I never much got into Frenzal Rhomb, so last year when Fat Wreck Chords released a Frenzal Rhomb “best of” album, I gladly picked it up. I’ve come to embrace “best of” albums, retrospectives, and anthologies. I always like the Frenzal Rhomb songs I heard on Fat compilations, etc., but for some reason that never translated into album purchases. Suckers like me who still pay for music can’t own every album by every band. So rather than go broke buying Frenzal Rhomb’s entire back catalog, or kill myself researching which of their albums is The Absolute Best One To Own, now I’ve got thirty-three of their self-professed best songs covering twenty years, and a pretty good idea of what The Rhomb is all about.
Green Day is different. Green Day is a household name. Like most punk fans my age, Green Day was the first punk band I ever listened to, this before I’d even heard the term “punk” referring to a musical genre. I haven’t considered Green Day one of my top five favorite bands since middle school, but I still own everything they’ve put out. Now they’ve put out a greatest hits album with twenty-one songs I already own, and one brand new song. Why buy it? Because I’ve been buying Green Day albums for twenty-three years. Habits die hard.
Songs missing from Greatest Hits: God’s Favorite Band include “J.A.R.”, “Geek Stink Breath”, “Walking Contradiction”, “Nice Guys Finish Last”, “Redundant”, “Waiting”, and “Macy’s Day Parade” – all of which were considered “Superhits” back in 2001 – as well as “Maria”, “Let Yourself Go”, “X-Kid”, and “Revolution Radio”, among others that were released as singles but not popular enough to make the cut. Green Day has had a lot of hits.
As noted, this is Green Day’s second greatest hits album, the first being the unfortunately titled International Superhits!. Billie Joe, Mike, and Tre have been fortunate to have the mainstream success few punk bands have had. They can get away with calling their “best of” album International Superhits! and Greatest Hits: God’s Favorite Band. Other bands with far fewer mainstream hits, if any, resort to naming their “best of” albums something like All The Best Songs, The Greatest Songs Ever Written (By Us), or Greatest Hit…And More.
Still, regardless of the album title, there isn’t a whole lot of variety as to how these things are organized. On both of theirs, Green Day has organized the track listings chronologically, a practice also followed by Screeching Weasel, Anti-Flag, The Who, and The Clash, to name a few. Part of me doesn’t like this as it is unimaginative and a copout – I would love to hear “Longview” mixed between “Oh Love” and “Bang Bang” – but it does give the listener an accurate overview of a band’s progression throughout its career.
The other common practice is throwing a previously unreleased song onto a greatest hits album to give the super fan who already owns everything a reason to buy it. This isn’t universally followed – Frenzal Rhomb, for instance – but more often than not some sort of rarity gets thrown on; heck, even The Beatles had an unreleased song on volumes 1 and 2 of their anthology, and John Lennon had been dead for fifteen years. These new songs are typically put either at the beginning or the very end of the album, although Strung Out took the high road and mixed in their three new songs throughout Top Contenders.
Green Day added “Back in the USA”, a brand new original song with an unoriginal title. The song is solid, upbeat, political, and is indicative of what Green Day’s purist fans want to hear: something resembling a punk song. But wait…there is also a new version of “Ordinary World”, one of Green Day’s all-time most boring songs, made slightly more interesting here with Miranda Lambert’s harmonies on top of Billie Joe’s voice; one listen to this and you’ll wonder if Green Day has gone country.
What I don’t understand is this: why not be comprehensive? Why not release something like Singles Vol. 1 and include every minor internet-only and TV soundtrack single, and then five years from now release Singles Vol. 2? I mean, “J.A.R.” is a great song.
But then, who are these albums for, anyway? Not for the super fan, clearly. No, greatest hits albums are for the casual fan, or even the new fan, like how I’ve just gotten to know Frenzal Rhomb through a retrospective. God’s Favorite Band is for the fifteen-year-old making minimum wage at McDonald’s who just heard “Still Breathing” on the radio and wonders what else the band has done since a decade before she was born.
One new song and one alternate version out of twenty-two tracks – I have mixed feelings about this as well. I won’t argue with those who call it a cheap gimmick. On the other hand, I love new music and will accept new music any way I can get it. If you’re a sucker like me who still pays money for music, is “Back in the USA” enough to blow twelve bucks on? Looks like it. I bought it, after all.