Friday, October 17, 2014

If You're Only Going to Buy One Greatest Hits Set From... Elton John

For somebody who’s been around as long as he has (“Your Song,” his first hit, came out in 1970) and has been as popular as he’s been (54 US Top 40 hits between 1970 and 1999), Elton John has been remarkably restrained when it comes to greatest hits sets.  This is especially astonishing given his catalogue is with Universal/Polygram in the United States, which usually never misses an opportunity to reshuffle songs and release them on an unsuspecting public (ever notice how many Abba greatest hits sets there are in your local store?).

However, since Elton’s been around for so long, trying to find one all-encompassing set is a problem.  By my count, only seven greatest hits sets exist from him (that are still in print), and three are period-specific from certain points in his career.  At the same time, a single-disk set probably won’t do him justice.
 
So, I don’t actually have this, because I have most of his original albums – but here’s what I would get:

 
Greatest Hits 1970-2002

I don’t love the cover – all the artwork around for this guy, and you grab an old photo, have a designer do a Photoshop touchup, and put it on a white background?  It looks better than some of those “album covers” of rerecordings on Amazon that were done by slapping Microsoft Word Art over a picture of a sunset, but not by much.

That said, this is pretty well chosen.  Only two top 10 studio hits are missed (“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Mama Can’t Buy You Love”), and almost everything’s in chronological order (“I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That” and “Nikita” are reversed).  There’s also a bonus disk with some versions that include the hit versions of “Candle in the Wind” (the 1987 one, not the Princess Diana version) and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” with George Michael.  And at $13.88 on Amazon ($16.49 for the download), it’s priced reasonably.

Other options:

-         Greatest Hits, which came out back in 1974, is still in print, and if you’re like me, you have it on vinyl.  It’s still wall-to-wall solid.  You might have Greatest Hits Volume II on vinyl as well, but the CD version is probably different – ownership issues forced MCA to take out “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” for “Tiny Dancer” and “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)” in the early 1990s.  (All of Elton’s songs are now co-owned by him and Universal/Polygram, but they’ve elected to keep the track listing on this and the subsequent Greatest Hits 1976-1986 as they’ve been since 1992.)

-         Greatest Hits 1976-1986 was a substitute for Greatest Hits Volume III when the aforementioned licensing issues came up.   If you’re jonesing to hear the latter, don’t; most of the contents are the same, and you’re not missing anything if you don’t have “Heartache All Over the World,” which was not a big hit and was recorded at one of Elton’s lowest points. 

-         Love Songs actually has quite a few songs not on other greatest hits sets, but my philosophy is “Avoid any compilation called Love Songs by any artist.”

-         To Be Continued… is Elton’s box set, circa 1992.  It was out of print for a long time (again, those licensing issues), and then went back into print in the mid-2000s, and may be close to being out of print again (it’s over a hundred dollars on Amazon, although $39.99 for the download).  Great set – almost all Top 20 hits are represented, lots of alternate versions and curios.  Defensively titled (I think Elton thought only has-beens released box sets at that point), and, of course, nothing after 1992, so you won’t find “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” on this one.  If you can find it somewhere cheap, it’s worth the bucks… until Elton releases a more complete box set down the road.

-         Rocket Man:  Number Ones (which is sometimes subtitled Definitive Hits) is a travesty.  Falsely advertised (it’s missing “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” from 1997, which hit #1 with the Princess Diana version of “Candle in the Wind,” but it includes “Tiny Dancer,” which didn’t even make Top 40), missing key songs (“Honky Cat,” “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” “The Bitch Is Back”), ignoring the 1980s altogether, and haphazardly sequenced (chronological from 1970-1994, then back to “Your Song” and four more songs from the early 1970s; it seems as if they forgot CDs run 80 minutes and just threw more material on to fill), this reeks of a cash grab spearheaded by a 26-year-old lower level exec who has never heard a single Elton John studio album from start to finish.  Given Greatest Hits 1970-2002 is less than five bucks more for an additional disk, there’s absolutely, positively no reason to ever buy this one.
By the way, no Elton John album contains “That's What Friends Are For,” the monster 1985 hit with Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight, so no need to look.

Again, you may not need to get 1970-2002 if you’ve got some of the other hits sets, although it’s the only decent one to represent his ‘90s output.  Here’s a handy comparison (this is all of his American chart hits):

 

 
 
Greatest Hits
Greatest Hits Vol. II
Greatest Hits 1976-1986
To Be Continued
Greatest Hits 1970-2002
Rocket Man: Definitive Hits
Border Song
1970
Yes
 
 
Yes
 
 
Your Song
1971
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Friends
1971
 
 
 
Yes
 
 
Levon
1971
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
 
Tiny Dancer
1972
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Rocket Man
1972
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Honky Cat
1972
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
 
Crocodile Rock
1972
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Daniel
1973
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting
1973
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
1973
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Bennie and the Jets
1974
Yes
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
1974
Yes
 
 
live version
Yes
 
The Bitch Is Back
1974
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
 
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
1974
 
Yes
 
Yes
 
Yes
Philadelphia Freedom
1975
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
1975
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
 
Island Girl
1975
 
Yes
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Grow Some Funk of Your Own / I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)
1976
 
Yes
 
live version
 
 
Don't Go Breaking My Heart
1976
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
1976
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance)
1977
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ego
1978
 
 
 
Yes
 
 
Part-Time Love
1978
 
 
 
 
 
 
Mama Can't Buy You Love
1979
 
 
Yes
Yes
 
 
Victim of Love
1979
 
 
 
 
 
 
Little Jeannie
1980
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Sartorial Eloquence (Don't Ya Wanna Play This Game No More)
1980
 
 
 
 
 
 
Nobody Wins
1981
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chloe
1981
 
 
 
Yes
 
 
Blue Eyes
1982
 
 
Yes
Yes
 
 
Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)
1982
 
 
Yes
Yes
 
 
I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues
1983
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
I'm Still Standing
1983
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Kiss the Bride
1983
 
 
Yes
 
 
 
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
1984
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Who Wears These Shoes?
1984
 
 
Yes
 
 
 
In Neon
1984
 
 
 
 
 
 
Nikita
1985
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Wrap Her Up
1985
 
 
Yes
 
 
 
Heartache All Over the World
1986
 
 
 
 
 
 
Candle in the Wind (live)
1987
 
 
 
Yes
 
 
I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That
1988
 
 
 
remix
Yes
 
A Word in Spanish
1988
 
 
 
 
 
 
Healing Hands
1989
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sacrifice
1989
 
 
 
Yes
Yes
Yes
Club at the End of the Street
1990
 
 
 
 
 
 
You Gotta Love Someone
1990
 
 
 
Yes
 
 
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me (w/ George Michael)
1991
 
 
 
 
 
Yes
The One
1992
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
The Last Song
1992
 
 
 
 
 
 
Simple Life
1993
 
 
 
 
 
 
True Love
1993
 
 
 
 
 
 
Don't Go Breaking My Heart (w/ RuPaul)
1993
 
 
 
 
 
 
Can You Feel the Love Tonight
1994
 
 
 
 
Yes
Yes
Circle of Life
1994
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
Believe
1995
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
Made in England
1995
 
 
 
 
 
 
Blessed
1996
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
You Can Make History (Young Again)
1996
 
 
 
 
 
 
Something About the Way You Look Tonight/Candle in the Wind 1997
1997
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
Recover Your Soul
1998
 
 
 
 
 
 
Written in the Stars
1999
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
Someday Out of the Blue
2000