A Few Gems Among the Onslaught of Greatest Hits' Albums

The economic recession, the general despondency and the assumption that music lovers are conservative and will be searching for something familiar all add to the apparent desperation in this year's Christmas preparations by record companies around the world.

The economic recession, the general despondency and the assumption that music lovers are conservative and will be searching for something familiar all add to the apparent desperation in this year's Christmas preparations by record companies around the world.

Like every year, the music industry wants to increase its sales and profits with relative ease by issuing a good number of collections that appeal to the vast majority of their listeners - the ones who have always loved certain songs by K.D. Lang, for instance, or Sting, but would not bother to buy their albums.

For many years Christmas anthologies have been issued with thick, decorative jackets, and other superfluous additions, such as video clips that can be viewed using the CD-ROM drive on a computer. The companies' considerations are clear: they own the copyrights to the songs and putting out a collection is relatively cheap and easy.

But this year the number of collections is so great as to attest to the almost total freeze of new productions in the music industry.

The mood following the terror attacks in the United States is also one of nostalgia, together with exemplary patriotism. One example of this that a special edition of three patriotic songs by Elvis Presley, reissued by RCA, has reached sixth place for sales in the U.S. "America the Beautiful," "Amazing Grace," and "If I Could Dream," have become hits 20 years after Presley's songs disappeared from the sales charts. All the proceeds from the sale of the new record will be donated to the Red Cross fund for victims of terror.

Record companies are publishing all sorts of collections. Nostalgia collections, anthologies of bands that were considered alternative, collections of songs by all-male or all-female groups, anthologies of liturgical rock songs that are compulsory items for collectors, collections by divas in various forms of emotional distress that prevent them from making commitments for new studio albums, and the list goes on.

The record companies have a particularly sophisticated approach to collections by alternative bands or ones that were considered alternative. Because their target market is relatively inflexible, with most enthusiasts already owning the important albums by these bands, the companies add a song or two that these consumers will find hard to resist. This category includes collections by Cure, Smashing Pumpkins and dEUS.

Cure's "Greatest Hits" album contains almost all the hits included in the "Standing on the Beach" collection, a few from the problematic "Kiss Me Kiss Me" album and a smattering from the beautiful "Disintegration" album. For reasons mentioned above, two new songs have been added: the well-written "Cut Here," which brings back the better days of Robert Smith and "Just Say Yes," a duet with Saffron (Samantha Sparkling), the nerve-racking singer from Republic.

The "Rotten Apples" collection by Smashing Pumpkins repeats the same exercise: Most of the songs have already appeared on albums that fans have at home, especially "Gish" and Mellon Collie and the Infinitive Sadness." Again, this new album contains very few of the lovely songs from the "Adore" album, one of the better ones by Billy Korgan and his talented though problematic gang. The two new songs, "Real Love and "Untitiled," are nice, but do not justify buying the collection just for them. The very nature of this band goes against the concept of a "Greatest Hits" album. The Virgin record company forced the band to release the album as compensation, after years of drug rehab treatments, creativity depressions and behavior that went against everything required of a successful rock group.

The "hits" by dEUS are also a difficult combination to swallow, and put the entire Christmas preparations of the record companies in an almost satirical light. Why does this esteemed Belgian band need a "Greatest Hits" collection? Surely its fans already own it's two most outstanding albums, "Worst Scenarios" and "In a Bar Under the Sea." The new collection even includes the song "Nothing Really Ends."

The ones who produce the most profitable collections are the artists who have at least a theoretical justification for releasing a comprehensive anthology of their songs, especially the ones the have undergone changes in a long musical career. Greatest hits albums from artists such as Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart and The Beegees remind us that they had good songs before their big hits.

It's worth taking a glance at some of those songs. Although Jacko's collection contains only two songs from his days as a pioneer of Afro-American dancing music - "Don't Stop till You Got Enough" and "Wanna Be Starting Something," his goddess Diana Ross has prepared a retrospective of her Motown days, including such gems as "Reach Out I'll be There" and "Ain't no Mountain High Enough," and from later periods - "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out." This collection of 37 selections will delight those who love Motown music.

The collections offered by Rod Stewart and the Beegees are without a doubt a must for anyone who grew up in the 1980s and played hits by these two until the vinyl records wore out. The double collection by the British star who always enjoyed his Scottish origins and his "Blues" roots includes "Maggie May," "Baby Jane," "Young Turks" and "The First Cut is the Deepest," plus Stewart's rendition of Van Morrison's immortal "Have I Told You Lately."

The Australian trio has come up with a unique rendition of some its best hits, but even it did not manage to recreate the feeling of its earlier years. The new collection includes "Massachusetts," "Emotions," "Nights on Broadway," "I've Got to Get a Message to You," and some songs written by other artists, including "In the Stream Island" and "If I Can't Have You." A perfect gift for a winter holiday.

Collections with no clear direction are those by Dee Lite and Madonna, as well as the Corrs. Dee Lite is the original refreshing funk dance group of the 1990s, which first brought this type of music to clubs. It is an open, happy sound that has absorbed many influences and combines retro beats from the 1960s and 1970s with the contemporary culture. Dee Lite's collection presents a comprehensive picture of the group's work until the mid-1990s, and it is a bit strange to encounter a collection that includes songs that are still heard quite often today.

It is the same for Madonna's "Greatest Hits, Part 2," which contains mainly songs from her last two albums, "Music" and "Ray of Light." Whoever has these two doesn't need the new collection.

Dee Lite, which hails from Ireland, also has not finished its round of hits on the various radio stations, so fans have little reason for nostalgia. Its collection is quite clever, with acoustic renditions of hits, a new song and a remix by this good-looking quartet that has decided to leave politics aside and make some rollicking Irish music that has been well received by the public.

The record companies that handle the music of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston decided to ignore their personal problems and have released collections for these two female vocalists as if one of them had not recently suffered a nervous breakdown (Mariah Cariy) and the other is in and out of substance abuse rehab centers and has no plans to record any new songs in the near future (Houston). The collections are an attempt to sell a dynamic and solid image of the two and to erase the image fed by the media. This is an interesting endeavor that runs counter to pop laws, but it is hard to believe that it will work and that any of the worried fans will ignore the facts and buy the collections anyway.

Some apparently superfluous collections are those of Five, Ricky Martin and All Saints. Why are these three in such a hurry to release collections when their fans have barely had time to recuperate from current hits?

Last but not least on this partial list are two collections by French artist Michael Cretu Enigma. He is the man who 11 years ago foresaw that the moment he brought together dramatic choirs of monks and melodic tunes the world would go out of its mind with pleasure. Enigma did indeed penetrate the hit parades, advertisements, sound tracks and fashion shows. Now they have Christmas anthology albums - one a collection of remixes by various artists and the other of their own hits.