compilation albums
Top 20 pop compilation albums

In this veritable best of the best Best Ofs, we select 20 of the finest pop artist compilation albums… By Barry Page

As the high sales of compilation albums would attest, people love a good singles collection or greatest hits. Whether it’s a contractual obligation, a stopgap release before the next studio offering or just a simple celebration of an act’s back catalogue, fans and casual buyers alike have been lapping up compilations since the dawn of rock’n’roll. 

The biggest pop artists of the 80s have been pretty well served by best of collections with some of the finest examples becoming classics in their own right and finding their way into tens of millions of homes.

20. ABC – LOOK OF LOVE: THE VERY BEST OF ABC (2001)

Whilst 1982’s classic The Lexicon Of Love remains the pinnacle of ABC’s achievements, there are plenty of other gems in the Sheffield group’s back catalogue; notably, Be Near Me and When Smokey Sings. Like fellow sophisti-poppers The Style Council, the duo enjoyed mixed results when dabbling with dance music (the Italo house sounds of The Real Thing are a case in point), but this welcome update of 1990’s Absolutely retrospective remains a fine introduction to their work.

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19. GARY NUMAN – EXHIBITION (1987)

By 1987, the UK’s first bona fide synthesizer star was struggling to make ends meet and reluctantly agreed to tour in support of Exhibition, an impressive new compilation that former label Beggars Banquet had put together. Featuring the evergreen No.1s Are ‘Friends’ Electric? and Cars (in a hit new remix by Zeus B Held) as well as a further nine UK Top 20 chart entries, this astutely-sequenced double set also included fan favourites such as Metal and Me! I Disconnect From You, mainstays of the synth-pop pioneer’s live sets.

18. ADAM ANT – ANTMUSIC: THE VERY BEST OF ADAM ANT (1993)

Three years on from the release of 1990’s round-up LP Antics In The Forbidden Zone, Dutch label Arcade devised this new Adam Ant compilation. Similar to its predecessor, Antmusic focused on the dandy highwayman’s singles and selected flipsides (see Physical (You’re So) – then recently covered by Nine Inch Nails – and Kick), this time bringing the story up to date with material from 1990’s Manners & Physique, including the transatlantic hit Room At
The Top

17. SPANDAU BALLET – THE SINGLES COLLECTION (1985)

At the height of Spandau’s popularity, this singles round-up was released in the wake of the band’s appearance at Live Aid. Though unapproved by the band as they had just switched record labels, this 15-track retrospective documents their journey to glory, from the synth-pop of To Cut A Long Story Short, through to the slick, soul-infused pop of True, Gold and Only When You Leave. Further compilations tagged on 1986’s impressive ballad Through The Barricades, but The Singles Collection captures a band in their pomp.

16. TEARS FOR FEARS – SHOUT: THE VERY BEST OF TEARS FOR FEARS (2001)

A quick glance on Discogs reveals a vast number of Tears For Fears compilations, but this near-chronological set is arguably the cream of the crop. Released in 2001, Shout includes every hit, from 1982’s Mad World, through to 1993’s Break It Down Again (the second single that Roland Orzabal had released under the TFF banner following Curt Smith’s acrimonious departure), plus non-UK single Goodnight Song and its B-side New Star, which featured in the 1994 movie Threesome.

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15. ULTRAVOX – THE COLLECTION (1984)

Ultravox were left in limbo when John Foxx exited in 1979 to pursue a solo career, but the recruitment of Rich Kids frontman and Visage collaborator Midge Ure proved to be a masterstroke as the revitalised (and more commercially-minded) band racked up hit after hit single – including the classic Vienna – in the early 80s. They’re all here on 1984’s The Collection, plus an excellent new song in Love’s Great Adventure. Like Spandau Ballet, whose own compilation was released a year later, initial copies included a bonus 12″ of remixes.

14. TALK TALK – NATURAL HISTORY: THE VERY BEST OF TALK TALK (1990)

Exercising their right to put out a compilation after their recording contract with Talk Talk had ended, EMI released this set in 1990. It wasn’t approved by the band, but it does a fine job of charting Talk Talk’s progression, from the sophisticated synth-pop of 1982 debut album The Party’s Over, through to the post-rock of 1988’s Spirit Of Eden. Much less essential was a promotional CD that included Talk Talk Recycled, a hits medley from the team behind Jive Bunny And The Mastermixers. 

13. ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK – THE BEST OF OMD (1988)

Heavily in debt to their record label, a tour-weary Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys appeased their accountants with the release of The Best Of OMD, which rounded up their classic singles from the early 80s plus later hits such as Locomotion and If You Leave, the latter of which had been written to order for the movie Pretty In Pink. The bestseller also included perfunctory new track Dreaming, which confirmed OMD had hit something of a creative impasse. They split for the first time the following year. 

12. BANANARAMA – THE GREATEST HITS COLLECTION (1988)

Following the departure of Siobhan Fahey in February 1988, a new-look Bananarama – with replacement Jacquie O’Sullivan – bounced back with further hit singles and this excellent retrospective, whose release coincided with the news that the Guinness Book Of World Records had declared them the most successful female group worldwide. The evidence is all here on The Greatest Hits Collection, which rounds up the girls’ biggest 80s work. A 2017 CD edition added some of their lower-charting 45s, alongside a second disc of remixes. 

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11. PRINCE – THE HITS/THE B-SIDES (1993)

In the same year that record contract rebel Prince had, arguably, committed career suicide with his ‘Love Symbol’ appellation, Warner Bros released a comprehensive retrospective, covering his fertile period of 1978 to 1993. There were two randomly sequenced Hits sets, which included the vast majority of the prolific Purple One’s worldwide smashes, plus a smattering of previously unreleased tracks (including a live version of Nothing Compares 2 U). An indispensable triple-CD version, meanwhile, included a disc of quality B-sides and rarities. 

10. THE HUMAN LEAGUE – A VERY BRITISH SYNTHESIZER GROUP (2016)

It’s fair to say the market is saturated with Human League compilations, including two official Greatest Hits albums that somewhat lazily tag on solo outing Together In Electric Dreams. For those looking for a more comprehensive starting point, there is this thoughtfully-curated anthology from 2016 that includes every single, from 1978’s Being Boiled, through to 2011’s Sky, plus B-sides Hard Times and You Remind Me Of Gold. An equally vital four-disc version added a CD of rarities.

9. ERASURE – POP! THE FIRST 20 HITS (1992)

Having topped the singles chart for the first time with their Abba-esque EP, Erasure were at their commercial peak in 1992. By this stage, the prolific synth-pop duo had been around for seven years, racking up countless Top 20 hit singles in the process. This premier compilation largely does what it says on the tin, collecting every hit (and rare miss), plus a new reboot (’The Hamburg Mix’) of debut single Who Needs Love Like That. A second volume – cunningly subtitled Pop2! The Second 20 Hits – arrived in 2009. 

8. DEPECHE MODE – THE SINGLES 81-85 (1985)

Prior to their substantial Stateside success in the second half of the 80s, Depeche Mode enjoyed an impressive run of UK hits, collected here. Of course, the band endured an early setback with Vince Clarke’s departure, but the burgeoning songwriting talents of Martin Gore and the studio craft of new recruit Alan Wilder allowed the band to successfully transition. Released in 1985, this set also included new single It’s Called A Heart, whose morbid B-side, Fly On The Windscreen, hinted at a far darker direction for Basildon’s finest.

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7. A-HA – 25 (2010)

Although it proved to be something of a misnomer, the Ending On A High Note tour saw a-ha bowing out in style in 2010. Aside from expanded versions of their first two albums, the Norwegian trio also released a new compilation album that year. Featuring every official single (the obvious omission being the original Tony Mansfield version of Take On Me), the chronological two-disc set also included fan favourites such as The Blue Sky and Slender Frame, plus a brilliant new Pål Waaktaar-Savoy song in Butterfly, Butterfly (The Last Hurrah). 

6. MADNESS – DIVINE MADNESS (1992)

More than five years on from their 1986 split, the Nutty Boys found themselves back in the Top 10 with a reissue of their hit cover of Labi Siffre’s It Must Be Love, a success that was consolidated with this chart-topping compilation. A timely reminder of what a prolific hitmaking act Madness were, this chronological set included an impressive 22 singles, from 1979’s The Prince, through to 1986’s farewell 7″, (Waiting For) The Ghost Train, though sadly there was no space for their fine cover of Scritti Politti’s The Sweetest Girl.

5. NEW ORDER – SUBSTANCE (1987)

Released in the summer of 1987, this essential double album was, according to Peter Hook, born of Factory Records boss Tony Wilson’s request to have all of New Order’s singles collected on a CD he could play in his flashy new Jaguar XJ6 Coupe. The band pulled out all the stops, re-recording Temptation and Confusion for the bestseller, in addition to cutting a brace of brilliant new tracks – True Faith and 1963 – with Pet Shop Boys producer Stephen Hague. A similarly-titled companion set was released for band predecessors Joy Division the following year.

4. GEORGE MICHAEL – TWENTY FIVE (2006)

While the near-iconic compilations  The Final (1986) and Ladies And Gentlemen (1998) offer glittering overviews of George Michael’s career as both a member of Wham! and as a solo artist, this up-to-date retrospective from 2006 is also highly recommended. Released to mark Michael’s 25 official years in the music industry, the 2CD set features the majority of the much-missed singer’s hits, plus four Wham! singles and three new songs, including a lovely new version of Heal The Pain with Paul McCartney.

3. DURAN DURAN – GREATEST (1998)

Although Duran Duran’s Decade compilation had done a decent job of collecting the iconic band’s 80s hit singles, it was tarnished somewhat by the omission of 1984’s New Moon On Monday. This updated retrospective from 1998 more than made amends, also tagging on Ordinary World and other essential singles, including Electric Barbarella. By this stage in the band’s career, there were enough singles to fill two CDs, but the compilers of this essential one- disc set spared the listener inessential cuts like Meet El Presidente and Violence Of Summer. 

2. PET SHOP BOYS – DISCOGRAPHY: THE COMPLETE SINGLES COLLECTION (1991)

By the autumn of 1991 it had been three years since Pet Shop Boys’ self-coined “imperial phase” had ended with – according to singer Neil Tennant – the release of freestyle hit Domino Dancing. It’s this commercial period that’s at the heart of this near-peerless compilation, which collects all of the duo’s singles for the Parlophone label, including four UK No.1s. It also included two new songs: the politically-charged DJ Culture and house-flavoured Was It Worth It?.

1. MADONNA – THE IMMACULATE COLLECTION (1990)

The achievements of Madonna remain unparalleled to this day, of course, and this excellent compilation is evidence of both the Queen Of Pop’s commercial prowess and development as an artist in the early stages of a now 40-year recording career. Released in a year that saw the singer rack up her seventh UK No.1 with Vogue, the chart-topping set certainly does a fine job of summarising her career to this point, cherry-picking 15 of her most successful singles.

It wasn’t quite as immaculate as its title suggested, however. Whilst the omission of the likes of Gambler and Hanky Panky was justified, the exclusion of two UK No.1s – True Blue and Who’s That Girl? – was questionable. They were, however, included on companion EP, The Holiday Collection.

Also included were two new songs. Justify My Love – co-penned by New York rocker Lenny Kravitz and Prince protégé Ingrid Chavez – innovatively utilised a Public Enemy drum break, while the song’s sultry lyrics and hushed delivery hinted at a more sensuous direction in the ensuing decade (see Erotica). However, Rescue Me – co-written by Vogue collaborator and remix extraordinaire Shep Pettibone – was less essential. 

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