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The death of the best of: why Rihanna will never get her greatest hits

Is the compilation album facing extinction?
A dying art: is the compilation album facing extinction? Composite: The Guide

Like socks, a Lynx shower gel gift set and a comedian from Mock the Week’s standup on DVD, Best Of collections have always played a vital role in last-minute present-buying. Not sure what to buy that cousin you see every other year? There’s a Killers Best Of for that. How about your best friend’s new girlfriend who likes pop but seems quite emo? Pink’s Greatest Hits will do nicely. Things are changing, however, and it’s all streaming’s fault.

According to a report in Music Week, only two new Best Of collections made 2017’s Top 100 of biggest sellers: Vera Lynn’s Vera Lynn 100 and perennial Best Of favourite Elvis Presley’s The 50 Greatest Hits. That’s four fewer than in 2012 and way below 2008 when 13 collections made that year’s list. So does this mark the end for the hastily cobbled-together, record contract-fulfilling greatest hits collection? What streaming has given consumers is options: they can either compile their own artist playlists, swapping a single they never liked anyway for a beloved deep cut, or simply utilise most streaming platforms’ in-built artist playlists for maximum efficiency.

There’s nothing like a Dame: Vera Lynn’s 100th birthday album bucked the trend.
There’s nothing like a Dame: Vera Lynn’s 100th birthday album bucked the trend. Photograph: Decca/PA

“Streaming has rendered these collections largely obsolete,” says UK chart historian James Masterton. “Collections were once a convenient gateway to discover the music of a famous act from before your time, but now you can wander through their complete work in your own time on Spotify.”

So what of the artists yet to release even one definitive Best Of? Few could deny hit-machine Rihanna a greatest hits victory lap, but why would she bother now? (For what it’s worth, she should have chucked one out in 2014 as a pre-Anti palate cleanser). How about Beyoncé? Don’t her fans deserve the chance to splash out on a collectable “deluxe” singles box set? And a mid-00s-heavy Justin Timberlake compendium pre-his new Bon Iver makeover would have been ideal.

One way around this problem is to dress up old songs in shiny new clothes. Elvis’s estate has reconfigured his back catalogue with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to lucrative effect, while in 2012 Jeff Lynne re-recorded ELO’s hits and scored a Top 10 album (a live Best Of followed a year later). Even Kylie Minogue released an album of “stripped-back” orchestral versions of her bangers in 2012 (just four months after a “proper” Best Of). This year will see Sophie Ellis-Bextor following suit, with her Instagram teasing us with a string-drenched re-working of Murder on the Dancefloor, among others. So maybe that’s the future: Best Ofs, but with strings attached.

This article titled "The death of the best of: why Rihanna will never get her greatest hits" was written by Michael Cragg, for The Guardian on Friday 12 January 2018 01.00pm


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