Until iTunes, I never cared about year end lists. But once it became apparent that each year I could comb through those lists, find terrific stuff I missed, and then buy those songs for a buck a piece, year end lists became one of my favorite things. 2004 to 2010 were the salad days. Year after year I would make a “missed” list and burn it to CD or just let the playlist repeat over and over on my iPod.
Somewhere in 2011, Spotify launched in the United States. It was a big deal. Here was a library the size of iTunes that you subscribed to and it was all yours. I went a bit mad at first. And for a long time, several years, I was posting monthly playlists to my Tumblr. They featured blurbs like this from May 2014; “Parquet Courts-Sunbathing Animal-Minor Threat for total lazy slackers.”
For awhile I was not only creating monthly playlists but also making a year end playlist AND collaborating with friend/writer Neal Christyson on our favorite albums. Here’s is Neal working his way up to praising Chance the Rapper’s 2013 album Acid Rap: “2013 was a year full of monster rap releases. Kanye West was projecting his face on the side of buildings. Jay-Z released an album which, for a period of time, was exclusively available on Samsung cellphones. Despite all of my protests, Drake continued to be Drake...” Dearest Neal, it is 2018 and Drake has maintained this trajectory.
Two years ago, I stopped working on the monthly lists. And last year, the year end wrap ups stopped. And now, in 2018, I am still excited by year end lists but also, like, they are starting to freak me out. I’ve always known I won’t have time to listen to every song, watch every movie, play every video game, read every book...but there was always a feeling that, well, access would help thin the field. It wouldn’t matter that I wanted to see Hard to be a God in 2013 because, well, when would I have the chance?
In 2018 I have the chance nearly every hour of every day. Which, OK, I definitely said I always wanted that. But it also kind of sucks. The volume of choice absolutely fries my brains. In 2018, my most listened to artist was R.E.M., a band that has not been active in 8 years. That was by design. I retreated to old favorites with finite catalogues and established quality.
Which brings me to Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits. What a blessing a greatest hits album is in 2018. And this one especially so. Because, well, I’m not crazy about this band. I like them. I respect them. If you told me they were your favorite that would make sense to me. But, I can listen to anything I want at any point of any day and I’m just not going to finally dig into There’s Riot Goin’ On.
But Greatest Hits? Sure! Twelve songs, nearly all of them absolutely perfect. Why not? I’m not super invested in the artist, but I like the artist. A compilation is perfect. I’ll take it a step further and say my enjoyment of a greatest hits album is, at least partly, inversely related to how much I enjoy that artist. My friend Jeff says one of the best greatest hits album of all time is The Steve Miller Band Greatest Hits 74-78. His reasoning is something along the lines of SMB not really being essential listening in the broader context of rock but his good songs are also too good to disregard entirely.
I think that pattern holds true for many of the “iconic” greatest hits albums. ABBA Gold, The Eagles 71-76, Journey’s Greatest Hits, The Cars Greatest Hits, The Best of The Doors, etc… There are others where the album itself has taken on its own life—Singles Going Steady and Hot Rocks both come to mind. And sure, plenty of these albums were released because of greed or settling an album contract or to capitalize on an equally exhausted and aging set of 1980s or 1990s consumers, but that shouldn’t get in the way of a good time when you only have a limited time.
So now, in 2018, feeling shredded, wouldn’t you enjoy a Best of Drake? Or what about, Lil Wayne: The Mixtapes 2003-2008 or The White Stripes Singles or The One Godspeed You! Black Emperor Song You Need to Hear. Yes, sure, you can go to YouTube or Spotify or Apple Music to get different takes on what these lists might look like. But now we’re just comparing playlists. Now we have to rank those. And people are crazy. This “Best Drake Songs” playlist is 155 songs long. Someone tighten that up, ok?
—Steven Casimer Kowalski