One of These Days!
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How the Eagles’ Greatest Hits Compilation (1971-1975) Toppled the King of Pop’s Thriller as the All-Time Best-Selling Album
IT is strange to think a greatest hits package…
that covers four years in a band’s career could outsell Michael Jackson’s epic album, Thriller. I always associate Jackson as being the artist who could not be beaten but it seems like a new wave of Eagles appreciation has seen their greatest hits record become the all-time biggest-selling disc. Compare Michael Jackson and the Eagles’ albums and there are big differences. Thriller is the album that finally got the King of Pop his throne and made up for a lack of award success following on from Off the Wall. That album gained huge critical acclaim but did not scoop as many Grammys as expected. Thriller, released in 1982, became an instant seller and was a step up from the 1979 smash, Off the Wall. Maybe, compared to other albums in his cannon, Thriller contained a few weaker moments. We do not often replay Baby Be Mine (on the first side) or P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) (on the second side) but the nine-track album suffers no bloating and few wasted moments. The truly biblical tracks – Thriller, Beat It; Billie Jean and Wanna Be Startin’ Something – have gone down in the history books and, between them, saw Michael Jackson stand in a league of his own. Whilst there were various writers and producers that helped Thriller pop and resonate; it is the central performances from Michael Jackson that ensured the record sold by the millions!
Thriller has shifted over thirty-three million units (in the U.S.) and it seemed like its position as the best-selling album ever was cemented. It is no surprise Jackson’s masterpiece gained big applause back in 1982 and, given the fact it is a sleek and polished selection of Pop gems, is promise and brilliance will not dampen for a very long time. The tracklisting on the Eagles’ greatest hits selection is a banquet of treasures that, unfairly to Michael Jackson, is the cream of the band’s crop. Take It Easy, Lyin’ Eyes and Desperado; One of These Nights, Take It to the Limit and Tequila Sunrise are all Eagles classics and it is not the only album from the band in the top-ten best-selling albums. Hotel California, with the title-track as mysterious and popular as ever, is at number-three and there is a big appetite for the band. Look at the remainder of the top-ten and there are offerings from Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin IV), Pink Floyd (The Wall) and Fleetwood Mac (Rumours). The Eagles’ collection, Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), has shifted five-million more than Michael Jackson’s Thriller and I wonder whether that balance will shift. The tussle between the top-two albums has been going on for a while now. Jackson overtook the Eagles in 2009 after posthumous popularity surged Thriller into the lead. Now, nine years down the line, and it seems like the leader is confirmed and in no danger of shifting.
I feel there is something old-school and romantic in the collection of songs. Maybe the Eagles, at their peak, represented an America that has been lost and forgotten. If Hotel California has been seen as a wild night with a band ripping up a hotel – there are numerous interpretations and theories – there is something settled, safe and memorable regarding the Eagles’ greatest hits. We can all hum the songs and recognise the brilliance at work. This piece asks why the Eagles’ greatest hits has overtaken Thriller and lodged into the mind of millions:
“…Now, it’s not a bad album by any means. “Take It Easy” is a good song, as are “Desperado” and “One of These Nights.” But how has a run-of-the-mill best-of collection sold more than 29 million copies? How did it, in 1999, manage to surpass Michael Jackson’s Thriller—a moon-landing of an LP—as the best-selling album in American history? (Thriller would reclaim the top spot 10 years later, following Jackson’s death.)”.
“When Their Greatest Hits was released in 1976, “best of” albums were a relatively new phenomenon in rock and pop music. The album’s initial success prompted a trend piece in The New York Times, one that included primers on nine other new best-of compilations”.
“It’s no wonder that record companies love to market these collections,” the Times’ Henry Edwards rationalized. “They cost almost nothing to produce; they sell with a minimum of advertising; and they are spared bad reviews by pop critics who, for the most part, ignore them.” (This didn’t prevent Edwards from slipping in some critical musings: “A genuine gift for melody coupled with vigorous playing and harmonizing occasionally enables the Eagles to overcome the vacuity of their recent hits.”) While Edwards understood why these albums were so beloved by labels, he couldn’t predict how fervently fans would eat them up”.
You may think it is a bit of an unfair advantage having a best of out there when Michael Jackson’s Thriller is an original studio album. I argue some of the Eagles’ best songs are not on that compilation but it is a solid collection of tracks that seem to connect. The fact so many of the songs have been endlessly played on the radio means they have embedded themselves in the mind and become the soundtrack to many of our lives. It is amazing to think, in a streaming age, we are still celebrating the album and have a lot of love for artists like the Eagles. I mentioned how America has changed and, in my view, the Eagles represented core values that have disappeared from the nation. One can hear something old-world and romantic in the best songs on that album; there is an easiness and open road that portrays a gentler and more hopeful America. Maybe many yearn for the past and turn to the Eagles because they have scored many of our lives. I wonder, as does this article, whether we can accurately determine what constitutes a world-class album and whether that mirrors cultural tastes/preferences:
“In 2018, sales numbers of any sort can seem like a quaint metric for success—the methodology for gathering and collating those numbers hasn’t caught up, in any satisfying way, to cultural shifts in how people actually consume music. It wasn’t until 2016 that the R.I.A.A. even agreed to tally on-demand audio and video streaming. (Now fifteen hundred streams count as one sale.) Yet, even long before streaming complicated the mathematics, accurately determining a record’s sales was something of a fool’s errand. Prior to the introduction, in 1991, of Nielsen SoundScan (itself a flawed point-of-sale electronic tracking system), the Billboard charts were determined by “store reporters,” or record-store clerks who would call the magazine and simply describe what was selling”.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Eagles
Do we really value the album as a concept and put much stock in the sales figures?! We are all so consumed by the streaming statistics and how many times a video is viewed on YouTube. Albums still sell but we rarely take a look at the top-ten and go and buy that album – why would we when we can hand-pick the odd song on Spotify?! The article I have just quoted asked whether we should care which albums are selling well:
“You might be thinking: But who even cares what is selling? The monoculture is dead! This is the age of personal autonomy! Commercial popularity is surely no longer a useful barometer of the national condition! But it’s also an era in which “influence”—as determined by the number of followers a person can amass on any given social-media platform—can be quantified with horrifying precision. This leads, on occasion, to a very modern sort of numbers panic. Earlier this month, the rapper Nicki Minaj released her fourth album, “Queen.” When it débuted at No. 2 on the Billboard chart, behind Travis Scott’s “Astroworld”—“Queen” sold a hundred and eighty-five thousand copies in its first week—she logged on to Twitter and posted a series of heated grievances, opining on the system and how it can be gamed. Numbers matter less than ever—until they matter the most”.
I wanted to raise this article because it is fascinating to see two big albums tussle and change positions through time. This Rolling Stone article whether the Eagles’ greatest hit has gained new reputation because of its influence on modern artists:
“The ubiquitous compilation influenced generations of future country stars. “A lot of younger country musicians did experience the Eagles [through Their Greatest Hits],” says Ken Levitan, a veteran country and rock manager who represents Kings of Leon, Trace Adkins and LoCash. “Every household had a copy of that record. If they didn’t hear it themselves, their parents were listening to it, so it became part of a fabric of their life. That record, and Skynyrd and Hank Jr., influenced the whole range of country artists”.
I can understand why Michael Jackson’s Thriller gained its millions-selling reputation and continues to shift: it is peerless and sees the Pop maestro at the top of its game; the songwriting is superb and you can listen to the entire album and not feel the need to wander off and skip through tracks. So, then, why do many people like the Eagles’ greatest hits – given that so many find a lot of the songs hard to swallow?! This piece offers some guidance:
“That still doesn't answer the major question: Why did The Eagles benefit so much more than anybody else? If yuppies were re-buying their favorite records to relive the music of their youth, shouldn't a plethora of similar albums be threatening their record? Yet outside of a similar Billy Joel collection that has now exceeded 23 million in sales, no other greatest-hits record has approached the dominance of "Their Greatest Hits." (Of course, Billy Joel's sales figure is assisted by the rule that counts each sale of a double album as two units.)
More credit must go to the changing sounds of country radio in that time period. Steel guitars and southern accents gave way to guitar solos and bigger drum sounds. The gigantic country acts of the time, most notably Garth Brooks, acknowledged the influence of songs such as "Take It Easy" and "Lyin' Eyes," and a 1993 country tribute to The Eagles topped the charts with more than three million in sales. This was a previously untapped market for the band, and a greatest-hits compilation certainly would be a perfect entrance”.
I am one of those people fascinated by the album and why some sell big and others do not really catch on. I wonder whether Michael Jackson and the Eagles will tussle and battle for those top-two spots for the rest of time? You have to ask which other albums can get near to them and would be able to budge their crowns – nothing from modern times has any chance of getting anywhere near! I think the Eagles’ greatest hits package seem to hold a lot of sway for modern artists in Pop and Country. There is timelessness to the material that seems to puts us in a better mood; a sense of satisfaction and reminiscence that other albums do not hold. Whatever the reason behind the success of the work; I have approached the album with fresh ears and appreciation. In an age where we care less about the album and need to see a reversal in our habits; I am happy to throw light on a couple of records who have been battling for the best-selling spot for years and years. Maybe Michael Jackson will come back and put Thriller back on top but, right now, the Eagles’ four-year-spanning songs of solid gold…
IS outstripping anything else out there.