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January 14, 2001

Greatest Hits?
What do Kriss-Kross and James Taylor have in common?
They'd both like you to bend over.


By Mike Haney

In the summer of 1992, I attended a local county fair wearing my Girbaud jeans backwards.

Why?

Because Kriss-Kross did it.

For those of you who have wisely repressed your rap phase, Kriss-Kross were two 12-year-old hip-hoppers who, at the suggestion of their marketing-savvy manager, wore their baggy jeans and sports jerseys backwards. Chris "Daddy Mack" Smith and Chris "Mack Daddy" Kelly sold more than a million records behind the catchy summer anthem "Jump" and inspired untold numbers of other flailing white dorks to spin their pants around.

Of course, their 1993 follow-up album Da Bomb tanked when the boys turned 14 and, like the rest of us, went from looking cute to just looking stupid.
To the artists we admire and support, we are nothing more than a mindless open wallet.
By the time they released 1996's dubiously titled Young, Rich and Dangerous, Kriss-Kross was nothing but an embarrassing memory to nerdy white folk like me who had taken the boys platinum and tried so hard to be cool like them just a few years earlier.

So how in the hell did Kriss-Kross manage to scrape together a 10-track greatest hits collection in 1996?

I wish I could provide an answer to that question that would make everything peachy, but I can't. Best Of Kris Kross Remixed is just one example of an ugly truth. (I could have led with a similar story about Colour Me Badd - who has both a greatest hits and a remix album - but it involves a door poster and gets pretty ugly.) Any band able to stretch one or two radio hits into a two-album career will eventually release a compilation of some sort, and in doing so confirm that which we all suspect but hate to admit: to the artists we admire and support, we are nothing more than a mindless open wallet.


The Best of What ?
The Gin Blossoms' 1992 debut, New Miserable Experience, sold well over a million copies and stayed on the charts for more than two years. But in 1993 their primary songwriter killed himself and their second album suffered both artistically and commercially. After another four years of playing the same 20 songs (badly) at state fairs around the country, they finally broke up in 1997.

And yet, in 1999, they had the seeds to release Outside Looking In - Best of Gin. This travesty of an album contains 8 of the 12 tracks from New Miserable Experience interspersed with poor live versions and sub-par soundtrack cuts.

You know that awful feeling you get when you watch somebody you respect make a fool of themselves? Well, I liked the boys from Arizona, and now I can't even listen to that first album without cringing.


It's Not a Hit Just Because You Say It Is
Maybe Kriss-Kross were just young and dumb and maybe the Gins couldn't help that a suicide ended their career too early.

But there is no excuse when an artist as prolific and successful as James Taylor randomly grabs 12 songs and releases them as his Greatest Hits, Vol. 2.
There is no excuse when an artist as prolific and successful as James Taylor randomly grabs 12 songs and releases them as his Greatest Hits, Vol. 2.
(Taylor's excuse would be that his first greatest hits collection has sold 11 million copies.) I'll be the first to testify that Taylor has recorded some amazing songs since 1975, but Right Said Fred and Spandau Ballet had more hits than him in those 25 years. A hit is a song that gets abused on the radio, not one that merely gets played. Had Taylor called this collection Best of James Taylor - 1975-2000, I wouldn't be complaining. Even if I didn't agree with the selections, I would eagerly buy the album for the chance to hear what he felt were his best efforts from the last two and half decades.

(For those of you who think I'm being too picky with semantics, eat me. I'm a writer; it's my right.)


The B-side Bilking
For some musicians, a Greatest Hits scam that targets only new fans just isn't enough. Australian adolescents Silverchair just released their fourth album, audaciously called Best of Silverchair, Vol. 1. It contains 12 "hits" and 10 b-sides previously unavailable in the United States. That these poser punks felt their late-teen years warranted a retrospective is a crime in itself. But worse is how blatantly they are screwing fans that already own the first three albums by packaging the "hits" and the b-sides together.

Of course anyone who actually likes Silverchair enough to care about their unreleased material probably deserves to be duped.
That Silverchair felt their late-teen years warranted a retrospective is a crime in itself.
But when Moby recently released the b-sides of his groundbreaking 1999 record Play as a limited-edition double-disc set that included the original album, he proved to even his most arduous defenders that he has sold out. And goddamnit, I hate using that term, but how else do you describe someone who licenses every fucking track on his album to Nike commercials and shitty Leo DeCaprio movie soundtracks, and then insists that his most loyal fans buy it twice to hear the rest of the sessions?

Maybe I should buy the album, knowing that socially conscious, vegan-boy Moby will likely put his dirty money towards a good cause, but I think I'll grab the extra tracks off Napster and use that $20 to buy some T-bones instead.


A Bright Side ?
I know some of you are mentally scanning your CD rack thinking there must be some compilations worth owning, and maybe you're right. Johnny Cash's box set Love, God, Murder is a brilliant repackaging of 30 years of songwriting. I'll even forgive Mariah Carey for releasing #1s, because for Christ's sake, the woman has literally had that many #1 songs. No, it's not art, but it's a hell of a career. (And unlike aging con James Taylor, Carey was adamant that the album was neither a greatest hits nor a "best of" collection.) And I was thrilled when John Mellancamp's released his greatest hits album, aptly titled The Best That I Could Do. There is not a bad song on that disc, but I promise you not one of those songs justifies buying the throwaway album it came from.

I know this isn't a new trend, but it seems to be getting worse. Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty, the Black Crowes and too many other artists are reducing brilliant careers to 12 song collections just to squeeze a few more pennies from new and long-time fans alike. So I'm swearing off the whole genre. I'm tired of being fleeced.



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