THE GREATEST GREATEST?
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
I imagine that if you were asked to name the world's best selling greatest hits record you might have a guess at something by the Beatles ("1" maybe) or perhaps Elvis - even Michael Jackson at a push or, heaven forfend, "Queen's Greatest Hits". But you would be wrong... very wrong.
It's actually "The Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-75".
And it also took back the title of the all-time best selling LP in the United States (from "Thriller") around the middle of 2018, having held it previously until the early eighties.
So my question is how has this come to pass.
Now let's be clear, this is not "The Best of The Eagles", "The Very Best of The Eagles" or "The Complete Greatest Hits of The Eagles" - all of which have secured top 10 chart positions on their respective releases over the decades. It very specifically has a timeframe from which its tracks are taken (fans might know it as the Bernie Leadsom years) and therefore does not even include their most well-known (though I must say not their best by a long way) song, "Hotel California".(or for that matter "New Kid In Town" or anything from "The Long Run"). So it's hardly definitive.
Instead it just covers music from the band's first four albums which included two excellent US #1 singles in "Take It To The Limit" and the exceptional "Best Of My Love" and was released in 1976 after the release of "One Of These Nights" and before the multi-million "Hotel California" LP. The record company wisely and auspiciously went against the band's request (and most especially Don Henley's) to leave out "Tequila Sunrise" which hadn't made the top 30 in the US and "Desperado" which had never been a single, on the grounds that both tracks would lose their magic out of the context of their original releases.
Sometimes marketing people do know what they're doing, it would seem.
Both of those became true classics on the back of the exposure from their inclusion and are certainly amongst the best songs they ever produced - "Desperado" 's position at the end of side 1 gives it an incredible poignancy and emotional crescendo as you slide into the first run-out grooves. It's the classic swelling end of Act 1 placement.
It may be a compilation but it feels like an album in itself - almost to the point of making all of the previous albums feel irrelevant. The mood is consistent and the lyrical narrative is driven through from beginning to end without any real stylistic change. The alternating of vocalists across songs had always been a mainstay of their albums alongside their fantastic musicianship and (often over-looked) seamless harmonies so their is no disruption by being forced to include an 'experimental' period for instance - put simply, they hadn't had one anyway.
The lack of an all-consuming hit like "Hotel California", which can only cast a great shadow across any setlist, also helps each song to stand on its own and allows the merits of all of them (with perhaps the exception of the rather ordinary "Already Gone") to come through. For me, no more so than the epic "Witchy Woman" - Bernie Leadsom's only writing credit on the album.
This version comes after his departure but it is to the credit of his replacement Don Felder that his playing blows everybody off the stage - including a rather ham-fisted attempt by Glenn Frey to cut in.
The compilation works because it is like a release in itself. It is not an anthology with stylistic and chronological leaps between, for instance, "She Loves You" and "I Am The Walrus". There were no big selling singles in the UK (only one Top 20 Single) within the trackless and still the album reached #2, selling consistently for months and then years. Similar compilations that did this, for me would be "Carry Up The Charts" by The Beautiful South or "Island Life" by Grace Jones. Both of these had familiar but not over-exposed tracks that also built their own cohesive narrative. Somehow the astuteness of the song selection turns the work from an archival career collage to something more organic and self-contained. The picture of The Eagles as low-slung cowboy rockers is indelibly inked as a result - all you need to know about them is here. Interestingly, the more obvious cash-in of "The Eagles Greatest Hits Volume 2" released in 1982 did not even dent the Top 50 although it has sold consistently nevertheless like its predecessor, just not in the same numbers.
As a music purist, it seems wrong to select a Greatest Hits as a band's best album but, in truth, for the Eagles, I genuinely think it is. It has all the hallmarks of everything they set out to do and, by luck or design, welded a picture that was greater than the sum of its parts - which for a Greatest Hits (with its normal. all-inclusive mix and therefore not match approach) seems to have achieved the nigh on impossible.