This is a sort of follow-up to my post about the decline of oldies and classic rock radio over the last decade.
Back when there was an album reviews section of thewho.net (which I proudly wrote many reviews for), someone made a comment about how greatest hits collections are for little girls and housewives. I kind of have to agree with that, while recognising the importance a greatest hits tape can have for a potential new fan.
There are some musical acts who were always stronger with singles than albums, while other bands are better-known for their albums than their singles. And other bands were great at both. But you can’t just rest on only knowing a musical act (band, vocal group, duo, solo singer, etc.) if you only know the greatest hits.
Serious fans tend to prefer songs that aren’t so well-known. It’s not that a serious fan never counts any of the popular songs among his or her favourites, or chooses obscure or lesser-known tracks on purpose, but just that a serious fan is more likely to be aware of the under the radar songs.
When I say The Monkees are awesome and criminally underrated, I’m not talking about the overplayed hits like “Daydream Believer” or “I’m a Believer.” I’m talking about the really deep, mature, socially conscious, experimental songs like “Daily Nightly,” “Zor and Zam,” “Shades of Grey,” “Sometime in the Morning,” “The Porpoise Song.” You know, the types of songs you’d never hear on the radio, the types of songs the average non-fan has never heard of. The Monkees were about so much more than simplistic pop heavily marketed to teenyboppers.
The Four Seasons were my second musical love. When I got into them in the Spring of ’93, there were so many more of their songs in rotation on the two oldies stations, basically all their big hits up through 1967. But they also had a number of lesser hits, great B-sides, and some hits from their days of dwindling popularity in the late Sixties—a gorgeous cover of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Tell It to the Rain,” “C’mon Marianne,” a thoughtful cover of The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Beggin,’” the original “Silence Is Golden,” “Big Man in Town,” the criminally underrated album track “Soul of a Woman.”
These days, I hear only a small sample of the songs that got me into them. I can’t remember the last time I heard “Dawn (Go Away),” “Ronnie,” “Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye),” “Candy Girl,” or “Save It for Me.” To be honest, The Four Seasons were never really an albums band (and came too late with their Sixties masterpiece Genuine Imitation Life Gazette to regain their severely shrunken popularity), but they had a lot of damn good singles. A lot more than just the 5-6 songs left in regular rotation.
I got interested in The Who at thirteen, began to really like them at fourteen, and started to love them and hold them as my favourite band and fourth musical love at twenty. Oldies radio has never really played any of their songs, though they actually played more of their songs back in my early teens. Classic rock radio tends to play the same 5-6 songs over and over again. I freaking hate “Pinball Wizard” because of this, and for a long time was sick of “Behind Blue Eyes” as well. This was really a band I had to go out and discover on my own, since they’re so criminally underplayed, at least where I’ve lived. Although the classic rock station out of Springfield, MA seemed to be a bit better with variety.
My original favourite Hollies’ song was “Stop Stop Stop,” because of that hypnotic banjo. When was the last time the local oldies station even touched that song? It was a Top 10 hit! And what happened to other hits like “On a Carousel,” “Look Through Any Window,” “Jennifer Eccles,” “The Air That I Breathe”? They were always much more popular in the U.K., but why perpetuate that now that their entire catalogue is available on both sides of the pond and it’s stood the test of time? And why not play some album tracks instead of gearing up “Long Cool Woman” or “Bus Stop” for the millionth time?
The only relative exception are The Beatles. Most radio stations do play a lot more of their songs than other bands, including B-sides, album tracks, and lesser hits, from all periods of their career. Still, there are a lot of songs that aren’t played as much as they used to be, or are never played.
Big hits can be the hook that draws one in and gets one interested in a band. The album tracks, B-sides, and lesser hits are the glue that makes one stay.