The Best Of
The Best Of
The Best Of
VH-1 Behind The Music: The Go-Go’s Collection
Tears For Fears
The Best Of
Well, I’m officially old. If the advent of “old wave” nights and “retro flashback” cuts on pop radio weren’t proof enough, Universal’s excellent series of “Millennium Collections” has taken to releasing sets on a good deal of what I was listening to in junior high, when I first became obsessed with music. These five records make up a pretty good sampling of what I grew up on, and while by no means complete, certainly take me for a walk down memory lane.
ABC’s cabaret-pop was always best heard in the small doses provided by singles and videos, which made hits like “Poison Arrow” and “Be Near Me” irresistible confections, but full albums carry a risk of sugar shock. The Best Of suffers from the same effect, with the true classics (the aforementioned tracks, “The Look of Love (Part One),” “How to Be a Millionaire”) standing out as lifesavers while drowning in a sea of their lesser tunes (“Tears Are Not Enough,” “All of My Heart”). The biggest surprise here is that the band’s biggest hit (in the US, anyway), “When Smokey Sings,” doesn’t stand up as well as the earlier material — was this song always this schmaltzy?
The Call, on the hand, have held up supremely well over the decades — well enough, in fact, that one of their signature songs, the anthemic “Let the Day Begin,” was used as the song to kick off Al Gore’s race for the Presidency, playing just after his speech at the Democratic National Convention. Always one of the most earnest bands around, their angular sound and politically charged lyrics are still as powerful today as they were in the ’80s. I’d forgotten how much singer/songwriter Michael Been could sound like David Byrne, especially on early songs like “The Walls Came Down” and “War Weary World.” This collection still sounds fresh, even though its newest material is a decade old. Perhaps that’s partly because the Call weren’t as commercially successful as the other bands covered in this review, and thus, weren’t as overexposed, but this Best Of should remind people of why they gained the admiration of contemporaries like Peter Gabriel (who sings on “Everywhere I Go”) and Bono (who joins in on “What’s Happened to You”). In the midst of a resurgance, the Call also have a new live album, Live Under the Red Moon, and while one track from that record appears here, it’s worth tracking the live album down as a reminder of what a great live act they were, and because there’s very little duplication of songs between the two releases.
The Fixx were a unique breed in that they were as successful with the fashion-obsessed New Wave crowd as they were on pop and even album rock radio, one of the few bands (the Police are the only other that springs immediately to mind) that you were as likely to hear alongside Rush as you were Duran Duran. While focusing on both synths and guitars, they managed to keep a foot in both camps, their uniquely atmospheric sound leading to a string of hits throughout the ’80s. Instantly recognizable songs like “One Thing Leads to Another,” “Saved By Zero,” and “Are We Ourselves” stand the test of time, and this collection is as consistent as anything the band ever did.
While not technically part of the “Millennium Collection” series, VH-1 Behind the Music: The Go-Go’s Collection certainly belongs in spirit. Much has been writen about the Go-Go’s indelible influence on music, especially on female artists and the riot grrrl movement, and I’m sure it doesn’t need to be gone over again here. Suffice to say that this band is Important with the capital “I,” and this collection does a fine job of showing why, collecting hits like “We Got the Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” and “Vacation” alongside lesser-known but equally important tracks like “Lust To Love,” “Skidmarks on My Heart,” and “Girl of 100 Lists.” There’s even a nifty rarity in the form of “Speeding,” the B-side of the 1982 single “Get Up and Go.” While not the most complete collection (that honor still goes to the double-disc Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s), it’s an excellent collection for the casual listener, or for someone new to this seminal band.
I probably owe my life to Tears For Fears. When teen angst was at its toughest, when I was going through the messes we all go through in the awkward years of junior high, no matter how depressed I’d get, I’d put on Songs From the Big Chair, and by album’s end, I’d somehow feel better. It’s that powerful an album. Unsurprisingly, this Best Of sticks largely with Big Chair, which was also their most commercially successful record, featuring such hits as “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Shout,” and “Head Over Heels.” Even today, hearing these songs somehow helps me find the strength to go on, no matter what challenges I may face. Surprisingly, though, this collection pales in comparison to 1992’s Tears Roll Down collection, in that it includes only one song from their excellent debut album, The Hurting (that being “Change,” on an extended version), and omits “Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down)” from 1989’s Seeds Of Love, the band’s final album as a duo. Even more surprising is that the collection ignores virtually all the material that Roland Orzabal recorded under the TFF banner after Curt Smith departed following Seeds, including only the minor hit “Break It Down Again” from 1993’s Elemental. Despite being a bit disappointing to a hardcore TFF fan, this collection should more than serve the casual listener, especially one that only remembers the band from the hits, and along with the Go-Go’s collection, stands as the best of this bunch.
All of the “Millennium Collections” feature a sharp, uniform package design that makes them look very nice, and more importantly, lovingly assembled liner notes with detailed chart info, plenty of photos, and an in-depth essay explaining the band’s appeal, historical significance, and what the members are up to now. “The Millennium Collections” on a whole are a fine series, even if they do make me feel grey before my time (hey guys, come on, I’m not even 30 yet!). All are recommended to fans of ’80s music or the individual bands, with the Go-Go’s and Tears For Fears collections standing out over and above the pack as essential listening for all.
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