Monday, September 29, 2014

If You're Only Going to Buy One Greatest Hits Set From... Fleetwood Mac

Well, the easiest thing to say is “Just buy a copy of Rumours,” but it really isn’t that simple.

Between 1975 and 1988, Fleetwood Mac placed 17 songs on the Billboard Top 40, 16 of which made Top 20.  (“Love in Store” was the only miss – in addition to three others than didn’t make the Top 40 at all.)  That’s from five studio albums (Tusk was a double, the rest were all single albums), which means three or four chart hits per album.  So, yeah, Rumours is going to be the one you know the best – songs like “Second Hand News” and “The Chain,” which are pretty familiar to anyone who’s my age weren’t even released as singles – but there weren’t any bombs in the bunch.
So, from that perspective, 1988’s Greatest Hits would seem to make the most sense.  It includes virtually all of the basic hits listed above (only “Love in Store” and 1987’s “Seven Wonders” aren’t included), and it throws in two songs exclusive to this compilation – Christine McVie’s “As Long as You Follow” and Stevie Nicks’ “No Questions Asked.”  From the label’s point of view, the hits sense made sense, too – Lindsey Buckingham had just bolted the band because he didn’t want to tour; the two new songs included Rick Vito and Billy Burnette in Buckingham’s place (they’d replaced him for the tour as well).  That said, it doesn’t feel like it’s complete.

In 1992, Mac jumped on the box set gravy train with 25 Years – The Chain, a four-CD set that included three disks almost exclusively from the Buckingham-Nicks era (a few songs were from 1990’s Behind the Mask, which also was Buckingham-free), and one disk primarily from the Peter Green-Danny Kirwan-Jeremy Spencer blues era.  (Bob Welch’s era gets very short shrift – a few songs from the early years disk and two songs inexplicably tucked in among the Buckingham-McVie years disks; he spent most of the 1990s in litigation with Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Christine McVie over royalties, so this could have been a factor.)  25 Years – The Chain is out of print in the U.S., but is available in the UK (and on Amazon) at an absurdly low $19.99 (Amazon’s got a two-disk excerpts set culled from the four-disk set which is twice as much), so it might be worth searching out.  (I don’t have it.)

So, that leaves one best option:


The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac

I should point out the ‘90s were very strange for the band – Nicks bailed out after 25 Years-The Chain along with Vito; for the 1995 release Time their places were taken by Bekka Bramlett (Delaney and Bonnie’s daughter) and Dave Mason (huh?).  Amazon still has Behind the Mask and Time in print and available for digital download, even though I don’t think the band plays any of the material from that era anymore.  In 1996, Nicks worked with Buckingham on a song for the Twister soundtrack, which helped bury the hatched between the two; that developed into a full-scale reunion and tour.

In 1997, the band released The Dance, which contained some actual new material – McVie’s “Temporary One,” Buckingham’s “Bleed to Love Her” (which would show up again in 2003’s Christine-free Say You Will) and “My Little Demon,” and Nicks’ “Sweet Girl” (which would pop up again in a demo version on her 1998 solo box set Enchanted) and “Silver Springs” (a B-side from the Rumours days, which was a subject of controversy when Fleetwood stuck it on 25 Years-The Chain after refusing to let Nicks put it on a solo greatest hits album).  By 2002, the original band members (excluding Christine McVie) were assembling Say You Will, and Warner Brothers decided to prime the pump again with The Very Best.

Smartly, they made sure almost every song on the two-CD Very Best was from the core fivesome. (There are four songs from the Vito-Burnette period tucked at the end of the second disk – two of them were only on Greatest Hits, one was from Behind the Mask, the fourth from the box set; Time is understandably completely left out.)  The original U.S. edition has some bonus material playable on PCs; that may now be gone.  The oddities are live versions of “Big Love” and “I’m So Afraid,” along with, weirdly “Go Insane” (which may have been performed by the band, but originated as a Lindsey Buckingham solo, and charted as such in 1984).  Songs such as “Monday Morning,” “Never Going Back Again,” and “Storms,” which were popular album cuts, get their due here.  (Obviously Say You Will, which included everyone but Christine McVie and was released in 2003, isn’t represented on The Very Best either.)

This clocks in on Amazon at $11.88, which is reasonable for a two-CD set.  And the thing still sells – it’s in the top 100 sellers overall on in their Music section as I write this.  Of course, they’re touring again now – this time with Christine McVie back in the fold.

Other options:

  • The aforementioned Greatest Hits is a cheap alternative now at $6.98, and it includes the basics (but nothing else).  It’s a good idea for the budget conscious; happily Warner Brothers has not gone the route of Universal Polygram with its 20th Century Masters sets, which generally have 11 or 12 songs which seem to be selected at random.
  • 25 Years – The Chain is $19.99 on Amazon until somebody wakes up and raises the price.
  • There are plenty of compilations for Peter Green’s early version of the group, which featured blues wizard Green, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer, as well as John McVie and Mick Fleetwood.  Columbia/Sony owns the rights to the band’s work from that early era (their switch to Reprise/Warner Brothers seems to have coincided with Green’s departure).  I’m not really familiar enough with their music from that era to form an opinion; be aware that if the best-of disk you’ve bought isn’t one of the three above, it probably ain’t gonna have anything by Buckingham or Nicks.
  • As for solo compilations; only one of the key five members has any.  (I’m not counting Bob Welch; he does have an expensive best-of, but his first and best solo studio album French Kiss is the better purchase at less than 40 percent of the price.) John McVie, to my knowledge, has never done anything solo; Mick Fleetwood did a couple of solo releases in the 1980s but didn’t generate any hits.  Christine McVie has done three solo albums spread out over 34 years; it’s easier just to get the individual album.  And Lindsey Buckingham’s idiosyncratic solo career has been on a bunch of different labels as well (although some record company geek would do well to make the studio version of “Holiday Road,” from National Lampoon’s Vacation, available for digital download).  Stevie Nicks, however, has generated three compilations to go with her seven studio albums. Crystal Visions is the most obvious, recent, and cheap (it includes some live material that she originally recorded with Fleetwood Mac); Timespace is the one to avoid (Nicks’ life was such a mess at that point that Jon Bon Jovi was brought in to write the awful “Sometimes It’s a Bitch” to add to the set; the song flopped as a single and is conspicuous by its absence from all other Nicks albums).  I love Enchanted, the three-CD box set – I bought it in a weak moment after seeing a VH1 Behind the Music episode about her, which is usually a recipe for disaster, but it’s really a model of the form.  Two disks of hits, near misses, and alternate versions, and one disk of songs she’s recorded with others (I would have subbed John Stewart’s “Midnight Wind,” which is more of a duet, with “Gold,” but that’s personal preference) and demos.  It’s out of print, but worth finding.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

If You’re Only Going to Buy One Greatest Hits Set From… Heart

Like many bands that have been around for a number of years, Heart’s been on more than one record label.  As far as the hits go, however, it’s kind of an odd division:  everything from “Barracuda” through 1983’s minor hits “How Can I Refuse” and “Allies” was on Portrait Records, a boutique label within Epic Records (which itself is part of Columbia/Sony/BMG).  From 1985 on through 1993’s “Will You Be There (In the Morning),” an era which included nine top 15 hits of the MTV era (those are the videos Billboard once described as “Leave It to Cleavage”), the band was on Capitol.  Since then, they’ve done a couple of small label releases, and now are back on Epic.  (Their last two studio albums both made the top 30 in Billboard’s album chart, so they’re still a viable act.
Sounds like an even split of songs, right?  Yeah, but labels don’t often work well together at this sort of thing – and there are also the songs off the band’s first two albums (which include “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You,” both from their debut Dreamboat Annie).  Released on Mushroom, a small Canadian label, Heart bolted for Portrait in 1977 after a really repugnant ad campaign.  The songs from that era (which include “Heartless,” released on Magazine, a subsequent album of leftovers and demos that Mushroom had to recall so the band could rerecord and remix it) were eventually placed on 1980’s Greatest Hits/Live vinyl album. Mushroom’s rights to Dreamboat Annie and Magazine, however, expired when the label collapsed in the early 1980s, and the albums were picked up by… Capitol.
Consequently, there have been a bunch of greatest hits sets released – but only one which featured their Portrait/Epic and Capitol hits in equal proportions.

The Essential Heart
Sony/BMG has been releasing these Essential doohickeys for years, and with the various acquisitions the conglomerate has made, they’ve ranged fairly far afield.  (I have The Essential George Benson, a label he barely recorded for well before he had any hits; I’ve seen stuff from The Essential Django Reinhardt to The Essential Hilary Hahn.)  Some are one disk, some are two, and they even tried rereleasing a few of the more popular ones (including Heart) with a third disk containing between six and nine songs and an eco-friendly package (a.k.a. no jewel box).  In any case, this one, released in 2002, is nearly perfect; the hits are divided equally between the 1975-1983 Mushroom/Portrait years on the first disk, and the 1985-1993 Capitol years on the second.  You can listen to “Magic Man” and “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You” back to back if you want to. (Don’t do that in front of the band; they hate the latter song – it’s been excluded from their live set for a long time.)  And the price for the two-disk set is pretty reasonable – it’s $11.88 on Amazon; the three-disk set does have a few songs that are relatively rare (“Strange Euphoria”), but probably would be easier to download rather than spending an extra five bucks.
I was very surprised to see the two labels cooperate with one another – and made it a priority to acquire this when it became available.
 Other options:

-          1980’s Greatest Hits/Live had a few songs lopped off in the early CD era and was retitled Greatest Hits; it’s not a complete look at their earliest years, but it’s priced lower than many other sets.

-          Capitol and Sony both have their own individual single-disk greatest hits sets out there (Capitol issued one in 1997 and another in 2000 – not sure why; the latter doesn’t overlap the Sony set like the former does, however, and I think the first one’s out of print anyway).

-          For the budget-conscious, Sony’s Playlist: The Very Best of Heart contains 14 songs that span their career (although the Mushroom and Capitol years are represented by live versions from a 2003 album); it’s usually available for between five and eight bucks.

-          Strange Euphoria is their box set; judging by the playlist, you’ll want The Essential Heart to supplement it – but it has a pile of demos, a DVD from a 1976, and the Amazon version has five Led Zeppelin remakes on a “Heart Zeppish” disk.  (Amazon, of course, has made sure that three of those five remakes cannot be downloaded from their web site unless you download the whole damn thing.)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Just A Whitey From Blighty: Songs Of and About Great Britain

Songs about the UK, British people, British themes, all things Limey. I'm gonna not be piggy this round and post only a few songs to start us off. The rest will come in via Facebook (presumably). If I don't get many entries I will post a recording of my terrible fake British accent, so be forewarned.