10 ‘best of’ albums that are perfect introductions to famous bands
More often than not, ‘best of’ or compilation albums feel like a way to keep fans interested with something other than new material. A band usually puts out a live album or collection of their greatest hits because they’ve waited a little too long between recordings; even worse is when the collection is driven by a label looking to squeeze every last dollar out of someone on their roster.
And yet, despite that stigma, there are a handful of compilation albums that are widely regarded as worthwhile additions. Sometimes, this is because they’re well-packaged, and in the case of live records it’s usually because they capture a band’s energy while providing a cross-section of their discography. But what really sets a compilation apart is when it provides a gateway into an amazing artist, giving newcomers a chance to catch up on several records’ worth of big hits.
Here are 10 compilation albums that provide an excellent gateway into a well-known band’s discographies…
Black Sabbath – We Sold Our Souls For Rock ‘N’ Roll (1975)
The first six Black Sabbath albums remain some of metal’s greatest records… but let’s be real, there’s a lot of weird, LSD-fuelled stuff going on between the hits. We Sold Our Souls For Rock ‘N’ Roll is a perfect entry point for the new fan, interspersing the band’s heaviest bangers with some of their spacier jams and respected B‑sides. Not only that, but the album’s killer title and cover design makes it a respectable album to be seen with, rather than some ‘The Sony Years’ compilation meant more as a cash grab than a fan-pleaser.
Misfits – Collection I & II (1986 and 1995)
Like many early punk acts, horror freaks The Misfits have a career littered with weird EPs, awesome B‑sides, and odd-man-out versions of their most classic songs. But the two Collection albums – 1986’s Misfits/Collection and 1995’s Collection II – gather all of the band’s awesome tracks and establish definitive versions of some of their more wiley material. But it’s not just the big singles – the albums also include some of the Misfits’ weirder tracks like Cough/Cool and Rat Fink, making them necessary additions to their full discography.
Mötley Crüe – The Dirt Soundtrack (2019)
Not only did Mötley Crüe win big with their much-loved Netflix biopic The Dirt, the film’s soundtrack also introduced a new generation of fans to their music. And rightly so – The Dirt Soundtrack is an essential collection of the band’s material, spanning across their entire career and amassing some of their best songs. But it’s not only the music you’ve heard before – tracks like Red Hot, Too Young To Fall In Love, and Piece Of Your Action not only teach new listeners about radder B‑sides, they also let entrenched Crüe-sers know this soundtrack wasn’t a slapdash affair.
Motörhead – No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith (1981)
Surprisingly few live albums provide a solid introduction to the bands who made them – because in all honesty, most live albums aren’t terrific. But Motörhead’s No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith has them sounding as fearsome and frantic as they do on any of their albums, exuding that electric energy that only live Lemmy can provide. The songs thereon also give the listener a best of setlist of the band’s early, genre-defining material, including famous cuts like Ace Of Spades and Overkill alongside lesser-known gems like The Hammer and Capricorn. Lightning in a bottle, this album.
Nirvana – Nirvana (2002)
Due to the weight of their cultural impact, getting into Nirvana can feel like a daunting task. Fortunately, their 2002 self-titled compilation album is an excellent way to get into their music without feeling overwhelmed by what each album means to music history. The best of includes both the hits and some previously-unreleased versions of classic songs, making it an interesting artefact in its own right. While there are a few choice tracks missing from the album, it still gives newcomers an excellent stepping stone to Nirvana fandom.
The Cramps – Bad Music For Bad People (1984)
It’s especially interesting when a band’s best of record has one of their most iconic covers. The leering yellow bastard on the cover of 1984’s Bad Music For Bad People has become synonymous with garage punks The Cramps. Kind of sad, really, since the album was seen as a heartless attempt to cash in by former label I.R.S. Records after Lux Interior and co. jumped ship. Still, if you’re a newcomer looking to enter this leopard-print world, you can find no better gateway than this collection.
Mayhem – Live In Leipzig (1993)
The only full-length studio album Mayhem released, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, was recorded well into the band’s career – three years after the death of original vocalist Per ‘Dead’ Ohlin. But their live album from their show in Leipzig, Germany, provides a swath of material from both De Mysteriis and their EP Deathcrush. It’s also the only real way to hear Dead’s distinctive roar behind Mayhem’s tracks, making this live album the definitive introduction to black metal’s most infamous group.
Green Day – International Superhits! (2001)
Especially interesting about Green Day’s massive best of album International Superhits! is that it was released at the end of what many consider their first act. It would be three years after they released this compilation that American Idiot would drop, revitalising the trio’s careers; as such, International Superhits! feels like a landmark, ending one period of their public identities. Not that their careers were spartan before American Idiot, of course – Superhits! charted in 10 countries, reminding fans that even Green Day’s early material was some of the most enjoyable punk rock ever written.
Type O Negative – The Least Worst Of… (2000)
Leave it to Brooklyn’s most depressing group to make the title of their best of compilation a self-deprecating jab. That said, Type O’s compilation album is a solid collection of the band’s most memorable material, including bummed-out classics like Love You To Death, Black No. 1, and Everything Dies. But it’s the B‑sides that they chose to include, such as Hey Pete and their terrifying cover of Black Sabbath from the Devil’s point of view, that make this more than a singles playlist.
Iron Maiden – Best Of The Beast (1996)
1996’s Best Of The Beast is only one of several solid Iron Maiden compilations, standing alongside albums like 1992’s A Real Live One and 2002’s Edward The Great. But Best… is the most well-rounded of the bunch, including all the greatest hits as well as live recordings and songs from albums featuring vocalists Paul Di’Anno and Blaze Bayley. Given how much material Maiden have now, an entry point is pretty necessary.
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