other media
The concept of greatest hits compilations has been adapted to other media as well. In television, some shows have released compilations of their critically successful and highest-rated episodes to drive new viewers to watch a program, such as Family Guy's Freakin' Sweet Collection and South Park: The Hits. Several video game companies have re-released popular games for continued sales, sometimes with discounted prices: Sony's PlayStation has released games under their Greatest Hits series; Nintendo has re-released games under the Nintendo Selects label (formerly called "Player's Choice"); Microsoft has re-released games under the Platinum Hits label. Some video game franchises have released greatest hits collections of their own content, such as Super Mario All-Stars, Sonic Mega Collection, and Guitar Hero Smash Hits.
- Plummer, Robert (2 February 2018). "Is the greatest hits album dead?". BBC. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
- Perpetua, Matthew (24 July 2019). "Everything Hits: Spoon Releases An Old School Greatest Hits Album into A Digital Age". NPR. Retrieved 17 March 2020.
- Pfleegor, Dan (13 November 2013). "The 10 Essential Greatest Hits Albums". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
- Patterson, Jim (17 February 1995). "Garth Brooks knows how to take 'The Hits'". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 12 August 2008. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
I hate the idea of the greatest hits being out there," Brooks says. EMI won him over with a solution that made sense to his adman side. EMI agreed to sell "The Hits" for only four to six months, meaning that fans better pick it up by this summer or they're out of luck.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) (Archived by WebCite at )
- "Why the Death of Greatest Hits Albums and Reissues Is Worth Mourning". Pitchfork. 2 May 2016. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
- "Gold & Platinum - RIAA". RIAA. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
- The Rolling Stones - Hot Rocks, 1964–1971 (1972) album review at RollingStone.com