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.)

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