Why no compilations in "Best Album" lists?

Why is there a rule that Best Album lists can’t include compilations? I can think of two reasons why the rule is stupid:
[li]Albums are recent: Elvis, Hank Williams Sr., and Chuck Berry all attained their major popularity in the era before albums as we know them. By excluding compilations you impose arbitrary constraints on them that did not exist until 10-20 years after they recorded.[/li][li]Albums aren’t always representative: Not every band focuses on albums, just like not every band plays happy hardcore and not every band uses twelve-string acoustic bass guitars. Arbitrary artistic limits are the product of a woefully limited mind.[/li][/ul]

Queen’s best album hands down is Greatest Hits. Same goes for the Eagles. Some bands just suck at albums.

If a band sucks at albums, or didn’t focus on albums, or didn’t make albums, maybe they shouldn’t have an album on the best albums lists. You could have, say, a best songs list that would have some Hank Williams and Chuck Berry on it. Of course, that list would arbitrarily exclude people from before we had the technology to record music. I think there’s a difference between a 100 Best Albums list and a 100 CDs Everyone Should Own list. You can put Hank Williams’ Greatest Hits on the latter list, but not on the former.

If they’re both well-produced and sequenced, I don’t see the difference between 100 best albums and 100 best CDs. A hits album is still an ‘album.’ A live album is still an album. Lists are still stupid, unless they’re coming from Letterman.

If we include compilations, the true top 20 would be all the different good Beatles compilations albums, and that’s just silly.

Hm… why no Robert Mapplethorpe’s in lists of Best Paintings?

Because he didn’t paint, that’s why!

Not every musician has a “Born in the USA”, an album whose list of songs reads like a “Best Of” compilation. Lists of best albums are for those musicians who do.

On the other hand, “Best Album” lists are done as a stand-in for “Best CD” lists, under the assumption that album and CD are interchangeable concepts. By excluding compilations for “not being albums” (and who defines what an album is, anyway?) all of the artists that for one reason or another never made albums as the music critics of today define them get ignored.

I agree with everything but the last. Lists are useful to someone trying to determine what to buy who doesn’t want to spend $20 on a clunker nobody cares about anymore.

If a list is organized, for instance, decade-by-decade, I want to see entries in the 1990s of music actually recorded in the 1990s, not music recorded in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that didn’t happen to get bundled together until 1990s.

Here is the difference in my mind, although I will concede in advance that there some exceptions: An album consists of an artist’s work in a fixed amount of time. It is the culmination of a year or two’s worth of work. A collection represents the best work over the life of an artist. It is much more difficult to make an album that is consistently great top to bottom than to cherry pick songs from an artist’s career and slap em onto a cd. So IMHO listing the best albums is different than listing the best CDs. One says “Which artist was able to pull it together at one period in time and make something that made an impact,” while the other says “Which artist over the course of their career made the best songs.”

A rationale I’ve seen was that an album was a unit of creative work by the artists, and best-ofs are often put together by promoters with little or no creative input from the artists. Albums represent whatever muse was moving the artists at the time, but compilations can span multiple iterations of a band, member changes, decades, etc. So if you want to see artistry, but still go beyond a single song, then albums are the next logical step. Kind of like taking Picasso’s work from his blue period as a body of work versus individual pieces. If you liked one of those blue pieces and want to see more, then the other pieces created while the artist had similar motives/feelings/skills/etc. may appeal more than a piece created thirty years later when he was moved by different emotions and had altered his style.

This arguement has its strong points, but I’ve found that if I like an artist I often like their stuff from a cross section of albums, even those with vastly different themes/feels/sounds. Still it’s hard to deny that bands evolve and their music may lose/gain appeal to people as they do, so having them organized as albums provides a set of music which is more likely to have similar qualities, artistically speaking. The driving factor behind most “best of” compilations is not the art, but the money.


These objections are kinda like saying that a list of Best Symphonies (or Best Novels) is stupid, because:
[li]Some composers, like Bach and Handel, lived and worked in the era before symphonies. (Or, some writers, like Shakespeare and Dante, lived and worked in the era before novels.)[/li][li]Not every composer focuses on symphonies (e.g. Chopin or Wagner). (Or, not every writer focuses on novels (e.g. Edgar Allan Poe or David Sedaris).)[/li][/ul]

Snooooopy, HoboStew, Mtgman: All those arguments make sense.

Nominating a compilation as a “best album” would be like nominating a clip show as a “best episode” of a TV show.
The bottom line is that whoever’s making the “Best Albums” list can decide for themselves what they want to consider eligible. I, personally, would leave compilations and best-of’s mostly or entirely off of any “Best Albums” list that I made.

For one thing, if “best-of” meant “best collection of songs,” why wouldn’t the best “album” by an artist be a mix CD that I put together myself of their songs that I like best?

But mainly, I consider an album to be a single work of “art”: not just any old collection of songs, but that those particular songs in that particular order were chosen by the artist (and/or their producer) to comprise a coherent listening experience and achieve a desired effect. Not all albums fit this description, but in general the ones I really like listening to do—and I don’t find very many “Greatest Hits” albums particularly satisfying to listen to from beginning to end. To me, a great album is a coherent whole which is more than the sum of its parts.

Albums, these days, are supposed to be singular artistic statements with their own characters. That goes for the ones that aren’t concept albums, too. A greatest hits album is a collection of singles, usually, which is what albums were decades ago - but not anymore. When you talk about a band’s best album, you’re talking about the band’s best moment, and a greatest hits CD tends to be a summary of their whole career. I agree that it’s usually lame to put them on ‘Best Of’ lists. Time’s Most Influential list seemed to include a ton of them, which was just bizarre.

Except that, in this age of the iPod and song downloads, I fear it may not be these days anymore.

This is more or less my problem. It’s simply not fair to pit an entire music career (compilation) against one snapshot of an artist’s career (album).

Another problem for me is that a truly great album should be a cohesive whole and not simply a collection of singles. A compilation would, by definition, pretty much be a collection of scattered singles.

True. But for now, that still makes a difference to me.

If you want to make a list of best songs, make a list of best songs. Don’t grab a bunch of tracks and Trojan Horse them into your albums list.

Or do something useful and make a list of Best CDs. (Or even best vinyl records, if your tastes run to the kinds of artists that don’t “do” digital.)

I don’t really see what you’re getting at. Do you mean a list of best releases, i.e., anything that a record company has released commercially? If so, that seems a terribly pointless exercise.