Not to disparage our treasured readers, but reader Shaun delivered one of the most thought-provoking comments on The Second Disc in awhile when discussing yesterday's post on a hypothetical Dave Matthews Band compilation. To quote:
But what's with all the edits in your tracklist, Mike? Sorry, but I HATE when you buy a "best of" set and you get stuck with radio, single edits. Those hideous cuts on both "My Life" and "Pressure" on the original pressing of Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Vol I & II come to mind immediately. Thankfully, Sony fixed that years later.
Honestly, why would anyone want shorter versions of a song? It's a great way to get me to NOT buy a collection. I don't want or need all of DMB's albums, but if I buy a collection I want the original, full versions of the songs they way they were originally released.
When I think about edits and mixes on a compilation - whether hypothesizing or actually buying a set - I take three things into account.
- Mainstream appeal. Fellow commenter Don hit this nail on the head: for casual fans of an act such as DMB (who know more about them by way of radio airplay than actual album spins or live performances - as shocking as it sounds there must be people like that somewhere), a radio/single edit is the key track. Using a compilation of edits as stepping stones to full album versions and so on is a pretty admirable idea, and one your humble author would engage in were he a producer of such titles.
- Compactness. Don also pointed out - and any DMB fan can attest to this - that most of the band's output is long. Is it better when it's short? No, not always ("Crash Into Me" and "Crush" have some great moments that are missing from the radio versions). But including all those longer versions while still including the 19 or 20 cuts selected in yesterday's post would have easily put the theoretical set at two discs. And unfortunately, that usually means upping the set to a price point that casual fans may not want to embrace. (In a way, a combination of these two is what killed The Best of What's Around, Vol. 1; not all the big hits were present for casual fans to embrace, and the fact that longer songs were picked further hindered said playlist. The live stuff was alright, though.)
- Collectibility. This is probably the point that readers usually care about. Especially for artists with deep catalogues, it wasn't uncommon for a single to get edited or remixed one way on a 45 and another way on a full album. Some compilations still sell off the strength of this knowledge; we've all clamored for at least one single version of a tune to get a CD release at one point or another. Part of the success behind Michael Jackson's latter-day compilation mania (namely Number Ones in 2003 and The Essential Michael Jackson in 2005) was the fact that several single masters made their digital debuts on those sets (regrettably, not all of them are exactly correct, but that's another rant for another day). Even Billy Joel - an artists whose 45 edits are insanely unnecessary - will get some royalties thrown his way from sales of a set like Piano Man: The Very Best of Billy Joel, which surreptitiously included some of those versions.
Obviously, these considerations are best applied on a case-by-case basis. (Who'd want to hear the anemic LP mix of Duran Duran's "The Reflex" on a compilation instead of its superior, chart-topping 7-inch version?) But I ask you, admirable readers: when you buy a compilation, what's your take on including edits or single mixes?