Olson: Did we forget what an album is?

August 22, 2018 GMT

As someone who grew up buying tapes and CDs from mall “record stores” such as Sam Goody and Camelot, a story in Tuesday’s Daily Chronicle got my hackles up.

It was headlined “Beating King of Pop, The Eagles have No. 1 album,” and accurately reported the Recording Industry Association of America’s announcement that The Eagles’ “Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975” is now the top-selling album of all time, having sold

38 million copies in the U.S.

It has dethroned Michael Jackson’s seminal 1982 release “Thriller,” which has sold 33 million copies.

The problem, though, is that “Their Greatest Hits” is not an album. It’s a compilation of songs from four albums, starting with when the Eagles formed in ’71.


An album is a standalone collection of songs by the same artists recorded and released together under one title. The best ones flow, the tracks going one to the next like the chapters in a book. They take you on a trip to wherever the artist wants to lead you.

On-demand music has kind of rendered the album obsolete, although there are still some good ones being made today. My most favorite (somewhat) recent ones are the eponymous “Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats” from 2015, and “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” from Wilco (2002).

The best album of all time is Pink Floyd’s 1973 “The Dark Side of the Moon.”

Maybe you’re a country fan who makes an argument for Johnny Cash’s “At Folsom Prison” or a hip-hop fan who goes with Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” from 1992, or a music theorist who makes a sophisticated argument for 1969’s “Trout Mask Replica” by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band.

But for my money, it’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Does that album have any of the Top 10 Rock Songs of All Time on it? Probably not. Pink Floyd made more iconic songs that appeared on other albums. But as a collected work, “Dark Side” is superior.

So, too, is Jackson’s “Thriller.” It’s filled with great tracks such as “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin,” “Beat It,” “Billy Jean,” and of course the title track, which became the most iconic music video of all time.

There’s a difference between a good album and the best bits of a series of albums. The Eagles can have the “best-selling compilation” title, but “Thriller” should still be considered the best-selling album of all time.

And remember: there is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.