When the best of holiday wishes come the "Best of . . ." holiday albums, and those of you looking to fill out the catalogs of some artists whose complete works you never got around to purchasing may find some pleasant surprise among the usual "greatest hits" displays.
One piece of good news for shoppers is that many premier performers are releasing collections of older material rather than new studio work. A second nicety is that there are often added dividends among the reissues.
A short summary to help focus your gift-giving:
PAUL SIMON: "Greatest Hits, Etc." (Coloumbia JC 35032). It is my own opinion that Paul Simon can't make a mistake, but even if he can, he hasn't made one on these choices of the choice. There are 14 tunes crammed onto this disc, and two of them, his current single "Slip Slidin' Away" and the previously unreleased "Stranded in a Limousine," make up the "Etc." of the album's title.
One might quibble with the absence of "My Little Town," "Peace Like a River," and "St. Judy's Comet," but the inclusion of "Have a Good Time" and "Take Me to the Mardi Gras" - neither of which were ever "greatest hits" - almost makes up for the oversights. The rest is the best like "Kodachrome," "American Tune" (the live version), "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," "Still Crazy After All These Years," ad infinitum.
ELTON JOHN: "Elton John's Greatest Hits, Volume II" (MCA 3027), Elton hasn't done much lately (and recently announced his second retirement from live performing) but this package should placate his old fans and also be of interest to casual listeners.
"Greatest Hits, Volume II" contains four chartmakers never released on Elton John albums: "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" (which appeared on the soundtrack of "All This and World War II"), "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with KiKi Dee, "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Pinball Wizard" from the motion picture soundtrack "Tommy."
Another plus is the inclusion of the single version of "Island Girl" instead of the less lively album track from "Rock of the Westies." Now, if MCA can ever get "Friends" and "Song for Michelle" off the "Friends" film soundtrack, there will be no need for further discussion.
JETHRO TULL: "Repeat: The Best of Jethro Tull, Volume II" (Chrysalis Chk 1135). This album is not as good as the previous "M.U.: The Best of Jethro Tull" (Chrysalis 1078), primarily because Jethro Tull has not had as many classic cuts as one might imagine. Still, there is plenty here to make it worthwhile.
Especially welcome, is some of the earlier Tull material: "A New Day Yesterday" and "Bouree" from "Stand Up." "Cross-Eyed Mary" from "Aqualung" and "Benefits", "To Cry You a Song."
NEIL YOUNG: "Decade" (Warner Brothers, 3RS 2257). This three-record set covering Neil Young's 10-year career could be the find of the holiday season. Not only does it effectively cull what truly is the best of his work ("The Loner," "Cowgirl in the Sand," "Southern Man," "Old Man," etc.) but there are four previously unreleased solo efforts: "Deep Forbidden Lake," "Love Is a Rose" (made famous by Linda Ronstadt), "Winterlong" and "Campaigner"; one field cut, "Down to the Wire"; and the classic "Sugar Mountain," which has not appeared on any authorized Neil Young album before now.
Besides all that, "Decade" brilliantly covers all of Young's important work beginning with the Buffalo Springfield and continuing through Crosby/ Stills/ Nash/ and Young to his most recent solo effort, "American Stars and Bars." No Neil Young library is complete without this package and anyone looking for a compendium of one of America's most influential practitioners of popular music need look no further than "Decade."
THE BEATLES: "Love Songs" (Capitol SKBL-11711). This two-record set does not contain anything new but it is the Beatles and it is a far better collection than "Rock and Roll Music."
Actually "mellow songs" might be a more appropriate title than "Love Songs" since "I'll Follow the Sun," "Norweigian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" and "She's Leaving Home" are questionable love songs in the purest sense. Also, a true love song - "We Can Work It Out" - is noticeably absent.
Still, there are the ageless "Yesterday" and "Something" and gems like "I'll Be Back," "Girl," "You're Got to Hide Your Love Away" and "You're Going to Lose That Girl," which never seem to be heard quite enough.
The packaging is immaculate and the order of the melodies perfectly matched to insure a consistently pleasant mood. There will never be another Beatles but a set like "Love Songs" makes us appreciate the ones we had.