A greatest hits album, sometimes called a "best of" album or a catalog album, is a compilation of songs by a particular artist or band. Most often the track list contains previously released recordings with a high degree of notability. However, to increase the appeal, especially to people who already own the original release, it is common to include remixes and/or alternate takes of popular songs; sometimes even new material (previously unreleased) will function as bonus tracks. At times, a greatest hits compilation is the original album release for songs that have themselves been released as a single and charted successfully.
Many of these albums surface despite the unwillingness of original artists to support them, the songwriters being embroiled in fighting record company decisions. Despite The Rolling Stones' conflicts over the control of their tracks, the band-opposed Hot Rocks 1964–1971 surfaced in December 1971, and the contentious legal issues failed to clip the wings of the record's commercial success. Nonetheless, many other of these albums actually receive detailed co-operation from the musicians involved, which can mean trying to present a specific 'goal' or 'sound' in the work (roughly akin to that in concept albums). One example of the latter is the U.S. band Dream Theater's release Greatest Hit (...And 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs), which came out on Rhino Records on April 1, 2008. The tongue-in-cheek title notes how the song "Pull Me Under" has such outsize knowledge compared to the rest of the band's discography.
Madonna's The Immaculate Collection (1990) is the best selling greatest hits compilation by a solo artist; all of the songs on it are presented in different versions than the original hit versions. The Eagles' Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) (1976) is the best selling greatest hits compilation by a group and also one of the ten best selling albums in history. Greatest hits albums are typically produced after an artist has had enough successful songs to fill out an album release. Some artists, such as David Bowie, Cliff Richard, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Kenny Rogers, Aerosmith, Kiss, TLC, Dolly Parton, Journey, Los Tigres del Norte, Queen, Kylie Minogue and Billy Joel, have released multiple greatest hits albums through their long careers. Some greatest hits albums are released only at the end of the artist or group's career. For example, My Chemical Romance released a greatest hits album May Death Never Stop You: The Greatest Hits 2001–2013 in 2014 after they disbanded. Other artists, like Eminem have released hits albums in the center of their success. He released Curtain Call: The Hits in 2005 and then Shady XV as a compilation album in 2014.
In British pop music, when a band releases a greatest hits album, in most cases after three or four studio albums, it is usually taken as a sign that the band are about to split up. Examples include greatest hits albums by Atomic Kitten, Steps, S Club 7, Blue, JLS, Five and Take That, although the latter band would reform nine years later. Recent exceptions to this "rule" include Westlife, Girls Aloud, McFly, and Sugababes, who have released new material after their greatest hits collections. In other cases, Greatest Hits will be released to capitalise on the renewed popularity of a newly reformed band. An example of this is Take That's Never Forget – The Ultimate Collection (2005) and Spice Girls' Greatest Hits (2007).
Some bands refuse to release a greatest hits album, notably AC/DC, Tool and Metallica, (AC/DC, however, has released two compilation albums in the past: in 1986 Who Made Who and in 2010 Iron Man 2, which are both movie soundtracks). Manic Street Preachers initially refused to do a greatest hits, but in the end Forever Delayed was released in 2002. A later release, National Treasures - The Complete Singles (2011), was selected and endorsed by the band. Radiohead also refused to do such a compilation, but upon their departure from Parlophone Records, Radiohead: The Best Of was released in 2008 without their cooperation. This was initially to be the case with Oasis, but upon realization that the release was inevitable, the band took direct involvement with the album, titled Stop the Clocks (2006) and selected the track listing, track order, artwork and title. Oasis later endorsed a second collection, Time Flies... 1994–2009 (2010) although, as a singles collection, they had less control over its contents.. The country music star Garth Brooks long opposed the release of a greatest hits collection, but agreed to it in 1994 but only for a limited time (his release, The Hits was quickly deleted, but not until selling well over ten million copies). Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, known for her eclectic interest in different musical styles, also resisted releasing a greatest hits album for many years, reportedly fearing that the availability of a greatest hits compilation would lead her record label to take her actual studio albums out of print. She agreed to release Hits in 1996 along with a second album titled Misses, which came out that same year, and the latter compiled non-hit songs that Mitchell personally selected as being representative of her work. Mitchell's assumptions proved correct as both releases earned mixed to positive critical reviews.
One of the most notorious examples of a greatest hits compilation released against the artists' intentions is U.K. rock group The Rolling Stones' compilation Hot Rocks 1964–1971 (1971). The music magazine Rolling Stone remarked that the album served as a "beautifully packaged... purely mercenary item put together by the Stones' former record company to cash in on the Christmas season and wring some more bucks out in the name of the Mod Princes they once owned." After their manager tricked the band into signing over the copyrights to their 1963-1970 song catalog, the band did succeed in changing management and record labels. However, they could neither prevent the release of Hot Rocks nor its successor, which was titled More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies) (1972). A testament to the selling power of greatest hits albums, Hot Rocks remains the best selling album of the Rolling Stones' career. Note that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards continue to collect significant songwriting royalties from the Hot Rocks sales, but not the ownership royalties.
Greatest hits collections can also boost a falling music career. The Beautiful South's first greatest hits album, Carry On up the Charts (1994), was originally strongly opposed by the band. However, upon release it became one of the fastest selling albums in chart history.
Often, a greatest hits VHS or DVD collection can be released, which features the music videos to the hits. These are often released concurrently with a Greatest Hits album (a more recent example being the Oasis release Time Flies... 1994–2009). Although sometimes, a Greatest Hits VHS or DVD can be released as a solo release without a companion album (a good example being the Guns N' Roses VHS/DVD Welcome to the Videos, released in 1998. Guns N' Roses would eventually release a greatest hits album in 2004). Another example of a video greatest hits without a companion audio album would be Positive Mental Octopus by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, released in 1990. However, in 1992, the band released a video called What Hits!? (1992), which contained all the videos from Positive Mental Octopus (1990) and also had an accompanying album. Occasionally, a DVD release will feature music videos for singles that were not included on the Greatest Hits album. Whilst the Greatest Hits album might only contain a small number of singles, A DVD release will often contain all the band's music videos up until that point. Two examples of this are Blur's The Best of DVD (2000) and Jamiroquai's High Times: Singles 1992–2006 (2006) to go with Radio stations are now emerging that only play Greatest Hits albums as their source material. Queen have released Greatest Video Hits 1 (2002) and Greatest Video Hits 2 (2003).
Several bands that have experienced highly varied chart success (such as being labeled 'one hit wonders' and/or 'two hit wonders') have released albums using comedic titles (including things such as puns) in reference to that fact in their 'best of' albums. Two examples are Men Without Hats, a Canadian new wave group, who released Greatest Hats (1996) as well as the Michael Stanley Band, a U.S. rock n roll group, who released Greatest Hints (1979). Notably, the U.S. progressive rock band Dream Theater directly poked fun at itself with the release Greatest Hit (...And 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) (2008), which came out on Rhino Records on April 1, 2008; the album referred openly to how their single "Pull Me Under" has such outsize knowledge compared to the rest of the band's discography.
Criticism and popularity
Another criticism has been including one or two new songs with a package of hits. This trend started in the early 1980s, and made it necessary for collectors to purchase the "greatest hits" album if they wished to have the complete catalog of an artist's songs, even if those collectors owned all the albums containing the pre-existing hits. By contract, another solution to acquire only the songs, via an online music store, may also be restricted to purchase of the album only, even online. For example, in 2002, The Paperboys released Tenure, which out of its eighteen tracks, contains six new songs.
The quality of a greatest hits package released early in an artist's career depends upon the artist. Elvis Presley released Elvis' Golden Records in 1958, which only covered 1956–1958, although this album still sells today, remaining in print on Compact Disc, despite the many Presley hits collections issued since. The Bee Gees released Best of Bee Gees in 1969, only two years after their international debut, yet nine of the twelve tracks were hit singles in America. Sly and the Family Stone released their Greatest Hits album in 1970, after only three years. Ringo Starr's Blast from Your Past and John Lennon's Shaved Fish came out in 1975, after five-year solo careers (both had been in The Beatles, though none of that material was featured on either album). ZZ Top's Greatest Hits was released in 1978, as a contractual obligation with no new tracks, but since its CD release has been popular because of its use of the original mixes of songs (the CD releases of their parent albums have overdubs made in the 1980s). All of these compilations were well received and continue to garner critical kudos. Bob Marley's Legend (1984) remains his best selling album despite many more posthumous hits since, and more thorough compilations being released later on.
In Japan, it is common for artists to have "greatest hits" compilations released early in their career. Many acts release a compilation after three albums, which commonly means after only three years of career in the music market. Ayumi Hamasaki, Mai Kuraki, Hikaru Utada, Glay and Greeeen are a few examples (the band McFly, from England, also released a greatest hits album after three albums and three active years). Many times, the decision of having a greatest hits released is due to the popularity of the artist at the moment, which results in bigger sales. It is also common for the Japanese artists to have many compilations throughout their careers.
Gaming and television
A recent trend is for television shows to release compilation DVD's of their most well-regarded and highest-rated episodes to drive new viewers to watch a program. Two examples of this are Family Guy's Freakin' Sweet Collection and South Park: The Hits. Several video game companies have game re-releases after they have sold a certain number; Sony's PlayStation has a Greatest Hits banner; Nintendo has the Nintendo Selects label (formerly Player's Choice); and Microsoft has the Xbox Platinum Hits label. The European title (and original North American title) for Guitar Hero Smash Hits was Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits.