20th Century Masters Appreciation Thread

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amit1234

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Thread Starter
With the recent news of BMG releasing a series of low priced greatest hits albums under The Artist Collection umbrella, I thought it would be nice to shift some attention to the originator of the basic, mid-priced greatest hits collection. Of course, I'm speaking about none other than Universal Music's 20th Century Masters series.

Often imitated but never duplicated, the 20th Century Masters series has spawned a number of clones in it's shadow including Sony Music's The Essential series, BMG's Platinum & Gold Collection, and as previously mentioned, BMG's upcoming The Artist Collection series.

I'm sure some of you must have at least one or two 20th Century Masters albums in your collection and don't even know it. For those who aren't familiar with the series and it's origins, here's a brief synopsis: The 20th Century Masters series is the most successful single artist series of albums in history. Since its launch in 1999, the series has sold over 4.8 million albums and has grown to include over 350 titles. Since Universal swallowed a number of smaller labels which existed in the 60's, 70's, and 80's (including A&M, Mercury, Polygram, Motown, etc.) it's allowed them access to a rich catalog of music which (depending on who you speak to) they've exploited to the maximum.

Some may not be a fan of these relatively inexpensive collections since (in some cases) they don't do justice to an artist's repetoire, however, in my view, I love the fact that they collect an artist's most relevant work, present it in a remastered format, include liner notes and archived pictures where we learn more about an artist's history and contribution to popular music, and in some cases, as an added bonus, USA and UK chart peak positions are included.

Anyways, this thread wouldn't be complete if I didn't make it about ME so I just wanted to share with you which 20th Century Masters albums I own. Note: In many cases, I already own a more expansive collection of the artist's greatest hits but picked up the 20th Century Masters album anyway since I'm a sucker for any CD priced between $6.99 and $9.99.

Let's start with my most recent purchases and work our way backward...

1. The Best Of Tears For Fears

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I already own Tears For Fears' 1992 greatest hits collection Tears Roll Down 1982-1992 but since that CD hasn't aged well in terms of sound quality and personal care, this newly remastered goodie featuring all the hits from Songs From The Big Chair, The Hurting, The Seeds Of Love, and "Break It Down Again" (from Elemental), was just too hard to resist. The album includes insightful liner notes on how significant the duo were in the 1985 pop arena as well as the chart peaks for each commercial single. I was so impressed with this album I also bought the accompanying 20th Century Masters Tears For Fears DVD (featuring five of their most popular music videos.)

2. The Best Of Vanessa Williams

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Previous to this collection, the only Vanessa Williams album I owned was 1991's ultra glossy and deeply satisfying The Comfort Zone. Although this album includes neither liner notes nor chart positions for each song, it does provide all of the uptown diva's biggest hits in remastered format from The Right Stuff ("Dreamin'", "Darlin' I", and the Janet Jackson circa Control inspired inspired/sampled title track) to The Comfort Zone ("Save The Best For Last", "Running Back To You", "Work To Do", and the title track) to "Oh How The Years Go By" (Vanessa contribution's to the NBA 50th Anniversary Celebration OST), "The Sweetest Days" (the title track from her disappointing 1994 AC/MOR release), as well as the Jam & Lewis produced "Happiness" (from 1997's Next). Pictures of the gorgeous songbird/actress throughout the various stages of her Mercury recording career nicely enhance this hastily assembled collection.

3. The Best Of DeBarge

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One thing I love about the 20th Century Master series is the chance to own the cream of an artist's catalog without heavily investing in a CD you might not listen to much in the future. DeBarges's biggest crossover hit "Rhythm Of The Night" is probably the only song I've given repeated listens to thus far (since it's a nostalgic favorite from my childhood years.) Although I'm well aware there are a wealth of early 80's R&B smashes on this album including: "Love Me In A Special Way", "All This Love", "Stay The Night", as well as "Who's Johnny" (El DeBarge's solo foray from the Short Circuit OST ), it might take a little while before I get around to giving those songs repeated listens since they don't immediately connect with me. Liner notes, remastered sound quality, and chart peaks for each respective single are included.

4. The Best Of The 80's - New Wave

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As of late, I've been finding myself exploring early 80's new wave more and more. I think it might have something to do with my personal frustration over current musical trends as well as a desire to further explore another side of the musical landscape in the 80's, since up until this point, I've been mainly familiar with the R&B and Pop genres during that period. On this 11 track collection, Universal Music gathers up some of the biggest new wave hits from the Decade of Decadance including: ABC's "Poison Arrow", Anomotion's "Obsession", Tears For Fears' "Shout", The Style Council's "My Ever Changing Moods", Level 42's "Something About You", Berlin's "No More Words", among many others. In some cases, I was already familiar with the songs based on radio airplay over the years, while others were completely brand new to me. As to be expected, the sound quality on these remastered tracks is superior and the liner notes featuring a brief synopsis of each featured act and their relevance to the new wave movement are spectacular. Yes, it's very easy to throw together a homemade 80's compilation using your CD burner, however, on this 20th Century Masters collection, it's done with a specific theme and it's done well.

5. The Best Of Swingout Sister

swingoutsister.jpg


Known primarily for their hit "Breakout", Swingout Sister may be a footnote in a long list of 80's one hits wonders who briefly created a stir on North American shores, however, as this collection aptly demonstrates, there was a lot more behind this Pop and Jazz inflected threesome (now a duo) who originally formed in 1985. Like Sade, frontwoman Corrine's smooth voice is a wonder to behold on tracks like "Forever Blue", "Am I The Same Girl?", "Twilight World", and "Notgonnachange". Although SOS's heyday has long since passed, this collection is a nice keepsake for those who may feel like a slice of 80's cool synthezied jazz/pop. Liner notes, chart peaks, and remastered sound quality nicely round out this collection.

6. The Best Of The Mamas And The Papas

mamaspapas.jpg


Yes. This group is *way* ahead of my time, however, considering the influence and impression they left behind on many acts which followed, this CD serves as a good history lesson in the sounds which emanated in Young America (specifically the East Coast) during the late 60's/early 70's. Most of you are probably already familiar with the group's biggest hit "California Dreamin'" while "Monday, Monday" might also ring a bell as it was also recently covered by Wilson Phillips' on their latest cover album California. Both of those songs are presented in digitally remastered glory as well as a slew of other recordings which eventually earned the group a place in the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame. As an added bonus, nicely tucked away near the end of this collection is a solo recording from the infamous Mama Cass entitled "Make Your Own Kind Of Music". One listen to this song and you'll be humming it all day.

7. The Best Of Michael Jackson

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Of course, it would be impossible to summarize the career of the King Of Pop one a single disc, mid-priced, greatest hits collection. However, if there ever was a collection that nicely presents the highlights of the Gloved One's beginnings as a solo artist at Motown Records, then this is it. Beginning with Jackson's first ever solo foray "Got To Be There", the set nicely strolls through his early 70's output name checking such classics as: "Rockin' Robin'" and "Ben" (two songs at the polar end thematically yet intertwined by their references to animals), the jubliant "I Wanna Be Where You Are", the tender odes "Music And Me", "With A Child's Heart" and "Happy" (ballads that are sung with such personal conviction and emotion that you'd think Jackson wrote the lyrics himself), as well as a few recordings which capture the singers most awkward vocal period as his voice was adjusting to changes brought about through puberty ("We're Almost There", "One Day In Your Life", and "Just A Little Bit Of You"). As one writer aptly put it: "His Motown hits, both solo and with the J5, are dazzling examples of his technical range and emotional depth as a singer. This kid had more going on when he was twelve years old than most vocalists do by the time they're fifty." I couldn't have said it better myself. Liner notes comparing Michael's early 70's solo output with Sammy Davis Jr.'s career as well as rare photos of Michael from the Motown archives nicely complete this set.

Other collections I own but am too lazy to write a review about right now:

The Best Of The Carpenters

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The Best Of Donna Summer

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The Best Of Smokey Robinson

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Mr Bill

Gentlemanly Curmudgeon
Staff member
Moderator
Amit, I'm afraid you'll find few here that will agree with you on your assessment of the 20th Century Masters Series. Most don't care for it...

I, on the other hand, find the series to be useful for acts whose entire output I don't feel obligated to collect. For example, I don't care for much of what Lynyrd Skynyrd did, but as a seasoned "musicologist" I should own a basic compilation that contains "Freebird" and "Sweet Home Alabama" if for no other reason but to own the epitome of the "southern rock" category of music. For those reasons, series like 20th Century Masters Series fits the bill perfectly!

Where others here dislike the series it's largely because the atrtists featured are ONLY going to get a 20th Century Masters Series instead of the desired "complete catalog reissue." Personally, we should be happy with what we can get and keep pestering the reissue houses (HipO, Collectors Choice, Rhino, etc) for the more extensive releases.

--Mr Bill
 

Dave

Well-Known Member
Ahhhh...Wellll...there HAVE been a few that I do feel impartial to...!!! (Or is that PARTIAL to...??)

Well, the "some" that I like and have paid a "reasonable", thought NOT Grants' Department Store Bargain Basement price for have been the ones by...

Andy Gibb

Peter Frampton

and the

Brothers Johnson...!

Ones like the ABBA and Three Dog Night sets are messily compiled, consisting ONLY of the songs that I hear on the radio and the Steppenwolf one probably doesn't even include Gxx Dxxx!!!..."The Pusher"...! :cussing:

The Olivia Newton-John one has long been bettered by the other Collections by her and even the KISS and Motley Crue collections are as "incomplete samplers" as The Flying Burrito Brothers and Phil Ochs sets are...

Dave
 

jfiedler17

Active Member
The 20th Century Masters series is great if you want compilations of artists with just a very small handful of Top 40 hits to their credit - for instance, I agree that the Swing Out Sister compilation is excellent - but whenever they make compilations for artists with even moderately extensive track records on the charts, I'm always befuddled by the track selection - not so much because of the Top 40 hits (or even Top Ten hits!) that are missing [it is a deliberately bare-bones hits package, after all], but because Top 40 hits are often substituted with incredibly lesser hits or album cuts (i.e. the Carpenters package) or are present but in alternate or obscure versions. [Best example: the Smokey Robinson comp doesn't include the original mix of "Being with You" but instead contains a half-English, half-Spanish version of the song. Interesting? A little. But somehow, I seriously doubt casual Smokey Robinson fans who want a budget-line compilation would prefer owning THIS over the original version. Go figure.]

Jeff F.
 

Harry

Charter A&M Corner Member
Staff member
Site Admin
These are the ones I have managed to acquire over the last few years:

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B00006JKAR.01._PE_SCMZZZZZZZ_.jpg
B00000I8LO.01._PE8_SCMZZZZZZZ_.jpg
B00006LWGZ.01._PE_SCMZZZZZZZ_.jpg

B00005V8J3.01._PE_SCMZZZZZZZ_.jpg
B00005QK2P.01._PE8_SCMZZZZZZZ_.jpg
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The Sergio Mendes is only a 'sort of' that fits into the category. I believe the Brazilian arm of Universal put that one out around the beginning of the series.

I can't say I'm a 'fan' of the series, but I'm not as against it as others here. I've actually used the series to launch me into other discs of that artist, notably Phil Ochs.

ABBA I picked up with Mamas & Papas just a couple of weeks ago - they were dirt cheap at 2 for $10. I have no other Mamas & Papas CDs and I seem to be collecting ABBA compilations. Maybe someday I'll get their original albums!

Peter Allen I picked up just to get "The More I See You" with Herb Alpert.

Burt Bacharach was the first one I bought in the series, and it was just the completist in me that made me do so. The same with Carpenters, Mendes, and Swing Out Sister.

The Who was an implulse buy as I had no CDs by the group at all.

As I mentioned, Phil Ochs is the artist that I opted to continue buying regular albums for and now have completed the A&M years (I think?). I was thoroughly impressed with the material on his 20th Century Masters disc and had to have more.

I'm also rather pleased with the sound of these discs. I've not been disappointed by any of them. In fact, the above-mentioned Phil Ochs disc sounds better to me than the Collectors Choice releases of his full albums, so when I'm in the mood to hear "Cross My Heart" or "Flower Lady", I'll dig out the 20th Century Masters disc.

The biggest complaint I hear about these are that they're too short and not representative enough. Those are fair criticisms and apply to many artists, though some are pretty decent. Artists like Ochs who had no real chart hits are served well. Indeed his songs are so long that getting 12 songs from him fill up the disc!

There are probably a few more artists for which I'll eventually pick up discs in this series. They're often on sale in brick and mortar stores and make great impulse buys when you can't find anything else to spend your money on. I'd like to see a disc for Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 (the Brazilian one features non-A&M stuff) and other A&M artists like Chris Montez, Claudine Longet, Sandpipers, etc. They deserve to have 'something' out there.

Harry
...not a huge fan of these, but not a detractor either, online...
 

Captaindave

Well-Known Member
I've looked at these several times when shopping...

Either I'm not interested in the artist - there are several of these in this series that I wouldn't buy just because I wouldn't buy anything from that particular artist - or I have found what I thought was a better choice on another label. A couple times I have come close to buying one, but didn't feel it was as good as something else in terms of content...

Not particularly impressed...
 

Harry

Charter A&M Corner Member
Staff member
Site Admin
(Oh yeah, Baja Marimba Band could use one of these too, given the sparsity of their catalog.)

I think we discussed it before, but as regards Carpenters entry in this series, I though Richard's selections for the track listing was brilliant strategy. Big, number one, hits were included as well as favored album tracks, yet it contained none of the duo's big signature tunes. Thus Carpenters got a cheap entry to the series but Richard didn't give away the store. Pretty good marketing strategy.

Harry
...with an addendum, online...
 

Rudy

¡Que siga la fiesta!
Staff member
Site Admin
Mr Bill said:
Amit, I'm afraid you'll find few here that will agree with you on your assessment of the 20th Century Masters Series. Most don't care for it...

In my case?

1. The mastering is poor.

2. Song selection is poor.

Point is, there are better compilations for most of these artists out in the market already. These are just cheap releases suited for the Target/Wal*Mart set, not serious music buyers. Not a bad impulse buy for someone who's never heard of one of the artists, but again, I'd spend a few bucks more to get a better compilation plotted out as a career retrospective, not 10-or-so popular songs supposedly picked at random, and something that hasn't been mastered to sound good only on plastic boom boxes and cheap Delco car stereos.

Just my take on it...some like these, some don't. YMMV.
 

Mike Blakesley

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Moderator
I only have the Bill Cosby and the Burt Bacharach releases. Cosby because it included a few bits I didn't have otherwise, and Bacharach because...well, it's Bacharach!
 

PJ

Member
CERTAINLY good introduction to many Universal acts as a midprice release with many gems included on these sets ..... :thumbsup:

Peter
 

Steven J. Gross

Well-Known Member
Rudy said:
Mr Bill said:
Amit, I'm afraid you'll find few here that will agree with you on your assessment of the 20th Century Masters Series. Most don't care for it...

In my case?

1. The mastering is poor.

2. Song selection is poor.

Point is, there are better compilations for most of these artists out in the market already. These are just cheap releases suited for the Target/Wal*Mart set, not serious music buyers. Not a bad impulse buy for someone who's never heard of one of the artists, but again, I'd spend a few bucks more to get a better compilation plotted out as a career retrospective, not 10-or-so popular songs supposedly picked at random, and something that hasn't been mastered to sound good only on plastic boom boxes and cheap Delco car stereos.

Just my take on it...some like these, some don't. YMMV.


Appreciation? For what?
Most people at this site want the originals re-released- not cheap "Greatest Hits" repackaged .
 

Mr Bill

Gentlemanly Curmudgeon
Staff member
Moderator
Bottomline: if you're unfamilir with a particular artist the 20th Century Masters series is fairly inexpensive introduction. And for someone like Ochs whose style appeals to a narrow spectrum of listeners and furthermore never really was a chart presence it is an ideal inroduction.

I got hooked on Ochs with "Cross My Heart" off Family Portrait and managed to find (almost) everything of his within a few short years back in 1975. I rarely agree with what he says, but love how he says it -- musically terrific stuff!

--Mr Bill
 

jimac51

New Member
One interesting angle to these compilations may not be immediately known to the consumer. In many cases(all?),there are two versions of these albums available. They are identical in every way,execpt for the UPC number. One version is returnable to the company and one is not. The non-returnable numbers cost the store a lot less-they in turn can blow these out at sale prices(I've seen 5.99 for select titles) or make a few extra points in profit. The "mom & pop" stores cannot afford the quanities involved(box lots only,packed 30 to a box and usually a total mininum of pieces-which could be thousands) and the version carried by their distributors costs more to them. Its another unfair edge meant to screw the little guy-this time there is not extra material or exclusive material-they are the same item-it just is more difficult to do business. In the past the "mom & pop" store was the one more likely to carry deeper catalog even on these items,as these stores disappear,there are less choices. The consumer loses again-the majors could care less. Mac
 

Steven J. Gross

Well-Known Member
Mr Bill said:


I got hooked on Ochs with "Cross My Heart" off Family Portrait and managed to find (almost) everything of his within a few short years back in 1975.

--Mr Bill
I bought "Pleasures of the Harbor"-in 1975 as well! I can distinctly remember buying it in Canoga Park, CA at Licorice Pizza.....and '75 was way after his "popular" time. Coincidence? (Probably!) :D
 

amit1234

Member
Thread Starter
Hey guys - Thanks for your feedback (especially you Harry - whose musings I always enjoy reading).

I have to admit that in the past, I never really gave much thought to the 20th Century Masters series because I found the packaging to be extremely generic and reminiscent of an assembly line product. After all, who wants their music fed to them like a McDonald's lunch?

However, after purchasing a couple of CD's in the series last year, I discovered that upon closer examination, the series is actually a very neatly distributed remastered music library of work at a cost attractive price. BTW, I'm not sure why some of you find the remastering to be "cheap". Although I'm not an audiophile by any means, I think the sound quality is superb on all of these CD's (especially the Mama's And The Papa's and Burt Bacharach compilations.)

As for the argument that the CD's don't contain the big hits, I'd also have to disagree. At the price the compilations are selling for, I'd argue that the sets are brimming with major hits, especially on the sets by: Michael Jackson, Jackson Five, Donna Summer, Vanessa Williams, Diana Ross, and Cher. The only exception I can think of is of course the Carpenters compilation which (as Harry previously mentioned) was produced specifically by Richard Carpenter as to not include their signature hits in an effort to wet the appetite of casual listeners for more bigger (and better) compilations.
 

Steven J. Gross

Well-Known Member
Rudy said:
Mr Bill said:
Amit, I'm afraid you'll find few here that will agree with you on your assessment of the 20th Century Masters Series. Most don't care for it...

In my case?

1. The mastering is poor.

2. Song selection is poor.
Other than that, they are great!
Overall, not a terrible "Best Of" series.
This place gets a little tough! :D
 

amit1234

Member
Thread Starter
Since my interest in the 20th Century Masters series has shown no signs of abating, I ventured to Best Buy yesterday for another shopping spree in an effort to scoop up other artists in the series whose material I've yet to purchase. After roaming the aisles for half an hour, I emerged with the following treasure:

Dusty Springfield - The Best Of Dusty Springfield

dustyspringfield.jpg


Like many who weren't born in time to witness the magnificence of Dusty Springfield at her peak, Ms. D's voice was first introduced to me by way of her association with the Pet Shop Boys on their 1987 #2 Pop hit "What Have I Done To Deserve This". It was an unlikely collaboration. After all, who would have thought the retired 60's torch singer known primarily for her classics "Son Of A Preacher Man" and "Wishin' And Hopin'" would reemerge with the then up and coming gay dance outfit armed with one of the most infectious singles of year? Perhaps their shared British heritage had something to do with the connection. Of his ultimate prize in fan worship, PSB's Neil Tennant fondly recalls the collaboration with Springfield as an eye opening experience as he never before witnessed a singer so scrupulous when it came to interpreting a song. The lyrical phrasing, the annunication, the pitch, the melody - everything had to be perfect regardless of the time constraints and external pressure to get the job done quickly. Tennant wasn't the first producer to witness Springfield's perfectionist process in action. In fact, appropriately enough, it even had it's own title: "dustyfication". On this concise 12 song collection (digitally remastered and sprinkled generously with a healthy dose of "dustyfication" throughout) Springfield's mark as a meticulous songstress who only wrapped her voice around the very best pop nuggets is on full display. From the pure pop exuberance of "I Only Want To Be With You" to the midnight lounge images evoked on "The Look Of Love", it's obvious that Springfield's songbook has left an indelible mark as artists covering her material have ranged all the way from the cheaky Samantha Fox to the low key Norah Jones. How's that for widespread influence?
 

LPJim

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Moderator
A lot of those 20th Century Masters look-alike discs are quickly turning up in the dollar/two-dollar bin used or $5.99 new. The stingy program length and cheapo packaging don't appeal to me; but there's something more ominous at work here, I suspect.
These aren't selling well, so the record company can justify the decision not to reissue these artists' catalogs in the future. Here's how it works:
Some fans write UNI requesting a reissue of ... let's say ... BURT BACHARACH (SPX 4290/SP 3501).
They get this response:

"Dear Sir or Madam,
Thank you for your interest in our reissue program. We pride ourselves on being responsive to your needs. We put great thought into selecting the best 12 tracks of __________(whoever) for your enjoyment. We trust your needs have been met"

What this BS really means:

"Duh, can't you see we're like totally done with BB and all these oldies from the last century. If you don't buy what we're offering you'll like never hear this old junk again --- unless you want to pay out the nose for an expensive import."

JB
Slightly PO'd that some of the 20th Century series use original LP cover art (ex. SPX 4290) but the tracks don't match. What sacriledge!
 

Steven J. Gross

Well-Known Member
amit1234 said:
Since my interest in the 20th Century Masters series has shown no signs of abating, I ventured to Best Buy yesterday for another shopping spree in an effort to scoop up other artists in the series whose material I've yet to purchase. After roaming the aisles for half an hour, I emerged with the following treasure:

Dusty Springfield - The Best Of Dusty Springfield

dustyspringfield.jpg


Like many who weren't born in time to witness the magnificence of Dusty Springfield at her peak, Ms. D's voice was first introduced to me by way of her association with the Pet Shop Boys on their 1987 #2 Pop hit "What Have I Done To Deserve This". It was an unlikely collaboration. After all, who would have thought the retired 60's torch singer known primarily for her classics "Son Of A Preacher Man" and "Wishin' And Hopin'" would reemerge with the then up and coming gay dance outfit armed with one of the most infectious singles of year? Perhaps their shared British heritage had something to do with the connection. Of his ultimate prize in fan worship, PSB's Neil Tennant fondly recalls the collaboration with Springfield as an eye opening experience as he never before witnessed a singer so scrupulous when it came to interpreting a song. The lyrical phrasing, the annunication, the pitch, the melody - everything had to be perfect regardless of the time constraints and external pressure to get the job done quickly. Tennant wasn't the first producer to witness Springfield's perfectionist process in action. In fact, appropriately enough, it even had it's own title: "dustyfication". On this concise 12 song collection (digitally remastered and sprinkled generously with a healthy dose of "dustyfication" throughout) Springfield's mark as a meticulous songstress who only wrapped her voice around the very best pop nuggets is on full display. From the pure pop exuberance of "I Only Want To Be With You" to the midnight lounge images evoked on "The Look Of Love", it's obvious that Springfield's songbook has left an indelible mark as artists covering her material have ranged all the way from the cheaky Samantha Fox to the low key Norah Jones. How's that for widespread influence?

I will pick that one up! Thanks!
 
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