Since their merger a couple of years back, Sony BMG has been combining their budget title lines. Originating with Sony, the 16 Biggest Hits series has been intended to provide a good career overview of major country acts. With six more tracks than the Super Hits series, it’s been a good way for consumers to pick up the big tracks by legendary Sony artists like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Tammy Wynette, and also provided excellent hits compilations for boom years acts like Ricky Van Shelton, Joe Diffie and Collin Raye.
The line has recently been expanded to include some core BMG acts, both legends and superstars still with the label. Also, with the departure of Patty Loveless from Sony, the first attempt to do a compilation of her fruitful years with the label has been released.
When grading a compilation, the following criteria must be considered: selection of tracks, value for the price, and how it compares to other compilations already on the market. Here’s a look at how the recent 16 Biggest Hits releases measure up:
16 Biggest Hits
Track Listing: Mountain Music/Song of the South/Love in the First Degree/If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)/Born Country/Feels So Right/The Closer You Get/She and I/Fallin’ Again/Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)/Jukebox in My Mind/Down Home/I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)/Can’t Keep a Good Man Down/Southern Star/High Cotton
The endless string of recent Alabama compilations makes this particular entry a little less necessary. The track selection treads much of the same ground as the 2004 release Ultimate Alabama, with that collection boasting four more tracks, including the essential hits “Forty Hour Week (For a Livin’)” and “Tennessee River.” The big problem with cataloging Alabama using the “hits” standard is that it ends up excluding their signature track “My Home’s in Alabama”, which wasn’t a huge chart hit but remains one of their most beloved songs. If those three tracks had been used in place of some of the lesser-quality hits here, you’d have a collection that was a lot closer to indispensable. As it is, this one is still a good value, but it isn’t the definitive single-disc set that the band deserves.
16 Biggest Hits
Track Listing: How Your Love Makes Me Feel/Walkin’ Away/Holdin’/Meet in the Middle/Unbelievable/Beautiful Mess/One More Day/Love a Little Stronger/Oh Me, Oh My, Sweet Baby/Mirror Mirror/You’re Gone/Nowhere Bound/Norma Jean Riley/In a Week or Two/This Romeo Ain’t Got Julie Yet
One of the tricky things about a series like this is it imposes a framework that each artist must fit into. That would be great if every artist had exactly 16 big hits, but that’s rarely the case. Diamond Rio, however, had just the right amount of success to be anthologized this way, with the only major omission here being “Mama Don’t Forget to Pray For Me.” I’d also have liked them to stick with the chronological approach that used to define this series, but these are minor quibbles. This is instantly the most complete Diamond Rio collection on the market.
16 Biggest Hits
Track Listing: Chattahoochee/Gone Country/It Must Be Love/Midnight in Montgomery/Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow/Don’t Rock the Jukebox/Mercury Blues/Here in the Real World/Pop a Top/That’d Be Alright/I Don’t Even Know Your Name/Gone Crazy/I’ll Go On Loving You/Little Man/Who’s Cheatin’ Who/Summertime Blues
It’s a tough call to make, given that every track here ranges from very good to legendary, but Alan Jackson already has two excellent Greatest Hits collections on the market, with a stunning 20-track first volume that covers his early career and a second volume with another 18 hits. Sure, this is the first compilation that covers both eras, but it doesn’t do it particularly well. Five of these sixteen songs are covers, which is far too many for a collection by one of the genre’s best singer-songwriters. And they didn’t have the courage to really include all of the biggest hits: “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”, “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, “Livin’ on Love”, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Remember When” would be needed for this live up to its title.
16 Biggest Hits
Track Listing: Timber I’m Falling In Love/Chains/Blame it On Your Heart/You Will/How Can I Help You Say Goodbye/I Try to Think About Elvis/Here I Am/You Don’t Even Know Who I Am/Halfway Down/You Can Feel Bad/A Thousand Times a Day/Lonely Too Long/She Drew a Broken Heart/You Don’t Seem to Miss Me/That’s The Kind of Mood I’m In/Lovin’ All Night
It’s disappointing that MCA’s Definitive Collection for Patty Loveless is more thorough, given that it was her years with Sony that have made her a serious contender for the Hall of Fame. Sony was nice enough to give MCA “You Can Feel Bad” and “Lonely Too Long” to tack on to their Loveless collection, which ended up with 22 tracks. MCA returned the favor by allowing “Timber I’m Falling In Love” and “Chains” to be used on this collection, but that’s a net loss for two reasons: one, Tony Brown’s dated eighties production sounds out of place next to Emory Gordy’s flawless work with Loveless in the nineties; and two, that leaves room for only fourteen more tracks from the Sony years.
That said, this is now the most complete overview of her years with the label, and it includes six hits that were left off of Classics, her first hits compilation with Sony. However, because of the MCA tracks being squeezed on, there’s no room for “Nothin’ But the Wheel”, “On Your Way Home”, “My Kind of Woman/My Kind of Man”, “To Have You Back Again”, “The Boys are Back in Town” or “The Last Thing on My Mind”, any two of which would’ve made this a better collection. Actually, picking three and leaving off the mediocre “You Will” would’ve been even better! Here’s hoping Loveless get the two-disc Essential collection that her years at Sony warrants.
16 Biggest Hits
Track Listing: Here You Come Again/9 to 5/Jolene/Islands in the Stream/I Will Always Love You/Coat of Many Colors/The Seeker/Two Doors Down/Single Women/All I Can Do/Heartbreak Express/Don’t Call it Love/Love is Like a Butterfly/Rockin’ Years/Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That/Romeo
Like the Alabama and Alan Jackson collections, this gives enough of the big hits to look like it’s going to be definitive, but then decides to go for the filler instead of finishing the job. This could have been a perennial catalog smash for Sony BMG like the Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings entries are, but they decided to go cheap in the end. This starts off with one huge hit after another, and then…”Heartbreak Express”? “Don’t Call it Love”? “Romeo”???? Are you kidding me?
I actually love “Single Women”, an often-overlooked gem, but most of the rest of this collection will leave even a casual fan wondering what happened to the hits. I give them credit for using the definitive 1974 version of “I Will Always Love You”, but in the end, consumers have much better options to get their Dolly fix, even on a tight budget.
If you’re a casual fan wanting a career overview, you can get the 20-track Ultimate Dolly Parton from iTunes for only $8.91, less than they’re charging for this set. But if you’re serious about getting the very best of this legendary artist, the way to go is the two single-disc, 20-track Essential Dolly Parton collections released by RCA in the mid-nineties, which are $9.99 each at iTunes. Not to be confused with the double CD that was released last year, these two collections are the only significant collections of her RCA years (until they finally do a real box set.) Strangely, Vol. 1 covers the eighties crossover era, while it’s Vol. 2 that delves into her far more significant traditional country work in the 60’s and 70’s. Buy the second volume first!