Another side effect of the rise of streaming: The death of the greatest hits album.

“It’s flash cash,” a record company executive told me years ago. “Greatest hits albums are great for two things: some quick and easy sales leading up to Christmas and for killing off a record deal with a band you know will be leaving the label.”

“Say what?” I replied.

“Sure! A greatest hits release can count towards a band’s contractual obligation. If they’re signed to provide seven albums–as was the standard for so many years–and things go south and we can’t or won’t resign them, we can kill off the contract by making that seventh record a greatest hits collection. Either way, we can make a lot of cash from these things. We love them.”

He was right. I used to buy a lot of these things when I was spinning in clubs. It made far more economic sense to buy a collection of big singles than the individual albums. It was also a great way to get caught up on a band that already had a deep catalogue. Start with a CD of their big hits and then pick which full albums you wanted to explore further.

For example, how many people were introduced to the Beatles through their famous Red and Blue collections?

But consider this: in the age of streaming–that is, the post-CD age–is there a need for the greatest hits record anymore? Anyone can create a greatest hits playlist with just a few clicks. And chances are you can probably find someone who has already done this for just about any artist you can name.

So is the greatest hits CD dead? Maybe in the traditional sense, the kind that the record executive was talking about. But curated collections of an artist’s work? That will live on in the form of reissues and box sets.

The BBC has more.

So does this mean that the music reissue market is dead? Well, not exactly.

In the past, album collections were aimed at a general audience that had a casual interest in the music and was not prepared to wade through every album by a singer or band.

Now they are designed for a specialist audience that wants to dig deeper.

That means multi-disc box sets that are not so much compiled as “curated”, often with a weighty book attached that contains archive photos and a mini-history lesson of the artist’s career. The key is context, something that a streaming service can never provide.

Read more here.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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