CHAPTER TWO, greatest hits for the Christmas season, 1981: Barbra Streisand's "Memories" (Columbia TC37678) shows that hers may not be so good. A "best of" by any other name is still a "best of" -- and "Evergreen," "My Heart Belongs to Me," "The Way We Were" and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" were all on Streisand's "Best of, Vol. 2"; her duet with Donna Summer, "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," is also readily available. Two new songs do not a album validate; enough is enough.
Chicago's "Greatest Hits, Vol. 2" (Columbia FC 37682) may be a revelation to folks who weren't sure that august group had had any hits since those collected on "Vol. 1" in 1975. It's here -- "If You Leave Me Now," along with recent minor hits like "No Tell Lover" and such oldies as "Question 67 and 68." Chicago is no longer with Columbia, but the melodies linger on.
For the Beach Boys, the melodies have departed, and it's the group that lingers on. "Ten Years of Harmony" (Caribou Z2X37445) is a two-record set representing the last 10 years, in which they've hardly done anything worth recalling. How they got a two-record set out of it is anybody's guess.
Pink Floyd's "A Collection of Great Dance Songs" (Columbia TC37680) is lighthearted in title only. Those who never thought of this as a singles band are right; these are mostly outtakes from the group's rock symphonies, like favorite arias from Wagner. Material ranges from "One of These Days" (1971) to "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" (1979), with a new recording of "Money" from the "Dark Side of the Moon" (now in its 392nd week on the charts and moving back up with a star). Roger Waters writes his desolate lyrics in a Bleak House of the mind, but Floyd is still a mindblower of the first degree. Especially with headphones.
"Classic Yes" (Atlantic SD 19320) is a weak "best of," far less of a value than the three-record live set, "Yessongs" (SD-3-100). Most of this classical-rock material dates back to the dawn of the '70s, which is also when most fans' memories of the group were good. Yes never got much better, just more complicated.
"Best of Firefall" (Atlantic SD 19316) might interest fans of Washingtonian Larry Burnett, except that most of the songs on this collection come from the pen of Rick Roberts. Firefall always came off as second-rate Eagles or Crosby, Stills and Nash, with a cooler edge that confirmed their Colorado origins. It was the musical equivalent of Hollywood's dumb blond.
"Best of the Blues Brothers" (Atlantic SD 19331) shows what happens when a one-shot joke is taken for a million-dollar ride. It was just a "Saturday Night Live" skit until Belushi and Ackroyd realized there was a profit to be made from their conceit. Two and a half records later, they've put out a best-of; it's a pure rip-off.
"Changestwobowie" (RCA AFL1-4202) is not as interesting as "Changesone" five years ago, though it covers much of the same territory. David Bowie is always fascinating, a rock chameleon whose failures are generally more interesting than most other people's successes. The inner sleeve shows his phases and revolving obsessions, from 1971's "Oh! You Pretty Things" through "Starman," "Aladdinsane" and "Fashion," "D.J." and "Ashes to Ashes." You can bet that Bowie will keep rising phoenix-like from his own history.
Polydor manages to package good material so badly that one needs to be almost desperate to purchase it. Witness "Best of Duane Allman" (PD6338), "Best of the Allman Brothers" (PD6339), "Best of James Brown" (PD6340) and "Best of Tim Hardin" (PD6333): All contain classic material, much of it unavailable because old record companies have folded (Capricorn) or been absorbed in the new conglomerates. There's precious little information and no sense of what these artists contributed: just song, titles and thank you, ma'am.
It's hard to believe that "The Best of Roberta Flack" is the former Washingtonian's first hits collection. As such, it's indispensable and a good way to avoid much of the weaker material that cluttered the eight albums these songs are drawn from. All eight of her million-selling singles are included here on a "best of" that has earned its title.
Now that she's gone to RCA, Motown will undoubtedly exploit Diana Ross just a bit harder. "All the Great Hits" (MO13-960C2) includes a badly organized Supremes medley, but it's mostly drawn from Ross' post-Supreme career. It's a lot better than her RCA debut, mainly because of the fine production by Chic and Ashford and Simpson. And it includes her farewell, the classy duet with Lionel Richie, "Endless Love."
"Hooligans" (MCA-2-12001) is a best of the Who from the company they recently abandoned; you'd think this was MCA's revenge, except it doesn't include "My Generation." What kind of a greatest hits package is that? For two records, it's got enough hits, starting with "I Can't Explain" from 1965 and running through 1978's "Who Are You." The Who were also the what and why of rock and roll, which this compilation confirms.
Finally, for the Simon and Garfunkel fan who has everything but the box -- two boxed sets from Columbia. "Simon and Garfunkel: Collected Works" (C5X-37587) collects the duo's five albums, from "Wednesday Morning, 5 a.m." to "Bridge Over Troubled Water." And "Paul Simon: Collected Work" (C5X-37581) collects his four fine Columbia solo albums (he has since moved to Warner Bros.) with the added bonus of "The Paul Simon Songbook," which was never released in America and includes two previously unavailable cuts, "A Church Is Burning" and "The Side of a Hill." The best part is the unofficial retail price -- $29.98. If you bought each album separately, each set would run around $40. Now all you have to do is figure out how to stuff it in the stocking.