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 27.)
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.
- Meaty 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.”
- Odds and 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 tracks.
- Hooligans (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.
- The Who’s 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.
- Thirty 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.
- My 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.
- 20th 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.
- Then and 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.
- Pinball 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 acts.
- 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 Generation)
“Substitute” (non-album single)
“Happy Jack” (A Quick One/Happy Jack)
“I Can See for Miles” (The Who Sell Out)
“Pinball Wizard” (Tommy)
“See Me, Feel Me” (live, from The Kids Are Alright soundtrack)
“Summertime Blues” (live, from Live at Leeds)
“Baba O”Riley” (Who’s Next)
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” (Who’s Next)
“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 Dances)
“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.