Biggest Hits (1982) – Johnny Paycheck
I am instantly in love with this man and his utterly unique world view. His voice is brilliantly unique. Take This Job and Shove It is his most famous, (and, yes, he actually does it better than the song’s author, David Allen Coe) but hardly his best. Outlaw's Prayer is legitimately moving and brilliant; I admit to laughing my head off during Colorado Cool-Aid; and you don’t get better “capital-C Country” than Yesterday’s News Just Hit Home Today and I Can’t Hold Myself In Line. This is outlaw country as it oughtta be.
Jump Back: The Best of the Rolling Stones (1993) – The Rolling Stones
Heck of a great listen. It’s not a perfect playlist. The album starts with Sticky Fingers, so it loses a ton of classic recordings from the sixties, but the Stones have been so great for so long that no single disc compilation is going to be close to definitive. Forty Licks was two stuffed discs and it wasn’t even close to really comprehensive. But we keep coming back because, hell, any compilation of Stones tracks is going to be a ton of fun.
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Hank Williams (1999) – Hank Williams
As the Millennium Masters Collection albums always seem to be, this is way too short. There are twelve songs here and every one of them, from the rousing Hey Good Lookin’ to the desolate Lost Highway to the exuberant I Saw the Light to the painful Lonesome Whistle, are absolutely brilliant. But when you consider that the album is not even thirty-two minutes long, you start noticing all the songs missing: My Son Calls Another Man Daddy, Mind Your Own Business, Half as Much, You Win Again, The Angel of Death, A Mansion on the Hill and you realize that they could have packed this album all the way to seventy-nine minutes. That still would have barely made a dent in Williams’ catalog, but the effort would have been appreciated. Most baffling of all: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, arguably Williams’ single most influential and iconic tune, is missing. That makes me wanna cry. Try to find a bigger and better compilation than this, in short.
So Far . . .: The Best Of Susan Ashton, Volume 1 (1995) – Susan Ashton
It takes some nerve to release a “best of” compilation when you’re just four years and three albums into your career, but Ashton gave it a shot. Ashton is a Christian artist and she’s often talked about in the same breath with Margaret Becker, but this isn’t a good comparison (despite the fact that the two did eventually do some recording together). Becker’s songs tend to be wistful, melancholy and thoughtful, an approach to faith through struggle and Becker’s voice is evocative, instantly recognizable and deeply empathetic. Ashton’s songs are less thoughtful and less interesting and her voice is not nearly as good as Becker’s. This album is mostly bland, though it has a smattering of good songs: Grand Canyon, Hunger & Thirst, Ball & Chain and Here in My Heart are all fairly good to very good acoustic ballad type songs. I’m baffled as to why a couple of legitimately great songs from Angels of Mercy, Ashton’s best album, are missing in action. How you make an Ashton compilation and leave off Walk On By and Innocence Lost, for my money her two best songs, is absolutely beyond me. But this one is mainly forgettable anyway. There’s a good Ashton mixtape out there in the cloud, but I haven’t made it yet and this is certainly not it.
Now That’s What I Call Christmas! (2001) – Various Artists
The Now series makes its pass at a Christmas album with this two disc compilation. It starts with Sinatra and ends up with N’Sync and that should tell you all you need to know. The first disc is pretty solidly classic, but the second disc starts dragging in people like Brittany Spears and Michael Bolton and Gloria Estefan and is pretty tough sledding, if you’ll allow me a pun. If you do run across it, don’t miss Ottmar Leibert’s amazing acoustic instrumental of Deck the Halls, a wonderful Latin flavored dash of surprising brilliance on that second CD. But there are better compilations out there than this. I mean, surely.