It's ONLY mid-November, but record companies have already adopted their Christmas mentality. That means a slew of "best of," "live" and "superstar"products, so rather than let them pile up, let's take a look at the first wave by which record companies attempt to sell yesterday7s music at today's prices: "Queen: Greatest hits"
This one comes as part of a package that includes a book ("Queen: Greatest Pix") and a video ("Queen: Greatest Flix"). We're not just talking gold and platinum here, we're talking tonnage. These guys are the highest-paid executives in England, each making 700,000 pounds a year. When they sing "We Are the Champions of the World," it's no idle boast. If you like gargantuan, overblown operatic rock/disco anthems, it's all here on songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Another One Bites the Dust" and "Fat Bottomed Girls/Bicycle Race." There's even a new collaboration with David Bowie called "Under Pressure" (it sounds more like Bowie than Queen). "We Will Rock You," Queen sings. With this triple release, they'll also roll you.
"Best of Blondie" (Chrysalis CHR 1337) is a smart move, considering the uncertainty of the band's future; rumor has it that Chrysalis released this early to make up for the losses on lead singer Deborah Harry's atrocious solo album. It's also true that Blondie was one of the unintentionally great pop bands of the late '70s; "Best of" collects all the good songs they ever did, so there's no longer a reason to buy any of the old albums. The set includes "Heart of Glass," "Hanging on the Telephone," "The Tide Is High," "Call Me," "Rapture" and seven others. A good buy and possibly a goodbye.
"The George Benson Collection" (Warner Bros. 2HW3577) is a two-record career retrospective for the guitarist who learned to sing and count money at about the same time. It includes his early pop-jazz work for CTI and A&M, as well as his more recent pop-pop work for Warner's; mellow tones abound. Too bad Benson couldn't make a career from his considerable talents as a guitarist, but it's made driving in the middle-of-the-road a lot safer.
"Best of the Doobies, Vol. II" (Warner Bros. BSK3612) has three good Doobie Brothers songs -- "What a Fool Believes," "Minute by Minute" and "Real Love" -- and probably should have been a single instead of an album; maybe they couldn't figure out how to put out a three-sided single.
"Great Gonzos -- The Best of Ted Nugent" (Epic FE37667). Need to unclog a drain or move a mother-in-law out of the house? The Nuge will be glad to oblige, and you don't even have to turn the volume up very high.
"Willie Nelson's Greatest Hits (And Some That Will Be)" (Columbia KC2 37542) features songs from the current Columbia era, with some as recent as "On the Road Again" and "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground." The double album confirm's Nelson's impeccable taste in song selection, though one wishes he'd record more of his own material; his archivist/conservationist stance is beginning to wear. The "Will Be" is presumed from three new releases, Nelson's own "Heartaches of a Fool," a collaboration with Waylon called "Good-Hearted Woman" and "Stay a Little Longer." Maybe.
On the live front, there's "The Jacksons -- Their Greatest Hits -- Live" (Epic KE2-37545), four 15-minute sides recapitulating group and solo hits from "ABC" and "Shake Your Body" ("Down to the Ground") to "Can You Feel It" and "Off the Wall." What a long strange trip it's been from Gary, Ind., and what a truly mysterious character Michael Jackson appears to be even on record. For the most part, this is a good live recording.
The majority of live recordings are greatest-hits collections in disguise. Rush hasn't had many hits, per se, but if someone were selling shares of "Exit . . . Stage Left" (Mercury SRM27001), it would be the safest buy on the market. "The Spirit of the Radio" has been elusive for them, but the band's success is solid testimony to the proposition that if you tour constantly (for seven years, in this case), what people see will eventually be what they buy; the group's last two albums went Top 5, and so will this.
"Snaz-Nazareth Live" (A&M SP-6703) is 20 cuts built around Dan McCafferty's sandpaper vocals and Manny Charlton's stuck-in-the-basics lead guitar. Not as heavy as most metal, Nazareth charms as much with its eclectic repertoire (including covers of Joni Mitchell, Nils Lofgren, Tim Rose and J.J. Cale) as with its relentless energy. This album does them credit.
Garland Jeffries' "Rock and Roll Adult" (Epic FE37536) captures the disquieting mix of rock, reggae and modern soul that makes Jeffries one of rock's more interesting also-rans. He's backed here by the impeccable Rumour (ex-Graham Parker) and the album includes a classic original ("Wild in the Streets"), Jeffries' European smash ("Matador") and the cover that revived his career ("96 Tears").
"Indian Summer -- Al Stewart Live" (Arista A2L-8607) takes care of two creative problems -- it features three live sides of past hits and one side of new material. Stewart's voice is a bit bland, but his focused and intelligent material is redeemingly ambitious. The new material's not that hot, but old favorites like "Year of the Cat," "Time Passages," "Road to Moscow" and the epic "Nostradamus" evoke a folk-opera sentiment that's as rare as it is well-done. With 20 minutes to a side and full lyric sheets, this album should serve as a model to other compilations, most of which seem hastily put together with accountants, rather than consumers, in mind.