Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Trick Tuesday: Compilations Round-Up

As with many long-running artists, Cheap Trick's catalog is littered with compilations of, oh, let's be polite and call it widely varying quality.  You name it, they've got it: Greatest Hits albums that are missing some if not all of their actual Billboard hits, Best Of albums with multiple selections from Busted, and just plain head-scratchers.  Happily, there are also a couple of good ones along the way; those will be duly saluted even as I shoot their underachieving cousins like skeet.  I'd say that there isn't really one that I'd recommend completely without reservations, and I'd also warn you that it is the province of an obsessed fan to feel exactly that way.

In terms of scope, I'll be discussing all of the band's major US compilations, as well as a good sampling of some prominent '90s imports; by the turn of the century, Sony Music had begun to standardize their archival releases between markets.  As a result, most of what's come out since 1999 or so is more or less the same in every market, give or take a bonus track or two.

Things purposely omitted, by way of saving me a migraine, are as follows:

* Promo Only discs.  There's billions of 'em, going all the way back to the 1978 From Tokyo to You sampler, and I just don't have enough hours in my day to go inter-trolling for track listings for them all.  If you're looking for what rarities might be buried on some of them, leave a comment or email me and I'll do my best to help you out.

* "Truck-Stop" compilations, by which I mean the sort of el cheapo cassettes, and later CDs, more likely to be found in an highway rest area's gift shop than from a traditional music retailer.  Like promos, there have been many of these issued over the years.  Generally speaking, they'll feature one or two hits alongside eight or nine other titles seemingly pulled from a hat, all topped off with a generic album title and a fuzzy, poorly reproduced band photograph on the cover.  Thanks but no thanks, Sony.

* More obscure import-only compilations.  Look, I grant you that it's somewhat possible that, say, Sony Music in Honduras once managed to offer up the perfect Cheap Trick compilation.  Some things, dear readers, were just meant to remain mysteries...unless you feel so strongly about something that's missing from this list that you just need to use the comments box to let me know about it.

* One-off appearances on soundtracks or various artists compilations.  I love Cheap Trick.  They're my favorite band on the planet.  Because I love them so, I don't really want to have to discuss the likes of "Spring Break" or "Up the Creek".  You can call me a hopeless fan-boy for this if you must.

Lastly before we proceed, a word about "hits".  According to Billboard magazine, Cheap Trick placed the following singles on the US Hot 100: "I Want You to Want Me" (#7), "Ain't That a Shame" (#35), "Dream Police" (#26), "Voices" (#32), "Everything Works if You Let It" (#44), "Stop This Game" (#48), "If You Want My Love" (#45), "She's Tight" (#65), "Tonight It's You" (#44), "The Flame" (#1), "Don't Be Cruel" (#4), "Ghost Town" (#33), "Never Had a Lot to Lose" (#75), "Can't Stop Fallin' Into Love" (#12), and "Wherever Would I Be" (#50).  It would stand to reason that the above would form the core of anything billing itself as a Greatest Hits compilation.  Spoiler alert: not a single one of 'em has  them all.

Unless otherwise mentioned, "I Want You to Want Me" is the live version from  At Budokan on all of these compilations, regardless of whether or not I've noted it as such in the track lists.  That's about it for the fine print.  Drum roll, please...

The Greatest Hits (Epic, 1991)
Magical Mystery Tour / Dream Police / Don't Be Cruel / Tonight It's You / She's Tight / I Want You to Want Me / If You Want My Love / Ain't That a Shame / Surrender /  The Flame / I Can't Take It / Can't Stop Fallin' Into Love / Voices

Japan added a second disc: Hello There / On Top of the World / ELO Kiddies / Hot Love / Big Eyes / Clock Strikes Ten / California Man / Stop This Game / I Know What I Want / Just Got Back / The Doctor / High Roller / Gonna Raise Hell / Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace / Day Tripper

2003 Remaster added a bonus track: Clock Strikes Ten

Largely reviled by serious fans for its pop-centric lack of scope, this moldy oldie is mostly a victim of the passage of time.  Thirteen songs clocking in at just under 55 minutes was par for the course in 1991 terms; of course, now it seems hopelessly skimpy.  Still, there's something to be said in this one's favor: when it comes to including the band's actual chart hits, in the exact versions that were hits, The Greatest Hits still has just about the highest concentration of them in one place.  Obviously, the Japanese two-disc'er presents a much more rounded view of the band's career, but good luck finding one for less than triple digits on the used market.  Personally I never have, but I can console my wounded collector's ego with the fact that I do own the uber-rare vinyl pressing, issued once in Holland and nowhere else.

The Collection (Castle Music UK, 1991)
Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School / I Want You to Want Me (*studio version*) / Clock Strikes Ten / Hello There / Surrender / Ain't That a Shame / Dream Police / The House is Rockin' (With Domestic Problems) / I Know What I Want / Stop This Game / Day Tripper / If You Want My Love / Next Position Please / Standing on the Edge / Good Girls Go to Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere) / The Flame / Don't Be Cruel / California Man

Around the time The Greatest Hits served to terminate the band's contract, Sony Music licensed Cheap Trick's catalog to Castle Records (later to essentially become Sanctuary Music) in the UK.  Hence, the Brits got this delightfully quirky little curiosity instead of the standard Greatest Hits album.  I've always had a soft spot for this one; while it may be a bit lighter on actual hits than its more famous brother, it does a pretty good job at being a Cheap Trick for Dummies to that point.  Sure, it seems a bit wonky at first blush that "Hello There" shows up at track four rather than in the pole position, but "Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School"...now there's a way to open a compilation, folks.

The Hits of Cheap Trick (Pop Shop/Epic Holland, 1991)
I Want You to Want Me / Don't Be Cruel / The Flame / Ain't That a Shame / Cover Girl / Dancing the Night Away / Don't Make Our Love a Crime / Come On, Come On / Heaven Tonight / Dream Police / Need Your Love / Hot Love / Surrender / Tonight It's You / She's Tight / If You Want My Love

Well, maybe Holland needed two Cheap Trick compilations within the same calendar year, who knows?  Speaking of "who knows", I don't know why this exists, who compiled it, or why I even own it.  If the band photo featuring Jon Brant on the cover isn't a tip-off that zero effort went into this thing, then the track list certainly is.  "Dancing the Night Away"?  "Cover Girl"?  "Don't Make Our Love a Crime"?  Seriously, how did they manage to miss "Up the Creek" while they were at it?  Moving on.

Sex, America, Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy, 1996)
4-CD boxed set: Hello There / ELO Kiddies (single version) / Hot Love / Oh, Candy (single version) / Mandocello / Lovin' Money / I Want You to Want Me (alternate version) / Southern Girls (single version) / So Good to See You / Down on the Bay (live) / Mrs. Henry (live) / Violins (live) / The Ballad of TV Violence (live) / You're All Talk (live) / Fan Club (demo) / First Album Radio Commercial (hidden) / Surrender / High Roller (alternate version) / On Top of the World / Auf Wiedersehen / I Want You to Want Me / Clock Strikes Ten (live) / Dream Police / Way of the World / Gonna Raise Hell / Voices / Stop This Game / Just Got Back / Baby Loves to Rock / Everything Works if You Let It (alternate version) / World's Greatest Lover (demo, Rick vocal) / Waitin' for the Man/Heroin (live, Tom vocal) / Studio Banter (hidden) / Daytripper (live, unedited) / World's Greatest Lover / I Need Love (demo) / I'm the Man / Born to Raise Hell / Ohm Sweet Ohm / She's Tight / Love's Got a Hold On Me / If You Want My Love (alternate bridge version) / Lookin' Out for Number One / Don't Make Our Love a Crime (demo) / All I Really Want / I Can't Take It / Twisted Heart / Invaders of the Heart / YOYOY / Radio Station IDs (hidden) / Tonight It's You / Cover Girl / This Time Around / A Place in France / Funk #9 ("The Doctor" demo) / Take Me to the Top / Money is the Route of All Fun / Fortune Cookie (demo) / You Want It / The Flame / Through the Night / Stop That Thief / I Know What I Want (live) / Had to Make You Mine / I Can't Understand It / Can't Stop Fallin' into Love / "Stop This Game" drone (hidden)

Utterly essential to anyone with more than a passing interest in the band, especially at the dirt-cheap, end-of-the-music-industry-special prices it can now be had for.  The songs lifted verbatim from the band's previous albums are intelligently selected (and, back in 1996, the sound quality absolutely smoked anything previously available on CD).  More importantly, the rare and previously unreleased material compiled here is absolutely dazzling, the polar opposite of the barrel-scrapings trotted out as fan-bait on so many boxed sets.  In particular, much of the previously unheard mid-80s material is revelatory: whoever made the decisions as to what made their 80s LPs as opposed to what was left off of them has some serious 'splainin' to do.  Simply put, if you need more Cheap Trick than just a best-of disc and/or Budokan, then you need this.  You also need it as a physical package rather than just a download: do not deprive yourself of the fantastic booklet featuring Ira Robbins' excellent liner notes, as well as the band's track-by-track commentary.

Authorized Greatest Hits (Epic/Legacy, 2000)
I Want You to Want Me / Ain't That a Shame / Southern Girls (single version) / Surrender / Stop This Game / Dream Police / If You Want My Love (alternate bridge version) / Tonight It's You / Everything Works if You Let It (full-length version) / Mandocello / I Can't Take It (live) / She's Tight / That '70s Song (based on "In the Street") / Walk Away (featuring Chrissie Hynde) / Can't Stop Fallin' Into Love / The Flame (live)

One step up, two steps back: obviously, the track list is far more comprehensive than its assumedly not-authorized 1991 predecessor.  The problem lies in the details: there are far too many live and alternate versions on here, given that this was issued by the label that owns the actual hit versions.  "The Flame" is hardly my favorite Cheap Trick moment, but for a purported Greatest Hits disc to contain only a live version of the band's sole #1 single when the hit version was readily available for inclusion is simply ridiculous.  I fully understand the aesthetic reasons behind such a decision: yes, the live version heard here is far more artistically sound than the over-slick studio version, but it's not at all what someone buying a Greatest Hits disc is after.  They're after what they're familiar with from the radio, and this just ain't it.  Also, the brief liner notes are so badly written that they're actually embarrassing: "Authorized Greatest Hits is the ultimate Cheap Trick compilation.  Buy at least four copies..."  Sorry there, slick, but I got a free promo and called it even.  Coulda been, shoulda been, wasn't.

The Essential Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy, 2004)
ELO Kiddies (single version) / Hot Love / He's a Whore / Mandocello (live) / Clock Strikes Ten / Southern Girls (single version) / Downed / Hello There / Surrender / California Man / High Roller / Auf Wiedersehen / I Want You to Want Me / Ain't That a Shame / Takin' Me Back / Dream Police / Voices / Gonna Raise Hell / Way of the World / Stop This Game / World's Greatest Lover / Everything Works if You Let It (full version) / She's Tight / If You Want My Love (alternate bridge version) / I Can't Take It / Tonight It's You / This Time Around / The Flame / Had to Make You Mine / I Can't Understand It / Walk Away (featuring Chrissie Hynde) / Woke Up With a Monster / Hard to Tell (live) / Say Goodbye / Scent of a Woman

2010 "3.0" reissue adds a brief bonus disc: The Ballad of TV Violence (I'm Not the Only Boy) / Big Eyes (live) / On Top of the World / Heaven Tonight / One on One / Cover Girl / Standing on the Edge

It's about as close to perfect as something I didn't compile myself can come, really.  Sure, I could quibble about a couple of omissions: "Oh, Candy", "Never Had a Lot to Lose", "Time is Runnin'" and "Next Position Please" come immediately to mind - and honestly, three from Busted and not a single mention that The Doctor ever existed?  Really, "It's Only Love" is a pretty great song, guys.  All of that is the nitpicking of a true believer, though: if the point of a good compilation is to present the listener with an accurate portrayal of who an artist is and what they do and leave that listener thirsty for more at the end, then The Essential Cheap Trick is a resounding success.  If you're looking to start with a compilation, look no further.  (As for the "3.0" reissue, so long as it remains available for around the same price as the basic two-disc'er, why not?  They're mostly good songs, although the presence of "Cover Girl" on more than one of these compilations confuses me.)

Super Hits (Sony/BMG Custom Marketing, 2007)
Surrender / I Want You to Want Me / The Flame / Can't Stop Falling into Love / Busted / Oh, Candy / It's Only Love / Way of the World / Heaven Tonight / If You Need Me

Although this cheapie stands on the edge (see what I did there? ) of being truck-stop fodder, I've seen it and the series from which it hails available from enough traditional music retailers to mention it here.  Surprisingly - and almost certainly by accident - all ten of these are good-to-great songs.  But really, live a little, wouldya?  There are far better compilations available for not all that much more money, and cheapskates don't generally have nearly enough fun in this life.

Playlist: The Very Best of Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy, 2009)
Surrender / I Want You to Want Me / He's a Whore / On Top of the World / Dream Police / Downed / Oh, Candy / Way of the World / Southern Girls (single version) / If You Want My Love / Voices / She's Tight / World's Greatest Lover / Can't Stop Falling into Love

Super Hits on steroids; a compilation so banal that I've never bothered nor been tempted to own it, even as it sits for less than a buck used on Amazon.  When faced with declining sales, this type of schlocky, creativity-free product (it's one of a series) is the sort of thing that huge labels like Sony have attempted to meet their fate with; is it any wonder that they're losing the battle?

The Music of Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy, 2010)
ELO Kiddies / Hot Love / He's a Whore / Mandocello / The Ballad of TV Violence (I'm Not the Only Boy) / You're All Talk (live) / Clock Strikes Ten / Southern Girls / Downed / Big Eyes (live) / Surrender / High Roller (alternate version) / Auf Wiedersehen / Heaven Tonight / I Want You to Want Me / Ain't That a Shame / Takin' Me Back / Dream Police / Voices / Way of the World / Need Your Love (live) / Stop This Game / Just Got Back / World's Greatest Lover / Everything Works if You Let It (full version) / She's Tight / If You Want My Love (alternate bridge version) / Next Position Please / I Can't Take It / Tonight It's You / Cover Girl / This Time Around / The Flame / Don't Be Cruel / Never Had a Lot to Lose / Had to Make You Mine / I Can't Understand It / Can't Stop Falling into Love / Busted / Walk Away (with Chrissie Hynde) / Day Tripper (live, unedited version)

Playlist on steroids this time, a not-exactly-generously filled three-disc hybrid of The Essential and Sex, America.  Sure, the songs are nearly all great (again with "Cover Girl"?!), and the price from third-party sellers is right, but both of those facts are also true of the two aforementioned releases.  Unlike this, both of those are high-quality products, created with obvious care.  Vote with your wallet.

Setlist: The Very Best of Cheap Trick Live (Epic/Legacy, 2010)
Mrs. Henry / The Ballad of TV Violence / Can't Hold On / I Want You to Want Me / Need Your Love / Surrender / You're All Talk / Downed / I Know What I Want / The Flame / The House is Rockin' (With Domestic Problems)

All-live-tracks compilation, unimaginatively drawn from the various Budokan iterations, the Sex America boxed set and bonus tracks from the remasters.  A cool idea, actually, but horribly botched in execution.  Sony Music's endless-repackaging machine rumbles on undaunted, I guess; this is another one I've never bothered to acquire.  Dear corporate lackeys: please, enough already.

Next week: goodnight now ladies and gentlemen, that's the end of the show.

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