Greatest non- “greatest hits” albums

In Chuck Klosterman’s review of Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth, he made the following comment in a footnote:

The ’78 debut is almost like Are You Experienced? for two reasons: The first is that it now seems closer to a greatest hits collection; the second is that it’s retrospectively impossible to grasp how new and explosive the guitar sounds must have seemed when heard for the first time.

I agree with that assessment, and would like to further explore that first thought as it applies to other records. Let’s start by looking at Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, and then look at a few other records that might fall in the same category.

  • Van Halen, Van Halen, 1978
    The greatest of the greatest: “Eruption”/”You Really Got Me,” “Runnin’ With The Devil,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “Ice Cream Man” – a concert-goer might feel cheated if any of those classics were left out of a live performance.
    The worst, which aren’t bad at all: “Little Dreamer” and “On Fire” – of the eleven songs on this disc, only these two are excluded from the band’s “Guitar Hero” game.
  • Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced?, 1967
    The greatest of the greatest (from the US edition): “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “Foxey Lady,” “Fire” – I hate to stop there, but those are probably the cream of the crop. It is interesting to note, however, that neither “Purple Haze” nor “Hey Joe” was not on the British version of the record.
    The worst, which aren’t bad at all: “Love or Confusion” and “Third Stone from the Sun” – unless you are a diehard music fan, you might have to look these up on YouTube to remind you what they sound like.
  • AC/DC, Back In Black, 1980
    The greatest of the greatest: “Hells Bells,” “Back In Black,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” – the band’s first album with singer Brian Johnson, even Bon Scott apologists can’t argue that as an album, this one can’t be beat.
    The worst, which aren’t bad at all: “Given the Dog a Bone” and “Shake a Leg” – if these songs weren’t on this album, fans would probably have a higher opinion of them because they are better than most post-1980 songs recorded by the Aussie rockers.
  • Led Zeppelin, II, 1969
    The greatest of the greatest: “Whole Lotta Love,” “Heartbreaker,” “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman),” “Bring It On Home” – It was difficult to choose between II and IV, but ultimately II is just better on the whole.
    The worst, which aren’t bad at all: Hmmm…I guess “Thank You.” I almost said “Moby Dick,” but then I remembered how awesome it is.
  • Michael Jackson, Thriller, 1982
    The greatest of the greatest: “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Thriller” – seven singles were released from this album beginning in October 1982, culminating with one of the most epic videos of all time with “Thriller” in January 1984. Throw in Eddie Van Halen and a Beatle for good measure, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
    The worst, which aren’t bad at all: “Baby Be Mine” and “The Lady in My Life” – the only two songs not released as singles, but probably could have been on his prior album.
  • Def Leppard, Hysteria, 1987
    The greatest of the greatest: “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Armageddon It,” “Women,” “Animal” – this album features Mutt Lange’s slick production skills, and still holds up today as a great listen from beginning to end. Seven singles were released from this 12-track record, which was at the time and is still today unheard of for hard rock releases.
    The worst, which aren’t bad at all: “Run Riot” and “Excitable” – just think of how epic Hysteriacould have been without these filler tracks.
  • Mötley Crüe, Dr. Feelgood, 1989
    The greatest of the greatest: “Dr. Feelgood,” “Kickstart My Heart,” “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away),” “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)” – it’s hip to hate the Crüe’s best-selling album (6x Platinum in the US), but it truly is their best release.
    The worst, which aren’t bad at all: “She Goes Down” – I started to type “Time For Change” in this section, decided to go listen to it again, and found that it is much better than I remembered. Several of the non-singles on the album feature some famous singers in the background, from Jack Blades to Steven Tyler to Sebastian Bach to Bryan Adams.
  • Beastie Boys, Licensed To Ill, 1986
    The greatest of the greatest: “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party),” “Girls,” “Brass Monkey,” “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” – I really apologize for getting those songs stuck in your head, but the Beasties have some of the most ear-wormy songs in the world.
    The worst, which aren’t bad at all: “Posse In Effect” – Another album that made it really difficult to pick a “worst” song.

These are all just off the top of my head, and I’m sure there are many others that could be mentioned. What other regular studio albums come so close to “greatest hits” status?

About JT

Music lover, occasional writer, wishing he had immeasurable wealth so he didn't have to work a "real job."

Posted on February 26, 2012, in music and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great list. I’d also add Boston’s “Boston” album. From beginning to end it’s a great album.

  2. Bad Company’s first album would fall under that category.

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