Friday, September 17, 2010

Super Hits Triple Feature: Blue Öyster Cult, Toto, Men at Work

In an ongoing quest to discover music that can become a staple of my car's CD player, I've picked up a few dirt-cheap compilation discs from the bargain bin of my Local Music Store over the years. I've listened to countless "Best Of..." collections in my time, but Sony BMG's Super Hits line is quickly becoming my favorite for three reasons:

(1) the price is unbeatable--maybe I've had good luck with sales, but I've never seen a Super Hits CD sell for more than $10;

(2) I get every single song I've ever heard on the radio from groups whose two or three identifiable songs are normally found on completely different (and more expensive!) albums; and

(3) while virtually every other "Best Of..." compilation is the only disc I'll ever need for anyone other than my absolute favorite artists, every Super Hits CD I've listened to has piqued my curiosity enough to consider buying the artists' original albums.

I only have one criterion for purchasing a CD: it's gotta have at least three songs I recognize and like enough to own. The Super Hits collections of Blue Öyster Cult, Toto, and Men at Work found their way into my collection because they met this requirement, and because I'm a chronic shoplifter they were cheap.

I followed Blue Öyster Cult because of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," "Godzilla," and "Burnin' for You," which I didn't even realize was their song until reading the back of the CD case.

The thing that really nudged toward picking up this CD was how the group was described to me as "the Tally Hall of classic rock," or something to that effect. I'm not sure how much I agree with that sentiment based on the songs in this collection, but I'm willing to look into more of their music to see just how varied their songs can be.

What struck me most about Blue Öyster Cult, or at least the way they're represented on this CD, is how their songs are about as trancelike as guitar-heavy rock can get. Between cryptic poetry and repetition that actually sounds like the proverbial broken record at times, Blue Öyster Cult is likely to either annoy the heck out of you, blend into the background innocuously, or take you to a higher plane of existence.

Also, that "Ö" in their name is mesmerizing.

Toto, in contrast, is much more straightforward in their pop/rock presentation, providing highly singable songs with lyrics that paint a picture of a band that has absolutely no luck with women, or one guy that had really bad luck with just one woman and never got over it.

Most people would recognize Toto for their songs "Hold the Line," "Rosanna," and "Africa" (which is even grander in the full-length album cut that's seldom played on the radio), but the other songs on the CD are every bit as upbeat and almost as catchy. You can tell there's a story behind every song, including the few that have nothing to do the lost woman/women the band seems to miss so much. Plain and simple, Toto is a solid band that's fun and easy to listen to.

Men at Work is the group that took me by surprise. "Who Can It Be Now?" and especially "Land Down Under" are songs I grew up with, but an intriguing acoustic version of "Overkill" had recently come up unprompted on my Pandora playlist. I put Men at Work to work in my CD player, and it was three months before their first vacation. If anybody here was like Tally Hall, at least in that respect, it was Men at Work.

Let me make this clear: unless it's video game music (which is designed to repeat itself), I do not listen to the same songs over and over. To listen to the same CD twice in the same month is something I avoid, let alone more than once in the same week.

Tally Hall was lodged in my CD player for the better part of a year because of all the variety, layers, and subtle things that I'm still hearing for the first time whenever I give the disc a spin. Men at Work, on the other hand, was employed in my car for so long because the songs resonated with me, translating into music the way I was feeling on a personal level.

Being told "it's a mistake" repeatedly in song also helped me to make a lot of important decisions those three months.

You can tell that Men at Work's music is rooted in the '80s if you listen closely enough, but the inclusion of more instruments than just guitars, drums, and synthesizers helps the music to fit in with any decade thereafter. Though the songs range from reflective to borderline silly, there's an underlying energy that maintains an important level of optimism and motion.

The lyrics are largely atypical, favoring quirky topics such as paranoia, insomnia, and Australia over more prevalent topics such as love, drugs, and dudes named Alejandro. Even the songs that deal with more popular themes are presented in a creative, often tongue-in-cheek way. If nothing else, the Men at Work have had better luck with women than Toto. Really, I see a lot of myself in the music of Men at Work.

My foray into the realm of the Super Hits has been a wonderful success thus far, and both these CD collections and these artists get the Official Exfanding Stamp of Approval. I'd recommend you put Blue Öyster Cult and Men at Work on shuffle, though, because the "feel" of each CD doesn't flow as well as it could if the song orders were rearranged. Just my two cents.

Like everything I write on this blog.


A Philosophical Nerd said...

I have the Toto Super Hits CD, and I also have one for Foreigner. They're definitely great if the original CD's aren't in your collection. The only problem I have with collections is that I would much rather just own the original CD they appeared on. And unfortunately I'm pretty obsessive because if a band releases a "best of" project with even just one new song on it, I have to buy the whole album for that one song. I'm a collector of music, so I even risk buying albums based on the strength of one song that I've heard on the radio. This has come back to bite me on the rear several times.

I'm not too familiar with Men at Work. The only song by them I've heard is Land Down Under.

As for Blue Oyster Cult (imagine the umlaut over the O), aside from the three songs you mentioned I've also heard Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll and Transmaniacon MC. Transmaniacon MC is a very forgettable song (I've heard it several times and I still can't remember how it goes), but Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll is a pretty good song. All in all, Blue Oyster Cult is not a band I ever really had a desire to hear more from.

However, I definitely love Toto. I had only heard Rosanna and Africa before picking up the Super Hits collection, but those are probably two of my favorite songs of all time. Rosanna has some very tasty jazzy piano work, and Africa is just a song that I simply cannot hear without sitting back, smiling, and just grooving to. It's such a great song.

Flashman85 said...

Aha, a collector, you are. For bands that have "Best Of" collections, I always weigh how much I like the group against how much it'll cost to buy all the albums I'll need to get the songs I want. I also consider how much it would annoy me to own *some* of the songs I like, but not all of them, because I skimped and only got one CD.

That's why compilations are usually reserved for bands who have a few songs I really like, but whose general sound is not something I'd normally listen to over anything else.

Compilations are also good because you get a broader sample of a new band's sound over multiple years instead of the time frame for a single album. It's a good gateway for me, because I can figure out via the songs I like what albums I should risk buying if I do end up liking the group.

I'd be curious to hear a little more Blue Oyster Cult, but not curious enough to spend more money. I sort of feel the same way you do about them.

Toto is great. I was really impressed. I've now heard a few more songs from Men at Work's Cargo and Business as Usual albums, and nothing's stood out too much, but I'm seriously considering picking up a full album nonetheless.