400 blows: A few greatest hits

After reading Elisabeth Vincentelli’s contribution to the 33 1/3 series, ABBA GOLD, I’m left thinking less about defending ABBA (because I really don’t think they need to be defended any longer; they’re kind of pop royalty, having finally been critically acknowledged), and more about defending greatest hits compilations in general, much of which Vincentelli discusses in the introduction. I used to be opposed to compilations for the simple reason that I wanted to be a part of a band as much as possible and thought the only way to do that would be to listen to entire, original albums, particularly in chronological order; if I couldn’t be a part of U2’s progression through the 80s, I wanted to at least be there synthetically. But in reality that’s sort of impossible: just being alive and breathing assures you’ve heard dozens of songs by artists out of chronological and even cultural context.

Today I think compilations are a good starting ground for unfamiliar artists; the only problem arises when these compilations are the best a group has to offer. These so-called “singles bands” shouldn’t exactly be written out of the canon, maybe just re-imagined to a hearkening of a not-so-long-ago time when singles were all that mattered and albums were those things that nobody really bought. However, thanks in part to The Beatles and Brian Wilson, who helped create the modern concept of an album, we now have a po-mo concept of compilations:

There’s perceived to be something distinctly second-rate about compilations, like sending a pre-printed thank-you note instead of a hand-written one: It smacks of an after-thought, something that can’t be taken quite seriously. Worst of all, it smacks of something done for purely mercantile reasons. Since bands and record companies have recouped their recording and promotional expenses, compilations are what happens when someone wants to make quick cash. They’re also what happens when a band is in a creative quagmire, or on hiatus, or gone: the reminder of something that was, not the promise of something that could be. (Vincentelli 7)

I can think of plenty of artists the dreaded “compilation” has affected negatively; Chihiro’s post-EMI split releases that really were outright manipulative cash cows, Ayumi Hamasaki’s A BEST, which she vehemently opposed, going so far as to appear in tears on the front cover, and pretty much all of hide’s compilations which serve as nothing more than posthumous dividends. And that’s just three artists off the top of my head. But conceivably, there may have been some bands that really were just the sum of a dozen really great songs. That isn’t to say that their contribution to music history is really any less (not if we’re looking at quality over quantity) but simply that they may not have been built for rock operas or extended concepts, instead, flourishing in the reduced brilliance of three or four minute mini-epics. Vincentelli notes that “acknowledging that your favorite band’s most important album is a compilation somehow casts a pall on the band itself – and thus on your judgment for championing that group” (5) but I don’t necessarily think that’s true, depending on the artist (and so doesn’t she, not really). I don’t think a lot of people  (especially critics) would pick a greatest hits album by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, or even Michael Jackson as their favorite, even if, statistically speaking, that album is the artists’ best seller.  But in acknowledging that greatest hits do have merit somewhere in this great big universe, and that ABBA’s GOLD is already de facto number one (don’t believe me? read the book), here are ten more of my favorite greatest hits compilations:

Golden Earring: The Continuing Story of Radar Love (1989)

I may be pushing this one a bit too far; how easy could it possibly be to scale down a band who, up until 1989, had released nineteen original albums? Probably if most of the albums weren’t all that great. In the 60s, Golden Earring (known as The Golden Earrings) sounded like  any other British band, except nobody really cared about a little band from The Hague, except maybe people in the Hague. In the early 70s, Golden Earring, like many bands, re-focused their style and released “Radar Love,” a song you may recognize from classic rock stations or the second Wayne’s World movie. It wouldn’t be until 1983 that they released their first U.S. #1 with “Twilight Zone” a very rich, very long, rock epic that has become something of a musical swan song (very sad for the “oldest rock band in the world“), aptly noted by its inclusion as the last track on the CD and not the first. The Continuing Story of Radar Love isn’t necessarily the ultimate collection of Golden Earring songs (again nineteen albums; twelve songs) but it does offer a broad representation of their sound (rock with an honest, sometimes pop, sensibility in its melodies), encompasses two of their most beloved songs, and by omitting any mention of ‘greatest hits’ or ‘definitive collection,’ even purports an answer to Vincentelli’s point that compilations are the end, and not the beginning.

T.M.Revolution: UNDER:COVER (2006)

What’s so great about this greatest hits compilation is that it’s not even technically a greatest hits compilation; instead, Takanori Nishikawa, the main man behind the name, re-sung, re-arranged, and re-mixed fourteen songs in his catalog. While the choices aren’t all that great, the new versions of each of the tracks are. T.M.R’s style hasn’t really changed significantly, though Nishikawa’s other band abingdon boys school, probably had an influence on making the songs heavier, faster and more electric. There is no in between on UNDER:COVER: tracks like “THUNDERBIRD” have been restrained and taken down to the barest essentials, while “Twinkle Million Rendezvous” has a full orchestra. It may not be the best place to lead someone unfamiliar with the band’s work, but it certainly makes it worth purchasing for long-time fans.

Blondie: The Best of Blondie (1981)

Nobody will deny Blondie’s contribution to music history; however, though the studio efforts may have be more important, they’re certainly not as fun. It also says a lot that despite more than half a dozen more compilations following its release, 1981’s The Best of Blondie still has every single track that made Blondie so enjoyable. From the disco-inspired “Heart of Glass” to the punk-smeared “Hanging on the Telephone” the best of Blondie really does have every popular and well-loved Blondie song, in all its evolutionary glory.

Tommy heavenly6: Gothic Melting Ice Cream’s Darkness Nightmare (2009)

This album is almost farcical considering Tomoko Kawase only released two albums under this moniker (and she released a greatest hits for her Tommy february6 persona that same day). I think this compilation was meant to be a sort of end in a musical perspective (and one in a very poor direction, I was to learn). However, this compilation really does encapsulate the best of the two discs she did manage to release. Sure, it might be missing those really cool B-side acoustic versions of “Lost my pieces” and “+gothic Pink+” but it includes both singles and good album-cuts (“fell in love with you”/”2Bfree”) without being bogged down by too many fictitiously good B-sides. Though it may seem redundant to ardent fans of Tommy heavenly6’s work, it trumps the worst aspects of the sometimes filler-tracked self-titled Tommy heavenly6 and Heavy Starry Heavenly.

Whitesnake: The Definitive Collection (2006)

I’m not sure most 80’s rock bands weren’t sewn for greatest hits; most people remember Def Leppard, Skid Row, and Poison for a handful of singles, schmaltz, and not much else. But while a lot of commercial-oriented bands took themselves too seriously (Bon Jovi) or not seriously enough (Motley Crue), Whitesnake kind of fell in between. They had David Coverdale, a glam-ham by any other name, and his girlfriend, but they also had a classic rock upbringing (at least initially) that influenced what would later amount to a really hard-sell of commercial rock. You could argue that Whitesnake’s Greatest Hits released in 1994 gets the job done, but I prefer the sequencing of The Definitive Collection for a few reasons: 1) it opens with more blues-rock pieces that says something about the band’s origins, 2) it chooses songs from more than just three albums (as good as they were), and 3) um, why not a few extra tracks? While 2008’s 30th Anniversary Collection took things a bit too far (3 discs? really?), The Definitive Collection remains…a definitive collection of really great Whitesnake tunes that doesn’t make you feel excessively bad for liking something so perversely wonderful.

B’z: The Best “ULTRA” Pleasure (2008)

Speaking of excess, there’s a difference between too much and just enough; sometimes less really is more, at least in the case of B’z. For a band that has been around twenty-one years, owning all sixteen of their albums is quite unnecessary. This 2-disc compilation contains some of the best singles of the band’s career, all remastered to perfection (and I really mean that; some remasters just make things louder or less fuzzy, but these songs really sound phenomenal with a good pair of headphones), trumping 1998’s single-disc The Best Pleasure, while including some of the band’s later work on disc 2.

Nanase Aikawa: ID (1999)

Nanase Aikawa’s first hits compilation features all of her best songs with a few notable exceptions from 2000’s Foxtrot (for obvious reasons), but it hardly matters much; Aikawa’s style was already changing with the new millennium and ID chronicles her short, but fruitful career as an 80’s metal-influenced 90’s alterna-chick. Since I was never interested in her post-90’s output, it only makes sense that ID says everything good about Aikawa without eluding to what would later become subdued, restrained pop rock.

Stevie Nicks: Timespace: The Best of Stevie Nicks (1991)

I had two choices: I could pick Crystal Visions or Timespace, and without hesitation, I chose Timespace; Crystal Visions is bogged down by not enough great songs and too many live cuts (though I do really like the live version of “Rhiannon,” it’s not even a Stevie Nicks song, belonging to the Fleetwood Mac canon). Timespace, on the other hand, contains everything good and wonderful about the mystical “Reigning Queen of Rock and Roll” that not even multi-platinum albums like Bella Donna and The Wild Heart could do. It features some of her best collaborations (with Tom Petty, Bon Jovi, and Prince – yes, that’s him playing synth on “Stand Back”), along with the surrealist mix of rock and magic that has made her so entertaining (both musically and personally). Fleetwood Mac may have been more pure in its genre, but Nicks challenges the foundations of that trade through her unique vocals, bluesy swagger and mystical inspiration. I’ll always enjoy Nicks more for her most successful tunes than the albums that comprised them.

Pet Shop Boys: Discography: The Complete Singles Collection (1991)

If ABBA threw their arms around the flighty, four minute pop song, the Pet Shop Boys carried the dropped torch into the 80s. Nobody is going to deny that the Pet Shop Boys wrote some excellent albums, all which contained great songs – but the Pet Shop Boys will be most remembered for their mastery over what would be the singles’ last flourishing decade. Discography, released right before the start of their most disappointing albums, is the epitome of all things quick and consumable about pop music, tinged with a misty aura of italo disco; everybody knows these songs are unmistakably from one of the gluttonous decades that would later result in both backlash and an endless revival. But Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant never tried to do anything but make really fun music and they accomplished just that with an elegant pride. With an injection of wit, sarcasm, and intelligence, every single song on this compilation is more than an ode to the great theme of pop (love and all its permutations), it’s also an ode to the ennui of suburbs, religious guilt, making money (or trying to), loving someone (because he/she pays your rent), and political headlines (though in a somewhat pointedly disaffected way). ABBA may have made it look easy, but the Pet Shop Boys made it look appealing.

Journey: The Essential Journey (2001)

This might be a bit far-fetched; The Essential Journey doesn’t have any songs from their first three albums (a real pity, as I find them genuinely interesting and meritable classic rock); but what it lacks in musical self-awareness, it makes up for in personal self-awareness: Steve Perry’s vocals put Journey on the map and the band kind of knows that. The Essential Journey caters to the lowest common denominator by compiling really great singles from a band that not everyone will admit to liking, but whose songs have become staples of American rock (I imagine “Don’t Stop Believin'” might be one of the most definitive American rock songs, but that’s debatable and I’m still working through the counter-arguments – for one, that Journey sure isn’t an indestructible band, being marred by a few poor records that have driven them and their fans into a closet, and two, that their very inclusion on this list is something of a double-edged sword that denies their right to that privilege; clearly, I believe a greatest hits collection is better than any one of their original albums, putting the issue of single-bands versus album-bands at odds all over again). Journey was never an album-oriented band, though their albums as a whole were huge sellers, particularly from 1978 to 1983. There are some strange choices that mar disc 2 (“Chain Reaction” is a good song off of Frontiers, but “Troubled Child” is much more powerful), but that’s even if you get that far – disc 1 is really all you need, and the only reason I didn’t pick 1988’s Greatest Hits is for its exclusion of “After the Fall.” There’s nothing really essential about most essential compilations (especially those with more than one disc) – except for this one.

Do you think the ‘greatest hits’ compilation has any true merit? Which artists do you think flourish in the greatest hits format – and which don’t?

Tommy heavenly6’s “I♥Xmas”


Tommy heavenly6 / I♥Xmas / December 06, 2006
♫ 01. I♥Xmas / 02. THE CASE

I was really getting concerned about Tommy heavenly6 for a bit there. Her last single was a holiday themed track of epic length with an accompanying promotional video that rivaled even the cheesiest music videos (can’t think of any off the top of my head, though “Thriller” comes to mind). Straight off the heels of that debacle, I was expecting something a bit more irritatingly cheerful and…Christmas-ey with this single. Perhaps jingle bells or those salt shaker sounds. Instead, Tommy surprised us once again and instead, kept it simple by penning a standard pop rock track, no holly jolly cheer involved (save for the PV, of course), and for that, I thank her. That being said, it really is just a regular, everyday pop rock song; no innovation, no frills. The c/w track, “THE CASE,” is even less innovative, if that’s possible. Even Tommy’s vocals remain void of emotion, leaving the song blase and somewhat droll.

This is not one of Tommy’s better singles. Without even another cool bonus acoustic version like she did with her previous two singles, the disc leaves one wondering where the angry, rocker grrrl we love went. Things are looking bleak for her upcoming album; girl needs to come up with a new gimmick.


I♥Xmas PV ░ [ YouTube ]

Catch-up: Tommy heavenly6

Tommy heavenly6 / Lollipop Candy♥BAD♥girl / October 11, 2006
02. Lollipop Candy♥BAD♥girl (short version)

Just in time for Halloween, Tommy heavenly6 comes prepared with a Halloween anthem for the ages. Sort of. Even though the “Pray” PV left us with lifted hope as heavenly questionningly picks up february’s microphone, we are instead, treated to this child-like epic rock(ish) number that leaves much to be desired from the punk rock alter ego that is Tomoko Kawase. With not even a B-side (instead, it’s c/w cop out shorter version of the song…which is probably the only version you will be able to stomach), the single is expendable and barely scrapes the barrel of useful. Unfortunately, heavenly will be returning this December for another seasoned song, this time centered around the most useless and commercially driven holiday; Christmas. That’s fucked up, yo. Instead of singing pumpkins in the PV, will we have dancing holly? I shudder to think.

Official Site
Buy Lollipop Candy♥BAD♥girl

Tommy heavenly6′s “Pray”


Tommy heavenly6 / Pray / July 05, 2006
01. Pray / 02. ABOUT U
03. Lost my pieces (Melancholic Guitar Version)

Just one short month after Tomoko Kawase released I’m Gonna SCREAM+, she’s back with another catchy pop rock tune, set as the theme to the new anime series Gintama. Nothing about this single cries original to me and I’m barely finished with the grrl rocking on I’m Gonna SCREAM+, but any Tommy release is always welcome. “Pray” is a standard pop rock track, that employs a lot of tin can vocals set behind rhythm guitars and fast drum beats. It has a catchy melody but lacks tune sufficient enough to carry through.

The second original song, “ABOUT U,”” picks up where “Pray” leaves off. It has a slower, grungier vibe with a lazy beat. The song drags its feet in tempo and the melody leaves much to be desired, but for some reason, I am not all together put off from the song. If anything, the two song slump only makes “Lost my pieces (Melancholic Guitar Version)” that much better, though I’m still unsure if this is due to comparison or its own unique spin on the original, upbeat album version. Either way, like its Melancholic predecessor on the previous single, it surpasses the original beyond imagination. The haunting opening strains make way for a soothing drumbeat and…tambourine? I’m pretty sure this was a guitar version and all of the extra instruments are tarnishing the “Guitar” part of the title, but I’m not complaining because it works. And also because this song is beautifully serene in a way that the only applicable word is melancholic, in a pensive kind of way as Tomoko broods, “Where are my pieces?

The single is once again mediocre and follows closely in I’m Gonna SCREAM+‘s footsteps. However, though it does harbor one brilliant gem among the coals, I forfeit my plea for another. Tommy february6’s last single was released November 2005 so…more february please?

Official Site
Buy Pray

Tommy heavenly6′s “I’m Gonna SCREAM+”


Tommy heavenly6 / I’m Gonna SCREAM+ / June 07, 2006
01. I’m Gonna SCREAM+ / 02. GOING 2 MY WAY !
03. +gothic Pink+ (Melancholic Guitar Version)

I could have been more excited for Tommy heavenly6’s new single, but I wasn’t. To be completely honest, I am more of a Tommy february6 fan. I love that cheesy, 80s synth pop revival, I love the squeaky clean image, the Sweet Valley High books she totes around in the music videos, the short dances…Tommy heavenly6, in comparison, is like an angry Avril Lavigne knock-off. Granted, I admitted in my article about Th6 that I liked that she was angry, and don’t get me wrong, I do, but I failed to find any longevity in her debut album besides a few catchy songs that I enjoyed merely for the fact that they happened to mirror my own sentiments at the time I listened to them. Since those few months have passed, I have barely allowed her disc to rotate anywhere near my CD player, let alone have a digital go in my iRiver.

However, all that has changed with I’m Gonna SCREAM+. The song begins quietly with a few strummed guitar licks before crashing into your general rock mayhem. But it works. Brilliantly. I love the melody, the use of her native Japanese interspersed with piles of English lyrics, and those short breaks of the guitar, that although seem out of place with the rest of the loud raucous of the song, also tie the song together and allow the listener to catch his or her breath before it’s time once again to break into the rock. It’s also worth noting that most of the time, Tomoko Kawase’s high-pitched vocals sabotage songs, holding her back from shedding that Avril Lavigne pseudo-punk image in what is still a mostly male-dominated genre (and for good reason). In this song, though, it kind of works because the song is so heavy, the light, feminine vocals help bring it down to a nicely balanced equilibrium.

“GOING 2 MY WAY !” is the first time I’ve heard Kawase use even a semi-swear word, and it was certainly semi-shocking. Enough that after she sang “ass” (actually, it was more like “ahzz”), that’s pretty much all I could think about for the next minute while the song played. Totally threw me off. Didn’t appreciate it. However, I do like the way the verse works in this song, almost more than the chorus which is actually pretty bland and shadows her earlier work. The guitar solo is much appreciated as it spices up the song a bit, but only for its few short seconds. Valiant try, though.

“+gothic Pink+ (Melancholic Guitar Version)” is an acoustic version of an earlier single. It doesn’t do much for Kawase’s vocals which fail to bring justice to the beautifully eerie melody, but said vibe created in the background of the song is marvelous. The only additional noise to the guitar is an array of soft bells, which add to the ominous atmosphere already provided by the likes of mostly English lyrics such as “Welcome to my dark side, why don’t you have a picnic there?” I don’t know, maybe because the way you sing it implies you might cut my head off and feed it to wolves?

The A side is fantastic, I could do without the B-side, the extra track all but makes up for it. This single is so good, I actually checked my sarcasm at the door, apparently next to my total hate for whiny girl vocals in rock music. Rocker grrrls. Ugh.

Official Site
Buy I’m Gonna SCREAM+

Be it heavenly or february, I ♥ Tommy


A few favorite Tommy february6 songs
ChOOSe mE or Die / je t’aime ★ je t’aime / daNCin’ bABY / I still love you boy
Love is forever / Is this feeling love?


A few favorite Tommy heavenly6 songs
+gothic Pink+ / GIMME ALL OF YOUR LOVE !! / fell in love with you
2bfree / Lost my pieces

The thing about Tomoko Kawase is that I used to hate her. Once lead singer of the now defunct rock group the brilliant green, I found her voice high-pitched, annoying, and much too perky for the genre she was attempting to represent. I even remember watching one of their live performances on Hey! Hey! Hey! and rolling my eyes in exasperation, praying to God they would hurry and finish their set so the next guest could come on.

So you can imagine my surprise when, after the band disbanded, Kawase announced her solo career under the moniker Tommy february6 (Tomoko = Tommy, obvious, february 6 = her birthday, not so obvious but in an obvious kind of way). Unlike her singing in the brilliant green, she decided to take a whole new approach to her style; 80s synth pop revival. Before the Gwen Stefani’s of the world began churning out the same, Kawase was conjuring the techno-ridden, newly discovered computer sounds made famous twenty years ago by popular American and European artists. Although Tommy february6 was supposed to be a one-off digression, her popularity was enough to warrant a second album in 2004. To this day, Kawase continues releasing singles, her latest, Lonely In Gorgeous, in November 2005.

On the flipside is Tommy heavenly6, the Avril Lavine-esque rocker, who harps back to Kawase’s days in the brilliant green. Unlike Tommy february6, who pens vapid, but catchy budding-teenage-romance lyrics that start with a shy glance from across the street and end with a first kiss at the bus stop, Tommy heavenly6 is angry, relating feelings of abandonment, hurt, revenge, and pain. Kawase released music under both names simultaneously, from 2001 to present day.

But just what makes Tomoko Kawase’s projects so appealing? After all, I thought she was completely annoying until a few months ago. I had even heard some of her music back when je t’aime ★ je t’aime was released, and I didn’t understand the appeal. A few years later, I heard “Lonely In Gorgeous.” It was love ever since. Despite the 80s revival, the music is very refreshing and new; after listening to a lot of songs directed towards adults with themes expressing that purpose, it was just so nice to be able to put on music that was both cuss-free and trite-free. The music is catchy, nostalgic, and for once, her high-pitched tone finds its niche amidst the bubblegum infused pop. For Tommy february6, it’s pretty clear why it’s so good: all the elements are there for me from the synth sound to the innocent, sometimes cheesy, yet romantic lyrics and most importantly, the sentiments that can be gleaned from those two combined; anything that can take me back to a time in my childhood that didn’t suck wins.

As far as Tommy heavenly6 goes, it’s a completely different story. I like what Tommy heavenly6 stands for; I like that she’s angry, that she seems to say all the things I feel at the times I listen to it, and did I mention that I like that she’s angry? The music is alright, most of it is mediocre, or sounds like Avril Lavigne, or just doesn’t make sense in its Engrish state of being…but the songs that are awesome, aren’t just awesome, they’re exceptional. That combined with the fact that Kawase is able to pull off both polar extremes showcases her talent and ability. You know, not like when she’s dressing up as Hermione from Harry Potter or posing with huge Pokemon dolls. But…that’s just another one of those things in an artist’s career I choose to ignore, like Ayumi Hamasaki in the “Ladies Night” promotional video, or Ayumi in the “my names WOMEN” promotional video, or basically anything Ayumi has put out that has to do with the empowering side of a woman (too contradictory to be taken seriously). Make like Kawase does when she sings about Cafe Ole. Or tells you to ChOOse her or Die.

2005 in music

Ten really, really, ridiculously good albums released in 2005:

01. dredg – Catch Without Arms: It’s been way too long since I’ve come across an album as good as this one that just flowed together so well and restored my faith in American rock music. This is one of those albums where you can download each track separately and draw a unique aspect from each and then listen to the album in order and find a commonality that ties the whole album together.

02. Depeche Mode – Playing the Angel: Fantastic album. More than two decades later, they still manage to flawlessly blend an eerie rock edge with synth-pop that brings 80s new wave to the twenty first century. If there is one song I would urge you to download and listen to completely, it would be “Precious.” It is absolutely amazing. ‘Nough said.

03. Namie Amuro – Queen of Hip-Pop
04. Anggun – Luminescence
05. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
06. F.I.R. – Unlimited
07. The Birthday Massacre – Violet
08. The Receiving End of Sirens – Between the Heart and the Synapse
09. Kent – Du & jag doden
10. Tommy heavenly6 – Tommy heavenly6