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The 28 greatest Best Of albums

Greatest Hits albums are a great introduction to an artist, but they're easy to get wrong, too. Here are the essential ones for any music lover's collection

Alan Partridge’s favourite album of all time is ‘Best of the Beatles’, which suggests you can’t really go wrong with a greatest hits collection. But don’t let Partridge fool you. Best of’s can somehow manage to ignore a band’s actual appeal, throwing in big-selling hits and ignoring the rest. Either that, or they have the distinct whiff of a record company cash-in. But without exception, you can trust in the below – best of releases which have every right to carry the classics:

 

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1Blur – The Best Of

Blur, Best Of, Greatest Hits
Released: 2000 What makes it so great? The artwork designed by Julian Opie, for starters, is the perfect representation of the Britpop heroes’ world. The sequencing isn’t half bad either, opening with ‘Beetlebum’ before waltzing through the four-piece’s big chart hitters (if you ignore the bonus tracks). Best track: ‘The Universal’ Big omission: ‘Swamp Song’ or ‘Battle’, from 1998 album ‘13’.

2Madonna – The Immaculate Collection

Madonna, Immaculate Collection, Greatest Hits
Released: 1990 What makes it so great? In her pomp, Madonna was the best popstar of her time. ‘The Immaculate Collection’, her first greatest hits, came out in 1990, capturing the controversy-stirring brilliance of ‘Like a Virgin’, ‘Justify My Love’ and ‘Material Girl’. A modern day greatest hits would contain smash hits like ‘Hung Up’ and ‘Music’ (no disrespect to anything from ‘MDNA’), but in terms of capturing a moment, this is as immaculate as it gets. Best track: ‘Material Girl’ Big omission: ‘Oh Father'

3New Order – Substance

New Order, Substance, Greatest Hits
Released: 1987 What makes it so great? Anyone after a quick-stop trip of New Order’s magnetic appeal should start with ‘Substance’. Anthemic post-punk (‘Ceremony’), dancefloor-ready 12” singles (‘Confusion’) and playful pop (‘Shellshock’) all share the same spotlight. They’re a band who mastered many worlds, and ‘Substance’ captures it all. Best track: ‘Blue Monday’ Big omission: Newbies to New Order should listen to ‘Age of Consent'

4The Beatles – 1967-70

Beatles, Blue Album, Greatest Hits
Released: 1973 What makes it so great? The classic Beatles best-ofs are split into two, 'The Red Album', dealing with the moptop years, and 'The Blue Album', dedicated to the psychedelic second half of their career. A must for fans thanks to its non-album singles and impeccable run of hits. Best track: the fuzzed-up version of 'Revolution' Big omission: Fan-favourite 'Hey Bulldog'

5The Who – Greatest Hits & More

The Who, Greatest Hits, Best Of
Released: 2009 What makes it so great? Yer Da loves The Who, and this explains why. A non-stop blitz through their clattering, mod-meets-heavy rock career, this two disc collection pairs chart-toppers with some of their best live performances. Best track: ‘Baba O’Riley’ Big omission: ‘The Seeker’ would make this perfect

6David Bowie – Best of Bowie

Bowie, The Singles, Greatest Hits
Released: 2002 What makes it so great? Anyone new to Bowie’s back catalogue can pick their poison – chances are they won’t go wrong. But many found themselves referring back to ‘Best of Bowie’ when he suddenly passed in January 2016. Bowie’s career is unrivalled in shape-shifting, genre-skipping brilliance, and this collection traces his steps. There is literally something for everyone here. Best track: ‘Life on Mars?’ Big omission: ‘Heroes'

7Oasis – Stop the Clocks

Oasis, Stop The Clocks, Greatest Hits, Best Of
Released: 2006 What makes it so great? The group were reluctant to release it at the time (it came about after their deal with Sony BMG ended), but ‘Stop the Clocks’ is still special. After a whirlwind decade in the spotlight, it hits pause and reflects on the Manchester group’s superhuman achievements. Best track: ‘Wonderwall’ Big omission: ‘Columbia’

8Bruce Springsteen – The Essential

Bruce Springsteen, The Essential, Best Of, Greatest Hits
Released: 2003 What makes it so great? Judging by his mammoth setlists, even The Boss himself seems incapable of compressing his best moments into a couple of hours. ‘The Essential’ attempts it through two storming discs; the first a hit-by-hit rundown, the second a rarities collection summing up Springsteen’s staying power. Best track: ‘Born To Run’ Big omission: ‘I’m On Fire’

9Kate Bush – The Whole Story

Kate Bush, The Whole Story, Greatest Hits, Best Of
Released: 1986 What makes it so great? Kate Bush’s quality control is famously watertight: if it’s not good enough, or if it’s not worth doing, it won’t make the cut. ‘The Whole Story’ is a best of capable of appeasing the toughest critics, containing the best of her otherworldly work – ‘Cloudbusting’, ‘Hounds of Love’, ‘Running Up That Hill’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’. Best track: ‘Hounds of Love’ Big omission: ‘And Dream of Sheep’

10Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Greatest Hits

Tom Petty, Greatest Hits, Best Of
Released: 1993 What makes it so great? The week after the late Petty’s recent death, ‘Greatest Hits’ went back to #2 in the US Billboard 200. Even before this year, it was widely considered as one of the essential best ofs: a picture perfect glimpse into the hook-tastic brilliance of Petty’s magic touch. Best track: ‘Free Fallin’’ Big omission: It was released just before 1994 album ‘Wildflowers’, and it’s missing the title-track, ‘Time To Move On’ and ‘Crawling Back To You’

11Blondie – Atomic: The Very Best of Blondie

Blondie, Atomic, Greatest Hits, Best Of
Released: 1998 What makes it so great? Released in the late '90s, ‘Atomic’ summed up the New York icons’ unparalleled cool. Shortly after, the band experienced a resurgence, partly on the back of the modernised sheen of ‘Maria’, but also due to ‘Atomic’’s timely reminder of their '70s feats. Best track: ‘Heart of Glass’ Big omission: ‘Pretty Baby’

12Radiohead – The Best Of

Radiohead, Best Of, Greatest Hits
Released: 2008 What makes it so great? It’s fair to say Thom Yorke wasn’t the biggest fan of this EMI-released best of, released shortly after they left the label. “There's nothing we can do about it. The work is really public property now anyway... It's a wasted opportunity in that if we'd been behind it, and we wanted to do it, then it might have been good,” he said. It’s since been removed from streaming services, so not only is ‘The Best Of’ not 100% band approved, it’s also difficult to track down. But if you ignore all that, it’s actually a foolproof collection of their best ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’-era material. Just don’t tell Thom you like it... Best track: ‘Karma Police’ Big omission: There are several, but ‘Let Down’ comes top

13Leonard Cohen – The Best Of

Leonard Cohen, Greatest Hits, Best Of
Released: 1975 What makes it so great? Radiohead will be the first to tell you: best of releases don’t always have the blessing of the band themselves. But Leonard Cohen held the ropes in 1972, when he was given full artistic control of the collection. It includes lyrics, a sleeve designed by the late songwriting great (featuring a selfie before selfies were cool, no less), and a seamless showcase of his first steps. You won’t find ‘Hallelujah’, but you will find ‘Suzanne’ and ‘So Long, Marianne’. It’s the ideal introduction to Cohen. Best track: ‘Suzanne’ Big omission: Not to knock his choices, but Leonard should have included ‘Story of Isaac’

14Björk – Greatest Hits

Bjork, Greatest Hits, Best Of
Released: 2002 What makes it so great? Most Björk albums inhabit their own world, and remain best uninterrupted. Clattering together her finest pre-2000 moments might seem foolish, but ‘Greatest Hits’ is a fan-approved triumph. Her label, One Little Indian, surveyed fans to find out their favourite singles and deep cuts, the winners of which made it into the final 15-track release. Best track: ‘Pagan Poetry’ Big omission: There’s a big lack of material from 2001’s ‘Vespertine’. ‘It’s Not Up To You’ would be a smart addition

15Bob Marley and the Wailers – Legend

Bob Marley, Legend, Best Of, Greatest Hits
Released: 1984 What makes it so great? Any record collection without ‘Legend’ needs to be remedied, fast. And given this spent 465 consecutive weeks in the Billboard Hot 200, not many collections go without it. Reggae’s biggest seller, it showcases Marley’s masterful hold on music that could be uplifting and politically defiant all at once. Best track: ‘Could You Be Loved’ Big omission: ‘Waiting In Vain’

16R.E.M. – In Time

REM, In Time, Greatest Hits, Best Of
Released: 2003 What makes it so great? R.E.M. diehards might take issue with ‘In Time’. It skips the Athens, Georgia group’s early college rock success – there’s nothing from 1983’s ‘Murmur’ or 1986’s ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’. It also throws in contemporary but divisive hits like ‘Bad Day’. ‘In Time’ misses some great times, and isn’t the perfect career span, but it does contain all the classics, so ignore it at your peril. Best track: ‘Losing My Religion’ Big omission: ‘Drive’ opens ‘Automatic For The People’, and ought to open ‘In Time’ too

17Pink Floyd – Echoes

Pink Floyd, Echoes, Best Of, Greatest Hits
Released: 2001 What makes it so great? To the best that it can, ‘Echoes’ replicates the key aspects of Pink Floyd’s best records. Tracks seamlessly link together. The great Storm Thorgersen designed the artwork, just as he did for ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’. As a career-spanning reflection of how the ever-experimental group operated, ‘Echoes’ always tries to stay one step ahead. Best track: ‘Comfortably Numb’ Big omission: ‘Time’

18Queen – Greatest Hits II

Queen, Greatest Hits, Best Of
Released: 1991 What makes it so great? Killing two birds with one stone, it’s worth getting both ‘Greatest Hits I’ and ‘Greatest Hits II’. Both serve as perfect guides to Queen’s stadium-conquering distinction. ‘II’ just about pips it, on the basis that it contains ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and ‘Under Pressure’. A sequel that doesn’t flop. Best track: ‘Under Pressure’ Big omission: ‘Rain Must Fall’

19Green Day – International Superhits!

Green Day, Best Of, International Superhits, Greatest Hits
Released: 2001 What makes it so great? A greatest hits collection that lives up to its title. ‘International Superhits!’ predates ‘American Idiot’, which means it’s missing some of the trio’s best moments, but it serves as a whistlestop blitz through their pop-punk ‘90s heyday. Best track: ‘Basket Case’ Big omission: ‘Dookie’ opener ‘Burnout’

20U2 – The Best Of 1980-1990

U2, Best Of, Greatest Hits
Released: 1998 What makes it so great? Capturing their first decade together, ‘1980-1990’ could still triumph as a perfect U2 setlist. It brings together standouts from ‘The Joshua Tree’, ‘War’ and ‘October’, as well as throwing in a polished new recording of former b-side ‘Sweetest Thing’. Stumped as to why U2 are one of the world’s biggest bands? Listen to this. Best track: ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ Big omission: ‘Red Hill Mining Town'

21Al Green – 'Greatest Hits'

Released: 1975 What makes it so great? Just ten absolute slappers from one of the most iconic Soul Men, here. No guff – just the smoothest hits from Green’s astonishing run from ‘71-’73, including ‘Love and Happiness’ and ‘Let’s Stay Together’. By our count, there’s been 23 further compilations based on Al Green’s music, but none will ever reach these dizzying heights. Best track: ‘Love and Happiness’ Big omission: ‘Livin For You’

22Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady

Released: 1979 What makes it so great? Perhaps the punk bands’ defining release. Collating some of their energetic breakout singles (‘What Do I Get?’) with established album tracks and hits (‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've’), this brisk collection was reappraised in the wake of the death of lead singer Pete Shelley in 2018. Go on, find a boring song on this collection, we dare you... Best track: ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)’ Big omission: ‘I Don’t Know What To Do With My Life’

23Neil Young - 'Decade'

Released: 1977 What makes it so great? This one is rare: it is a Greatest Hits collection from an artist who wanted it released. ‘Decade’ is a extensive deep dive into one of America’s greatest songwriters, and the liner-notes which were penned by Young himself, give a searing insight into a musical mastermind. Best track: ‘Cinnamon Girl’ Big omission: ‘Tell Me Why’

24Nirvana - 'Nirvana'

Released: 2002 What makes it so great? Not content with being just a retread of Cobain’s genius, it also featured brand new music in the shape of ‘You Know You’re Right’. Meanwhile, the big hitters from ‘Nevermind’ are present, while the band’s early years are given much overdue credit, with cuts from ‘Bleach’ and ‘Blew’ appearing in their original studio format (‘About A Girl’) or from the iconic MTV Unplugged… session (‘All Apologies’) Best track: ‘Lithium’ Big omission: ‘Breed’

25Pulp - 'Hits'

Released: 2002 What makes it so great? ‘Hits’ rather shrewdly does away with any Pulp material pre-1992, picking up with break-out single ‘Babies’ and taking in the band’s monumental following decade. Most impressively, the band’s often-overlooked masterpiece, 1998’s ‘This Is Hardcore’, gets a fair look-in, as does the bigguns from ‘His’n’Hers’, ‘Different Class’ and, er, 2001’s ‘We Love Life’. Best track: ‘Common People’ Big omission: ‘Mis-Shapes’

26The Beach Boys - '20 Golden Greats'

Released: 1976 What makes it so great? Though the band had some worthwhile albums in the ‘70s (‘Surf’s Up’, ‘Holland’), ‘20 Golden Greats’ is a crisp collection of the surf-pop that made them America’s darlings in the '60s. The latter-half, which takes in ‘Pet Sounds’ is obviously stronger, but this is a consistent retrospective free of label squabbles in what would become one of rock music’s most exploited discographies. Best track: ‘God Only Knows’ Big omission: ‘Surf’s Up’

27Ramones - ‘Hey Ho Let's Go: Greatest Hits’

Released: 2006 What makes it so great? More streamlined than 2004’s ‘Loud, Fast Ramones: Their Toughest Hits’, 2006’s ‘Hey Ho..’ is a storming retread of the New York punks’ glory years ('76-'80), as well as a few sentimental nods to the bright spots in a patchy final decade. Best track: ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ Big omission: ‘Listen To My Heart’

28The Smiths - The Sound of The Smiths

Released: 2008 What makes it so great? The Smiths were fond of compilations when they were a functioning band, releasing three (‘Hatful of Hollow, ‘The World Won’t Listen’, ‘Louder Than Bombs’) in-between their four iconic studio albums. ‘The Sound Of The Smiths’, sanctioned by the band and remastered with Johnny Marr, is a comprehensive overview of the band’s genius, with the most iconic versions (‘What Difference Does It Make’ is taken from a John Peel session) rubbing shoulders with only the finest album cuts. Best track: ‘How Soon Is Now’ Big omission: ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’
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