Hits’-album wasn’t necessarily a bad deal back in the 60’s and the early
70’s as they would collect a bunch of popular songs not found on the
artist’s regular albums. The single record was an entity unto itself. In
England big guns like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones rarely or never
included singles on their albums. A single normally was recorded, arranged
and mixed for the 45 format only. In other words, collecting all your
scratched 45s on one vinyl album was a nice solution. You’d even get the
chance to listen to your favourites in stereo.
In the early 60’s the
pop album was still in its infancy. Teenagers bought singles, albums were
for grown-ups. This changed in 1963 with the arrival of The Beatles who’s
first LP, “Please Please Me”, topped the charts for 29 consecutive weeks,
finally being replaced by their second album, “With The Beatles”, which
after another 21 chart topping weeks was overtaken by The Rolling Stones’
By 1966 both The
Beatles and The Rolling Stones had clocked up enough hit singles not
included on regular albums to consider the release of greatest
hits-collections. For once the Stones beat The Beatles to it by releasing
“Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass)” in the US in March 1966. It did good
business, reaching #3 and staying in the Billboard-charts for 99 weeks. An
expanded version packed in a superior sleeve was released in England in
A few weeks later The
Beatles followed suit with “A Collection Of Beatles Oldies… But Goldies!”.
None of these albums were big sellers by the groups’ standards, but they
opened the gate. From now on the ’Greatest Hits’ compilations would be a
common sight in the LP charts.
What follows is an
introduction to the first wave.
The Rolling Stones:
“Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass)” (Decca, 1966). An excellent 14 track
album that collects 10 of their 11 British hit singles (omitting “I Wanna Be
Your Man”) and some American favourites. Gatefold sleeve with a booklet of
colour photos is wonderful.
“Most Of The Animals” (Columbia, 1966). After seven hit singles and two
albums, The Animals left EMI and record producer Mickie Most for Decca. EMI
responded with this 14 track compilation that includes all seven hits, some
of them massive, like “House Of the Rising Sun”, “It’s My Life” and “We
Gotta Get Out Of This Place”. Sold quite well this one.
“Well Respected Kinks” (Marble Arch, 1966). PYE Records hated Ray Davies’
album ambitions. To them The Kinks were for kiddies. Blocking the release
of the groups’ excellent “Face To Face” album for months, they rushed out
this compilation on budget label Marble Arch instead. Just ten tracks,
recorded in 1964 and 1965, and except for the title track not at all
representative for where the group was at in 1966/67. It outsold “Face To
Face”, to Davies’ annoyance.
The Beach Boys:
“Best Of The Beach Boys” (Capitol, 1966). The Beach Boys were new to most
British ears before “Barbara Ann” hit #4 in March 1966. Then came “Sloop
John B” (#2), the marvellous ‘Pet Sounds” album, “God Only Knows” (#2) and
finally “Good Vibrations”, the group’s only number one hit in Britain. By
the end of 1966 The Beach Boys even eclipsed The Beatles in popularity.
Thus this 14 track compilation makes sense as it rounds up ten biggies from
the past, unfamiliar to most British, and adds four recent 45-sides. The
package plays extremely well and sold truck loads.
“A Collection Of Beatles Oldies… But Goldies!” (Parlophone, 1966). Value for
money compilation, 16 tracks of which 13 were British hits (“Love Me Do” and
“Please Please Me” are absent), 2 were crossover favourites (“Yesterday” and
“Michelle”) and one (“Bad Boy”) had only been released on an American album
before. Lousy sleeve, though.
“Greatest Hits” (Columbia/CBS, 1967). Confusing release, as contents of
American, British and European versions are all different. Best buy is the
US version, being the only one that includes the non-album track “Positively
The Beach Boys:
“Best Of The Beach Boys Vol. 2” (Capitol, 1967). As the group’s popularity
was slowly declining, Capitol opted for yet another compilation, having more
than enough from the group’s extensive back catalogue to pick from, and
rounding the package off with that forever monster classic “Good
Diana Ross & The The
“Greatest Hits” (Tamla Motown, 1968). Released as a 20 track double album in
the US, and a huge success. Trimmed down to a superb 16 track single album
in the UK, topping the charts for six weeks. A marvellous stack of hits
recorded between 1964 and 1967.
The Four Tops:
“Greatest Hits” (Tamla Motown, 1968). Released simultaneously with the
compilation mentioned above, same 16 track concept, and another biggie. The
Four Tops were the greatest vocal group in the world at the time. Their
legacy is timeless. Try “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”, “7 Rooms Of Gloom”, “I
Can’t Help Myself” and “Bernadette” for a start.
“Hollies’ Greatest” (Parlophone, 1968). By 1968 greatest hits albums were
becoming the hip thing. It was perfect for The Hollies as they were in a
tight position, Graham Nash leaving, the future uncertain. Then came this
compilation collecting most of their hits (but including an alternate take
of “Yes I Will” by mistake). It topped the album charts for 10 weeks,
providing the group with some sorely needed breathing space, and their stock
rose just when they needed it most.
“Direct Hits” (Track, 1968). The Who of course did not play the game by the
rules, so their first hits collection was eccentric as it completely ignored
their Brunswick-releases from 1965-66 (for copyright reasons), focusing
instead on the singles released on Reaction and Track during 1966-68,
including the very odd “Dogs”. Seven A-sides, an EP track that was a hit in
Sweden (?!), three B-sides and the alternate version of “Mary Anne With The
Shaky Hand” only found on an American album. The rather mysterious sleeve
didn’t help, and the album soon disappeared, being replaced a couple of
years later by the superior “Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy”.
“The Pious Bird Of Good Omen” (Blue Horizon, 1969). As Fletwwod Mac hit the
big time, they left blues label Blue Horizon for Reprise (stopping over at
Immediate for the single “Man Of The World”). So Blue Horizon responded
with this, a nice enough introduction to the band’s first phase. You get
both sides of their four singles for the label, including the #1
“Albatross”, one track from each of their two albums, and two tracks with
blues singer Eddie Boyd being backed by members of the band.
The Rolling Stones:
“Through The Past Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2)” (Decca, 1969). This one came a
bit too soon as they had only released four singles since the first “Big
Hits”-compilation appeared in November 1966. They solved the problem by
including tracks only released as singles in the US (like “She’s A Rainbow”
and “Street Fighting Man”), some strong B-sides, an EP-cut from 1964 and the
1966-demo “Sittin’ On A Fence”. Strange hybrid, but plays absolutely
fantastic. Appeared in an octagonal-shaped sleeve.
The Bee Gees:
“Best Of The Bee Gees” (Polydor, 1969). They’d only been around for a
couple of years, but they already had enough hits to fill an album.
Impressive. Ten of the 12 tracks had been released as A-sides (including
the US only “Holiday” and “I Started A Joke”), the remaining two were
B-sides and should have been replaced by their “Jumbo” /”The Singer Sang His
Song” double A-side from early spring 1968. They probably didn’t want to be
reminded as it had bombed painfully.
“Best Of Cream” (Polydor, 1969). Released after Cream had disbanded. As
Cream always were an albums band, this compilation didn’t make much sense,
although it did contain “I Feel Free” and the single edit of “White Room”.
“The Autumn Stone” (Immediate, 1969). Maybe the finest compilation album
ever released in the 60’s. Not just a collection of hits, but also a
handful of live nuggets and bits and pieces from the aborted album they were
working on when the band imploded. Four sides of pure joy. How it was
possible for an album containing tracks like “The Universal”, “Tin Soldier”,
“Itchycoo Park”, “All Or Nothing”, “Lazy Sunday” and “Afterglow” not to
chart is a mystery to me. I absolutely love “The Autumn Stone”.
Not counting Elvis who
started it all back in 1958 with “Elvis’ Golden Records”, this then was how
that ‘Greatest Hits’ thing developed during the late 60’s. It was a period
of transition, with the 45 record still holding its own as a piece of
instant pop art. But for lasting value, the record buyers now wanted these
stray recordings collected on albums as well. For some years the answer was
the compilation album. Then, as songs weren’t recorded exclusively for the
singles format anymore, but were just strong tracks lifted from albums, the
45 died, and ‘Greatest Hits’ compilations turned into something completely
different: Stop gap releases thrown onto the market every time an artist or
a band ran out of ideas.
Gary Holton And Casino Steel, Gary Holton & Casino Steel (Polydor)
Casino Steel left
Trondheim (in Norway) for London in the early 70’s, and formed glampunk
legends Hollywood Brats with Andrew Matheson. They broke up in 1974 as
record companies had no faith in them. Steel then eventually drifted into
new wave band The Boys after a short stint with London SS. He had
befriended actor and musician Gary Holton of Heavy Metal Kids fame back in
‘74, and in 1980 the two of them recorded a version of the Kenny
Rogers-chestnut “Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town”, first released as a
Holton solo-single. It didn’t get much airplay however as they had
rewritten the key lines of the lyrics, shifting the song’s focus from the
Vietnam War to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
The two of them
decided to test the Norwegian market, building an act and an album on
“Ruby”. At first they called themselves Lip Service (recording “Goodnight
Irene” under that name), but eventually settled for Gary Holton & Casino
Thanks to a video
shown on Norwegian TV, they struck gold immediately, hitting #1 with both
the album and the “Ruby”-single (now credited Gary Holton & Casino Steel).
They named their
musical style “Rig-rock”, cowboy-rock for the North Sea oil rig workers.
Don’t know if those guys took the album to heart, but it sure hit the
mainland. Suddenly Holton/Steel were stars, especially among young girls.
The album was recorded
over a long period of time, and this explains the lack of a coherent sound.
Actually the rig-rock concept became much sharper on Steel’s first
solo-album “Steel Works” (1983). “Gary Holton And Casino Steel” sifts
through styles, moving from Mott The Hoople’ish ballads like “Gary’s Song”
through blasting rockers like “Runaway” (one of the weakest versions I’ve
ever heard of this Del Shannon chestnut) to the real rig-rock where the
eccentric mix of dirty Rolling Stones-riffing, wall of sound glam and
tearful George Jones lap steel mysteriously succeeds. This mix is
undoubtedly what made the album a chart topper, and well deserved.
Gary Holton’s raucous
voice is perfect for the material, he’s having a ball, he’s an actor and
this is a play. Camp and tongue-in-cheek, a rock’n’roll-celebration high on
electric guitars, but with a dark undertow of vulnerable emotions. Holton
once told me his favourite song was The Rolling Stones’ “Fool To Cry”. It
production is big and mighty, created in Nidaros Studios in Trondheim by
sound wizard Björn Nessjö. My favourite tracks are “Ruby”, “Thinking Of
You”, “Goodnight Irene” and the fine country ballad “Almost persuaded”.
It is an uneven album,
though, short on playing time, and not exactly chock-full of classics, some
tracks are downright ordinary. Come to think of it, they could have thought
up something more adventurous and less sugary when they had the Trondheim
Symphony Orchestra at their disposal.
But all in all this
was a remarkable start for a concept that would last for four albums
(involving some of Norway’s most respected rock musicians as well as
partners in crime from The Boys – Geir Waade and Matt Dangerfield to name
but two), and might have taken them even further if Gary Holton, suffering
from poor health and drug abuse, hadn’t left us in October 1985. At the
time the British adored him for his part in the popular TV comedy “Auf
Wiedersehen, Pet”. They had no idea he was a huge rock’n’roll star in
This album is part of
his legacy and 35 years on it still sounds like a good plan. Investigate.
It shouldn’t be too hard to find as it sold truckloads in Norway. There’s
some nice CD-compilations out there too.
I’ll Find It Where I Can/Gary’s Song/Runaway/Thinking of You/Ruby (Don’t
Take Your Love to Town)/Goodnight, Irene/Almost Presuaded/B-17/Good OI’