The Very Best Of Johnny Hates Jazz, by Johnny Hates Jazz
I have always found it to be more than a little unusual when a best-of compilation comes after only a couple of albums for an act, but given that Johnny Hates Jazz had a lot of success and their second album was criminally ignored, it makes sense that a best-of compilation would provide the chance for more songs to be known and recognized than would otherwise be the case. While the most obvious way to appreciate the early material of Johnny Hates Jazz is to listen to their first two studio albums, the vast majority of people would only know the first album, which is a stellar one. The chance to play some of the better tracks from a second album that failed to chart, so far as I am aware, anywhere, as well as some of the more obscure soundtrack cuts and b-sides, would be a way for people to hear more Johnny Hates Jazz, which is always a good thing. Is this a worthwhile compilation despite being woefully premature? Let’s see.
This album begins with the obvious choice, “Shattered Dreams,” a song which retains its beauty and its power in any context, and one which signals the quality that this band could provide. After that comes “My Secret Garden,” which contains lovely and jazzy instrumentation for what is one of the more obscure songs in the JHJ body of work. “Me And My Foolish Heart” is beautiful in this context, an early single that deserves to be appreciated for its melancholy beauty. “Living In The Past” is another relatively obscure song, and it similarly reflects the themes of nostalgia that filled both studio albums, containing some excellent instrumentation as well. The anti-war “I Don’t Want To Be A Hero” follows, with its pointed message, followed by its b-side, the obscure “The Cage,” is like the other b-sides we have seen so far, a jazzy mostly instrumental that is an enjoyable listen. “Turn The Tide” is a non-album single that introduces the replacement singer for the group, and presents an optimistic message of restoration in a love that has had some problems. “Heart Of Gold” is a jazzy and surprisingly upbeat contribution to the hooker with a heart of gold subgenre. “Don’t Say It’s Love,” offers an ominous-sounding song of love gone wrong. “Let Me Change Your Mind Tonight” provides a standout single from the second album with a message of seeking a second chance with a partner. “The Last To Know,” another standout single from the group’s second album, provides a kiss-off anthem of betrayal and ignorance. “Fools Gold” reflects on the deceptive nature of love, and is an excellent track from the second album. The 12″ Extended mix of “Shattered Dreams” simply adds more instrumental parts to an already stellar song. The Rogue Vogue mix of “Turn The Tide,” perhaps the most obscure song here, also provides new instrumental parts to a smooth song. The album closes with a b-side, the tuneful but obscure “Cracking Up,” as well as the beautiful “Turn Back The Clock,” the title track of Johnny Hates Jazz’s first album.
It is worthwhile in considering this album’s worth as a compilation to ponder how this album was made. It includes the four singles of the first album as well as a non-album single and their b-sides, a remix of the group’s biggest hit (“Shattered Dreams”), two of the best album tracks from their first album and the three best songs off of the band’s second album, two of which were released as unsuccessful singles. The end result is an album of sixteen songs that contains both songs that fans of the group would want to hear in a new context, as well as songs that fans might be curious about because they were not on the original album. This is a good way for bands to construct best-of compilations, and it is a technique I have seen other bands try, especially among those acts which are big in the UK and thus have a solid trove of b-sides to include on their best-of compilations, something that cannot always be done in the United States given our absence of a singles-buying tradition that encourages acts to save some of their better material for b-sides that provide something worth paying money for. And this album is certainly worth paying money for, though it is also a lovely listen on streaming for those who are so inclined, like me.