Like Elton John, The Who showed remarkable restraint during the bulk of
their recording career in terms of releasing greatest hits sets to the
public. Unlike Elton, however, The Who
hasn’t maintained this restraint during the CD era.
Since 1989, MCA/Geffen, now part of Universal/Polydor (which is also
Elton’s label) has released five
single-disk collections, a pair of two-disk sets, and a box set. During that time, the band has recorded one
entire album (Endless Wire), and by
my count, six additional songs (“Dig” and “Fire” on Pete Townshend’s The Iron Man album, “Saturday Night’s
Alright for Fighting” for an Elton John tribute disk, “Real Good Looking Boy”
and “Old Red Wine” for the single-disk Then
and Now!, and “Be Lucky” for The Who Hits 50!, to be released October
The Who had 23 Top 40 hits in the U.K. (“Substitute” made it twice) and
15 in the U.S., so a one-disk versus a two-disk set is debatable. On the other hand, some of their most
important songs weren’t Top 40 hits (“The Kids Are Alright,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Love
Reign O’Er Me”), while some lesser songs did hit the chart (“Magic Bus,” “Relay”). So, tread carefully, and go for the studio
albums if you can.
The best option easily obtainable:
Nine bucks for a one-disk set on Amazon is always good, and it’s $6.99
for the download as I write this (Amazon’s prices change like the weather,
however). It’s sometimes found with a
disk worth of live versions, which I assume would boost the price considerably.
If you need a two-disk set, The Who: The Ultimate Collection is
currently $11.88 for the two-disk set on Amazon, but $18.99 for the download (see
above comment on Amazon’s pricing policies, and be grateful I can’t find my
soapbox right now). My feeling, however, is that while one disk worth of Who
hits may not be enough, two may be too much.
(Four songs from Face Dances?)
And now, the endless list of Who anthologies:
- Magic Bus
(The Who on Tour) was a typical-of-the-era ripoff record from 1968 courtesy
of Decca Records in America (Track Records in the U.K. did not have a similar
album), which included a few assorted A- and B-sides, three songs from the
previously released A Quick One and The Who Sell Out albums to fill it up,
and a title that made buyers think it was live (it wasn’t). The band was not happy about this release,
and it hasn’t been available in the U.S. in years.
Beaty Big and Bouncy (1971)was an oddly timed greatest hits set (it came
out just two months after Who’s Next)
that most people my age owned on vinyl instead of their first three studio
albums and the aforementioned Magic Bus. (I did buy a twofer of A Quick One and Sell Out
at a book fair for a dollar.) It may be
one of the oldest rock greatest hits sets still in print today, and it’s just
five dollars for the download on Amazon (although it’s $24.99 for the physical
CD – no, Amazon isn’t trying to corner the digital market; why would you
suggest that?). On vinyl, it was a
terrific deal, especially since a few of the songs weren’t on any other album;
on CD at this point, well, it’s okay, but just keep in mind the only songs
later than “Magic Bus” are “Pinball Wizard” and the 1970 single “The Seeker.”
Sods (1973) isn’t a hits set at all; it’s basically outtakes and alternate
versions. It’s a common practice among
record labels now to drop a few alternate versions or outtakes on catalogue
rereleases to gin up sales; it’s certainly wasn’t common in the ‘70s. Who’s
Missing and Two’s Missing, both
from the 1980s, are similar, but the latter two are harder to find today; many
of the songs on the three disks have been sprinkled on CD rereleases as bonus
(1981) is a two-disk set that MCA (Decca’s successor label) released after the
band jumped ship for Warner Brothers starting with Face Dances. Actually, this
would have been a good match with Meaty
Beaty, as only three songs overlap, but it’s long out of print.
Greatest Hits (1983) is a one-disk album after the band apparently broke up
that covers most of the high points. Now
out of print.
I actually like the selection on Who’s Better, Who’s Best (1989) considerably
better than Greatest Hits. It includes “You Better You Bet” (apparently
the two Warner Brothers LPs moved to MCA/Geffen’s control at this point), so it’s
pretty all encompassing. Still available
on Amazon, but it’s nearly 20 dollars for the disk, and there’s no download
option, which may mean that they’re clearing out inventory.
Years of Maximum R&B (1994) is a four-disk box set that I’ve listened
to maybe once or twice in 10 years. All
the hits, lots of live versions, and plenty of oddities (four songs by their
earlier incarnation as The High Numbers), but way too much for the casual
listener. If you really want to hear
Abbie Hoffman berate the crowd at Woodstock and then get literally kicked off
the stage by Townshend, then be my guest.
But for me, the breaking point was the two-part “Life With the Moons,”
which apparently was dropped in to remind us how crazeee Keith Moon was
offstage, but really only makes me think of how sad his story is. Still in print, however.
Generation: The Very Best of The Who (1996) is very confusingly titled (the
band’s first studio album is My
Generation, which is still in print), but has a fine track selection for a
one-disk set. However (stop me if you’ve
heard this), it’s out of print.
Century Masters: The Best of The Who – The Millennium Collection (1999)
contains ten whole songs, sequenced more or less at random. This should only be bought if you’re at a
truck stop, have nothing left to play that you haven’t already heard five times
already, and have hundreds of miles to go before you get to your destination
(and no radio stations come in clearly).
Even then, don’t pay more than six bucks for it.
Now! (2004 and 2007) comes in two different versions (the latter substitutes
“Baba O’Riley” and the recent “It’s Not Enough” for the live “Summertime Blues”
and “Old Red Wine”). I think both are
just about out of print today, although there are still copies in stores.
Wizard: The Collection (2012) is a U.K.-only one-disk set which I normally
wouldn’t bother mentioning, but I actually have a copy (got it in York for
£2.99 when I bought two-CDs hits sets from The Small Faces and Chris Rea,
neither of which I would have ever found in the States). Another shuffle of hits with the usual
questionable choices (what the hell is “Batman” doing here?). Liner notes also apparently aren’t always
accurate, either, but that’s becoming more common as the years pass with legacy
The Who Hits
50! (2014) is forthcoming, and looks overpriced at nineteen dollars; this
is probably being issued to goose sales for the upcoming tour. Contains one new song, “Be Lucky.”
My one-disk compilation, which I made for the car, is as follows (original
album in parentheses):
“I Can’t Explain” (My Generation)
“My Generation” (My Generation)
“The Kids Are Alright” (My
“Substitute” (non-album single)
“Happy Jack” (A Quick One/Happy
“I Can See for Miles” (The Who
“Pinball Wizard” (Tommy)
“See Me, Feel Me” (live, from The
Kids Are Alright soundtrack)
“Summertime Blues” (live, from Live
“Baba O”Riley” (Who’s Next)
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” (Who’s
“Join Together” (non-album single)
“The Real Me” (Quadrophenia)
“Love Reign O’Er Me” (Quadrophenia)
“Squeeze Box” (The Who By Numbers)
“Who Are You” (Who Are You)
“You Better, You Bet” (Face
“Eminence Front” (It’s Hard)
“Dig” (from The Iron Man, the Townshend album mentioned above, but it is Daltrey, Townshend, and Entwistle)
As for solo greatest hits sets:
Roger Daltrey’s released eight solo albums and
has charted eight singles in Billboard
(although only one, “Without Your Love,” made Top 40). He’s somehow gotten five hits collections out
of that, although none appear to still be in print or available for
download. I have Gold, a two-CD set which is definitely too much (although I didn’t
pay much for the album, as I recall).
Daltrey has written less than a half-dozen songs to my knowledge and he
plays only a little rhythm guitar, so he’s pretty much at the mercy of whoever
he’s working with. I would have been
interested in his take on “Born to Run,” but apparently the track configuration
was shuffled around on my copy.
All of Townshend’s solo albums are out of print
– I’m wondering if he’s getting full rights back somewhere down the line. The only thing available is the 17-track The Definitive Collection for download,
which has all the basics. I have 1996’s The Best of Pete Townshend, which has a
similar track selection and is perfectly representative. (Of course, I also have a bunch of his solo
albums and a few of the Scoop demo
albums as well, and I’m gnashing my teeth that I can’t get Rough Mix, his album with ex-Face Ronnie Lane.)
John Entwistle released a pile of solo albums,
but almost everything is out of print, as are three different greatest hits
sets, some of which may be U.K.-only releases.
I’m really not familiar with his solo stuff.
And Keith Moon did record a solo album, Two Sides of the Moon, which astonishingly
is available for download, with piles and piles of alternate takes. He only plays drums on three songs, and based
on the one song I’ve heard him warble (“When I’m 64,” on the All This and World War II soundtrack,
not included here) he’s no singer, so this may be for uberfanatics only.