Ever get the feeling life is extremely difficult for your favourite big-time celebrity? Didn’t think so. But the way you hear them talk these days you’d think they were serving a life sentence without any chance of parole.
Probably the biggest lie celebrities tell publicly and often is this: “We’re not in this for the money or the fame. We’re in it for the art. All this awful fame stuff happened by accident.” Considering that there are few accidents in the entertainment business and not much can pass for true art these days, it’s a laughable sentiment.
Recently, I was reading about the battle over Nirvana’s legacy in Rolling Stone Magazine. Dave Grohl, the former drummer for the band, told reporter Chris Heath – with a straight face – “We weren’t in it for the fame.” Interesting considering how the band signed to a major label and sold millions of albums worldwide. None of the members ever thought to interfere with that sales bonanza or not record a follow-up album. It’s been said that Nevermind itself earned 50 million dollars in revenue. Call me crazy but I think Nirvana, especially the contradictory Kurt Cobain, didn’t exactly mind the fame and fortune that album brought.
Reading the article reminded me how the celebrities, rock musicians in particular, have become the new politicians. Whenever a new album or tour needs to be plugged, you can expect to hear only the best about these forthcoming projects. Even if the press reports otherwise, particularly the critics with their scathing views on mediocrity, the musicians will swear up and down that the media is filled with filthy liars who haven’t heard the brilliance of their new music. Or worse, they’re too stupid to get it. But then again, it’s not supposed to be good enough to be popular anyway, so why bother promoting it?
You have to remember that the music business is a crowded ocean of egos all swimming towards the shores of a multi-billion dollar island. The idea that someone starts a band so that the fewest amount of people can enjoy their music, so they won’t get paid a lot of money, so no girl will even look at them and so no one will remember them, is sheer lunacy. As Bill Maher has said many times, no matter who you are, fame is the most addictive drug of them all. And the worst part is there’s no rehab for it.
The big issue at stake in the ongoing “Nirvana Wars” is a previously unheard track called You Know You’re Right. The main issue is how to release the song. No one wants it to remain unheard, but there is disagreement.
Dave Grohl and surviving bassist Krist Novoselic were hoping to include the song on their box set of rarities. Courtney prefers a greatest hits album that would include the song has a bonus track. Either way, it’s clear that all 3 parties want more fame. And unless they’ve blown all their dough, there’s a huge financial incentive involved, also.
It is peculiar that this grudge match between the survivors of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain’s estate really boils down to how to make more millions and extend their fame on one song.
In his excellent biography, Heavier Than Heaven, author Charles R. Cross wrote that Kurt Cobain himself was a walking contradiction. In public he bemoaned being a huge rock star, but privately he would often bug MTV complaining that his band’s videos weren’t being played enough.
Last week, U2 issued its third greatest hits package, U218. I was very annoyed. (Check out “U2 Are Ripping Off Their Fans” to find out why.) While thinking about that today I was reminded of something I’ve been wanting to talk about on here for quite some time: Greatest hits packages.
To me, they’re the Reader’s Digest of music careers. Each one tells the condensed version of an artist’s career through their hit songs. And every story is different and unique.
But far too often, artists screw up their hits packages. They tinker with a basic, successful formula time and time again which turns off music lovers and I’m sure inspires a number of them to either create their own greatest hits CD by picking the tracks they really want and then burning them on a blank disc or simply downloading them for their iPod.
What is this “basic, successful formula” I speak of? Well, it’s a series of timeless rules that under no circumstances should ever be broken. When an artist follows these rules to the T, music fans are happy. (Ok, I’m happy.) Here now, revealed for the first time, is how you make the perfect greatest hits package.
Rule #1: No New Songs
How many times have you looked at the track listing for a greatest hits album only to discover something utterly disturbing? Chances are it’s because of one reason: a brand new song. There’s nothing more obnoxious than an artist offering you all their hits on one CD, plus one new song. Why, oh, why do they do this? To convince you to pay 20 bucks or more for all the songs you already own, just so you can get that extra track. The list of offenders is long and egregious: The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Lenny Kravitz, Def Leppard, Placebo, The Police, Alanis Morissette, Weird Al Yankovic, Depeche Mode and many, many others.
Then, there are the artists who put 2 or more new songs on their hits packages. (That’s what U2 did for U218.) Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones put 4 new songs on their retrospectives. Why didn’t they just save those songs for a new album?
Not everybody does this. Iggy Pop’s first compilation, Nude & Rude, doesn’t offer anything new. Neither does Echo & The Bunnymen on their terrific release, Ballyhoo, nor Guns N’ Roses on their 2004 Greatest Hits album. Every Rush hits package that I know of offers no new recordings, either. The first Red Hot Chili Peppers compilation, 1992’s What Hits!?!, wisely didn’t throw in any unreleased material. Even Garth Brooks respected his fans enough to put out a hits set with no exclusive songs. That would be 1994’s The Hits.
Leave it to The Beatles to set the standard with their hits albums. In 1973, their record company issued 2 double albums which are better known as The Red Album and The Blue Album. Every single hit they ever had in their entire career is documented in those two terrific releases. And guess what? There were no new songs, either. They weren’t necessary. (Come to think of it, they were all too pissed off at each other at the time to even think of doing such a thing.)
I hate to say it but the only other band that has gotten it absolutely right is Creed. Yes, Creed. Not too long after they broke up, we got their Greatest Hits package in 2004. No new songs, just the hits, which leads me to the next rule…
Rule #2: Include ALL The Hits
How many times have you picked up a greatest hits CD only to discover your favourite hit isn’t on the disc? This happens all the time. U2 are notorious for this. For their first hits package, The Best Of 1980-1990, for some odd reason, they left off Two Hearts Beat As One, one of the big singles from War. Bullet The Blue Sky, a radio hit from The Joshua Tree, and A Sort Of Homecoming from The Unforgettable Fire, were excluded as well. Gloria from October failed to make the cut, also. And while it would’ve been nice to have some of their early non-album singles like A Celebration and 11 O’Clock Tick Tock included in the release, as well, I can understand them not including them because they weren’t hits. I still would’ve liked having them on that CD, though.
When it came time to follow up that release with The Best Of 1990-2000, there were so many hits to choose from they probably should’ve put together a double hits package. They didn’t and as a result, a lot of worthy singles were excluded from the release.
Remember, hits aren’t always found on studio albums. Remember Cheap Trick’s Live Version of I Want You (To Want Me)? That was on Live At Budokon, recorded during a famous concert in Japan. Remember Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me by U2? That was on the Batman Forever Soundtrack. And what about Pearl Jam’s cover of Last Kiss, which was a surprise Top 10 hit in 1999? That was from a benefit album called No Boundaries.
And then, there are the songs that were only available as singles. The Jean Genie by David Bowie comes to mind. (March 27, 2012 CORRECTION: Actually, it appeared on the Aladdin Sane album in a slightly remixed form. My bad.) Any song of yours that was a hit, whether it was on one of your albums or not, must go on your hits package. No exceptions.
I mentioned Creed a minute ago. If you look at the track listing for their Greatest Hits album, you’ll notice they included everything, all the big songs from their three studio albums. (I don’t believe they had any non-album hits.) And not only that, they even added a DVD to the package which includes videos and live performances. Like The Beatles, they got it right, too.
Rule #3: Never Include An Edited Version Or Remix Unless It Was A Hit In Its Own Right And/Or It Is The Superior Version Of The Song
Again, U2 has some explaining to do. How many people were happy to hear cut-off versions of Miss Sarajevo, Where The Streets Have No Name and New Year’s Day on Best Of 1990-2000 and Best Of 1980-1990, respectively, instead of the full length versions that were played on the radio? Didn’t think so. Speaking of Best Of 1990-2000, why were a number of hits on that record given new mixes for the release? The originals weren’t good enough or something?
David Bowie’s single disc version of Best Of Bowie is loaded with radio edits. A number of songs off The Stones’ Forty Licks are shorter than they should be. In those cases, for the most part, that was done because of time limitations on their respective CDs. (One CD can only hold 80 minutes of music.) I can live with that. But what’s U2’s excuse?
There’s only one time I want to hear an alternate version of a hit single on a hits package: when it’s the more popular and/or superior version of the song. Examples: The Jimmy The Saint Remix of Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know, Trent Reznor’s remix of David Bowie’s I’m Afraid Of Americans, the radio edit of Seal’s Prayer For The Dying.
Rule #4: If You Must Add New Songs And Rarities, Have So Many Of Them They Have To Be Put On A Second Disc
Prince seemed to have started this 13 years ago. In 1993, his then-record company, Warner Bros., issued The Hits/The B-Sides which featured 2 discs worth of his big singles plus a terrific third disc of non-album cuts, many of which had never appeared on CD before. (They also offered the 2 hits discs as separate releases – The Hits 1, The Hits 2 – but the triple disc set is far superior.) Also, if you check out Ultimate Prince, another singles compilation, this one from 2006, you’ll notice that the second disc features non-album remixes. He was on to something. (Or, maybe it was Warner Bros who deserve the credit.)
Remember HIStory by Michael Jackson? Disc one featured nothing but hits. Disc two was a brand new studio record. In retrospect, there should’ve been an option to buy them separately. (Indeed, there are now numerous Jackson hits packages available for those who still don’t want to hear his 1995 material.)
U2 did something cool for their two previous greatest hits albums. They put out special limited edition versions that came with a second disc of B-sides, and in the case of The Best Of 1990-2000, remixes, as well. It was a nice gesture for those who wanted to hear the non-album side of U2. The Smashing Pumpkins did the same thing in 2001.
Other artists like throwing in a bonus DVD instead of B-sides and that’s fine, too. The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow is a good example. On her DVD, you get a ton of her videos and while watching them you can drool all over her as often as you’d like. (I could do that all day long.) I mentioned earlier that Creed did something similiar.
But the best examples of this idea come courtesy of Stone Temple Pilots and Sloan. Both STP’s Thank You compilation and Sloan’s A-Sides Win: Singles 1992-2005 have special editions that include bonus DVDs packed with about 3 or 4 hours of material each. If you can’t follow Rules 1-3, which nonetheless should never be broken, honour Rule #4 instead. A worthy bonus disc of music or DVD Video is a tantalizing offer few can refuse. Including me.
Rule #5: Never Put Out A Greatest Hits Package Unless You Have Enough Hits To Fill At Least One Disc
I’m looking at you, Better Than Ezra, King’s X, Nick Cave, and all you other performers who don’t understand that you have to earn the right to release a greatest hits record. If you don’t have enough songs that people remember from Television and/or the radio, get back to work cranking out more hits. If you must put out a compilation of previously released songs, even though you don’t have many hits, please call it something other than Greatest Hits. The Best Of… is a good substitute.
Rule #6: Never Add “Volume One” Or “Part One” To The Title Of Your Hits Package Unless You Know For A Fact You’re Going To Have More Hits In The Future
It’s always a bad idea to assume you’ll still be successful after you release a CD of your hits. It’s even worse to express this feeling in the title of your hits package. Any time you see the words “Vol. 1” or “Part 1” after “Greatest Hits” or “The Best Of…”, it’s an outright guarantee that these performers will never have enough new hits to justify releasing a follow-up. It’s like their ego gets the best of them and they can’t keep their hot streak going. R.E.M., Madonna, The Rolling Stones, U2, Depeche Mode and The Red Hot Chili Peppers could’ve done this themselves but refused. Is it any wonder then that they all have had enough hits to persuasively put out more than one hits package?
I’m wagging my finger at the following guilty parties for breaking Rule #6: Van Halen, Korn, Hall & Oates, which leads me to the next rule…
Rule #7: Never Put The Same Hits On Any Two Greatest Hits Packages
U2 broke this rule with U218. 12 of the hits on that record were already on either of the two previous Best Of.. releases. Other repeat offenders include Bryan Adams, The Police, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Iggy Pop, Hall & Oates, Van Halen, Prince and countless others who have recycled their best known repertoire over and over again because none of them had enough new hits to warrant putting together another hits package. I can understand Iggy Pop, Bryan Adams and Van Halen releasing expanded versions of their earlier compendiums (2 discs instead of the original 1) but wouldn’t it have been best to have gotten it right the first time? The greed of bands and their record companies know no bounds.
Musicians and record companies, memorize these rules. Deviate from them at your own peril.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, November 26, 2006
The next time you rent a movie from your local video store, avoid the popular releases for once in your life. Instead of grabbing a freshly pressed smash off the shelf, take a chance by seeking out a lesser known title. The best films being made today are often the smaller ones that fail to compete with the big budget blockbusters like Spider-Man and Attack Of The Clones. Thanks to home video, you get another chance to see a terrific film you should’ve seen in the theatre. Here are some recommendations:
1. The Iron Giant (1999)
This animated charmer would’ve found an audience if it didn’t have to compete with the unstoppable blockbuster, The Sixth Sense. Featuring some breathtaking animation, The Iron Giant is an alien war machine who crash lands in a small American town on Earth in the 1950s and befriends a young boy, obsessed with science fiction, who saves his life one night. Jennifer Aniston is the voice of the boy’s mother. She’s a widow constantly working late at the local diner while her son pretty much does what he wants while she’s away. Christopher McDonald is appropriately slimy voicing the opportunistic FBI agent. Harry Connick Jr. is surprisingly charming as a friendly junkyard sculptor, and yes, that’s Vin Diesel, delightful and sweet as the title character. There are moments in this film that will break your heart.
2. All The Pretty Horses (2000)
Released in the crowded month of December, Billy Bob Thornton’s beautifully photographed romantic western got lost amongst the more popular Oscar contenders. This is a film that makes you fall in love with its landscape. (It was filmed in New Mexico and Texas.) At the heart of the film is a forbidden romance between a drifter (Matt Damon) and a Mexican woman (Penelope Cruz in her best performance), who he meets while working on her father’s ranch. He’s played nicely by Ruben Blades. Also good is Damon’s buddy, Henry Thomas. All in all, an effective drama with emotional truth.
3. Love And Basketball (2000)
Omar Epps is a cocky high school basketball star who can’t stop thinking about his next door neighbour, also a talented baller (Sanaa Lathan), and the feeling is mutual. The result is a wonderfully moving, humourous and surprisingly insightful film that not only gives you a sweet and convincing love story but some insight into the temptations NBA pros face. Separated into 4 quarters (get it?), we meet the future lovers as fighting kids and follow them through adolescence straight into the perils of adulthood. Dennis Haysbert is excellent as Epps’ father, an ex-NBA pro whose indiscretions catch up to him. He has some smart scenes with his son where we start to believe just how difficult it is to resist groupies. He creates empathy for his character. A lesser movie wouldn’t have.
4. Tigerland (2000)
This is the best Joel Schumacher movie. Colin Farrell, in a star-making performance, plays Bozz, a reluctant leader who knows how to get frightened soldiers discharged from a military training facility. He gets away with a lot of insubordinate behaviour simply because he’s a talented soldier and his superiors know a born leader when they see one. Set in 1971, during the Vietnam conflict, the movie lays the groundwork for the effective training exercises at the end which are held in a jungle-like setting called Tigerland. With one psycho soldier (Shea Whigham) after him for turning the men against him, Bozz is torn between fleeing the facility and facing up to his responsibilities. Funny, brutal, real. If you were moved by Platoon, you’ll enjoy this one, too.
5. Almost Famous (2000)
Before Vanilla Sky, writer/director Cameron Crowe made this serio-comic valentine to his rock and roll adolescence. It is a wonderful film about a child prodigy who finds solace among the larger than life characters he writes about for Rolling Stone. Despite strong reviews, this one never found the audience it so richly deserved. Often hilarious, and extremely wise about the inner workings of the music business, Almost Famous is filled with solid performances, memorable lines and best of all, a heart of gold.
There were songs, there were compliments but there was little in the way of insight into the life of a legendary actor. Marlon Brando made a rare appearance on television a few nights ago on CNN’s Larry King Live. He granted this interview (his first in five years) for two reasons. One, it was in his five million dollar contract with Random House, the publishers of his autobiography, BRANDO: SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME, to grant at least one interview with the media. Secondly, he wanted to be interviewed by Larry King because, according to Brando, King is a genuine interviewer whom he admires greatly.
Wearing red suspenders in honour of his host, Brando mentioned his love for Shakespearean plays and his hatred for performing live theatre. When King attempted to ask specific questions about acting in film, though, Brando hesitated and avoided straight answers.
Brando did praise a few of the actors and directors in the American cinema such as Robert Duvall ("He was willing to fall on his face," he said); Robert De Niro; Harvey Keitel; and even Martin Scorsese ("He is extraordinarily talented, dynamic and has put film in a noticeably higher position," praised Brando).
Most of the interview focused on Brando’s political viewpoints. He talked about the problems with overpopulation, carbon dioxide and the mistreatment of Native Americans.
Avoiding the touchy questions, King played it safe by asking Brando why he hates doing interviews. "The interest is in the money," came the response. He also asked for his opinion on awards such as the Oscar. Brando said that he didn’t believe in these types of awards because he doesn’t think he’s any better than any other actor or boom guy in Hollywood. On being famous, Brando admitted that he has lost his identity in the real world and felt miserable when he first gained recognition. This resulted in many sessions with psychoanalysts, according to the actor.
No questions were asked concerning the recent murder trial of Brando’s son Christian, who is still serving time in prison. Nor were there any comments concerning the autobiography, his love affair with Marilyn Monroe and countless other women, the films he made or his private life.
The program, which was broadcast live from Brando’s home in California, ended with a mouth-to-mouth smooch and two promises: King promised to interview Brando again in the future and Brando said that he would conduct his own interview with King on a future show. Here are some statistics from the broadcast:
Number of times Brando said "fuck": 1
Number of times Brando said "What?": 12
Number of times King and Brando sang: 2
Number of times King said Brando was "wonderful": 3
Number of times Brando chewed and sprayed his cookie crumbs while talking: 1
Number of times that Brando said "If I was Joe Schleb, I wouldn’t be sitting here.": 1