Greatest Hits? Depends on Who's Listening (or Downloading)

As the summer concert season winds down and after witnessing yet another encore featuring Band X playing its biggest hit while scores of show-goers captured the moment with their cell phones, I was once again struck by the dichotomy of old communication platforms being transformed by new technology.

With music downloading—to iPods and cell phones and laptops—continuing to explode, might the “Greatest Hits” record some day become obsolete? With the flexibility and sortability afforded by MP3 technology, aren’t we already creating our own “Best Of” soundtracks wherever and whenever we feel like it? To be sure, who needs the record company (or even the recording artist) to tell us which of their works we should enjoy most?

Some might say this is nothing new; after all, who didn’t make cassette “mix tapes” back in the 80s in particular? Yet, could you alter the offerings of a certain mix tape on a whim? Certainly, not with the ease and audio resolution that you can today. Further, the internet has made searching out rare and previously unreleased songs and adding them to your musical arsenal akin to producing your own “boxed set” of rarities and B-sides.

Jake Coyle of the Associated Press reports that, according to Nielsen SoundScan, at least half of the top 50 albums at any one time are typically compilations, and, The Eagles “Greatest Hits (1971-1975)” remains this country’s best-selling album ever. Yet, there is no denying that, in today’s buyer’s market, the onus is on the seller to entice us with the likes of lost studio recordings, alternate song takes and other rare gems, not merely repackage what’s already been released—a good thing for us music lovers.