CC Issue 09 / Music

In Defense of The Best Of…

Naked, post-shower, still wet, no towel. Rummaging though my friend’s CD collection, doing that little fidgety dance to try and avoid too much water dripping on the floor. Failing. Looking for music to dress to.

My friend’s out at work.

As I scan his shelves of ’90s Britpop, American indie and original Emo (the first time round, when it was good), I stumble across one of my heroes – the Starman himself; David Bowie. My heart flutters with eager anticipation, and then quickly sinks again, as I realise my friend has only one album: The Best of David Bowie.

Eurgh. I sneer and carry on scanning. Then, I stop, and appalled at my snobbery, return to the aforementioned CD, remove it from the shelf and slip it into the CD player.

By this time, I am dry.

Anyone who’s ever watched Alan Partridge and enjoyed it (and by this I mean functioning humans) will remember this:
Ben: ‘Alan, what’s your favourite Beatles album?’

Alan: ‘Probably…the best of The Beatles.’

Oh the wit. The sneering wit. Alan – you’re such an idiot! I can just imagine the London lefty media-types in their drainpipe jeans and thick-rimmed glasses snorting into their chai lattes over the (sparkling mineral) water cooler. Can you imagine? The Best of the Beatles? What a fool! Well do you know what, world? I LOVE the Best of the Beatles. It’s amazing. Just look at that tracklisting: I Want to Hold Your Hand, A Hard Day’s Night, Yesterday, All You Need Is Love, Hey Jude, Come Together. Three minute moments of utter delight. Unadulterated joy. What’s not to like?

That morning in Discovery Bay (obviously), I discovered that I loved the Best of David Bowie. And as I danced around my friend’s sitting room in my pants, and Bowie lurched through Starman and Young Americans and Five Years, the glitz and the striding madness and the raging muscular fury of it all pulsed through my lanky limbs.

Now I understand the argument against the Best Of. I understand those sneering media-types; after all, I used to be one of them. I realise that you need to listen to an album in full to understand the artist and where they were at the time and to fully absorb their songs in the context of the wider body of work. I understand that there are gems in the rough. Sing Me To Sleep will always be one of my favourite songs by The Smiths and there’s a one minute Dylan rarity that makes me cry every time I hear it.

But it doesn’t mean I want to listen to every single c-side recorded by John Lennon whilst high on acid in his grandmother’s bath tub on a vibraphone. And it’s not just the snobbery that annoys me, it’s the assumptions that these artists are so remarkable, so godly in their genius that everything they ever wrote deserves to be listened to. Well… frankly.. it doesn’t.

The Rolling Stones are great, but their entire ’80s backcatalogue makes me want to kill myself. It is mindblowingly awful. Just because they’re The Rolling Stones, it doesn’t make the lyric ‘You’re feeling such a sad sack, like some snack that’s gone all cold and greasy, yeah’ any better.

And all of it is symptomatic of something bigger. We worship these people who are just as flawed as the rest of us.

We must acknowledge that even genius creates rubbish. Let us not be fooled that everything Lennon touched was masterful. It simply wasn’t. Some of it was crap.

So let’s give them a break. Let’s submit to the Best Of. After all, when I die, I’m only gonna be worth a best of. My best piece of writing, the best drawing I ever did, the best song I ever wrote, the person I loved best. The rest of it will probably be rubbish.

2 thoughts on “In Defense of The Best Of…

    • Amen, brother. I got into Joy Division through their Best Of. I later realised it should’ve been called ‘The stuff that’s just about bearable of’.

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