Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Greatest Hits Album That Darn Near Everyone Had

I don't know when CD technology was developed, but it wasn't the way recordings were packaged and sold when I was growing up. I was raised on vinyl records that eventually wound up with scratches and cassette tapes that eventually got snarled in the gears of the tape player. It's how we rolled.

In those days, I had some greatest hits albums in my collection — not many, though, probably because the capacity of records and tapes was so limited. Most albums were about 30 to 40 minutes or so when you added up the lengths of the tracks on both sides. (You can get at least twice as much material on a CD.) Double albums really were better deals, but most bands didn't have enough material that qualified as hits for a two–record greatest hits collection.

Besides, if I liked a band well enough to buy its greatest hits album, odds were I already had several of that band's albums in my collection, and the greatest hits package would merely duplicate most, if not all, of the material I had — while depriving me of a band's lesser–known works.

It occurred to me the other night that I have many more greatest hits on CD than I ever had on vinyl — probably because it is possible to get so much more information into the digital format — but one of the greatest hits albums that I did have in my vinyl collection hit the music stores of America on this day in 1976. I am speaking of the "Eagles Greatest Hits."

I never owned many Eagles albums when I was growing up. I liked them. I liked their hits. I just never owned many of their albums. I still don't even though I have completely transitioned to CDs now. I own, as I always have, "On the Border," one of their early albums, and a two–CD collection called "The Very Best of the Eagles" — which is basically the "Eagles Greatest Hits" plus the bonus tracks of the Eagles' post–1975 hits.

("On the Border" was a great example of what I meant when I spoke of a band's "lesser–known works" of which I would not want to be deprived. My favorite Eagles song, "My Man," is on it, and it was never a hit.)

The concept of bonus tracks didn't exist in 1976 although I guess one of the tracks on "Eagles Greatest Hits" would qualify as something of a bonus track. "Tequila Sunrise" was the only song on the album that did not crack the Top 40, but the album would be altogether different without it. It would still be a great collection, but listening to it would be a much different experience.

All the hits prior to 1976 were in the package — "Take It Easy," "Best Of My Love," "Take It To The Limit," "One Of These Nights," "Desperado." There were 10 tracks in all.

And everyone, it seemed, had the album. Even folks who already had most if not all of the Eagles' albums in their collections. Turned out that wasn't my imagination after all.

A week after "Eagles Greatest Hits" was released, it became the first album to receive the Recording Industry Association of America's platinum award recognizing 1 million shipments in the United States. In 1999 it was certified 26x multi–platinum, making it the all–time best–selling album.

Note that the latter was achieved long after CDs had overtaken vinyl in the commercial music market. It was certified 29x multi–platinum in 2006; that was 30 years after its release.

To date Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is the only other album to be certified 29x multi–platinum. It was released in 1984, and I'm sure Jackson's death spurred sales of all his albums. That's what happened when Elvis died, when John Lennon died, when Frank Sinatra died. I guess it happens when most famous singers die.

Eagles co–founder Glenn Frey died nearly a month ago, but I haven't heard if any of the Eagles albums, particularly the greatest hits package that was released 40 years ago today, has had a boost in sales as a result. Maybe the difference is that the artists I mentioned were perceived as solo acts (except for Lennon, of course, who was a founding member of the Beatles but had been a solo performer for a decade at the time of his death).

But maybe that doesn't matter after all. Frey had a solo career, too, and it was pretty successful, with hits like "The Heat Is On," "You Belong to the City" and "Smuggler's Blues." I guess he will always be remembered, though, for his work with the Eagles. The surviving Eagles, with Jackson Browne, performed a fitting tribute to Frey at the Grammys Monday night.

Of course, "Take It Easy" — the Eagles' first big hit, back in the summer of '72 — was a highlight of Monday night's tribute. Browne and Frey wrote it; appropriately, Browne sang it at the awards show.

And the greatest hits album that was on music store shelves 40 years ago today undeniably would have been incomplete without it.